Smart home tech is nothing new — hobbyists have been geeking out over home automation for decades now — but in recent years, it’s marched closer to the mainstream than ever before. In recent years, high-profile connected home gadgets like the Amazon Echo, the Nest Learning Thermostat and the Ring Video Doorbellhave all become breakout hits by offering attractive designs and tangible benefits, many of them at prices that aren’t unreasonably high.

The result? A mainstream smart home market with an awful lot of momentum. In 2018, a GfK study found that over half of US households now include at least one smart home gadget. Over a third of them include two or more.

Of course, that leaves about half of us who still haven’t bought in. Many might be put off at the thought of connecting everything under their roof and sharing data picked up by sensors, security cameras and microphones with Silicon Valley — but with a wide variety of smart devices available in your local hardware store, others simply might not know where to start. To that end, here’s a look at how to answer a not-so-simple question: Which smart home product should you buy first?

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Plan for a purpose-driven smart home

Ask yourself: What do you want from your smart home? As a guy who listens to pitches for the latest smart home technology day in and day out, I can assure you that you’ve got lots of options. Do you want to keep an eye on things with a do-it-yourself security system and camera feeds you can check from your phone? Do you want simple conveniences like voice controls for your lights and thermostats? Do you want artificial intelligence and cloud-connected appliances to help freshen things up in the kitchen?

To figure out what you want, think about the things you do at home on a daily basis and look for improvements that you’d find meaningful. Do you tend to wander from room to room before bed turning off lights that the kids left on? Smart bulbs that you can turn off with a single voice command or tap on your phone might make sense. Do you shop online a lot, and worry about thieves stealing packages off your porch while you’re at work? A video doorbell with a feed you can view remotely might be a good fit.

For my money, I think smart lighting is a sensible starting point for almost everyone. After all, we use the lights in our home more than just about anything else — adding in things like motion-activated lights for the exterior of your home or automatic wake-up fades that sync with your morning alarms make a lot of sense, because you’ll enjoy them day in and day out. For more on why it’s a great time to try smart lights, click here.

Value versatility

If nothing specific jumps out at you and you just have a general curiosity about what the smart home might have to offer, then look for flexible, multifunctional devices that you can use in lots of different ways. A small smart speaker like the Amazon Echo Dotor Google Home Mini is a great way to see what artificially intelligent in-home helpers like Alexa and Google Assistant are capable of, and neither one will cost you more than $50. The WeMo Mini smart switch from Belkin is even cheaper, and it’ll let you automate anything you plug into it — lamps, desk fans, crock pots, space heaters, you name it.

The WeMo Mini Smart Switch from Belkin is a versatile little gadget that automates anything you plug into it. Available for just $30, it’s a good, low-risk step into the smart home.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

As always, when in doubt, start small. Once you find a product that you like, you can start to build around it by adding in other, compatible gadgets capable of making it even smarter and contributing some unique appeal of their own. Our smart home compatibility tracker can be a really helpful tool to that end.

Ponder your platform options

If you’re buying a new computer, you’ll need to decide which operating system you’d like to use — Mac, Windows, Chromebook, etc. Smart home tech is similar in that a majority of the most popular gadgets are designed to work within a wider ecosystem of devices — the most common being voice control platforms like Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and the Siri controls that come with Apple HomeKit. Control hubs from names like Wink and Samsung SmartThings offer dedicated platforms capable of helping different devices get along, too. You could also keep things working together by sticking to gadgets that work with IFTTT, a free, online automation platform.

Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of each of those options can go a long way toward helping you build out a smart home setup that makes sense for you, particularly if you’re planning on using multiple types of gadgets. The smart home is just better when things work together.

That said, most devices offer their own dedicated apps and controls, and can be used independent of any broader platforms right out of the box. That means that you don’t necessarily need to make any commitments right away. On top of that, a growing number of products support multiple platforms. Starting with smart devices like those can help you keep your options open if you’re undecided for now.

I’ll add that each platform has its own security certification process designed to keep insecure, vulnerable hardware out of the mix — that means that a product that works with multiple platforms has essentially gotten multiple passing grades from names like Apple, Amazon, Google and Samsung, all of which have a lot at stake when it comes to keeping their respective platforms secure.