Connected Homes: Practical Futuristic Tech or Passing Fad?

Is the future here? More and more products are available to control your home's lights, locks, and appliances from an app on your smart phone or tablet. Consumer Reports has been testing some of these "connected home" products and can tell you which to pick and which to skip.

From his iPad, Daniel Hung can control his lights … TV … stereo … even his window shades.

"It's just so convenient. And you don't have to think back and say, 'Oh, did I shut this light off,'" explained Daniel.

Consumer Reports has been testing Wi-Fi-connected devices, including lighting systems, electronic door locks, smart thermostats, generators, and smart ranges and wall ovens.

"What really gets your attention with these products is their cool features. So we're testing those features, but we also want to make sure it works at its basic functions," said Consumer Reports Celia Lehrman.

That was a problem with the electronic door locks. Yes, you can use your smart phone or tablet to lock and unlock doors remotely. But none stood up to all of Consumer Reports' break-in tests.

Far stronger, this "old school" Medeco Maxum deadbolt lock.

As for Nest's Learning Thermostat, it has plenty of innovative features, but it costs 250 dollars and it's harder to set up than others. With the 170-dollar Venstar Color Touch Series, set up is a breeze.

As for lighting systems, the 200-dollar Hue system from Philips lets you dim and even change the color of its bulbs. For far less, the 50-dollar Connected by TCP is easier to set up. It doesn't change colors, but you can dim the bulbs from your cell phone.

So should you be considering a connected home? An elaborate system like Daniel's costs 25-thousand dollars.

"It's fun to watch, but I'm not really sure that one-touch control is there yet for the average person," Lehrman said.

Consumer Reports says sometimes the extra money is worth it. For example, with the Venstar Colortouch Thermostat you can easily add a Wi-Fi-connection key for about 65 dollars. And with some Generac generators you can add Mobile Link that notifies you if your generator stops working and automatically calls for repairs.

You can get more information on connected homes here:

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