Lessons I've Learned by Making My Dumb Home Smart

 
 
By Don Reisinger  |  Posted 2016-03-18
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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    Lessons I've Learned by Making My Dumb Home Smart
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    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.
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    The Nest Thermostat Is a Learner
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    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.
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    The Nest Protect Is a Must-Have
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    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.
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    You Need More Than One Nest Cam
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    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.
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    Apple's HomeKit Integration Is Critical
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    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.
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    Philips Hits All the Right Points
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    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.
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    The Philips Hue Apps Are Great
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    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.
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    Things Don't Always Go As Planned
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    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.
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    Who Knew Alexa Could Be So Useful?
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    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.
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    The Monthly Fees Are Killers
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    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.
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    The Hardware Can Become Really, Really Expensive
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    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.
 

The Internet of things revolution is real, and it's come to my house. During the past several months, I've plugged in a wide range of connected devices that promise to turn my formerly "dumb" appliances into "smart" products that can provide me with boatloads of intelligence into what's really happening in my house. I've invested heavily in Nest IoT devices, such as the company's thermostat, security camera and smoke detector. I've also decided that the Amazon Echo voice-controlled speaker really is a suitable smart home component. I've even picked up some Philips Hue light bulbs to create the perfect atmosphere for my rooms. Overall, the experience has been quite good and is improving with each day. But there have been some stumbles along the way, and although the smart home promises so many good things, it's not without its shortcomings. In this slide show, I'll talk about my smart home adoption experiences and some of the issues that anyone who wants to create an intelligent home can expect to encounter.

 
 
 
 
 
Don Reisinger is a freelance technology columnist. He started writing about technology for Ziff-Davis' Gearlog.com. Since then, he has written extremely popular columns for CNET.com, Computerworld, InformationWeek, and others. He has appeared numerous times on national television to share his expertise with viewers. You can follow his every move at http://twitter.com/donreisinger.
 
 
 
 
 
 

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