Category Archives: Home Automation

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 www.mydevolo.com. 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

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.

Rules

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 www.hivehome.com.


Fibaro Swipe at Gadget Show Live



Fibaro Home IntelligenceThe second of my smart home interviews from Gadget Show Live comes from Fibaro and their “Home Intelligence”. Originally from Poland, Fibaro was established in 2010 and consequently has one of the longer pedigrees in home automation and smart homes. I think it would fair to say Fibaro hasn’t received the public brand recognition it deserves but remains a choice for those in the know. I chat with Arron from Fibaro who tells me about their latest products.

As with any smart home solution, Fibaro’s system is controlled by a central hub but unlike most other vendors, Fibaro offers two hubs, the Home Center 2 and Home Center Lite, which meet different needs and budgets. Fibaro continues to offer extra choice with the option to retrofit controls into existing light and power sockets, or to integrate with new services like Philips Hue. There are all the standard smart home sensors too – motion, door/window, flood and smoke. What I particularly like about the Fibaro door sensor is that it comes in seven different colours – not everyone has white door frames!

Brand new to Fibaro is Swipe, a 3D motion-detecting panel which controls the system using hand gestures. Wave up, turn the lights up. Wave down, turn the lights off. Those are the simple gestures though Swipe can interpret several more movements and combinations of gestures too. Impressively, Swipe can be hidden behind stud walls or below desks so it’s not even visible, or it can be hidden in plain view as a photo frame. Contrary to the interview, Swipe is GB£119.99.

Fibaro Swipe

Apologies for the audio – it was very noisy in that part of Gadget Show Live.


Samsung SmartThings and Yale Smart Locks at Gadget Show Live



Yale LogoIt was smart homes galore at Gadget Show Live with at least five vendors showing off their wares. Geek News Central got interviews with four of them, and here I start with Samsung SmartThings and their partner Yale which has two smart locks which integrate with SmartThings. In this interview, I first talk with Miles, who takes me through SmartThings, followed by Hannah from Yale, who tells me about the new locks in the Smart Living range.

Yale Keyless Connected Smart Lock

Yale have two locks in the SmartLiving range. One is the “Keyless Connected” smart lock to replace a rim cylinder, typically found on wooden doors, and the other is the “Keyfree Connected” smart lock for multipoint locks. Those locks are typically found on double-glazed, uPVC or composite doors.

Yale Keyfree Connected Smart Lock

Each lock has a range of unlock options from PINs, RFID cards, remote fobs and smartphone apps and there are additional security features to resist tampering, from alarms to lockouts after too many PINs have been entered. PINs can be from 4 to 10 long and 24hr PIN codes can be setup for visitors too

The Keyless lock is self-installed and priced from £99, though the Z-Wave equipped version is around £180. The Keyfree is around £350 but comes with installation.


Energenie MiHome at Wearable Tech Show



Energenie LogoHome automation and the smart home were very much in evidence at the Wearable Technology Show. While the recent trend has been for Z-Wave and Zigbee based systems, Energenie‘s MiHome uses 433 MHz radio frequency and an open source protocol for communication. Andrew chats with Oliver about what Energenie offers the home owner. 

Energenie’s system works much like any other smart home system with a central control unit communicating with sensors and actuators round the house, along with a complementary smartphone app. What makes MiHome different is the range of replacement light switches and power sockets which can be operated both remotely and by flicking the switch as it were. It’s a great idea and there’s even a range of styles and finishes.

The Energenie MiHome is on sale now from a number of UK retailers.

Energenie MiHome Socket


nCube Home at Wearable Tech Show



nCube HomeOriginally a Kickstarter project, nCube Home is a smart home hub and app to control a wide range of smart devices from a single place. Andrew interviews Myriam from nCube and finds out why nCube is a little bit different from the rest.

Like most of the competitors, the nCube Home is a small network connected box with a complementary app that communicates with sensors and other devices using Z-Wave. Unlike the competitors, it’s blue. More seriously, the nCube retains all the logic and actions within the nCube box rather than receiving instructions from an external portal, so even if the network connection goes down, activity goes on as normal. The nCube Home integrates with over 70 different IoT devices so the chances are that if it’s a Z-Wave capable device, the hub will work with it.

The nCube Home is shipping shortly (if it isn’t already). The normal price from nCube is GB£149 but there’s a £99 Wearable Show offer on until the end of the week (25th March).

nCube Home

By way of awards, the nCube Home won the IoT Wearable Award at the Wearable Technology Show this year. Well done.


Devolo Home Control Hardware Review



Devolo LogoPowerline specialists Devolo have moved into the smart home business with Home Control, a Z-Wave based system that incorporates powerline networking. Regular readers will have seen two unboxing videos previously. This post has more photos and details of the various components, sensors and accessories available.

Central Unit

The central unit is at the heart of the Home Control system and communicates via Z-Wave with all the sensors. Part of the Starter Pack, it’s a Devolo dLAN powerline adaptor too, so can be incorporated into an existing powerline network, though this feature doesn’t seem to be advertised very well. This is the UK version, as can be seen from the plug and it has a single network port which is used to connect to a router if there is no existing dLAN network.

Devolo Control Unit

Devolo Control Unit

Devolo Control Unit

Currently, the USB port is not used.

Smart Metering Plug

As with the Control Unit, this is the UK spec version of the Smart Metering Plug. As might be guessed from the name, not only can the plug be switch on and off remotely, it can provide power consumption information to show how much power is being used by the connected devices. The crystal LED lights up to show when the plug is on and it works as a manual on / off button too.

Smart Metering Socket

Smart Metering Socket

Motion Sensor and Door / Window Contact

The Motion Sensor and the Door / Window Contact are different sensors but physically they look the same – long half cylinders with a PIR-style window at the top. Obviously one detects motion and the other when a door or window is opened or closed by the proximity of magnet. In addition, both units measure temperature and brightness. Slightly annoyingly, a red LED lights up when both sensors are activated.

Motion Sensor

Motion Sensor

Key-fob Switch

The Key-fob Switch is a four button unit with two larger buttons and two smaller buttons. The Key-fob seems well made in metal which will put up with abuse from nearby keys and there’s a sliding plastic covered that will prevent accidental presses. Within the Devolo portal, each press can initiate an action, e.g. turning on lights, but more on this in the next post.

Devolo Keyfob Closed

Devolo Keyfob Open

Room Thermostat

The Room Thermostat is a co-branded Danfoss unit which works with two temperatures, the sensed room temperature and a target temperature. The target temperature can be adjusted both by the up and down switches on the front of the thermostat and remotely through the Devolo portal. The thermostat is powered by two batteries so can be located anywhere within range of the Control Unit. Although it doesn’t show in the pictures, the thermostat display is backlight and comes on when a button is pressed.

Devolo Thermostat
Devolo Room Thermostat
Devolo Room Thermostat
Devolo Room Thermostat

Wall Switch

The Wall Switch is very much in the style of continental light switches rather than the UK’s narrower style but it’s still a very useful addition to the range of accessories. Powered by CR2032 battery, the switch can be configured either as a single or double switch and although it looks like a rocker switch, it’s more of a push switch with four switches – upper left, lower left, upper right, lower right. Consequently the message from the switch is typically “button x was pushed (and released)” rather than “button x is currently pressed”.

The switch disassembles to change the battery or change from single to double switch, though you have to be brave when pulling it apart!

Wall Switch Wall Switch Wall Switch

Smoke Detector

The Smoke Detector is much like other smoke detectors in that there’s a very loud alarm when smoke is detected. Unlike the average detector, the Devolo version also fires off a message to the Control Unit via Z-Wave, which can then be responded to using rules configured in the Devolo portal.

There’s a test button on the top of the smoke detector as expected; press for a few seconds to check the battery, which is a small CR123 3V battery rather than a 9V PP9.
Smoke Detector

Smoke Detector

Radiator Thermostat

The Radiator Thermostat is a user-fit replacement for many thermostatically-controlled radiators. Simply, the old thermostat is removed and the new smart thermostat is put in its place. It’s straightforward and no plumbing knowledge is required other than how to get the old ‘stat off. The Devolo manual (.pdf) lists compatibility and it comes with two adapter rings, though in my instance I have to further purchase a thread converter (M28 to M30) to fit my old valves.

It takes two AA batteries and works very similarly to the Room Thermostat in terms of measuring and setting temperature. The photo below isn’t the best as it’s not showing the temperature – it won’t until it’s actually connected to a radiator.

Radiator Thermostat

Radiator Thermostat

Summary

Devolo has created a portfolio of useful sensors and actuators for a comprehensive smart home solution, although it seems that most of the devices are rebranded from a number of OEMs (Danfoss, Philio Tech, TKB, Popp). Regardless, the units all work well together and have a similar finish so it’s a minor point. Note that some of the photos make the devices look a little creamy; in reality they’re all a good clean white.

In the next post, I’ll be looking a Devolo’s  Home Control portal, which is where all the rules and notifications are setup to really make the home smart.

Thanks to Devolo for all the Home Control review units.


Nexia at 2016 CES



Nexia logoTodd Cochrane talks with J. George Land, Executive Director of Nexia Connected Home Solutions.

Nexia Connected Home Solutions is a software provider that works with selected products from a select number of different home automation manufacturers integrating everything into one voice-controlled software application. Nexia offers Z-Wave gateways.

The Nexia Z-Wave bridge sells for $67.00 on Amazon and can handle up to 200 Z-Wave compatible products from different manufacturers.

With The Nexia Z-Wave bridge, you can control your connected home products from anywhere you have an Internet-connected mobile device such as a smartphone, tablet or laptop computer.

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BeON Home Protection at CES



BeON Home LogoImproved home security is one of the benefits often cited by proponents of the smart home, but setting up everything can be technically daunting and require a little DIY. The team at BeON have taken a different approach, developing home protection that can easily be installed without any geek or DIY credentials. Jamie and Nick learn more about this original thinking from Alexei Erchak, CEO of BeON.

The BeON Home system is a set of smart LED lightbulbs (or lamps) that screw in to replace existing lights. How are the bulbs smart? To start with, they learn the lighting patterns in the house so that when the building is unoccupied, the lights mimic the normal activity. Next, they learn the sound of the doorbell, so that when the doorbell rings, the lights will come on as if the householder is answering the door. Similarly, the BeON Home bulbs learn the sounding of smoke detectors and will automatically turn the lights on if a fire is detected in the building. Finally, the bulbs come with a backup battery which keep the lamps on even if the power fails.

All-in-all, it looks a pretty neat solution providing a deterrent to intruders and enhanced safety for the home-owner and family. The BeON Home is available now and a starter kit costs US$199.

Jamie Davis is the host of Health Tech Weekly at HTWeekly.com. He is a nurse, paramedic and health journalist.
Nick DiMeo is video producer at F5 Live: Refreshing Technology.

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