Thursday, June 16, 2016

Smart Home: A Review of 3 Smart House Products

When I get home at night, I get out my phone and give it a voice command. That one command unlocks my door, turns on the lights in two rooms, and changes my thermostat from Away to Home. What follows is a review of the 3 smart house products and the iPhone app that helped me get everything set up so that parts of my house are voice controllable. These 3 devices work with Apple's Homekit (two of the three also work with Amazon's Alexa) and they allow me to control them via Siri voice commands. If you're considering any of the products here, please use the link I provided as I get a small commission from Amazon. Thanks.

Smart Thermostat: Ecobee 3

The Ecobee is a smart thermostat that responds to voice commands from both Apple's Siri and Amazon's Alexa. You can preset comfort settings (temperature ranges) for both Home and Away and even control your house temperature remotely. Since installing an Ecobee, I got a check from Questar for about $100 for installing a smart thermostat and I save about 20% monthly on my energy bill.

Installation: The installation wasn't too bad, but it may require putting an adapter on your furnace. It was a little nerve racking installing the adapter thinking that worst case scenario I could blow up my house. Fortunately, that's not how it played out. Other than that, everything was pretty easy to install. Here are a few pictures:

The larger black square is the Ecobee and the small white square is a room sensor. The room sensors allow you to control the temperature in different areas of your house. The Ecobee comes with one room sensor and you can add up to 32 total. I have mine in my bedroom. The entire install took about half an hour.

App: The Ecobee app is pretty basic, but it allows for easy control of the Ecobee from both inside and outside your house / home network. Before I had the voice macro commands set up, I used to set my house temperature right before I went home from work. By the time I arrived home, the house was done either heating or cooling. I haven't had any issues with Siri voice commands or macro commands I've set up (like the "I'm home" command I mentioned earlier). You can check out the Ecobee on Amazon by clicking here.

Smart Lock: Schlage Sense

The Schlage Sense is a lock that uses low-energy bluetooth to communicate with voice commands via Siri. There's also an option of punching in a 4-8 digit code that you can set up and change via the app and you can always use the key that comes with it instead.

Installation: The Sense lock was pretty easy to install with one minor issue. When I initially installed it, I could get it to unlock but couldn't get it to lock. I called customer service and they walked me through a factory reset (the reset process wasn't in the manual). Their customer service was great. After that, the installation went smooth and everything worked. Here are some photos of what it comes with and what it looks like on an actual door:

The entire install took about 45 minutes if you include the phone call I had to make to their support team. If you don't run into that problem, I imagine it could be installed in half an hour or less.

App: The app has issues with seeing the lock via bluetooth on rare occasions, but it's generally fine. The app allows you to lock or unlock the door and it allows you to create temporary or permanent 4-8 digit passcodes that you can punch in on the number pad to get in. This is a great feature if you have multiple people using the door and you want everyone to have their own passcode. It's also great if you just want to let someone in temporarily, because you can delete the passcode after it's used. The app also tracks when the door opens and closes, so you can be aware of what times the door was unlocked and locked. You can check out the Schlage Sense on Amazon by clicking here.

Smart Lights: Philips Hue

Philips Hue lights are LED bulbs available in both white and color that can be controlled by Apple's Siri and Amazon's Alexa. The starter kit comes with the router attachment and two white bulbs. I ordered an additional two bulbs to control the lighting in four areas of my house.

Installation: The installation was pretty easy. There's a small white box that plugs into your router via Ethernet and then the majority of the set up takes place from the app after the lights are installed and turned on. The app took a few minutes to do a firmware upgrade on the router attachment. Here's what it the router attachment looks like:

Setting up everything, including swapping in the LED bulbs, took about 20 minutes. I took the extra step of naming each of the bulbs for the room they're in to make Siri commands easier.

App: I've heard that there are some issues with the app and color bulbs, but it works flawlessly with the white LED bulbs. You can turn lights on or off via the app or turn them on or off with Siri. You can also group lights in the same area together to make things easier. You can check out the Philips Hue Starter Kit on Amazon here.

The "I'm Home" voice command

After setting up a smart thermostat, a smart lock, and smart lights, I wanted them all to work together with a macro command. Apple has announced that there will be a Homekit app available in iOS 10, but there's a free app available right now that works really well with Homekit devices after you figure it out. The app is called Hesperus and it's available from the Apple App Store. Once I downloaded it and it added my devices, I was able to make a "scene" called "I'm home." Now when I get home from work, I say "Hey Siri, I'm home." Within a few seconds, my door unlocks, my thermostat changes from Away to Home, and the lights in two rooms turn on. Companies are working with Apple more and more to release new Homekit products. There's now a fireproof safe, smoke detectors, and even a security system that you can control with Homekit.

Additionally, some of these products can take voice commands from Amazon's voice assistant, Alexa. To look into that route, check out the Amazon Echo here.