Belkin Wemo light switch
While the Nest helps you monitor your heat, the Belkin Wemo light switch, $50, lets you turn your lights on and off with a smart phone or tablet from home or afar. The Wemo replaces regular switches and connects to your home's Wi-Fi system with an app. With it you can program all the lights inside and outside your house including ceiling fans. While the company claims that setup is a snap, because it’s bigger than your typical light switch, it was a bit tricky. But once we installed one, it worked well at customizing a lighting schedule and sending e-mail alerts indicating if the lights are on or off.
Philips Hue LEDs
Hue takes lighting technology way past on, off, and dimmable, redefining what a lightbulb can do. The Philips Hue LED web-enabled system, $199, lets you switch the color of the LED bulbs from warm to bright white or to almost any color in the rainbow using any smart device in your home or remotely. The set comes with three web-enabled LEDs and a device that plugs into your wireless router. Additional bulbs are $59 each. Each system can control up to 50 bulbs using a free app with smart devices running on certain Apple and Android systems. Setting it up was a snap, and the app was intuitive and easy to use. In our early tests, the LEDs provided instant light and used even less energy than claimed. But there were some trade-offs between brightness and color temperature and accuracy. When the color of the light was warm, like an incandescent, the accuracy was great, but the light was only a bit brighter than a 40-watt bulb.
Smart laundry apps
More appliances come with their own apps these days, including new LG, Samsung, and Whirlpool clothes dryers that let you track your laundry’s progress and even turn your machine on or off remotely. The Whirlpool model can send a text or an e-mail when the load is done. The Samsung and Whirlpool apps also let you start the machine remotely, but you have to manually set it up. The apps we tested were easy to use. Still, it’s not a good idea to run appliances when no one is home. And you may have privacy concerns: To use them sometimes involved providing an e-mail address, a cell number, or both. LG even asks for your birthday, sex, and other info.
—Mary H.J. Farrell