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The best smart home gadgets for your first apartment

You don’t have to spend a ton to automate your digs.

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Your first apartment after graduation is probably not your forever home, but you can make it something you’re proud of with gadgets that do your bidding. You can automate your lights, keep an eye on your pets and clean up your floors more efficiently with relatively affordable devices that won’t eat up too much of your paycheck. We’ve tried out a lot of smart home tech over the years and here’s what we recommend for newbies and those with tight budgets

You can think of the Echo Show 5 as the command center for your automated home. Amazon tweaked their smallest display in 2023 to be a little faster and a little bassier than its predecessor, and it’s still a good smart display for a compact space. It shows footage from your connected cameras and grants voice control over your smart plugs and other devices. Plus, it’ll play your music or podcasts, tell you the weather and even stream your favorite show (just note that the Netflix app isn’t supported).

$90 at Amazon
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$90 at Target$90 at Best Buy

Connected bulbs might be the easiest way to turn your analog home into a “smart” one. A single smart light can ensure you never walk into a dark apartment again. You can set schedules for your daily routines or make it look like you’re home when you’re not. Being able to turn things off with just your voice or via an app can save you from getting out of bed when you’re ready to crash. Our senior commerce editor, Valentina Palladino tested a number of bulbs for our guide and thinks TP-Link’s Kasa Smart Bulbs give you the best value. Installation will be easy, even for those new to smart devices, thanks to Kasa’s clean and simple app. It’s worth noting that voice control is only available with Alexa or the Google Assistant; Siri is unfortunately incompatible.

$27 at Amazon

Roku’s Streaming Stick 4K turns any screen with an HDMI port into a smart TV for under $50. Our commerce writer, Nicole Lee, likes Roku’s straightforward interface and the fact that it supports universal search so you can find out which service a given show is playing on. Unlike some streaming sticks, Roku works with all the major voice assistants: Siri, Google Assistant and Alexa. You can even control your TV by saying “hey Roku” to the included remote or through the Roku app. The same app turns your phone into a second remote and enables private listening through your headphones as well. The 4K dongle is made for high-resolution screens, but if you don’t have a 4K TV and want to save more money, Amazon’s Fire TV Stick Lite is our favorite budget option.

$40 at Amazon
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$40 at Staples$40 at Target

An indoor security camera can give you eyes on your pets when you’re out, or just some peace of mind when you’re away for the weekend. The updated Blink Mini 2 camera now packs a spotlight, offers better night vision and is rated for both indoor and outdoor use. The price went up $10 as a result, but it still ranks as one of the more affordable smart security cameras out there. Blink is an Amazon brand, so the camera should sync easily with Echo Show displays, but will also send video feed to your phone or Fire TV. A built-in mic and speaker let you hear and talk to anyone in the room, nice for confusing the cat or freaking out your guests.

$30 at Kohl's
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$40 at Amazon$40 at Lowe's

Whether it’s traffic exhaust in the city, pollen in the suburbs or wildfire smoke everywhere, it’s not always ideal to throw open your apartment’s windows to get some fresh air. An air purifier can help keep your indoor air healthier when you’re shut inside, and we like this small-space unit from Levoit. The Core 300S smart air purifier is an app-compatible gadget that can automatically adjust its fan speed depending on how much particulate matter it detects in the air. We found it to be nearly silent running on low and not too distracting when on high. Plus it’s relatively affordable and the replacement filters only cost around $35.

$150 at Amazon

I found the tackiest, most amazing lamp in the lobby of one of my first apartment buildings and I still cherish it to this day — but its rotary switch is extremely hard to turn. I’ve since plugged it into one of Kasa’s EP25 Smart Plugs and now it automatically comes on just before sunset and goes off when I say goodnight to Alexa (or ask it to turn off the “ugly lamp”). Many smart plugs out there will do this, but the EP25 is the top performer from our guide because we found it connects easily, works reliably and is compatible with all four major smart home platforms.

$36 at Amazon

Nobody’s knocking Christmas lights as decor, but strip lights are a slightly classier way to add flair to your space. You can use them to light up bookcases, create ambiance for your streaming setup or turn your bedroom into a color-coordinated haven. Govee makes many different smart LED strips, but the one senior commerce editor Valentina recommends in our guide is the M1 RGBIC. She was impressed by the light's brightness and wide spectrum of available hues. You can control different segments independently and the app has an “effects lab” that offers pre-programed lighting presets like sunsets, starry nights and movie-themed color palettes.

$100 at Amazon
Photo by Valentina Palladino / Engadget

Engadget's Valentina Palladino has tested more than a dozen robot vacuums and recommends iRobot’s Roomba 694 to anyone looking to keep their floors clean without spending too much money (or time). The company’s companion app is simple and probably the 694’s biggest selling point, guiding you through installation and programming. The vacuum can handle hard floors and carpet, and it runs for about 45 minutes on a charge, which should be enough for most smaller apartments. You’ll have to help it out when it gets snagged on a cable and empty the bin when it's full, but other than that, it’s a fairly hands-off way to get cleaner floors.

$180 at Kohl's
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$187 at Lowe's$200 at Amazon
Photo by Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

The Sonos Roam is both a smart and portable speaker, packing a decent amount of utility into a $180 package. While not the cheapest around, it’s relatively low-cost for Sonos, a brand known for quality audio. The Roam will play whichever music service you prefer, delivering clear highs and impressive bass for its size. Alexa is built in and you can access the Google Assistant too, which means you can use the speaker to order around your compatible smart home devices. And when it’s time to relax, you can ask Roam to play just about any song you can think of.

$179 at Sonos

Thick walls, weird layouts and other factors can make home WiFi reception spotty. If you’re experiencing dead zones in your apartment, a WiFi extender might help. TP-Link’s AC1200 RE315 is our favorite budget pick: it covers 1,500 square feet and delivers speeds of up to 1,200Mbps – plenty fast for streaming and working from home. It also has a built-in Ethernet port, which should provide an even more reliable connection to essential tech like your TV or game console.

$27 at Amazon
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$40 at B&H Photo

Cooking for yourself is one of the bigger adjustments of adulting – it certainly was for me. Luckily a big batch of beans and rice can keep most humans alive for much longer than you’d think. The Instant Pot Duo cooks beans without soaking and makes fluffy rice; add a jar of salsa and you have a fairly well-rounded meal. Of course, it can cook more elaborate stuff too: search for Instant Pot recipes and you’ll get a lifetime’s worth of ideas. We recommend a larger version in our guide to kitchen gadgets, but this three-quart model is both more affordable and a better size for just one or two people.

$80 at Amazon