The woman looks worriedly at the smart speaker
To enlarge / We don’t have to rely on megacorp obelisks to control the stuff we buy. We don’t have to learn their language. We can be free.

PonyWang/Getty Images

For many people, an automated smart home is about the little things that add up to big conveniences over time. Lights that turn on when you pull into the driveway, a downstairs thermostat that can be adjusted from your upstairs bedroom, a robot vacuum that runs while you’re at the grocery store—you do a little setup and your life becomes easier.

However, most smart homes include a voice assistant, the opposite of silent, unprecedented comfort. Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant: They require you to learn specific device names and structures for commands, while they often get even the simplest command shockingly wrong. And they are, of course, the ever-listening corporate microphone you allow in your home.

There are ways to keep that smart home comfort while you hang up. Some cover your phone, some cover specific devices, but none of them involve naming the device. Here’s an overview of the best options available.

DIY controllers

Part of my Home Assistant panel as seen from the browser.
To enlarge / Part of my Home Assistant panel as seen from the browser.

Kevin Purdy

House helper

Home Assistant is a standalone web page that lets you control almost any device with switches and dials. There’s more to it than that, but it doesn’t have to look like that. Home Assistant is more work to set up than the home control apps from big tech companies, but it’s infinitely configurable. You decide which controls are shown or not (and in what order), and you set up automations that don’t require you to install each device’s cumbersome app on your phone. With dedicated devices, you can also choose to manage everything locally disconnected from the cloud.

Most hobbyists run Home Assistant from a Raspberry Pi. Considering the current of the device scarcitygood thing Home Assistant can work too other hardware. Home Assistant also makes a custom Pi-based box, House assistant Yellowalthough it is regularly on several months’ order.

Once Home Assistant is installed and connected to your devices, you’ll have access to your devices via phones, tablets, computers, or built-in displays. You’ll also have easy ways to access it from your Android and iOS phone – more on that later.

Hubitat, with a coffee cup and an apple for scale.
To enlarge / Hubitat, with a coffee cup and an apple for scale.

Hubitat and HomeSeer

If Home Assistant isn’t right for you or you’d rather have a different piece of hardware to control your smart home, Rudeness and HomeSeer are notable alternatives. Both tend to focus their support on devices that communicate over the Zigbee and Z-Wave radio protocols. And recently Home Assistant has more active community development. But both projects offer the same kind of local web-based control for all your devices, perhaps with more powerful local-only management.

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