The best smart home devices of CES 2019 grew some hair on their chest – CNET

Google owned this one. No question.

Yes, Google spent a ton on marketing. Its booth in the parking lot of the Las Vegas Convention Center was bigger than most houses. It had a roller coaster (kind of; it was really more of a flat “ride”). And Google back all the style with substance, demoing Google Assistant voice services far ahead of the competition and announcing a startling number of connected devices that work with its products.

Beyond Google’s dominance, smaller smart home sub-categories bloomed at CES, including GE’s C by GE smart lights and Whirlpool and its Yummly- and Google-powered connected kitchen products. With increased competition, and forward movement for certain categories, the smart home is no longer about gawking at the fact that you can control your lights with an app. The smart home appears to have grown up some.

In order of importance, here’s what we saw that stood out the most.

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Google Assistant Interpreter mode and Google Assistant Connect

Google Assistant’s Interpreter mode is a great example of how deep experience in machine learning and natural language processing can pay off. International travelers may be the first to encounter Interpreter, since Google is piloting it at hotel concierge desks. With Interpreter, a Google Smart Display and eventually an Android phone can act as a translation tool for two people who need to carry on a conversation but don’t speak the same language. Right now, Interpreter can translate 27 different languages and not only shows the conversation on the screen, but the Assistant itself actually says both parts of the conversation out loud.

You can read the full hands-on conducted by my colleague Rich Nieva. Despite a few bumps, Google Interpreter Mode feels remarkably useful. It also looks like a sharp poke in the eye to Amazon’s competing Alexa voice service. (Alexa can only speak three languages right now, English, German, and Japanese, along with a handful of English dialects.) Amazon has a learning tool called Cleo to help Alexa add more languages, but Google launching Interpreter mode highlights a discrete edge for Assistant as an all-purpose service.

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Google also laid the groundwork for an answer to Amazon’s avalanche of device announcements this past Fall. Google Assistant Connect is essentially a chip for third party device makers to add basic Google Assistant connectivity to their devices. As examples, Google demonstrated a concept, credit card-style e-Ink display that showed basic time, weather, and traffic information, provided by a direct connection to a nearby Google Home speaker. It also showed a mock-up of a smart button you could tie to a Google Home speaker to which you had associated a set of smart lights. The button itself doesn’t ping Google’s cloud service, but by pressing it, it sends the on/off command request to the Google Home device that does.

Think of Google Assistant Connect as the Google equivalent to Amazon’s Alexa Gadgets Toolkit. Amazon’s Echo Wall Clock is a product of that kit. The Clock doesn’t have an Alexa speaker built in, but instead sets the time and displays Alexa timers via data provided by its connection to an Echo speaker. Both kits enable developers to come to market with creative, lightweight products that can be either fun or useful to consumers, and also extend the reach of their respective voice platforms. I expect Google’s annual developer showcase, Google I/O, will have a deluge of new Google Assistant gadgets, similar to Amazon’s event last year.

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Chris Monroe/CNET

Whirlpool Connected Kitchen

I love cooking, and it’s hard to imagine bringing more technology into my kitchen, but the KitchenAid Smart Display from Whirlpool is something I’d consider. That alone makes it notable.

It’s essentially the same as the other Google Smart Displays from Google and its partners that launched last year, with the addition of a splash-resistant coating, and integration with Yummly, a recipe recommendation and cooking walkthrough app Whirlpool is rolling out across kitchen products from the Smart Display to a full-sized wall oven.

What makes the KitchenAid Smart Display compelling is that it piggybacks off the strong foundation of Google Assistant and the other Google-powered smart displays, which are already good at walking you through a recipe. The splash resistance is a thoughtful improvement, and if you like Yummly and decide you want to go deeper into Whirlpool’s smart kitchen universe, the app maintains continuity with other Whirlpool products, letting you tee up cook time and temperature from the display. 

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Chris Monroe/CNET

Of the other products, the wall oven in particular is an example of the goofiest impulses of smart kitchen, but that’s okay. It’s only a concept, and it’s exactly the kind of thing that drums up hype at CES. Instead of a traditional glass viewing window, the Whirlpool Connected Hub Wall Oven has a transparent AR display. It will show you recipe steps from the Yummly service, or a rendering of whatever dish you’re making. A camera above the screen tracks your head movements, which then prompt the meal rendering to move on the screen, so you can see multiple sides of it. 

I’m intrigued with another concept from the show: the WLabs Smart Countertop Oven. A competitor to connected countertop ovens from June, Brava, and others, the WLabs model has food identification technology that can identify food you put into it and then automatically set cook time and temperature. That’s a lot like June’s oven, but Whirlpool has more heating elements in its version, which the company says will result in more even cooking and more cook mode options. This one will actually become available to consumers. 

Whirlpool says it’s offering 2,000 units in a test run this spring for $800. This kind of appliance isn’t for everyone, but we liked the June oven for what it was when we reviewed it last year. With serious competition in this space, someone may eventually get it right at a price more people can afford.

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Chris Monroe/CNET

C by GE Lighting products

The best thing about the GE smart lighting line expansion is it gives real competition to Philips Hue due to the breadth of GE’s device line-up. With three new smart bulbs, five new smart light switches, a smart power outlet (for lamps) and a smart motion detector to let you trigger some automations, you can now outfit the lighting scheme of an entire home with GE hardware. 

GE’s pricing is competitive with the equivalent products from Philips, and like Philips, the GE kit works with the three major smart home voice assistants, Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri. Philips still has more bulb options than GE, but with color-changing  A19 and BR30 floodlight bulbs (it already had all-white models), GE hits the two most important bulb designs for residential use. This hardware will roll at a steady pace this year, with two dimmer switches coming to stores in Q1 2019.

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Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Netatmo Smart Video Doorbell

We saw multiple video doorbells at this year’s show, including a new peephole design from Ring. That’s a clever design, but the Netatmo Smart Video Doorbell earned our admiration as the first video doorbell to work with Apple’s HomeKit smart home platform, and for the fact that unlike competing doorbells, Netatmo offers a lot of its accompanying services for free.

Where August, Nest, Ring, and others charge for video storage and person detection, the Netatmo bell comes with a microSD card for local storage, as well as the ability to store clips on DropBox or on an FTP server. You can also view those clips via the Netatmo app. Person detection, and the ability to outline specific motion monitoring zones in the camera’s field of view are also free. All of that usually requires a monthly subscription service fee. Here, they’re free. Pricing is still TBD, but you’ll see Netatmo’s doorbell in stores in the second half of 2019.

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James Martin/CNET

Lenovo Smart Clock

The Lenovo Smart Clock is similar to Amazon’s Echo Spot bedside smart display, but with one major exception. No camera. That alone is reason enough to like this thing. 

The Smart Clock includes Google Assistant, as well as a pared down version of Google’s smart display interface designed only to show you information like traffic on your route to work, weather, calendar appointments, and maybe a video feed from a Google-connected smart camera. It can play music, but not video from any of the various streaming services, nor can it show pictures. 

The Smart Clock also has a unique snooze feature for its alarm. Smack the clock when the alarm goes off and it will go into snooze mode. You can also set it to trigger a “good morning” routine across your Google Assistant smart home devices once you dismiss the alarm. All of that is clever enough, but also notable is that this is yet another Google Assistant device aimed directly at an Amazon equivalent, and arguably doing it better. 

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LaMetric Sky

Color-changing LED wall panels are perhaps the best novelty in the smart home category. Nanoleaf and LIFX have come to the show with triangular and square models before, LaMetric’s design moves the concept forward.  

LaMetric is comprised of interlocking, triangular panels with built-in LEDs. Where most other panel design let you program one color per panel, each of LaMetric’s panels is made of 32 smaller triangular portions, all of which you can set to a different color. The result is a beautiful stained-glass effect that you can hang on your wall. 

LaMetric hasn’t put a price on Sky yet, nor even the number of panels that will come in a kit (probably 8). With all the complication that comes with linking devices together, privacy, or the fundamental debate around the benefits of smart home, it’s refreshing to have a class of products that simply serve to look great on your wall. 

The smart home still has plenty of room to mature, and recent headlines have done the category no favors in its ongoing effort to prove that it deserves consumer trust. More competition will only help, and with at least some of the hardware mature enough to invite more and more services, it appears the smart home might have moved out of its infancy. The question for 2019 will be how it grows from here, and whether or not it can convince consumers to hang around to find out. 

CES 2019: Every story so far: See all of CNET’s coverage of the year’s biggest tech show.  

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