One of the most fun ways to make an old house feel new or give a new place some personality is to fill it with smart devices. And today, I’m going to clue you in on what I think are some of the best HomeKit devices of the year.
I first started writing about smart home devices a few years ago, and at the time, there was a lot of speculation about what would be possible once the market was more mature.
Now, the market is more mature, and there’s a lot you can do with these devices. Apple’s Home app has gotten more sophisticated, the HomePod can act as a smart hub, and automation with Shortcuts and Home is really simple.
In this post, I’m going to cover what I think are the best HomeKit devices. You’ll probably have seen some of these before, but I hope many of these are new to you, too. That’s because these are the smart home devices I would actually buy – not just the ones that are currently popular.
So whether you’re new to smart home devices or are looking to bulk up your existing collection, you should be able to find plenty of options in this list that are right for you!
As always, I am not sponsored by any of the products in this list, nor have I been tasked with specifically covering any of these devices. There are also no affiliate links in this article. The opinions in this article are wholly unbiased.
The best HomeKit devices for 2021
1. HomePod mini is one of the best HomeKit devices available
First and foremost, I think the HomePod mini is an essential HomeKit item. There are a few reasons for this.
For one thing, a lot of smart home users have noted that interacting with your smart home devices through an iPhone or Apple Watch is a bit tedious. You either have to open the Home app and control everything manually or speak to Siri. Since your Watch and iPhone follow you throughout the day, they don’t feel like a part of your home the same way that a HomePod does.
Another reason HomePod is one of the best HomeKit devices is that it can dual as a smart home hub.
What is a smart hub?
- It connects to your smart home devices and controls them, even when you’re not home. This also allows you to interact with your devices when you aren’t home.
- It uses a specific frequency to keep your devices connected. A lot of smart devices use a connectivity method that isn’t WiFi or Bluetooth. That’s because Bluetooth would get pretty complicated and WiFi-connected devices would slow down your internet connection.
HomePod mini (not the standard HomePod, which Apple doesn’t even sell anymore) can do both of these things. That’s because it uses Thread.
I’ll cover why this is a big deal at the end of the article in more detail. For now, though, I’ll just say that this will save you money and frustration, make it easier to add new smart devices to your home and keep you comfortably in the Apple ecosystem.
I generally view the Apple ecosystem as being an optional thing, but if you’re trying to automate your home, I would argue that it’s far better to be locked in. Again, I’ll explore this in more detail later on in this post.
My advice (especially if you’re on a budget) would be to buy the HomePod mini before you buy anything else. It’ll add a lot of personality to your home and set you up so that every smart device you buy after it “just works”.
Alternatively, I would start your smart home renovation with smart light bulbs. They’re cheaper and, though less powerful, will be a fun and affordable way to dip your toes in.
2. NFC tags
Next up is one of the best HomeKit devices that you have probably never heard of. If you read my post on the best HomeKit automations from a few days ago, then you’ll already know why I think NFC tags are so cool.
For those that don’t know, an NFC tag is a little microchip that you can stick around your house. It emits a short-range signal that can interact with your iPhone whenever you hold your iPhone within a few inches of it.
This is how Apple Pay works – your iPhone connects to an NFC tag in the cash register and processes the payment wirelessly.
NFC tags are super cheap. You can get a pack of them on Amazon for under $10. Some even come in sticker form, which I recommend grabbing.
Once you have them, you can stick NFC tags all over your home and use them to create automations in the Shortcuts app. For instance, you can stick one next to the dishwasher. Then you can create an automation in Shortcuts that starts a timer to let you know when the dishes are clean every time you scan that NFC tag.
You can create similar automations that unlock your front door, turn on/off your lights, update your shopping list, and more.
Technically, NFC tags aren’t a part of HomeKit. But they serve a similar enough purpose that I think they qualify. They’re flexible, creative, and super cheap!
3. Motion sensors
Third on our list of the best HomeKit devices are motion sensors. You probably don’t need an explanation of why motion sensors are useful. They can be used to turn on lights whenever you enter/leave a room, alert you that someone is at your front door, and let your family members know whenever you’ve sat at your desk to do some work.
I would consider these a staple of a smart home, but only after you’ve filled up your home with other smart devices. They’re great for creating automated routines – that way you can stop activating everything by saying, “Hey Siri…”.
There are a lot of options on the market, though the Eve Motion sensor seems to be the best bet for HomeKit users. It doesn’t require a separate hub, you can use your HomePod mini. And it has a lot of viewing range compared to competitors.
If you only want motion sensors to control your lighting, you could just grab a light bulb with a built-in motion sensor. You can find plenty of these for ~$15 for indoor and outdoor use. These generally won’t work with HomeKit, though, and don’t need to. They’re self-contained systems.
4. Nanoleaf Essentials A19 Bulbs are some of the best HomeKit devices
Speaking of light bulbs, that brings us to the next item on our list of the best HomeKit devices!
Aside from smart speakers like HomePod mini, smart bulbs are probably the most popular smart home accessory. It’s easy to see why! They’re simple to wrap your head around, aren’t too pricey, and are multipurpose. You can use them to help you wake up, have them change to match the lighting outside, turn them into flashing alarms, or just paint your room with colors – because ya know, why not?
The most popular brand of smart bulb is the Philips Hue line. That line, however, requires you to buy the Philips Hue hub, and as we’ve already explained, I’m trying to give you options that don’t require a proprietary hub.
Instead, I’d point you to the Nanoleaf Essentials A19 Bulbs. A single bulb can emit a ton of colors, be automated with the Home app, and doesn’t require a brand-specific hub. These are the bulbs that Apple recommends, and I concur – they’re the best option for most Apple users.
5. Smart plugs
Another staple of a smart home is the smart plug. Smart plugs help you make “dumb” devices smarter. Just plug one into an outlet, then plug a lamp, coffee pot, or humidifier into the smart plug.
This allows you to control when the device plugged into the smart plug turns on and off. You can control it with your voice or set up automated routines, just like any of your other smart devices.
The trick behind smart plugs is finding devices that “activate” as soon as they get power. For instance, lamps are a popular thing to plug into a smart plug. That’s because you can just leave your lamp in the “on” position. That way, it turns on whenever you activate it with the smart plug.
Conversely, you probably don’t want to connect a smart plug to something like a TV or game console. That’s because these devices won’t turn on just because they gain or lose power from the smart plug. If anything, it’ll just cause annoyances with these devices.
The Wemo smart plug from Belkin is the standby for Apple users. No hub required, super simple and reliable, under $30.
Clever smart plug uses that don’t involve a lamp
- Find a coffeepot/French press that starts heating up as soon as it’s plugged in or has a physical switch (i.e., not a button). Put water and coffee in it the night before, then set your smart plug to turn on every morning right before you wake up.
- Plug your smart security cameras into smart plugs, then have them turn off whenever you come home.
- Use a smart plug to turn off your hair straightener after X amount of time – that way you never leave it on by accident.
- Plug a humidifier into a smart plug and use a smart moisture sensor to decide when it turns off and on.
- Control when your Christmas tree/holiday lighting turns off and on
- Turn on a heated blanket shortly before you go to bed
6. The Level Smart Lock – for renters
So far, all of the best HomeKit devices I’ve listed so far have been options that anyone can find useful. And while many of you could use this smart lock, I think it’s best suited to renters.
The Level Smart Lock is a super innovative solution. Typically, a smart lock is this big bulky box that you attach to your door. It has a big keypad, a wireless tap-pad, and other features to give you a big interface. When you buy one, it becomes the complete locking mechanism for your door.
The Level Smart Lock, on the other hand, blends in with your existing set of locks. It’s designed to fit inside of your existing doorknob and/or deadbolt. You remove your current lock and replace its insides with the Level Smart Lock.
Once you’ve done that, you can connect it to the Home app and start using it (almost) like you would any other smart lock. You can open it from your iPhone, set it to lock and unlock under certain conditions, and so on.
This makes it a perfect option for renters. If you’re in an apartment and can’t change the locks, this is a great alternative. You can keep the same key as before, so you won’t be locking a landlord out completely or doing anything that would otherwise have you evicted.
There are some drawbacks to the Level Smart Lock, though, one of which is the price. It’s pricey, costing around $200 on Amazon. It also won’t work with every kind of lock. You can check for compatibility by clicking here.
7. Yale Smart Lock – for homeowners
Another drawback of the Level Smart Lock is that it doesn’t come with the big keypad and tap-pad that other smart locks come with. This is by design, sure, but if you want the extra hardware, then that won’t be a selling point to you.
That’s why I recommend the Yale Smart Lock to most homeowners. They have HomeKit-compatible options starting at $159 as well as upgrade kits for those who purchased a Yale Smart Lock that doesn’t work with HomeKit. You can buy this upgrade kit and use it to make your current Yale Smart Lock HomeKit-compatible.
Most of Yale’s lineup includes keypads and tap-pads so that you can just tap your lock with your smartphone to open it. The keypad not only makes a great backup, but you can also use it to create custom key combinations.
For instance, you could make a unique combination for everyone in your house as well as a few friends. That way, you can see who is entering your house at which times.
8. Nanoleaf Essentials light strip
Coming in near the end of our list of the best HomeKit devices is the Nanoleaf Essentials light strip. This is one of those devices that has a lot of possibilities, though it might not seem like it on the surface.
If you don’t know, a light strip is a length of flexible plastic with a track of lights embedded in it. Kind of like holiday lights, but a lot less dangly. You’ve no doubt seen lights like this at the movies as they provide dim mood lighting.
Like most of Nanoleaf’s products, this light strip uses your HomePod as a hub. So you don’t need to buy anything extra to make it work.
Once plugged in and connected to the Home app, you can program when this strip turns off and on. You can also set the color with a ton of variation.
A great use for a strip like this is to light a stairway at night or to add some mood lighting to your den or bedroom.
With the different color options, though, you can use this light strip for so much more.
For example, you could line the door to your office with this light strip. Whenever you sit at your desk, the lights could automatically turn red, letting your family know not to enter the room.
If you’re deaf, you could put this in your bedroom and have it blink a certain color when someone is at the front door.
This strip could also serve as a visual alarm for smoke, flooding, or a broken window. Or, you could just use it to make your living room feel more fun on game night with your friends.
9. eufyCam 2 Pro home security cameras
I’ve put security cameras near the bottom of this list because, though essential, they don’t have many multipurpose features. They serve one purpose, which makes them less exciting than most of the other items on this list.
That said, it’s an excellent idea to grab the eufyCam 2 Pro home security cameras. Apple offers a starter kit on its site that includes everything you need to get started.
Unfortunately, you will need a proprietary hub with this brand of smart security camera. That isn’t unique to eufy’s cameras, though. Since security cameras perform a critical function in your home, there must be no room for error. Proprietary hubs help ensure the highest level of reliability and compatibility, which is crucial.
There isn’t much else to say about these products! They’re a great crime deterrent and, in the unfortunate case that you need to review them, you’ll be glad that you have them. And though they are pricey, eufy’s cameras are a one-time purchase. You won’t need to subscribe to a eufy subscription service or anything.
You can store the footage from security cameras through iCloud. With the iCloud+ updates coming later this year (at no additional cost to existing iCloud subscribers) you’ll get unlimited iCloud storage for your footage. So be sure to pair these with at least a $0.99/month iCloud subscription!
10. Eve door and window sensors
The last item on our list of the best HomeKit devices goes hand-in-hand with smart security cameras. That is, of course, smart door and window sensors.
The Eve brand of door and window sensors are relatively affordable, about $40 per pair of sensors. You can buy them in a three-pack though, for just $100. Eve’s sensors use the Thread protocol, which means that you can use them with your HomePod – no hub required.
Most door and window sensors consist of two pieces. You place one piece of the sensor on the object you want to keep track of, i.e., the windowpane or door itself. Then, you place the other half of the sensor on a surface right next to the entry point you want to keep track of, less than an inch away. That will usually be the window ledge or the door frame.
These two halves of the sensor generally sense each other using magnetism. Whenever the door or window is opened and these two halves are separated by a distance of more than an inch, they alert you that your window/door is open. You can then set this to run an automation that calls the police, sets off an alarm, or whatever else you like.
Again, these don’t have too many other uses. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get them!
My advice? Stick to the best HomeKit devices that don’t require a proprietary hub
And that’s it! Those are my recommendations for the best HomeKit devices in 2021. Now, as promised, I’m going to spend a moment going over my thoughts on proprietary hubs and why I think you should avoid them.
As I covered earlier in this post, the HomePod mini can act as a standalone hub for your HomeKit devices because it stays at your house and uses a specific frequency to keep your devices connected. That frequency is called Thread.
Anything that supports Thread and HomeKit should be able to use the HomePod mini as a hub. While the list of devices that support both of these standards is a bit short today, it is growing quickly.
When I say that Thread is a “frequency”, I mean that it is using a radio frequency unique to products with Thread support. Your WiFi uses a shortwave frequency as well, but it’s not the same frequency as Thread. It can support a lot of data transmission over a short distance, which is why it’s great for home internet use.
Thread, on the other hand, is a much weaker frequency. That’s because most of your smart home devices won’t need to transmit a lot of data. Usually just binary feedback. Thread can support a lot of devices over a short distance, doesn’t use a lot of power, and only supports small packets of data. All of these factors make it ideal for a smart home.
Using a separate frequency for your HomeKit devices will prevent your smart home devices from slowing down your WiFi performance. The HomePod mini allows your WiFi network and devices (like your iPhone) to interact with your Thread-connected devices (smart lights, locks, etc.) without the two interfering with each other.
When is a proprietary hub required?
The reason I recommend using the HomePod mini and Thread devices isn’t because those devices are necessarily better than other options on the market. It’s just because I think they’re better for Apple users.
Sticking to Thread- and HomeKit-compatible devices will make it easier to run your smart home. You won’t need to grab a hub for your smart lights, your smart security cameras, and a HomePod mini for the rest of your devices. That route is more expensive, complicated, and will require more maintenance over the long term.
That said, sometimes you will have to purchase a proprietary hub. Most often, that will be a requirement when it comes to a smart camera security system. That’s because the level of data being transmitted and the level of communication between these devices is going to be far higher than something like a smart bulb.
So with that in mind, my recommendation is to only use a hub for your smart home when it is required to maintain a specific system of devices in your home. I would not, however, recommend casually grabbing devices with proprietary smart hubs. Otherwise, you’re going to end up with a mess of hubs around your home.
Use the best HomeKit devices to make your home smarter this year
Alright, that’s everything I have to say on the matter! I hope this list of the best HomeKit devices had plenty of options you hadn’t heard of. I also hope you found specific recommendations for devices you already knew you wanted.
See you next time!