I’ve been building out my smart home since 2016. I use all three leading smart home platforms: Apple HomeKit, Amazon Alexa and Google Home and while each one has its advantages, Apple HomeKit is my platform of choice as it does the most. While just about any device can be controlled via an app, what makes a smart home really smart is when you can control multiple devices with a single voice command, scene or automation. With HomeKit I have automations setup like “Going Upstairs” which locks the entry doors, turns off the patio fans, turns off the family room lights and fan, turns on the hallway lights, changes colors of the Hue lights in the bedroom, makes sure the garage doors are closed, arms the alarm “home”, closes the blinds and turns off the TV downstairs. There is no other platform besides HomeKit that would let me do all of those things using devices from so many different manufacturers, with one command.
I wanted to create this video last year and then the pandemic hit and I decided to postpone it. I finally sat down to create it and here it is:
Although I put the links to everything in the video description, there is a character limit and I couldn’t go into much detail. Therefore I’ve also put the descriptions and links to each product below:
I can’t believe that it has been almost two years since I moved away from my Apple AirPort Extreme WiFi routers. You can see my original Linksys Velop review from May 2018 here. I grew my original three node Tri-band Linksys Velop network to five nodes that year and it worked pretty well for me. However, I’m a speed freak. I want the fastest possible network speeds that I can get and I zero tolerance for dead spots. I have a fairly large network with anywhere from 110 to 130 devices connected at any given time. I also have a smart home and stable fast WiFi is a must for a smart home to function successfully. This need for speed lead me to look at the NEW Linksys Velop WiFi 6 Mesh Router.
The Linksys Velop WiFi 6 Mesh Router is a BEAST!
It’s not only significantly larger in size, but it also improves upon the Velop Tri-band Mesh Router in every way. The specs are mouth-watering.
It was just one month ago that I wrote a review of SimpliSafe. While I do still stand by that review and everything I said, I have actually switched to Ring Alarm! It’s rare that after I do my research and make a tech decision that I end up switching to something else so soon after, but this is one of those cases.
I’ve been into home automation and smart home gear for years. I really got serious about it when we built a new house in 2016. A new house meant being about to start from scratch with the best solutions for every aspect of home automation that I wanted. When you talk smart home the usual suspects come to people’s minds: lights, cameras, thermostats, locks, security systems, shades/window blinds, garage door openers, etc. Beyond simple control from your smartphone, smart home automation is really about Scenes and Routines. It’s about using one verbal command, or press one button or come home and have a series of things happen.
This is when picking a smart home platform comes into play
My house was built in 2016. Back then I went with the security system that had been partnered with the builder. It turned out to be Alarm.com and later was acquired by Brinks. The system itself did its job. I was even able to set it up so that it could be armed via my voice by Alexa, Google Home and their mobile app. The system was basic and covered all the entry doors as well as a motion detector. It included a panel on the wall and this panel had the siren built-in as well as a cellular connection to the monitoring service. That’s it.
Why I switched from a system that I had paid off to one that I would have to buy from scratch?
There are several security web cameras and video doorbells on the market right now. Each as you would expect has its advantages and disadvantages over the other one. While there are several viable options out there, today I’m going to focus on three that I use regularly. All of these webcams connect to your home/office network via Wi-Fi. By no means should you walk away thinking that these are the only three options. However, these are the three that I’ve had the most direct experience with.
Why use more than one brand?
You can absolutely get good cameras from any of the three vendors I’m reviewing today and use that brand exclusively. However, sticking with a single brand may mean that you’re missing out on other features and uses that you may be interested in. For example, I like my Ring cameras because Ring offers solar powered options that don’t require a power outlet outside the house or having to constantly take them down and charge their internal batteries. Ring also works with Amazon Echo (Alexa) smart speakers with displays so that you can view them in any room without having to fire up the app on your phone.
Nest offers both indoor and outdoor cameras that work just as good as the ones from the other two vendors, but I really like that they offer of all things a native Apple TV app so that I can view my cameras on the big screen.
Logitech offers cameras that cost less and have the big advantage of having native HomeKit support. Having HomeKit support means that the cameras can be integrated into HomeKit Automations. For example, if someone walks within range of a camera at night it can trigger lights inside and/or outside the home to come on automatically. Logitech also lets you do more without having to pay for a monthly subscription to store the videos in the cloud. Because Nest cameras are powered via AC they are always recording/streaming whether there is activity or not. This way you can look at any timeframe to see what happened even if there wasn’t a specific event trigger.
I love all of these features and use them daily, but don’t worry, I’ll tell you by the end of this post which camera I’d go with if I could only pick one.
It was roughly 17 years ago that the first Roomba robotic vacuum was introduced. Being a gadget geek I bought one. It was OK. Yes as a vacuum I was immediately amazed by how much it actually picked up, but as time went on it was obvious that the “brain” of the original Roomba wasn’t that smart. It would seemingly randomly go over the same places over and over again while missing other places completely. It was also easy for it to get stuck and not figure out how to get free. Lastly, it almost never returned home on its own. I would have to pick it up and return it to the charging base more often than not. When the rechargeable batteries died, I never bothered to replace them. I was over it.
17 Years Later the iRobot Roomba 960 is MUCH MUCH BETTER!
Vacuuming is absolutely a task that needs to be done and is one that in most cases we wish it could be done by someone or something else. There isn’t much joy derived from vacuuming by hand. So if you could literally have a robot (or should I say droid – sorry I had a Star Wars moment) do it. Why not? I researched various robotic vacuums and settled on the iRobot Roomba 960 It’s in the middle of the product line. It’s not the most or least expensive model. It’s priced and featured comfortably right in the middle. Trust me, it wasn’t easy spending this much money on something that I hadn’t proven to be worth it, but a little over a month later and I couldn’t imagine life without it.
Thanks to Amazon’s new Influencer Program, I can now put all my gadget and photography recommendations in one place. This is the most complete guide that I’ve ever had simply because Amazon carries so many products. Does this mean that I don’t shop or recommend places like B&H Photo anymore? Absolutely not. I love B&H and quite honestly I will continue to buy my big ticket photography gear and electronics from there. However, there are so many things that I recommend that B&H just doesn’t carry. That’s why I’m stoked to have the opportunity to have my own spot on Amazon. There isn’t anything here that I haven’t used personally. The only possible exception would be a newer version of a gadget or piece of tech that I use that is no longer available.
They are nicely organized by category. You can see my recommendations here.
For the past two years I’ve been looking for a solution to automate my blinds without having to replace them with new ones. I would love to have Serena blinds by Lutron to integrate into my existing system, but those would set me back anywhere from $500-$800 a window. I just can’t justify that. Luckily now I don’t have to. I stumbled upon the MySmartBlinds Automation kit. MySmartBlinds allows you to automate your existing traditional horizontal blinds. I have 24 windows with these blinds already installed. No need to replace the blinds. I can just pick and choose which windows I want to automate and install the MySmartBlinds kit.
How hard are they to install?
It takes about 10-20 minutes to install the kit on one set of blinds. I can do it pretty quickly now that I’ve done about 10 of my windows. Here’s a video of how the installation and setup in the app works:
Anyone that knows me knows that I’m a huge fan of smart home gear. When we built our house back in 2016 I got a chance to have a clean slate and really install all the latest and greatest smart home gear of the time. I wanted lights that would come and and go off at different times, WiFi controlled garage door openers, cameras, voice assistants and more. When it came to lighting I standardized on the Lutron Caséta system. I’ve been 100% happy with it for the last two years. While I love the Caséta system it does have a hard limit of 50 devices per hub. I couldn’t believe it one day when I went to add a device and it told me that I had hit the limit. Now keep in mind that’s wall switches, lamps and pico remotes. But yeah, I hit the 50 limit. Luckily I was able to unpair a remote that we weren’t really using and add the last device.