Archos Smart Home Review

Archos LogoThese days it’s either i-this or smart-that with new gadgets measuring and changing our personal environment. From Fitbit to Philips Hue, the internet of things is steadily growing and into this increasingly connected world, French firm Archos have stepped in. Their Smart Home tablet wirelessly connects sensors to a central hub that monitors and initiates actions based on conditions. Archos kindly lent me a Smart Home to raise the IQ of my house. Let’s take a look.

Archos Smart Home Box

In the box there’s the Smart Home tablet, plus six connected objects; two mini-cams, two movement tags and two weather tags. The tablet itself looks much like a digital photo frame but it’s actually a small 7″ device running Android 4.2.

Archos Smart Home Front View

Archos Smart Home Rear View

In the looks department, the Smart Home tablet fits the bill with styling that wouldn’t look out of place in a living room. It is all plastic, including the screen which seems to be acrylic rather than glass, but perhaps will better withstand being knocked. Some thought has been given to the design as the screen’s viewing angle appears to be have been adjusted slightly so that screen looks good when someone looks down at it, rather than straight on. There’s only about 2.5 GB of free memory on-board but there is a microSD card slot to boost the Smart Home’s capacity. Performance-wise, it’s no speed demon with a 1.2 GHz ARM processor, but as most of the time the Smart Home just sits there receiving data, it’s a not a big deal. A camera and a thermometer are built into the tablet too and these can be used to take pictures and measure the temperatureas well as the connected objects.

The connected objects are shown below with the mini-cam, weather tag and movement tag from left to right. All have sticky pads which allow adhesion to flat surfaces round the house. The mini-cam ball is held in the foot by magnets and it means the ball can oriented in almost any direction. The weather tag measures temperature and humidity, and the movement tag can measure both motion and door opening / closing.

Archos Smart Home Sensors

Getting setup is easy and straightforward. Running the Archos Smart Home software initially asks for the different rooms where devices are located.

Smart Home Rooms

Once the rooms are setup, the connected objects can be added into the relevant room. The objects use Bluetooth rather than Zigbee and pairing is simply a case of holding down a button on the connected object for 5 seconds. It worked flawlessly. The pairing screen shows all the objects available, not only the ones in the box.

Accessories

Once all setup, the Smart Home tablet presents a view with the room and all the objects in the room.

Hall

In the Hall, I had two mini-cams, a weather tag and a movement tag. Tapping on any device in the app then gives more data or information – here’s the weather tag showing data over the past week for both temperature and humidity.

Temperature and Humidity

Great but how do we get from monitoring the weather to doing something smart? Archos have the answer by building simple “if this, do that” programs. For example, if temperature falls below two degrees Celsius, email to me “It might be slippy.” Or more usefully, if the door opens, take a picture and send an email – like this.

Program

Sure enough, when the front door is opened, I get an email (my personal email is address is obscured by the black box).

Mail

 

The mini-cam also takes a picture (or a short video) but they won’t show a live feed, presumably because Bluetooth can’t transfer the data very quickly. You’ll notice one of the slight problems….the Smart Home doesn’t really take pictures fast enough as in many of the photos the person who opened the door has already moved out of shot. These are all real life photos, nothing was staged. A mini-cam positioned further down the hall generally did better at getting people entering the property.

Minicam Pictures

Out of the box, there’s a fairly limited range of actions such as send email, turn on plug and so on, but Smart Home can use the Tasker app to do more. Tasker supports a wide range of actions, including starting other apps, which makes it quite a powerful solution. However, even this simple email-me-on-the-front-door-opening is useful when wanting to know if someone has arrived home safely (or a thief has broken into your house!)

Other nifty features are that the Smart Home can be accessed from other tablets or smartphones. After a straightforward authorisation process, the system can be viewed from other devices both inside and outside the house. Here’s what it looks like on my smartphone.

Smartphone View

Overall, the Smart Home worked well, mostly sitting on the table doing its job. I did find that I mostly used my ordinary tablet (a Nexus 7)  to work with the Smart Home rather than picking up the unit itself. I set the Smart Home tablet up as a digital photo frame using the standard Android Daydream screensaver to fit into the room.

There were a couple of problems, the first being the range and penetration of Bluetooth. I live in a modest house with brick walls which meant that the weather tag at the rear of the property couldn’t be picked up if the Smart Home tablet was in the front room. Secondly, battery life – the mini-cams seemed get through a set of batteries in about a fortnight and each one took three CR2450 button cells. The movement and weather tags weren’t quite so bad – perhaps a month and only one battery. As an aside there’s no way of muting the low battery warnings that appear in orange on the screen. A connected object could be disconnected but that deleted the historical date at the same time.

Bizarrely, the other problem was how I felt about spying on my family, which is not anything to do with the Archos Smart Home, so I’ll save that for another post. I can see the Smart Home working for families with children that come home when the parents are still at work and the email notifications would give any parent a measure of comfort that their son or daughter is home safe.

The Smart Home costs GB£199 from Archos’ online store. Other additional connected objects are “coming soon”, including an HD weatherproof camera and a siren tag. In summary, the Smart Home is a well integrated system that has room for expansion with more types of connected objects but watch out for the limitations of Bluetooth range and battery life.

Thanks to Archos for the loan of the Smart Home.

 

Spotify Notifies Users of Unauthorized Access

Spotify logoSpotify users may want to consider changing their passwords. A post on the Spotify blog titled “Important Notice to Our Users” makes it clear that Spotify has had some “unauthorized access” to their systems and internal company data. Another way to phrase that would be to say that Spotify has been hacked.

The blog contains some details about what happened and gives advice to Spotify users. In their blog, they note that their evidence shows that only one Spotify user’s data has been accessed, and that this did not include any password, financial or payment information. (They also mention that they have notified that one, unfortunate, user).

As a “general precaution”, Spotify will be asking certain Spotify users to re-enter their username and password to log in “over the coming days”. In addition, they are going to guide Android users to upgrade over the next few days. Spotify also points out that offline playlists will have to be re-downloaded in the new version. There is no action recommended for iOS or Windows Phone users.

Dropcam Cloud-based Wi-Fi Video Monitoring

Dropcam LogoDropcam has been a sponsor here at GNC for several months but if you haven’t clicked through on any of the links, this is your opportunity to see a Dropcam in action. Don Baine chats to Elizabeth from Dropcam about this cloud-connected webcam.

The Dropcam is a wireless 720p webcam that connects easily to your home network but can be accessed across the internet, letting you check up on what’s happening while you aren’t there with your smartphone – both Android and iOS devices are supported. Motion-activated notifications can alert you to unexpected activity and a subscription-based video recording facility gives the ability to rewind and see what happened earlier. Overall it’s a complete solution that goes beyond an internet-connected webcam.

The Dropcam comes in two models, the standard Dropcam and the Dropcam Pro, priced at $149 and $199 respectively.

Interview by Don Baine, the Gadget Professor for the TechPodcast Network.

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Flir FX Portable Interchangeable Wi-Fi Camera

Flir FX CameraFlir made the news at CES with its personal thermal imaging device for the iPhone but the company does a whole range of imaging devices, including the Flir FX, a portable interchangeable wi-fi video camera. Todd gets further illumination from John Distelzweig of Flir.

The Flir FX is a fundamentally a webcam running 1080p over wi-fi, but that’s largely where the similarity with other products end. The Flir FX unusually has an internal battery, giving it greater portability than most similar products and the main camera unit can be slotted into different mounts, converting from a home webcam into sports video camera or an outdoor security camera, depending on the exterior case used. It’s really very cool.

The Flir FX will be available in late spring with an MSRP $249 and you can put your name down to be notified here.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

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Brinno – Looking through the Peephole

Brinno LogoDon looks through the peephole with Chris Adams from Brinno at their latest home security cameras. Brinno are known for their time-lapse and motion detecting digital cameras and this is the latest addition to their PeepHole Viewer range.

The PeepHole Viewer digital camera is designed to fit over standard door peepholes to record activity on the outside of the door, either as short videos or else as still photos on a micro SD card. Connecting the camera to the peephole is very straightforward and a new peephole is included with the camera just in case the existing peephole is damaged or dirty. Footage can be reviewed on the camera itself or else transferred to a laptop or PC using the memory card to look at visitors in more detail.

Interview by Don Baine, the Gadget Professor.

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D-Link NVR and Low-Light Webcam

D-Link LogoAt CES’ Digital Experience, Ken from D-Link tells Todd about their new network video recorder (NVR) and low-light webcam.

The NVR can record up to 9 IP cameras at once, storing the images on the SATA drive. The feeds can be viewed either via an attached HDMI monitor or else viewed remotely via D-Link’s mydlink solution which securely connects from the Internet back to devices in the home, using a web browser or a smartphone app.

The low-light web camera works down to 0.01 lux light levels and can still pick out colours. In complete darkness, a white LED provides illumination for up to 50 feet. As you’d expect, it’s 802.11ac wireless.

Both the NVR and the webcam will have an MSRP of US$379 when they go on sale in April ’14.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

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Kwikset adds Remote Unlocking to Kevo at CES

Kwikset KevoThe Kwikset Kevo is a deadbolt lock that uses Bluetooth communication as well as a physical key to lock and unlock doors. Currently it only works with Apple iPhones but it looks really cool. You walk up to the door, touch the Kevo lock, the lock checks your eKey on your phone and the door opens. There’s a whole host of clever features based around eKeys which can be transferred to people you trust and owners can receive notifications of when the lock is opened. The glossy video below shows the main features of the Kevo.

The Kevo has been available for a few months and at CES, Kwikset are responding to customer feedback with new enhancements to the Kevo lock system. The Kevo Bluetooth Gateway will be available in the summer and the unit will allow owners to remotely lock and unlock Kevo using their smartphone, say when a relative visits from out of town or a neighbour unexpectedly needs to feed pets.

Kwikset is quickly expanding the value Kevo delivers to current and future owners through a series of Kevo technology advancements, beginning with remote functionality, based on the desires of today’s consumer” said Keith Brandon, director, residential access solutions. “Kevo continues to be the breakthrough smart lock technology on the market, gaining recognition from the CES Innovation Awards, among many others.

As you might expect, the Kevo locks don’t come cheap at around US$220 but it looks like a neat solution and once Kwikset (a) get it working on Android and (b) produce a UK version, I might well be interested.

Two New Products from iSmartAlarm at CES

iSmartAlarm switchHome security is very important. We all want to ensure that our families, homes, and “stuff” are safe. Those of you who are considering getting some home security devices this year may want to take a look at iSmartAlarm. They have not one, but two, brand new products at CES 2014. Each of them can be used to extend the capabilities of the existing iSmartAlarm Home Security System.

The iSmartAlarm Doorfront is a new control tool. It will alert you via your smartphone when someone comes to your front door or rings your doorbell. It enables you to see, hear, and speak to the visitors – even if you are away from home. You can do that through your smartphone.

The iSmartAlarm Smart Switch is a natural extension of the iSmartAlarm Home Security System. It is a switch that you can use to remotely control the lights in your home. Use it to control electrical outlets, monitor if your lights have been turned on or off, and ensure that potentially dangerous appliances have been turned off (when they aren’t in use). It also lets you monitor energy usage.

These two brand new products can be set up within minutes without the need for professional installation. Each is part of the iSmartAlarm home control ecosystem. They are compatible with both iPhone and Android devices.

You can check out the new products from iSmartAlarm at CES 2014. They will be part of Pepcom’s Digital Experience Press event at The Mirage. You can also find them at booth #6717.

Target Data Breach Affects 40 Million Cards

Target logoThose of you who did some of your holiday shopping at Target may want to check on your credit or debit card. Hackers have stolen data from around 40 million credit and debit cards that were used at Target stores.

Target became aware of the problem after credit card processors alerted them to it. The processors noticed a surge in fraudulent transactions from credit cards that had been used at Target. This particular breach began over the Thanksgiving weekend.

Purchases made online, from the Target website, were not affected. This hack involves credit and debit cards that were used in Target stores between November 27, 2013, and December 15, 2013.

Hackers stole data that includes customer names, credit and debit card numbers, card expiration dates, and the embedded code that is in the magnetic strip that is attached to the back of the cards. It seems that the hackers were not able to grab the three or four digit security codes that are on the backs of the cards that were affected by the data breach.

Two Million Passwords Stolen by Hackers

Trustwave logoOn November 24, 2013, researchers at Trustwave discovered that hackers have obtained up to 2 million passwords for websites like Facebook, Google, Yahoo!, Twitter (and others). Researchers learned this after digging into source code from Pony bonnet. It appears that information about this has only been made public very recently.

Here’s some quick stats about some of the domains from which the passwords were stolen:

* Facebook – 318,121 (or 57%)
* Yahoo! – 60,000
* Google Accounts – 54,437
* Twitter – 21,708
* Google.com – 16,095
* LinkedIn – 8,490
* ADP (a payroll provider) – 7,978

In total, Pony botnet stole credentials for: 1.58 million websites, 320,000 email accounts, 41,000 FTB accounts, 3,000 remote desktops, and 3,000 secure shell accounts.

According to Trustwave, around 16,000 accounts used the password “123456”, 2,221 used “password” and 1,991 used “admin”. Now is a good time to go change your passwords into something strong and secure.

Doing so won’t make it entirely impossible for hackers to crack it, but it could make it more difficult. Trustwave noted that only 5% of the 2 million passwords that were stolen had excellent passwords (meaning the passwords had all four character types and were longer than 8 characters).