Lessons I've Learned by Making My Dumb Home Smart
Lessons I've Learned by Making My Dumb Home Smart
In recent months, author Don Reisinger has plugged in a range of connected devices that promise to turn his formerly "dumb" appliances into "smart" products.
The Nest Thermostat Is a Learner
There's something to be said about the Nest Thermostat. It lives up to its hype. The device truly does learn how users live their lives and creates a schedule that accurately reflects when a person is home or not. It's even shaved off some cost on my utilities bill. So all in all, I'd say it's a worthy investment. But before you buy, be sure that you have the proper wiring behind your thermostat to support the Nest. If you don't, the thermostat won't work well.
The Nest Protect Is a Must-Have
The Nest Protect is a smart smoke and carbon monoxide alarm that has made me feel a little safer. The device sits outside the bedrooms in my house and periodically checks to make sure it's working properly. Better yet, if it detects carbon monoxide, it automatically communicates with the Nest Thermostat and turns off the furnace, so the bad air isn't circulated.
You Need More Than One Nest Cam
While I like my Nest Cam, it quickly became clear that just one wasn't enough. The truth is, the Nest Cam has solid image quality, and it's nice to be able to see what's happening in any room at any time, but in order to be a true security tool, users will need multiple Nest Cams around the home. I'm just not sure I want to spend hundreds of dollars on Nest Cams to achieve that goal.
Apple's HomeKit Integration Is Critical
Many smart home products now come with support for Apple's HomeKit, a platform that lets developers integrate their products into iOS devices. With Philips Hue, for example, Apple's Siri can be used to turn on lights and perform other functions. The feature also works with a wide range of smart home appliances and thermostats. In my experience, HomeKit-ready devices work quite well.
Philips Hits All the Right Points
The Philips Hue line is nothing short of impressive. Setting up the Philips Hue takes just a few minutes, and it immediately connects to Hue bulbs all over the house. With help from its mobile app, users can change light colors, set moods and adjust brightness. Philips Hue might be expensive (a starter kit with three bulbs costs $200), but it's worth the investment for anyone who wants to have more control over in-home lighting.
The Philips Hue Apps Are Great
One of the interesting things I found when using my Philips Hue was that it comes with a built-in apps marketplace. While there are not a ton of apps, there are several that are outstanding. One, for instance, provides presets that deliver ideal lighting when you're reading a book or want a candlelight-like setting. Another app will adjust lighting to the beats in a song. The Philips Hue apps are inventive and fun.
Things Don't Always Go As Planned
Although my smart home experience has been largely positive, it's important to note that things don't always go as planned. For one, it can take time to set up these devices, and if they're not properly configured on your home network, they won't work. I also ran across some syncing issues with Apple's HomeKit that took some time to resolve. Going "smart" unfortunately isn't as simple as screwing in a light bulb.
Who Knew Alexa Could Be So Useful?
The Amazon Echo is one of the better products available for those who want an all-in-one smart home device. The Echo comes with the ability to check the news, set alerts and play music. And Alexa, despite not being perfect at her job as a virtual assistant, still handles tasks, like switching Pandora stations and interacting with Philips Hue bulbs, quite simple. Alexa is a useful companion in the smart home.
The Monthly Fees Are Killers
So, let's get down to the real issue of the smart home: cost. In order to get the best experience out of the hardware, users will need to sign up for services. Want to listen to your specialized Spotify playlists without ads on Echo? You'll need to pay a $10-a-month fee to Spotify. Interested in having the Nest Cam record video content and store it in the cloud? Expect to pay at least $100 per year. Even many of the Philips Hue add-on programs come with in-app subscriptions that add features you don't otherwise get with the free download. There are potentially major hidden costs associated with the smart home.
The Hardware Can Become Really, Really Expensive
In addition to soft costs, there are those you just can't get past. As noted, the Philips Hue Starter Kit is $200, but only comes with three bulbs. Those who want more bulbs, depending on the version they pick, could spend $50 or more on new lights. The Amazon Echo is on sale for $180, and the latest-generation Nest Thermostat costs $249. In other words, if you want to go smart, expect to shell out hundreds of dollars just to get your start.