Your first apartment after graduation probably isn’t your forever home, but you can make it something to be proud of with gadgets that meet your requirements. You can automate your lights, monitor your pets, and clean your floors more efficiently with relatively affordable devices that won’t eat too much of your paycheck. We’ve tried a lot of smart home tech over the years, and here’s what we recommend for beginners and those on a budget


You can think of Echo show 5 as a command center for your automated home. Amazon tweaked their smallest 2023 display to be a bit faster and a bit bassier than its predecessor, and it’s still a good smart display for a compact space. It displays footage from your connected cameras and provides voice control over your smart connectors and other devices. It’ll also play your music or podcasts, tell you the weather, and even stream your favorite show (just keep in mind that the Netflix app is not maintained).

$90 at Amazon

TP-Link / Kasa

Connected light bulbs may 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 routine or make it look like you’re home when you’re not. Being able to turn things off with just your voice or an app can save you getting out of bed when you’re ready to crash. Our senior trade editor, Valentina Palladino, tested a number of bulbs for our guide, and she thinks TP-Link’s Kasa smart bulbs give you the best value. Setup 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 Google Assistant; Unfortunately, Siri is incompatible.

$27 at Amazon


Roku’s Streaming Stick 4K turns any screen with an HDMI port into a smart TV for under $50. Our commercial writer, Nicole Lee, likes Roku’s simple interface and the fact that it supports universal search, so you can find out which service a 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” on the included remote or through the Roku app. The same app turns your phone into a second remote and allows private listening through your headphones as well. The 4K dongle is made for high-definition 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.

$39 at Amazon


An indoor security camera can give you a glimpse of your pets when you’re out and about, or just some peace of mind when you’re away for the weekend. The updated one Blink Mini 2 The camera now includes floodlights, offers better night vision, and is rated for both indoor and outdoor use. As a result, the price has gone up by $10, but it still ranks as one of the most affordable smart security cameras. Blink is an Amazon brand, so the camera should sync easily with Echo Show displays, but it will also send video feeds to your phone or Fire TV. The built-in microphone and speaker allows you to hear and speak to anyone in the room, which is great for confusing your cat or driving your guests crazy.

$30 at Lowe’s


Whether it’s exhaust fumes in the city, pollen in the suburbs, or smoke from forest fires everywhere, it’s not always ideal to open your apartment windows to get a breath of fresh air. An air purifier can help keep your indoor air healthier when you’re cooped up inside, and we love 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 many dust particles it detects in the air. We found it to be almost silent at low levels and not too distracting when at high. It’s also relatively affordable, with replacement filters only costing about $35.

$150 at Amazon

Cash register Smart

I found the most tacky and amazing lamp in the lobby of one of my first apartment buildings, and I still treasure it to this day—but its rotary switch is extremely difficult to turn. I have since included it in one of the Kasa’s EP25 smart plugs and now it automatically turns on right before sunset and turns off when I say goodnight to Alexa (or ask her to turn off the “ugly light”). Many smart connectors will do this, but the EP25 is the best in our guide because we found it to connect easily, work reliably, and is compatible with all four major smart home platforms.

$36 at Amazon


Nobody uses Christmas lights as decor, but string lights are a slightly more elegant way to add flair to your space. You can use them to illuminate bookcases, set the mood for your streaming setup, or turn your bedroom into a colorful retreat. Govee makes many different smart LED strips, but the only one Senior Trade Editor Valentina recommends in our guide is M1 RGBIC. She was impressed by the brightness of the light and the wide range of shades available. You can control different segments independently, and the app has an “effects lab” that offers pre-programmed lighting settings like sunsets, starry nights, and movie-themed color palettes.

$100 at Amazon

Photo by Valentina Palladino / Engadget

Valentina Palladino of Engadget has tested more than a dozen robot vacuum cleaners and recommends them Roomba 694 by iRobot for anyone who wants 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 carpets and runs for about 45 minutes on a charge, which should be enough for most smaller apartments. You’ll have to help him when he gets hooked on a cord and empty the bin when it’s full, but other than that, it’s a pretty easy way to cleaner floors.

$180 at Walmart

Photo by Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

The Sonos Roam is both a smart and portable speaker that packs a decent amount of utility into a $180 package. While it’s not the cheapest, it’s relatively cheap for Sonos, a brand known for quality audio. The Roam will play any music service you prefer, delivering clear highs and impressive bass for its size. Alexa is built-in and you also have access to Google Assistant, meaning you can use the speaker to order around your compatible smart home devices. And when it’s time to rest, you can ask Roam to play almost any song you can think of.

$179 at Sonos


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

$23 at Amazon

Instant sweat

Cooking for yourself is one of the bigger adjustments of adulthood – it certainly was for me. Fortunately, a big batch of beans and rice can keep most people alive a lot longer than you think. The Instant Pot Duo cook beans without soaking and make fluffy rice; add a jar of salsa and you have a pretty well rounded meal. Of course, it can also cook more complex things: search for instant pot recipes and you’ll get ideas for a lifetime. We recommend a larger version in our kitchen gadget guide, but this three-quart model is both more affordable and a better size for just one or two people.

$80 at Amazon