Category Archives: Home Automation

Ding Smart Doorbell Hits Kickstarter

Ding LogoEarlier in the year I interviewed Avril at The Gadget Show as part of the British Inventors’ Project. She was showing off Ding, a prototype smart doorbell, and I’m pleased to say that Ding is now live on Kickstarter. Way to go!

Ding ButtonDing comes in three parts, the Ding Button, the Ding Chime and the Ding app (for iOS and Android). Much like any doorbell, pressing the Ding Button rings the Ding Chime via DECT, and if home, the owner can open the door to the visitor.

But unlike most doorbells, the Ding Chime in turn communicates via wifi to the Ding app, allowing the homeowner to then chat with the caller at the door, whether simply out in the garden or miles away at work

I like Ding because it’s beautifully designed and looks great. I like Ding because it takes a problem and extends it just enough to solve the problem. There’s no video camera requiring bandwidth or online remote controlled lock, so it’s relatively inexpensive, works with ADSL and security isn’t a big concern. If someone steals the Button, all they have is half a doorbell.
Ding Chime

Launched today, Ding can be backed at a couple of price points, starting at GB£92 for a charcoal Ding, rising to GB£106 for a teal, salmon or cobalt one. Delivery is expected in August 2017 with delivery worldwide.

There’s plenty of info on the Ding Kickstarter page and even more at Ding Products, including some very cool clocks.

Good luck, DIng!


Bold Euro Cylinder Smart Lock on Kickstarter

Bold LogoSmart locks have been gradually appearing on the US market over the past few years, with the Kevo Kwikset being one of the more popular. Over on the European side of the pond, it’s taken a little longer for smart locks to appear but they’re beginning to come onto the market from both established vendors and start-ups. Locks in UK and mainland Europe use different styles and standards from the USA so it’s not simply a case of rebranding an existing product.

Yale announced their entry into the market earlier in the year and you might have listened to my interview with them at this year’s Gadget Show Live. While beauty is in the eye of the beholder, some of the early smart locks have left a great deal to be desired aesthetically, with boxy designs  and limited colour choices. Black anyone?

Fortunately, there are some smart locks beginning to appear that work with European doors, match the door furniture and look good. Case in point, the Bold smart cylinder lock which has just launched on Kickstarter. It’s a plug-in replacement for doors that use the Euro profile cylinder lock, comes in four different colours and looks like a door knob.

Bold Smart Cylinder Lock

The Bold uses Bluetooth technology so it unlocks based mainly on proximity of a smartphone or key fob using the Bold app. One of the big benefits of pure wireless (no keypad) is that all the electronics can be on the inside of the door, safe from both the elements and criminals. There’s no remote unlock feature so you can’t unlock the door from the comfort of your desk to let a neighbour in but you can invite or authorise them to use their own smartphone to unlock the door. There’s benefits of both approaches and you’ll have to think through your use cases to decide what’s best for you. A keyfob (say, for children) is available for extra cost.

Bold Key Fob

The Bold seems to keep it simple from a hardware point of view too. The Bold isn’t motorised so it doesn’t actually unlock the door itself, though it engages the handle with the mechanism so that the door can be unlocked (or locked) by turning the handle. The benefit of this is a much longer battery life (three years) and lower cost for the lock while eliminating the need for often troublesome moving parts.

The team appear to have given some thought to security, working with specialists Ubiqu and their qKey to provide a secure system. Can’t say that I’m qualified to comment further but it does provide some reassurance that the Bold team aren’t making it up as they go along. To see the Bold in action, check the video on the Kickstarter page.

If this interests you, the lowest price point currently available is €149. Just remember with all things Kickstarter, there’s a risk to your money so don’t spend what you can’t afford. You might also want to check the dimensions on your door to check that the Bold doesn’t foul existing door handles.

Personally I’ve mixed feelings about smart locks. While I know that most door locks can be defeated by the determined criminal, I’m still confident that once I close my front door behind me and turn the key, that door is going to stay locked. With smart locks, there’s still that kind of nagging feeling that it might automagically unlock itself…and of course a mechnical lock is still going to be working in ten, twenty, thirty years’ time. Still, I’m tempted…..

Amazon Echo Coming To UK on 16 September 2016? No…

echoIs the Amazon Echo coming to the UK on 16 September 2016? Nothing official from Amazon but a Bing search throws up the following link to a pre-order page on which currently doesn’t seem to be live.

Update: Nah…..looks like Bing actually picked up on the release date of a CD called Echoes by the Young Guns, not Amazon Echo. Sorry, that’s entirely my fault as I was so looking forward to getting Alexa.


Sengled Pulse Solo Review

Sengled LogoLast year I reviewed the Sengled Pulse, a pair of Bluetooth-controlled LED lights with built-in speakers. The Pulse pair sounded surprisingly good but were somewhat indiscreet, being big and bright red. For those wanting something a bit more subtle, Sengled have developed the Pulse Solo, a smaller single LED bulb in white and silver that still provides stereo sound. Let’s take a look and see if the new Solo still delivers big impact from a small space.

I was recently on holiday in Mallorca and used the trip to test out the Solo. Never one to pass up a few gratuitous body shots, here’s the Solo soaking up the sun by the pool.

Sengled Pulse Solo

Sengled Pulse Solo

With a standard E27 screw fitting (B22 bayonet available too), installation is simple and the smaller bulb size makes it much easier to find suitable lamps. The dimensions are 72 mm x 142 mm, weighing in at 340 g, which is hefty enough for a light bulb. In terms of lighting, the bulb is more of a spotlight than anything else, though it’s not tightly focussed. As a result the Solo casts good light if the lamp is high up or intended to be directional, but I wouldn’t use the Solo in a side or table lamp. The brightness is rated at a maximum of 550 lumens which is slightly less than the 600 of the original Pulse lamps but is comparable with other LED smart bulbs, such as Philips Hue.

The LED light is on the warm side of white at 2700K – that’s extra warm white according to some commentators. Here’s the Solo powered up in one of Ikea’s finest illustrating the light colour and distribution.

Sengled Pulse Solo in Lamp

Once screwed in and powered up, the Solo is available for Bluetooth pairing in the normal way. I paired successful with a couple of devices, including a OnePlus 2 smartphone and Nexus 9. Once paired, the Pulse Solo works as a Bluetooth speaker without any further intervention. For greater control of the volume and brightness, there’s the Sengled Pulse app available for both Apple and Android devices. The app appears to connect to the Solo via a second Bluetooth device but the app handles that pairing by itself.

Sengled Pulse Sengled Pulse Sengled Pulse

The app’s changed a little since the last time and it’s now possible to control both the brightness of the lamp and the volume of the speaker from the same screen. Overall, this is an improvement but there’s no visual feedback on the volume level. You do end up with two volume controls, though, one for the Solo through the app and one for the mobile device itself.

As with the bigger Pulse, the Solo’s speakers are “JBL by Harman” and Sengled have managed to squeeze a pair of 1″ 3W speakers into the Solo. Obviously these aren’t going to be hifi quality as the stereo separation is neglible, bass is limited and they struggle with the treble (“esses” suffer) at maximum volume. However, it’s easy to focus on the negatives when the Solo is actually very listenable and fills a small room at full blast. It’s also quite fun when people can’t work out where the music is coming from.

To summarise, the Sengled Pulse Solo is a smaller less obtrusive solution than the larger red Pulse, but the reduction in size is at the expense of audio quality. Aside from my foreign travels, I found the Solo was a tidy solution to desk clutter too, as I could put the Solo into my work lamp, providing both warm light and musical entertainment without cables everywhere

In the end, I think that people who like high quality sound for listening will find the Solo wanting and should perhaps considered the larger Pulse, but for many people who want a little casual backgound music, the Solo will work out fine. The Pulse Solo can be bought direct from Sengled for €59.90 though the bayonet version (B22) is available for only GB£27.93 on

Thanks to Sengled for the review Pulse Solo.

LIFX Color 1000 Smart Bulb Review

If you are looking for a last minute Fathers’ Day present then an LIFX smart bulb might be just the thing. Getting into smart lighting can be expensive as there’s often an additional wireless hub to control the lights but LIFX have taken a different approach with their lamps as each one connects via WiFi. There’s no Z-Wave or Zigbee here. The folks at LIFX kindly sent one of their smart bulbs for review, so let’s take a look.

LIFX offer four different bulbs, in a combination of two shapes and colour v white only. On review here is the Color 1000 in the A19 size (BR30 is the other size) in a UK variant with bayonet cap. A screw cap is also available and interestingly works across US and UK voltages.

LIFX Color 1000 in box LIFX Color 1000 in box

In the box, there’s the light plus instructions. In addition to the physical light, an app needs to be downloaded from the appropriate app store to your smartphone or tablet. Apps are available for Android, iOS and Windows.

The bulb itself is solid, weighing in at 243 g and measuring 117 mm tall and 63 mm wide. It’s no lightweight.

LIFX Color 1000 LIFX Color 1000

In common with most “IoT” Wi-Fi devices, there’s a two step setup process that the app takes you through. When first powered up, the light will create a small Wi-Fi network that your smartphone connects to. Using the app, you can then configure the bulb to connect to your home’s Wi-Fi, selecting the SSID and providing the passcode. Both the smartphone and bulb disconnect and reconnect as normal to the Wi-Fi network. With the configuration out of the way, you can now start to have fun.

During the setup, you need to create a username and password which you generally don’t need to use unless you are going to use the bulb with other smart home gear, such as Samsung’s SmartThings. More on this later.

As an aside, during my setup, the bulb needed a quick firmware update which all happened automatically and painlessly, though it did delay getting going by a few moments. Good to see that it’s easy to keep the bulbs up-to-date.

The LIFX app provides all the tools you might expect to manage bulbs in a smartly-lit house. Bulbs can be collected into names spaces, such as “bedroom” providing quick access to multiple bulbs based on location. Obviously in this example I only had one room.

Screenshot_20160609-001949 LIFX Colour Wheel LIFX White Wheel

The bulb can be switched between colour and white modes depending on you mood, with a straightforward wheel to choose the desired hue. The brightness can be controlled too using the control in the middle of the wheel.

LIFX White LIFX RedLIFX Greeen

LIFX say that the Color 1000 puts out a little over 1000 lumens which is equivalent to a 75 W incandescent bulb. It was definitely a bit brighter than my Philips Hue colour bulbs, though I did notice that the Color 1000 got fairly warm too and will consume 11 W at full brightness.

Fiddling around with the LIFX Color 1000 is tremendous fun and children will love co-ordinating with their favourite Disney colours. You can imagine the colours generated from Frozen…. There’s even a special effects mode which has selections like “Spooky”, “Flicker” and “Color Cycle”. Themes sets up preset colours for easy access and schedules can turn lights on and off automatically it’s all simple to use.

Contrary to my original review, the Color 1000 can be controlled from outside out of the premises. Using my mobile phone and 3G only, it worked as if I was at home, turning the light on and off, changing colours and so on. Great if you want to use the LIFX as a security light and turn it on when you are unexpectedly late coming home.(I’m not sure what went wrong the first time I tested and it didn’t work, but I can only assume it was a temporary connectivity problem from outside my home. It definitely does work – sorry LIFX.)

In addition to being able to control the bulb via the native app, LIFX have put some work into integration with connectivity from Nest, IFTTT, “Ok Google”, SmartThings, Echo and Logitech’s Harmony. I tried it with Samsung’s SmartThings and it was very easy and straightforwad. Select LIFX lights in SmartThings, stick in the username and password created during setup, and job done with the Color 1000 appearing in SmartThings for control.

In summary, the LIFX Color 1000 is a good choice if you want to get into smart lighting at a reasonable cost – the UK price of the bulb is £59.99. Admittedly that’s still not cheap and it is £10 dearer than the equivalent Philips Hue but you don’t have to buy the Hue Hub at £50 before you get going. LIFX have future-proofed the investment with their integrations, so if you get into smart lighting and then smart homes, the LIFX Color 1000 can still be used as part of the system. The Color 1000 is a big bulb so if there’s a particular lamp that you want to use with it, just check the bulb’s going to fit.

The LIFX is available from Amazon and other online retailers. Thanks to LIFX for the Color 1000 to review.

Devolo Updates Home Control

Devolo LogoLast night Devolo pushed out a major update to its Home Control platform, providing additional functionality in four new areas. The update occurred painlessly on my system and while I wasn’t able to fully explore the new features, I’ve managed a few screenshots.

Devolo New DevicesFirst, there are three new supported devices with two sensors, flood and humidity, and one actuator, a siren, which are all coming soon. It’s not clear if the siren is for internal or external use though it will be useful in rounding out the security features of the system.


Second, there’s now integration with Philips Hue lighting system and Home Control picks up the configuration directly from the Hue hub, inserting the available lights into the list of devices. This addresses what I felt was one of the main flaws with Home Control and brings it up to scratch, as it were.

Devolo with HueThird, Home Control has improved third party integration with web services and this comes in two parts. The first is what Devolo are calling “scene sharing” and this is the ability to trigger remotely a scene (e.g. living room lights on). Effectively, this allows integration with tools like IFTTT, so you can do things like “If my GPS says I’m within 300m of home and it’s dark, then turn the hall and porch lights on.”

Devolo 3rd Party IntegrationThe second part of this integration allows the Home Control system to access other devices by URL, e.g. http://……, so if another device can “do stuff” via a web address, then Home Control can potentially access it. I haven’t explored this area but I imagine you could use this to integrate with other 3rd party devices like webcams that often present a web-based view, as well as working with IFTTT.

Finally, the dashboard functionality has been improved with the option to now have multiple dashboards so that it’s easier to construct different views of your smart world. For example, you could have a room-based dashboard or a device-based dashboard that could be used for a security view of the home. Again, I didn’t get a chance to play with this functionality so can’t comment in more detail, but it looks handy.

Overall it’s a worthwhile update that brings some much needed functionality to Home Control.

Ding Smart Doorbell at Gadget Show Live

Ding LogoIn the last of my interviews with participants in the British Inventors’ Project, I’m with Avril from Ding Labs and their Ding Smart Doorbell. She tells me more about it.

At first glance, the doorbell looks the part, dressed in “on trend” minty green. Broadly, there are two parts, the Ding Chime and the Ding Button. Obviously the Button goes outside by the door for visitors and pressing the Button will ring the Chime. In addition to ringing the bell, Ding will make a voice call to the owner’s smartphone so that a two way conversation can take place between the caller and the owner.

Ring Smart Doorbell

The Ding Chime connects via WiFi to the home network and in addition to connecting to a smartphone, there are other communication options such as a text message or a call to a land-line. It’s intended that the Ding Chime will be an easy user fit.

The Ding Smart Doorbell is still under development but the team are aiming to keep the costs down to around GB£100. A Kickstarter is expected in September with delivery in April 2017.

Devolo Home Control Hands-On Review

Devolo LogoOver the past month, I’ve been using Devolo’s smart home system, Home Control. Regular readers of GNC will have seen the previous articles on the unboxing and a more detailed look at the hardware. In the last of the series, I focus on the set-up and usability of Devolo’s Home Control. Let’s take a look.

Getting Started

There are two ways to get started but both start with plugging in the Central Unit into a power socket. If the house already has other dLAN Powerline adaptors, then the Central Unit can be added into the network in the normal ways and it will connect back to through the router to the internet. In this instance, the Central Unit can be located somewhere convenient but preferably centrally in the building.

If there’s no Powerline networking, then the Central Unit will need to be plugged in close to the router or broadband modem. A network cable then connects the Central Unit to the router. If this is the case, the location is likely to be restricted by practicality.

My Devolo PortalOnce the Central Unit is powered up, the next part uses a web browser to sign-up for a login at Mostly it’s as expected, though for the Home Control configuration, your home address is required. Apparently it’s only for weather forecasts so if you’re concerned about giving the information, it doesn’t need to be 100% accurate. The configuration auto detected my Home Control unit and no technical knowledge was required.

Once into the Home Control, it looks as below. At this point, there are no devices, as it’s only the Control Unit. Along the top are the key areas for smart home control and the first time each area is accessed, Devolo helpfully overlays a semi-transparent set of instructions showing what needs to be done.

My Devolo Portal

Adding Sensors and Controls

Adding the sensors and controls is similarly straightforward. Click on Devices and then “+”. The page then prompts for the type of device to be added to the system before then showing you a series of YouTube videos on how to correctly turn on and pair the sensor with the Home Control unit. Here’s a screenshot for the motion sensor.

Add Devolo Motion Sensor

After adding all sensors and controls, the Devices tab will fill up. The Status column gives the detail for each sensor or controller parameter. Looking at the Door Switch in the top row, it’s currently open, triggered at 00:17, temperature is 17.5 Celsius and brightness is only 2%. Each device can have an icon which will switch to show changes in state to give visual feedback. Battery level is reported back too, which is handy and Statistics shows historical activity.

Devolo Devices

Similarly, the Dashboard will now look similar to this, filling up with key devices. The Dashboard is editable and you can choose what elements appear on display. The devices give a high-level view of their state and measurements.

My Devolo Portal

With all the devices added to the Control Unit, you can then start on make your home smarter. Without labouring the various points too much, the Groups tab lets you set up collections of devices, both by type and by location. At the moment, the only types that can be pooled seem to be smart plugs and thermostats but as I only had one of each device, I couldn’t test further. Assembling the sensors and controls is a drag’n’drop affair.

Locations threw up the first minor irritation. Although you can define a location, such as “Bedroom”, it’s not possible to add things to the location in the Groups tab. You have to go back to the Devices tab and choose the location from the drop-down.

Schedules and Scenes

As you might imagine, Schedule allows the setting of timers. In most instances this is obvious: turn on a smart socket for my electric blanket at 23:15, turn it off at 9.00.

Devolo Schedule

Schedule can also turn on things like scenes and rules. Say you’ve set up a rule to email you when motion is detected by a sensor. You don’t want that rule working while you are in the house, so perhaps you set a schedule such that the rule is only in effect when you are out at work, so the schedule says 9-5, Mon-Fri.

Devolo ScenesScenes are combinations of devices and states. You could have a scene called “Nighttime” that sets thermostats lower and turns off a smart socket that has, say, a light plugged in. The scene can be run directly or you can set-up a rule to run it, perhaps when you press a switch or button.


Notifications can take the form of emails, SMS or push to devices. For each of those types, you can enter your mobile number, email address or devices. The SMS appears to be a paid-for option where you get a number of free SMS notifications but after that you have to buy additional texts. Consequently, the sensible thing is to use SMS only for really important things, like fire alarms.

The notifications can be used in the rules but on their own, notifications don’t do anything. There is supposed to be a special notification for low batteries, though I couldn’t figure out how to configure it. The error said, “No devices available! Please add devices to the group.” without any indication of how to add devices to the group.


Devolo Rules 1Finally, Rules. These are what make the smart home smart. Here’s a really simple rule that I can use if I want to go to bed early. If press button 1 on my keyfob, it turns on the smart socket for my electric blanket.

Creating rules uses drag’n’drop to develop both the “if” and “then” sides of the rule. The only limit seems to be your imagination and the number / type of devices that you have.

Devolo Rules Maker


If I understand the functionality correctly, rules can execute continually, e.g. send a notification every time the front door is opened, or a rule can be turned off once it’s been executed once, e.g. send a notification once when there’s motion to say a child is home from school.

The App

Devolo AppDevolo AppDevolo have a smart phone app that pulls all their products, including dLAN, web cams and Home Control into a single app. However, it’s for appearance only and the app hands the owner off to a simplified light version of the web site. It’s a little bit clunky in the places as the smartphone back button doesn’t always do what’s expected. As a light version, there are also some limitations but for day-to-day checking of sensors or to turn devices on remotely, it’s fine.

To be honest, I’d prefer a proper native app for smartphones and tablets but some may like using Home Control from a web browser.

The Verdict

Overall, I think that it would be fair to say that Devolo’s Home Control is a good first generation product. It was easy to setup and I particularly liked the videos shown during the pairing process. It was reliable, with rules triggering when they were supposed and there were no connectivity problems; sensors stayed connected. The web interface is good visually too, with the drag’n’drop and easy combination elements. As a fan of Powerline networking, I’m all in with the hub also being a dLAN adaptor.

Equipment-wise, it’s a good selection of sensors and controllers. Just three things to say. Having a fire alarm in the range is excellent, but there’s no camera and the red LED on motion and door sensors is unnecessary. All the gear is priced competitively in the market.

Also on the downside, the system sometimes betrays its Germanic roots with the odd “Suchen” popping up instead of “Search” and the web interface can be idiosyncratic in places. I’d also prefer a proper native app for my smartphone or tablet. However, these are minor quibbles and I guess my biggest concerns are about presence and connectivity to other systems, like Philips Hue.

With regard to presence, Devolo Home Control doesn’t have any features for locating the owner and family. Consequently, geofencing isn’t possible so lights can’t be turned on when driving up to the house, or the home alarmed automatically when people leave. Obviously the keyfob remote control can be used for convenience in some of these respects but it’s not quite the same.

Moving onto the lights, as it stands right now, lamps can only be controlled by plugging them into the smart socket and turning the socket on or off. There’s no integration with any of the main lighting systems on the market.

While that’s the bad news, the good news is that Devolo are working on lighting control and that an announcement about connectivity to third party systems like Hue and recipe app IFTTT is expected very shortly. If this upgrade is as suggested, this should address both of the concerns above.

To finish, the smart home market is new and there are lots of competitors in the space. Devolo’s Home Control currently has a few rough edges, but with a bit of polish and an integration upgrade, it’s a contender. Definitely worth considering for straightforward setup, useful range of sensors and controls, and web-based UI.

Thanks to Devolo for providing the Home Control system for review.

Smanos Launches K1 Smart Home at Gadget Show Live

Smanos LogoIn the last of my smart home interviews from Gadget Show Live, I look at one of the new entrants to the market, Smanos. The Dutch firm announced their new K1 Smart Hub at the show and while it’s a good-looking piece of kit, the K1 is coming into an increasingly crowded space. I chat with Rafael about Smanos and the difference it brings.

Coming from a security background, Smanos has brought its understanding of that space to the smart home. The first iteration of the K1 focusses on security: the starter kit includes a siren, door/window sensor, motion sensor and keypard with the Smart Hub. As might be expected, the devices use Z-Wave for communication and there’s an app for managing and controlling the system, so additional sensors can be added easily.

Smanos K1 Smart Hub

In order to set Smanos apart from the competition, the K1 has well designed sensors that wouldn’t look out of place in a bijoux pad. All white and chrome with surface detail, it’s clear that the sensors are part of a matched set, and not awkwardly thrown together to meet a functional need.

K1 Smart Home

In addition to the K1 Smart Hub (GB£249), Smanos launched the UFO panoramic Wi-Fi HD camera (£149) with a massive field of view, and a smart video doorbell (£159). Both of these look neat.

Hive Expands for Smart Home at Gadget Show Live

Hive LogoA British Gas incubator, Hive has been a British success since 2013, bringing smart heating controls to UK homes. Building on the back of this success Hive are expanding their portfolio and making Hive the heart of the smart home. In the third of my smart home interviews from Gadget Show Live, I talk to Elvin about Hive and their new range of products.

Hive Heating SystemThe Hive team first realised that while almost everyone in Britain had a central heating system, it was often poorly controlled and inefficient, either through a lack of understanding of the controls or simple laziness. Few people go beyond adjusting a thermostat for summer and winter, never mind worrying about turning the heating off when out for the evening.

Next, they designed easy-to-use replacement heating controls that could be monitored and adjusted from a smartphone or website and fortunately the team used a standardised wireless protocol called ZigBee as part of the Hive solution. This crucially meant that the Hive system could now be extended with other new products using the same wireless technology.

Hive ThermostatHive have added the three smart home basics of smart plugs, motion sensors and window / door sensors, with lighting to come soon. As with any smart home, there’s the complementary smart phone app for the review and control of devices with the home.

Finally, the backing of British Gas as a household name gave homeowners reassurance to adopt the new technology and install Hive.

The Hive heating system consists of the main hub, thermostat and receiver, and it costs GB£249 including installation. Extending the system into a smart home costs £39 for the smart plug and £29 for the motion and door sensors. There’s more info on Hive at