Woman looking puzzled at a smart speaker
Enlarge / We don’t have to rely on megacorporation obelisks to operate the things we buy. We don’t have to learn their language. We can free ourselves.

Pony Wang/Getty Images

For many people, an automated smart home is all about little things that add up to big conveniences over time. Lights turn on when you get to the entrance, a thermostat downstairs that can be adjusted from the room above, a robot vacuum that works while you’re in the supermarket – you do a little setup work and your life becomes easier.

What most smart homes also include, however, is a voice assistant, the opposite of silent, invisible comfort. Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant: They require you to learn specific device names and command structures, while they often get amazingly wrong with even the simplest command. And they are, of course, a corporate microphone that always listens that you are allowing inside your home.

There are ways to maintain the convenience of a smart home while eliminating the conversation. Some involve your phone, some dedicated devices, but none of them involve saying the name of a device. Here’s an overview of the best options available.

DIY Controllers

A part of my Home Assistant dashboard, seen from a browser.
Enlarge / A part of my Home Assistant dashboard, seen from a browser.

kevin purdy

home assistant

Home Assistant is a self-hosted website that allows you to control almost any device with switches and dials. It’s much more than that, but it doesn’t have to look like it. Home Assistant is more labor intensive to set up than the big tech home control apps, but it’s infinitely configurable. You decide which controls to show and not show (and in what order) and set up automations that don’t require installing each device’s clunky app on your phone. With specific devices, you can also choose to manage everything locally, disconnected from the cloud.

Most enthusiasts run Home Assistant from a Raspberry Pi. Given device current shortageIt’s nice that Home Assistant can also run on other hardware. Home Assistant also makes a dedicated box based on Pi, yellow home assistantalthough it is perpetually on a backorder of several months.

Once Home Assistant is installed and connected to your devices, you’ll have access to your equipment via phones, tablets, computers, or a mounted display. You’ll also have easy ways to access it from your Android and iOS phone; more on that in a moment.

Hubitat, with a cup of coffee and an apple as a scale.
Enlarge / Hubitat, with a cup of coffee and an apple as a scale.

Hubitat and HomeSeer

If Home Assistant doesn’t appeal to you or you’d rather have a separate piece of hardware to manage your smart home, habitat Y HomeSeer They are notable alternatives. Both tend to focus their support on devices that communicate via the Zigbee and Z-Wave radio protocols. And recently, Home Assistant has seen more active community development. But both projects offer the same kind of web-based local control of all your devices, with perhaps even stronger local control.

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