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:
Continuing my Smart Home Product Review Week it’s time to talk about the smartest garage door opener I’ve ever seen and it’s by Chamberlain. When I moved into my new home one of the things that wasn’t included was the two garage door openers I’d need. I thought this was a weird item not to include, but when I saw the price that the builder wanted to install theirs, I decided to just go get my own. This was another one of those things that I hadn’t had to shop for in over 25 years. I hadn’t realized how far they’ve come. The first option I noticed was a battery backup and I definitely wanted that. There had been times where storms had taken out the power in my studio (10′ door) and that while I could get up on a ladder and use the manual release to raise the door, it just wasn’t worth it. My car remained trapped until the power came back on. Having a battery backup means that the garage door opener will still work even if the house loses power.
Chamberlain Smartphone Controlled Wi-Fi Garage Door Opener offers everything in one box
Picking up where I left off yesterday with my new smart home gadget reviews, let’s talk about the Ring Video Doorbell Pro. I have always liked having a camera that can show me who is at my front door and if I have any packages sitting there? I checked with my alarm provider and while they do offer outdoor cameras, they actually suggested that I go with a Ring Video Doorbell instead. I had never heard of Ring before and when I went to check them out the reviews on Amazon weren’t great. However, after reading a few of them I realized that most of the criticism was in comparing the newer “Pro” model to the standard model. I ended up going with the Pro model for a couple of reasons. For one and probably the main reason is that the Ring Video Doorbell Pro is simply not as wide as the standard version. The Pro model is a perfect fit for my doorbell area and the standard model would have been too wide. The Pro does 1080p vs. 720p and also can connect to the less crowded 5GHz Wi-Fi spectrum. Those were enough reasons to push me up to the Pro model. While the standard model can work with an existing doorbell (replace yours with this one) or no existing doorbell, the Pro only works where you have a wired doorbell.
See and Talk to Anyone At Your Door from Anywhere in the World
I know it’s been a while since I’ve done gadget reviews here. However, I’ve just moved into a new home and for the first time in several years I’ve been looking at and buying smart home gadgets. I must admit that the amount of choices out there now are quite daunting. Even if you find the right gadget based upon the feature set that you’re looking for you also have also decide which platform to go with. Platform?
Yes, just like you decide to go with iOS or Android, Mac or Windows, etc, your smart home gadgets work together based on alliances and partnerships. For example, I was pretty sure that I would go with a Nest thermostat. I had been looking at them for years. I liked the design. Nest even acquired Dropcam, the company I was using for all my wifi cameras. However, somewhere along the way Nest was acquired by Google. That acquisition put them at odds with Apple. I have nothing against Google or the Android platform, but all of my mobile devices are iOS based. Therefore I wanted to go with devices that work with Apple’s HomeKit platform.
If you’re an Amazon Prime member then you were probably given the chance to order an Amazon Echo early and for the introductory price of $99. I took them up on their offer and ordered the Amazon Echo a few months back. I wasn’t really sure what it would do for me or if it would be worth it. I received my unit and went through the setup process using the iPhone app. It was pretty easy to setup, connect it to my WiFi network and configure it with my Pandora Radio and iHeart Radio accounts. From that point on I could just say “Alexa” and ask it pretty much anything that I wanted to know. Rather than write about it I decided to give you a video demonstration:
I gotta say that I’m pretty impressed with it and especially the accuracy of the voice recognition. I use it for music the most. It’s cool being able to say play songs by _______ or have it play any of my Pandora Radio stations. I don’t have a daily commute, but if I did it would be great to say “what’s the traffic look like?” and have it give me current traffic conditions from my home to my work place. To answer the question, YES the Amazon Echo was absolutely worth the $99 special price. Now the question is is it worth the current price of $179.99? I would say mostly yes for the music aspect of it and the home automation potential. It’s also cool that new capabilities are being added to it on a regular basis. It works as advertised. One way to justify it is to keep in mind that there are bluetooth speakers out there that cost just as much and do a whole lot less. The sound coming from Amazon Echo is as good if not better than most other “dumb” speakers out there today.
I love home automation products. My first X10 remote controlled lights date back to the early 1980’s. Long before smartphones and bluetooth wireless. I always thought it was cool to be able to remote control several lights, appliances, etc. all from one control pad or timer module. I haven’t looked that the advancements that closely over the years, but when the Elgato Avea came across my review desk I was excited. The Avea Dynamic Mood Light is a 7W bluetooth controlled LED lightbulb. Unlike other products on the market this one doesn’t require a network connection or any other hardware to drive it other than your iPhone or iPad. Once you take it out of the box you merely screw it in to any standard light socket and set it up with the App on your iPhone. Rather than go into more detail via text, check out this video of how it works:
I was so happy with the review unit that I immediately ordered another one for another room. I was also pleasantly surprised to see and use the Apple Watch support. Being able to turn lights on and off as you walk around from your wrist adds another level of convenience and cool factor. I was also pleased to see that the lights can be controlled from either device at any time. When it comes to the iPhone vs. iPad vs. other iPhone, whoever opens the App first has control. This eliminates the pain of having to constantly unpair and pair differing mobile devices. My only two complaints are that I wish they offered a higher watt (brighter) version and that they made the app easier to control different lights than it is now. While the bulbs are plenty bright when using the “white” color setting, they colored settings/moods can be a bit dim. The App does allow you to turn on a mood for one or more lights at the same time, it seems like that control is buried another level deeper in the mood presets. I would like to see this setting moved up in the UI. My gripes are very minor. I’m very pleased with this product and will probably order more of them.