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.

 

GNC #977 Welcome Health Tech Weekly!

I take some time and talk about the changes here, including the website update and migrating the shows on GNC to their own domains. I wan to welcome Jamie Davis in bringing his Health Tech Weekly show to GNC. I look forward to you checking out his show and the health tech insights he is going to bring to our family of shows. All the standard tech news as well.

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Welcome HTWeekly.com to GNC Family

HT_Weekly_iTunesI want to welcome Jamie Davis and his show Health Tech Weekly (HTWeekly.com) to the Geek News Central Family. Jaime and I have worked together for a number of years on a variety of projects. So it is with great pleasure that I welcome him to our family of shows.

We have entered an age where our health activities will be monitored by the tech we wear and what our doctors prescribe. We are also seeing huge advancements in medicine through the technology that the medical profession utilizes and Jaime and his team will bring you all the latest.

This is the second show we have added to our family of shows this year and I look forward to working with Jaime and his team.

Angry Birds Stella debuts on Android, iOS, Blackberry, Amazon and Nook

Rovio has become synonymous with mobile gaming, thanks to the wildly popular Angry Birds franchise. The Finnish company has released multiple versions of the title, covering everything from Rio to Space, and even Star Wars. Now the long-awaited new one is here, with Angry Birds Stella debuting across multiple platforms — sorry Windows Phone users, but you were left out.

The new game adds a different dimension to Angry Birds (as each has managed to do). “Angry Birds Stella offers a new take on slingshot action. There are stunning visuals and animations, as well as an all-new flock of feisty characters with amazing superpowers. And they all live a previously unseen corner of the Angry Birds universe: Golden Island”, the studio explains.

The game is free on all of platforms, including Android, iOS, Blackberry and Amazon. It’s a fun little time-waster that will likely get the company even more revenue, but time will tell on that one.

stella_Key_Art_C_landscape

 

Sennheiser Announces Urbanite Range and Momentum In-Ears

Sennheiser has been busy over the past few days announcing two new products, Urbanite headphones and Momentum In-Ear earbuds, both of which look outstanding.

Sennheiser Urbanite HeadphonesThe new Urbanite headphones are aimed at the fashion-conscious Gen Ys, with a high quality product that emphasises bass.

“Sennheiser Urbanite headphones are for the generation of Millennials who know more and demand more. They love their tunes heavy and love to look good, but are smart consumers who won’t compromise on quality. They want bass but want it done right,” says Tim Voelker, Director of Sales and Marketing. Ok, so Sennheiser are taking the fight to Beats. Good luck.

The Urbanite range has two models, the standard on-ear and an over-ear, the Urbanite XL, with larger earpads. There’s a wide choice of colours, including denim, with some colours exclusive to each model. To control music on the go, the Urbanites have an in-line remote with microphone, and there are versions for both Apple iOS and Android devices.

Priced at GB£149.99 and GB£199.99 for the standard and XL respectively, the Urbanite headphones are available now.

The Momentum In-Ear buds extend the Momentum range from over-the-ear, through on-the-ear to into the ear and if they’re anything like the Momentum On-Ears that I tested earlier in the year, they should be both amazingly well designed and sound fantastic.

Momentum In-Ears

Available in black and red and made in stainless steel with chrome detailing, the In-Ears use proprietary Sennheiser transducer technology which “carefully replicates the sound signature that characterises the Momentum range: a powerful bass response, detailed vocal projection and a great sound stage.”

The Momentum In-Ears have a three button in-line remote with integrated for both controlling the music and taking phone calls. The earphones will come in two versions, one for Apple iOS devices and one primarily for Android devices, though it should work with Windows too.

The Momentum In-Ears will be available in time for Christmas for €99 and US$99.95.

So we have a new look!

It has been at least 3-4 years since we have done a major over-haul of the site. There are a lot more changes coming, each of the shows on the site will be moving to their own sites, and while we should wrap up most of the heavy lifting this weekend I look forward to tweaking things and adding elements to the website.

Let us know what you like, hate, would like to see improved. If you see things out of place don’t fret we are working on it as fast as we can.

Motorola Moto X, G and 360 – UK Details

Motorola M LogoAs expected, Motorola last night refreshed its smartphone line-up with new versions of the Moto X and Moto G plus a new Bluetooth earpiece called Hint. First impressions are that they’ve kept the good bits and bumped the spec with bigger screens (5.2″ 1080 HD on the X) and faster processors (2.5 GHz quad core in the X). The edges of the phone are now finished in metal too, giving a more upmarket impression.

Motorola Moto X

For UK Motorola fans, the good news is that Moto Maker is going to be available so we’ll get the wide range of colours and materials. Best of all there’s a new leather back which looks very luxurious. If you don’t use a case for your phone, this is definitely the one to get. Motorola has announced the UK availability and pricing as below.

Moto X

  • 16 GB in black, leather and bamboo
  • Starting from £419.99
  • Available from Amazon and Phones 4u from the end of September

Moto G

  • Black and white
  • Starting from £144.99
  • Available from Amazon and Phones 4u from 5th September
  • Motorola Shells will be available from October

Moto 360

  • Gray leather and black leather
  • Starting from £199.00
  • Available from O2, Tesco, Amazon, Phones 4u and John Lewis from early October

Moto Maker

  • Moto Maker 16GB – starting from £419.99
  • Moto Maker 16GB with wood or leather – starting from £439.99
  • Moto Maker 32GB – starting from £459.99
  • Moto Maker 32GB with wood or leather – starting from £479.99 
  • Available from end of September

Moto Hint

  • Moto Hint will come to UK in the coming months. Details to be confirmed.

I’d say the Moto X is a strong contender to be my next phone, but it’ll be up against the next Nexus device. Hopefully I’ll get a review unit in the not-too-distant future.

GNC #976 Design Decisions

Thanks for making August our largest Audience month ever. In today’s show I talk about the transition of the website design. We have moved the New Media Show already and also transitioned The Elder Divide onto the new template. Send me some feedback on the design. Also I am looking for a cool header graphics for GNC. Have an idea. Submit a 320×165 and a 640×330 design and if I pick your design you will win a cool prize.

I cover all the latest in tech news including the Apple iCloud break in that happened to some celebrities.

I Also update on my Transformation and finally geting into smaller cloths.. Discounts available now by using promo code “podcast” @ mypurium.com/podcast

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Motorola Moto X (2013) Smartphone Review

Motorola M LogoMotorola’s been busy since I reviewed the Moto G back in January, with the Moto X, Moto E and a 4G version of the Moto G filling out their range of smartphones. With IFA on, a refresh of the Moto X is expected very soon and rumours swirl regarding the next Nexus smartphone, the Nexus X (which neatly sidesteps any legal issues around the Nexus 6 name).

Back in reality, Motorola kindly lent me the Moto X for a long-term test, so I’ve been using the Moto X for over three months instead of my Nexus 4. Let’s take a look.

Given that the Moto X is over a year old in the US and over six months in the UK, the specs aren’t important, but for the record it’s a 4.7” 1280 by 720 Super AMOLED screen powered by a Qualcomm 1.7 MHz dual-core S4 Pro processor supported by an Adreno 320 GPU. There’s 2 GB RAM and 16 GB of storage and comes with Android 4.4 KitKat out of the box. A 2200 mAh battery keeps the Moto X going, with Motorola reckoning on around 24 hours use. It’s a GSM phone with 4G LTE on the 800/1800/2600MHz (B20/B3/B7) bands. Dimensions are 65 x 129 x 10.4 mm (5.7 mm at the narrowest point) and weighs in at 130g.

Moto X Front View

Using Geekbench 3, the Moto X clocks in at 666 single core and 1258 for multi-core with the LG Nexus 4 scoring 501 / 1664. This bears out the specs with the Moto X having a higherclock speed (1.75 v 1.5 GHz) but fewer cores, (2 v 4). In real world use, there’s nothing between them.

The Moto X looks good, and is nearly all black with only the on/off  and volume rocker in chrome. As with the Moto G, it fits well in the hand and the curved back still reminds me of the Palm Pre and its pebble design cue. Unlike our transatlantic cousins, the fantastic range of Moto X backs isn’t available to us Brits, so we’re stuck with only black and white variants of the phone.

Moving round the phones, the right-hand side has the chrome on/off button and a volume rocker. There’s a micro-USB socket at the bottom and 3.5 mm audio jack at the top. The back has the rear-facing camera with flash and there’s an interesting little dimple in the back. It’s all very similar to the Moto G but thinner and lighter. Powering the phone up reveals two things….first the screen is tremendous and second that Motorola haven’t strayed too far from the stock Android experience. Although not a full 1080 HD screen, the 720 in 4.7″ gives a high pixel density and apps look good. Colours are strong and vibrant, and slightly richer than on the LG Nexus 4. Blacks are black and contrast is good. I like it.

Moto X Back

Returning to the user interface, anyone familiar with a Nexus device will be totally at home. It’s all fairly standard and what Motorola has done is to tweak some of the standard apps and include a few value-adding apps which you can use or not use, as you wish. They’re actually pretty good and I covered them in my review of the Moto G.

Windy DayAssist – a personal assistant-type app that sets up rules for when the phone needs to be quiet, based on driving, meetings or sleeping. Motorola Migrate – this app helps transfer information from an older phone to the Moto G. It covers text messages, call history, SIM contacts, media and volume settings. Innovatively uses wifi and QR codes. Moto Care seems to have been replaced with the a more mundane Help, though it seems to be broadly the same app. The Moto X doesn’t have an FM radio, so there’s no app for that.

New since I reviewed the Moto G is Alert, a personal security and emergency response app that notifies friends and family in the event of trouble. Connect is a cloud-based management app for Motorola devices which also lets the phone interact with the your PC or laptop. New too is Spotlight, a player for interactive three dimensional animations. It’s quirky and cool with two animations, Windy Day and Buggy Night. The former was created by Jan Pinkava of Geri’s Game and Ratatouille fame.

Where the Moto X really steps away from the Moto G and most other Android phones is that it’s always listening. Simply say “Ok Google Now” and the Moto X responds, switching over to voice recognition. From this point you can search, dial phone numbers, set reminders and otherwise control the phone. The touchless control is really cool and works well (though it doesn’t play very nice with PIN locks).

Touchless Control Set Reminders

There’s also Active Display which automagically shows notifications when you are nearby. No idea how it works, but it works well – you walk over to the phone and it comes alive showing that you’ve waiting emails or texts.

Active Display ActiveDisplay

Using the Moto X on a daily basis I’ve come to appreciate what Motorola have done with the Moto X. The general trend is for top-end phones to come with fast processors and big screens. But rather than focus on specs, Motorola have brought the innovative features of Touchless control and Active Display to a phone that would be defined as mid-range. The result is a phone that works hard towards putting the smart into smartphone.

The Moto X is available online for around GB£280 which puts it on a par with the Nexus 5. It’s a tough call as to which is the better but let’s see what Motorola has to offer shortly.

Thanks again to Motorola for providing the Moto X for review.

Robot Underpants: 09.03.14 (168) “We’re Naked”

Baron Mat “Langley” Luschek, Eric Rice and “Starman” Michael Gaines discuss this week’s topics including: Naked celebs, fighting on planes, ISIS, Apple, Gamergate, Betty White, Cursive, Full House, iWatches, Faith No More, Rock of Ages.

* Betty White
* Full House