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.

 

Why Chin Implants are On the Rise

The fastest growing trend in plastic surgery right now is chin implants. That’s right, there is an increasing number of people who decide to undergo plastic surgery in order to have their chins done.

Data from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons shows that the number of chin implants grew 71% in the past year. It seems that the people who want to have their chins augmented are evenly split between men and women, and that the largest increase is in patients who are age 40 or older.

The question is: Why? I don’t know about you, but I cannot think of a single instance where I looked at a person and thought to myself: “He would be so much more attractive if he had his chin augmented”. Most people, when listing the physical characteristics that they hope to find in a potential date neglect to mention anything about the person’s chin. In our culture, there are many body parts that are considered to be especially attractive or sexy, but the chin is not among them.

So, what is it, exactly, that is causing a growing interest in having plastic surgery to alter the appearance of one’s chin? It seems the answer has to do with technology. The president of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, Malcolm. Z. Roth, answered this question.

He suggests that the biggest reason why there is this sudden rush to get a chin job is because of video. People are using various forms of video-chat technology. Malcolm Z. Roth says: “They may notice that their jaw line is not as sharp as they want it to be”.

What is happening is that people, especially those who are 40 or older, have started using Skype, or FaceTime, or a variety of other communication tools that enable them to see other people while talking to them over the internet. It also allows a person to see how he or she looks on camera. Turn your head, your image on the video screen turns, and suddenly, you get a whole new perception of what your chin looks like to other people.

This story makes me giggle. Maybe it is because I think that elective plastic surgery is largely unnecessary under most circumstances. It also makes me wonder if there will be a trend of people who wear scarves when they are on Skype or FaceTime, in order to conceal their less than perfect chins.

Image: Patient’s chin with marks before operation by BigStock

Logitech C310 Webcam Review

Logitech c310 I recently purchased a new Mac Mini and decided to upgrade my webcam at the same time. I had previously had been using an old Xbox Live Vision camera, which was one of the few cameras that didn’t cost and arm and a leg and worked with a Mac. However it was standard definition and I needed to do an upgrade. I wanted something that would produce good quality video, but was not too expensive. I discovered after doing a little research that my options were to go with Logitech or Logitech, and no that’s not a typo, there are not a lot of choices when it comes to web cameras for a Mac.

After looking through the options that Logitech had to offer I ended up getting the Logitech C310 camera. The Logitech C310 camera produces 710p video and it also has audio built-in. You can also use it to take still pictures. I have not tested this camera on a Windows machine, I do know from other reviews that there are options available  on a PC that are not available on the Mac. On a Windows PC you can do one-click upload to Facebook that option is not available on a Mac. However whether you are on a Mac or a PC the Logitech C310  is compatible with most IM clients including Skype. If I was doing a video podcast I might have made a different choice, but for what I am using it for the C310 by Logitech works fine. I did a short video testing the camera which I have included above.  If you do have a Mac and are looking for a good but inexpensive webcam I recommend you take a look at the Logitech C310.