An Honest Review of the Best Smart Home Gadgets • The Blonde Abroad
As we’ve been decorating our house and fitting it out with things to make life easier and more comfortable, we’ve installed a number of smart home gadgets. If you’re interested in optimizing things in your home, I’m delving into some of my favorite technology for the home—that’s worth buying! You’ll notice I clearly love a […]

An Honest Review of the Best Smart Home Gadgets

As we’ve been decorating our house and fitting it out with things to make life easier and more comfortable, we’ve installed a number of smart home gadgets.

If you’re interested in optimizing things in your home, I’m delving into some of my favorite technology for the home—that’s worth buying!

You’ll notice I clearly love a bit of technology and automating things wherever I can.

We’ve gotten some really cool things for our house — some of them I’m really impressed with, some of them are just “alright.”

Whether you’re a newbie to smart home technology or are looking to add to your smart arsenal, I cover everything I personally have and use in my own house.

From home security to automating the blinds to controlling the lights and even a bidet — I’m sharing my honest review of the best smart home technology out there!

BRAND: Ring

NAME: Video Doorbell

Ring Doorbell

In my opinion, the Ring Doorbell is the least expensive investment you can make for your home that’s truly worth it.

The Ring Doorbell is such an easy-to-use security tool. Whenever there is someone at the door the camera starts recording so your front door is always protected. I can see who is there from my phone and even respond verbally with the built-in speaker.

It syncs with all other Ring devices for extra convenience and security.

Rating: 5/5

Find the Ring Doorbell here!

Ring Home Security System

We went all out with our Ring setup — from the doorbell to the security system! Our entire property has “eyes” and is protected with Ring. Here’s a list of our setup and I’ll go into more details below.

Our Ring Setup

Ring 10-Piece Home Security System

Don’t let “10-piece” overwhelm or intimidate you — it’s super easy to set up! Heads up, the 10-Piece Home Security System was a gifted product, but I was going to get it anyway. 🙂

Pros: We stuck up our keypads with Command strips and they’re wireless (no unsightly cords or having to drill holes into your walls!).

There are three settings — off, “at home” (for when you’re home but sleeping), and away. You can customize each setting so that certain cameras and sensors are activated or de-activated. It comes with these really cool sensors you can put up to be notified when something is opened, like doors or windows.

For example, when we go to bed, all of our outside cameras, motion-sensor lights, and door and window sensors are activated. When we are away, our interior motion sensor is activated. And when the system is off, we still have our outside motion sensors on to alert us of anyone approaching our property.

It’s very cool, super easy to use, and affordable.

Cons: While this is one of the most affordable systems out there, you do have to take the extra time to set your customization up. But that’s pretty much the case with all smart home technology!

Also, since everything is motion-activated, your cameras aren’t recording 24/7. So, there’s a chance you might miss some things. Personally, it works great and provides enough security for us!

Rating: 4/5

Find the 10-Piece Home Security System here!

BRAND: Schlage

NAME: Smart Keypad + Door Handle

Schlage Smart Keypad

We wanted a smart keypad that fit our design and this one is perfect! The numbers are practically hidden so it looks like an antique bronze deadbolt from afar.

It’s also the best companion to the Ring Doorbell!

Pros: We can access our home without keys, use Alexa to voice lock the front door from anywhere in the house, and we’re able to give our friends and family their own unique code to get in—which is perfect for when we’re on trips and we need someone to stop by to water the plants.

The coolest part of this keypad is it also works with Amazon Key, so you can allow deliveries to be put inside your home instead of being left on the doorstep when you are away.

Super helpful!

Cons: There really is no downside with the keypad for me, but it is a bit pricey if you get it with the matching handle!

Rating: 5/5

Find the Schlage Smart Keypad Deadbolt and Handleset here!

samsung frame tv art

Samsung Frame TV

I am obsessed with our 65″ Samsung Frame TV! I loved it when we got it and I still love it months later. We’re always switching up the art, and for the holidays, we were able to make it festive. It truly looks like a work of art, especially since we paired it with the light wood frame.

It’s so satisfying to not have a huge black plastic screen on the wall.

Pros: Honestly, aesthetic is more important than the performance of a TV for me. I know that’s not the same for everyone. I find the quality to be awesome, the birch frame looks beautiful and the art feature looks very realistic and I love that I can upload my own files.

I also love that it has apps for pretty much every subscription service (Disney+, Netflix, Hulu, HBO, etc.) so you can add your login and control everything directly from the TV and a single remote.

Cons: Some reviews online state that the picture quality isn’t “great” but I have zero complaints. I also can’t comment on the built-in sound because I would recommend a soundbar (coming up next!).

Rating: 5/5

Find the Samsung Frame TV here!

Sonos Beam Soundbar

We got the Sonos Beam Soundbar to pair with our Samsung Frame and I absolutely love it. The sound is amazing and it’s aesthetically pleasing (there are very few soundbars that are white).

Pros: It has Alexa built-in, so I can sync it and use voice command to control my other Alexa devices. One of my favorite Alexa features is being able to create speaker groups, so you can play music from multiple Echo speakers throughout the house.

Plus, I can voice command from it, too!

Cons: Again, I don’t have any for the Sonos. It’s awesome.

Rating: 5/5

Find the Sonos Beam Soundbar here!

BRAND: Furbo

NAME: Dog Camera

Furbo

If you have a dog and have been considering getting one of these, here’s my scoop. I bought this thinking I’d be really excited about it…and while I still like it, it’s definitely got some pros and cons.

Pros: If you have a dog with extreme separation anxiety, like me, the nanny service (a paid subscription) makes this worth it. When you activate the Furbo, it detects if Bailey is howling or crying with specific warning notifications, so the technology of their nanny-cam service makes it worth it.

We also do like the way it looks and blends with decor. (But that’s not reason enough to buy it…)

Otherwise, I think the device is a little mediocre.

Cons: The camera quality isn’t great. It has the capability of throwing dog treats and talking through a speaker…but we don’t personally use those features with Bailey because it just makes him more anxious.

Rating: 3/5

Find the Furbo here!

Roborock Vacuum and Mop

The Roborock Robot Vacuum and Mop is one of my favorite pieces of technology in the house! It’s definitely a splurge but we have entirely hardwood floors and low pile rugs throughout the house, so I really wanted one that both vacuums and mops.

Pros: Once it does a full round around your house, it knows the exact layout of your home and you can create no-go zones for vacuuming and different ones for mopping.

I have it set up so it doesn’t vacuum in our closet (for fear of sucking up my dresses). We have it vacuum our rugs but have no-go zones for mopping so it doesn’t wet the rugs.

If you can have someone else vacuum and mop your floors every day that’s pretty darn sweet.

It’s so cool! Our house stays really clean. You can have it run automatically every day (or manually run it from the device or the app) and it returns to the dock when it’s done. You can even create cleaning areas so you can have it clean certain rooms instead of the entire house at specific times.

Cons: The vacuum debris container is somewhat small so I have to empty it 2-3 times per full home cycle. So it’s not completely mindless, but it’s still easier than doing the entire thing myself!

Rating: 4.5/5

Find the Roborock Vacuum and Mop here!

Smart Feeder and Water Fountain

This may seem a bit excessive…but again, I’m all about automation!

Pros: Bailey gets one cup of food in the morning and one cup in the afternoon. If your dog eats dry kibble, the food dispenser is really amazing. The whole tower is storage for the food — with a desiccant so it stays fresh for weeks. I schedule his food to dispense automatically twice a day and I can control it from my phone via the app!

The water fountain holds quite a bit so I’m not always refilling it either. It’s technically a cat fountain, but it’s nice to not constantly be refilling a bowl. 🙂

Cons: No complaints here!

Rating: 5/5

Find the Petkit Automatic Pet Feeder and Water Fountain here!

smart home blinds

Smart Roller Shades

I was very excited to get smart shade for our house and I’d seen a number of Instagram ads for these.

Pros & Cons: We got the Tilt Smart Roller Shades and it’s a sort of love-hate relationship. They’ve had some annoying problems; 3 out of the 5 motors had to be replaced. But, their customer service was very quick in sending me replacements.

They do work with voice control via Alexa but it is a huge pain in the rear to set up.

However, despite all this, being able to automate them and use voice control is still worth it to me.

I’m keeping them because I love automation and they work with any roller shade—so it’s the most customizable option out there. You can also set up automation.

For example, every day at sunrise they open completely, at 4 pm they close halfway, and then they close completely at around 8 pm. You can set up schedules for each window, or groups of windows, so they automatically close or open to any height — which is what we use 99% of the time.

Rating: 3/5

Find the Tilt Smart Roller Shades here!

Echo Show

Echo Dot

  My Favorite Echo Devices

I’m a big fan of Alexa-enabled devices and we have them all around the house!

The key to smart-i-fying your home is to have an Echo device in all areas of your home so you can speak and control your devices from anywhere. Here’s a breakdown of ours:

Echo Show 8 – In the Kitchen

We have the Echo Show in the kitchen, it’s the older model and I got it on sale and it’s been a hit!

Pros: I love that it has a really good quality speaker for playing music while I cook! It’s also got a touchscreen which makes it nice to switch between voice control and manual interaction. It also syncs with my Ring devices so when someone rings the doorbell, it automatically opens the camera so I can see and interact with whoever is at the door.

Cons: The device can’t display PDFs or browse the internet, so it is limiting when you want to pull up specific recipes if they are on a blog or a PDF.

Rating: 4/5

Find the Echo Show 8 here!

Echo Dot – All Bedrooms

This is a speaker, alarm clock, a way to check the news, weather, and control other devices within your home. It does it all. 🙂

Rating: 5/5

Find the Echo Dot here!

Alexa for Existing Speakers – in the Dining Room

Already have speakers but need Alexa voice control? Unfortunately, Alexa discontinued the Echo Input, which is what we used to turn our pretty Marshall Acton II Speaker into a voice-controlled device.

The good thing is, all Echo devices have a 3.5mm audio output, so I’d recommend buying the cheapest option (like the Echo Flex) and a 3.5mm audio cable to connect it to your speaker.

Find the Echo Flex here!

Dyson Purifier

We love all things Dyson, but their purifiers and fans are second to none.

We use our purifier and fan daily and love that we can control it with the Echo Dot in our room simply by saying things like “Alexa, turn the Dyson to 4.”

We keep or Dyson Purifier in our room and one of my favorite routines that I currently have is “Winter Morning.” I have it programmed so that at 5 am, our Nest (you’ll learn more about that later), turns up the heat to 68 and then turns off our in-room Dyson Purifier. We like to sleep with the fan on — even when it’s cold, particularly for white noise — but I don’t like to wake up with air blowing on me.

Anyway, I love that the purifier is Alexa-enabled!

Rating: 5/5

Find the Alexa-enabled Dyson Purified here!

Helpful Tip: Alexa Routine Settings We Love

If this sounds like a lot of tech to you and you have no idea how to use it — no worries! We have quite a few devices as so many of our things are Alexa-enabled, like our lights and we have a lot of routines put in place to automate and optimize.

Read up on how to add skills and create routines here.

Once all of your smart devices are set up in the Alexa app, the amount of routines you can create is endless! We have some automated by the time of day but most are voice commands.

Here are a few examples:

  • “Alexa, relax in bed”: Dims all lights in our bedroom to 10%, turns off all other lights throughout the house, locks the front door, plays a Claude Debussy playlist on Spotify at volume 2, and turns our Dyson purifier to setting 4.
  • At Sunset and at 1 am: Turn the patio light on and off.
  • “Alexa, play ____ everywhere”: Plays my choice of music from Spotify on the three Echo devices in the front of the house (not bedrooms).
  • “Alexa, movie night”: Turns all lights in the house off, sets living room lights to 8%, closes the living room shades.

You are really only limited by your imagination!

Smart Plug

Pros: These are really cool as I can make a custom schedule to turn them on and off. My friend got me a wax melter and I have it plugged in to go off three times a day (7-8 am, 12-1 pm, 5-6 pm) for an hour, so the house smells really nice.

These are also super affordable (about $25 for 4 plugs)!

During the holidays, I plug in our Christmas tree and mantel garland lights to these plugs, group them, and create a schedule to automate them to turn on and off at certain times!

Cons: There isn’t anything I’d complain about, they just have basic on/off functionality. So if you’re looking for a product that can dim lights, these wouldn’t work.

Rating: 5/5

Find the Smart Plugs here!

Smart Dimmable Switches for Lights

We used to have the Phillips Hue Lightbulbs, which are really cool if you’re only going to do a few lights in the house.

Pros: If you want the whole house to have smart lighting, I definitely recommend Smart Dimmable Switches as they work off your Wi-Fi. You might need an electrician to come out and install them, but this ended up being cheaper in the end to do the whole home.

You can buy a four-pack and we only needed 10 for our entire home. You can then use any normal dimmable lightbulb, so it works out to be much cheaper than buying smart lightbulbs for every light fixture.

They work like a normal dimmer switch, but they are also Alexa-enabled so you can control them with voice command or set routines and schedules.

For example, in the living room, I’ve set up an Alexa routine called “Movie Night,” which dims the lights in the living and turns off all the lights throughout the house. Since our entire house is set up with these dimmer switches, we can control them all as a group.

It also works with generic voice commands like, “Alexa, turn the dining room lights to 50%.”

Cons: Again, not much to complain about here. I will say it does take a bit of effort to create routines for every switch and room with Alexa, but it’s really fun to automate all these things.

They make our home so much more functional!

Rating: 5/5

Find the Smart Switches here!

Toto Bidet

Bet ya didn’t think I’d take you into our bathroom!

Having traveled the world quite extensively, Toto is the best bidet brand out there. We originally got a Tushy bidet — which is a super entry-level bidet and very simple.

To be perfectly honest, I thought it was a waste of money, and I wasn’t a huge fan.

Pros: The Toto Washlet Seat comes with a remote, and it’s a fully operating bidet. But it also has a heated seat and a drier for your bum, and you can preset preferences for two people (this is super cool!). It plugs in, is super low-energy, and you don’t need a hot water source — it heats the water for you.

It also self cleans, has a deodorizing fan, and a soft close seat and lid.

While it’s very unnecessary, it’s one of my favorite things!

Cons: We keep ours on an Energy Saving mode which might be why this happens, but even when keeping the lid closed, the seat isn’t always warm when we go to use it. However, as soon as you sit down it starts to heat up.

Rating: 5/5

Find the Toto Washlet Seat Bidet here!

Pura Smart Diffuser

These are really cool as I can create a schedule for the wall diffusers to go off and they work off the Wi-Fi. So I can control them on my phone when I’m in one room and set them to start diffusing a scent in another.

Pros: Each Pura device holds two different scent pods at one time, so you can mix and match if you like something citrusy and bright in the morning and something softer like sandalwood or lavender to relax in the evening.

Cons: The one thing that I’m not a fan of though is the packaging the plastic scent pods come in. It’s a lot of excess plastic…however, I have read that if you remove the wick they’re recyclable.

Rating: 4/5

Find the Pura Smart Diffuser here!

Digital Picture Frame

While this isn’t “technically” smart, a digital picture frame is probably as cool to you as it is to me! I got our Polaroid 8″ Frame from Target and you can upload your photos via a USB or SD card so it always has different photos to play in a slideshow.

I have about 10 of my favorite family photos and they change every 5 minutes. You can adjust the slideshow speed from every few seconds to every hour. You can also set a timer so the frame shuts off at a certain time and turns back on at a certain time.

Ours turns off at midnight and back on at 7 am to conserve energy.

I don’t know if this is necessarily the *best* digital picture frame out there, but it’s $60, so the price is right.

Rating: 3/5

Find the Polaroid Digital Picture Frame here!

BRAND: Nest

NAME: Home Thermostat

Nest

The Nest is an incredible device for keeping the house consistently at a good temperature without having to constantly fiddle with the thermostat.

Pros: It’s smart on its own and there’s an app you can use to create schedules, turn it on or off when you’re not home, and it works with Alexa!

While many homes in San Diego don’t have central air, it’s a great device for places with extreme climates as it has an Eco Mode, which will figure out that sweet spot in your house where the temp is good, but you don’t have to keep running the air or heat, so it ends up saving you money.

Cons: I’m still learning how to best use our Nest, but in order to use it with Alexa routines, you need to keep it on the Heat+Cool mode. I would keep my settings super extreme so it wouldn’t turn on without my voice command or an Alexa setting, but I’m still having issues with it automatically changing the temperature.

Probably user error though!

Rating: 5/5

Get the Nest here!

Have you ventured into the world of smart home technology? What things do you love? Or are there things you’ve purchased that disappointed? I’d love to hear all about your experience in the comments below!


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But I’ve learned a ton from my experiences, too. to celebrate a full decade since I stumbled my way out of the U. K. and began a life of full-time travel, I’ve compiled an enormous list of my biggest and best travel tips. These are all things that I wish someone had told me before I started traveling, so I hope you’ll find them useful, inspiring, educational, and entertaining. I love trying new things, and I’ve found a thousand amazing dishes that I never would have discovered if I’d continue to eat from supermarkets around the world. Trying new food isn’t scary, and you’ll build your confidence up as you fall in love with more and more things.

One of the first lessons I learned on the road was that your partouze will nearly always change. You’ll arrive in a place and hate it and want to leave immediately, or you’ll fall in love with a destination and want to spend longer there. You’ll make friends with a group of awesome people and want to change your orgie so you can travel with them for longer, or you’ll find out about an amazing-sounding town that’s nearby and want to head there instead.

Sure, you should have a rough plan for your trip, but don’t book everything in advance or you’ll likely feel too restricted and end up regretting it. Book a one-way ticket and your first few nights of accommodation — you’ll figure the rest out along the way. It’s not as intimidating as it sounds. If you’re in a tourist destination there’ll always be someone who’s willing to take your money by giving you a place to stay.

If you do only one thing before you leave, make it getting travel insurance. I’ve heard far too many horror stories of travellers injuring themselves in remote places and ending up in hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of debt. Don’t think that it won’t happen to you, because you know those travellers thought that, too. I’ve use World Nomads for my travel insurance provider for six years and recommend them to everyone I know. They were fantastic to deal with when making a claim.

People laughed at me when I said that I was carrying around a dozen spare passport photos, but they’ve been incredibly useful and saved me a ton of time and hassle. Who wants to wander the streets of some rural town in Cambodia searching for someone who can take your photo ? Friends of mine had to do this !

I’ve used them to apply for visas around the world, to get a new passport when mine expired while I was on the other side of the planet, and I even needed one to buy a local SIM card in Nepal ! Having spares in my backpack meant that I didn’t have to waste a day researching and then wandering around a city to try to find someone who could take a passport-sized photo of me.

I’m fortunate to have never had to deal with lost luggage, but I did have my backpack ripped open on a flight and I was grateful to have not had anything valuable in it at the time. I’ve also been on dodgy buses in Southeast Asia where we’ve arrived at our destination and people have had items stolen by someone hiding out in the luggage hold while we were transit.

If there’s anything I’d be upset to lose, I keep it in my daypack, which is always by my side on travel days. For me, that’s my passport, laptop, dashcam, external hard drive, a debit card, and some spare cash. As long as I have all of these, I can survive indefinitely.

When you travel, you’re in the sun more than most people thanks to months of island-hopping and beach time, as well as entire days spent outside exploring. Wear sunscreen every solo day, regardless of the weather and temperature, because you really don’t want your trip of a lifetime to result in skin cancer or a body that’s blanketed in leathery wrinkles.

There have been so many times when I’ve been too shy to ask someone to take my photo in a place and I’ve almost always regretted it. After eight years of travel, I probably only have around 200 photos of me around the world. Photos of the beautiful places you visit are great and all, but when you get home, they’re not all that different to the ones everyone else has taken there, too. Photos with you in them are special and they’ll mean a lot more to you when you look back at them. You’ll gain more respect from the locals if you can at least say hi, please, sorry, and thank you. On that note, remember : if you don’t speak the language, it’s your problem, not theirs. And please don’t start speaking louder to make yourself understood. Try miming instead, or using a translation app on your phone.

Travel isn’t conducive for sleep, whether it’s snorers in dorm rooms, early risers rustling plastic bags, or drunk backpackers stumbling around in the middle of the night. Even if you don’t stay in hostels, you’ll still have to deal with street noise from outside, loud bars nearby, and uncomfortable overnight journeys. Pack some ear plugs and a sleep mask in your bag to help improve your sleep. I’ve been using Sleep Phones to block out light and listen to podcasts and I love them.

I’d always been all about the packing cubes, until I discovered vacuum-sealed variantes of them ! You throw your clothes in, seal the bag, then roll it up to push out all the air. I can literally fit twice as many clothes in my backpack when I use these ! Even if you don’t want to carry more things in your bag, it frees up so much space that if you need to pack in a hurry, you can just chuck everything in.

Sometimes your bank will block your card, sometimes your card won’t work in an ATM, and sometimes you could even lose it or have it stolen. Bring at least three debit/credit cards with you that are all linked to different accounts ( with money in them ! ) Keep one in your backpack, one in your daypack, and one on your person.

I carry a spare 300 USD that’s split up in various places in my backpack, daypack, and occasionally, my shoe when I’m nervous I’ll be robbed. It means that in a worse-case scenario, I can pay for some food, a dorm bed, and a Skype call to my family to get an emergency wire transfer until I can get back on my feet again. I went with U. S. dollars because it’s the most widely accepted currency around the world and easy to change.

When I decided to see if it was possible to visit the Maldives on a budget back in 2014, information was so sparse that I couldn’t even find a photo of the islands I’d decided to visit. Well, that trip was one of my highlights of the past eight years and I’m so glad I went, despite not being able to find any information online. And the advantage to that lack of information was getting to be the only tourist on an entire island — I had the whole beach to myself ! If you know it’s safe to travel somewhere, but can’t find out much else, go for it. It’s probably far easier to get there than you think. And if not, it makes for a good story.

I’m definitely testament to that ! But expecting everything to go perfectly on your trip is only setting yourself up to fail. Nobody goes travelling and comes back without any stories of mishaps. No matter how prepared you are, at some point you’re going to get lost, get scammed, miss your bus, get food poisoning, injure yourself… the list is endless ! Expect it to happen, and don’t beat yourself up when it does. In a month’s time, you’ll find it funny rather than frustrating.

It achieves absolutely nothing and makes you look like an asshole. Instead, calm down, put a smile on your face, think of how this will make a great story one day, and rationally figure out an solution plan. This too shall pass.

What happens if you arrive in a city, go to grab your email confirmation for your accommodation, and your phone and laptop are out of battery ? I always make sure I have a copy of my guesthouse name and their address, as well as directions if I won’t be taking a taxi. Once I arrive, I’ll grab one of the hotel’s cards, so I’ll always know where I’m staying, and can show it to locals to ask for help with finding my way back.

So many people will tell you not to travel with jeans, but if you wear pantalons all the time at home, you’ll want to wear them while travelling, too. I didn’t start travelling with jeans until my deuxième year of travel, and man, I missed them so much ! They’re not *that* bulky so you really don’t need to worry about the extra space and weight. And in many cities in Europe, you’ll want to wear jeans to fit in with the locals — you don’t want to look like a grubby backpacker in Paris !

Checking out is when you’re most likely to lose something. Whenever I check out of a place, I check the bathroom, I check under the beds, I check the desks, and then I make sure I have my passport, laptop, dashcam, money, phone, and external hard drive. I’ll be fine if I leave anything else behind. Having a routine that you go through every solo time will help you keep track of everything. I learned my lesson with this one when I left my passport behind in a guesthouse in Bagan, then left it in an apartment in London two months later.

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