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.

 

Devolo Entering Smart Home Market

Devolo LogoPowerline networking experts devolo have announced their intention to enter the smarthome market with a comprehensive array of products including movement and smoke detectors, radiator thermostats and switchable power outlets, taking on the likes of Nest and Belkin. Branded as “Home Control”, the products will be debuted at this year’s IFA show in Berlin in September.

Focused on providing customers with greater convenience, security and energy efficiency through innovative smart home products, devolo Home Control is the first smart home system that you can build yourself. Whether it’s a coffee machine that automatically starts ten minutes before breakfast, a switch that sets the entire house to night mode, or a motion detector that can tell people from pets, the possibilities for creating a smart home are endless.”

Devolo Powerline Data Rates“Simplicity is the promise of devolo Home Control with an easy installation process removing the need for tools or cables, and a range of components that can be combined as desired. Taking example from their successful Powerline ranges, Home Control products will be available in helpful starter kits, with the ability to expand and tailor the smart home through individual products.

I run devolo Powerline at home and while their gear is more expensive than the equivalent from Belkin or TP-Link, it’s very reliable and I’ve never had to reset any of the adaptors. In addition, the complementary “Cockpit” software and app is much easier to use and runs on both my PC and my tablet. Amongst other features, the app shows the data transfer rates between the paired adaptors and makes adding in new adaptors very simple. Going back to the new Home Control, the press release mentions that the Home Control products will have a “My Devolo” and if they can keep it simple with a cool app, I think devolo will have a winner on their hands.

Interestingly, what isn’t mentioned is whether the Home Control devices will use Powerline, ZigBee (or Wi-Fi) for the controlling signals. I have problems with ZigBee and the solid walls of my house, so a Powerline-based system could be a huge advantage. I’ll be very interested to see what comes out of devolo at IFA.

D-Link expands home automation line with motion sensor

DCH-S150 FrontHome automation, or the “internet of things” is one of the fastest growing fields in technology. It seems everyone is getting into the market, from electronics makers to retail stores — you can even buy certain product lines at Staples and Lowes now.

The latest to jump into the market is D-Link, most famous for its routers and switches. Not long ago, the company released the Wi-Fi Smart Plug, which allows for easy remote control of items such as lamps and more. Now, to compliment that, comes a new motion sensor called the DCH-S150.

“The compact motion sensor plugs into an open power outlet and alerts users of activity at home with a push or text notification as soon as it detects motion. Whether you want to know when the kids get in from school, make sure the puppy goes outside during the day, or receive an alert when the garage door opens, the Wi-Fi Motion sensor makes it simple to stay aware of what’s happening at home”, the company states in its announcement.

The motion sensor is on sale now from both the D-Link site, as well as other locations such as Amazon. It retails for $39.99.

D-Link releases Smart Plug for home automation

DSP W215 Front

Home automation and the internet of things have become the catch phrases lately, and there is an ever growing universe of items for the home that can be connected. The market has become flooded, but there is always room for more competition, as it is good for consumers. Now D-Link, famous for its routers, is getting into the market.

The company has unveiled a new Smart Plug that allows the device that is plugged into it to be controlled easily from a mobile device using Android or iOS. Simply plug the little device into an outlet, then plug the item of choice into the DSP-W215 Wi-Fi Smart Plug. Features include:

  • WiFi — 802.11n; supports WPS (WiFi Protected Setup)
  • LEDs — power, status
  • Dimensions — 90 x 61 x 36mm (3.6 x 2.4 x 1.4 inches)
  • Voltage input — 100-125VAC
  • Maximum power to plugged in device — 1800W
  • Power consumption — approx. 0.8W idle; 5W max. (not including power supplied to plugged-in device)

In addition, there is a thermal sensor that is designed to prevent devices from over-heating. That’s a handy feature with today’s devices, and legends of meltdowns. The DSP-W215 Wi-Fi Smart Plug is on sale now on the D-Link web site, retailing for $50.

Remote Control Lighting

2-pack-gateway_LRGFor the past couple of years I have gotten interested in home remote access devices and methods. Initially I started with inexpensive remote-access IP cameras. I next moved on to getting the original Nest thermostat, which I still have and has been worth every penny. You can read about my experiences here.

Lately I’ve been wanting to be able to remotely turn lights on and off. Let’s say I come home after dark. It would be nice to be able to turn on a porch light from my smartphone. How to accomplish this?

My initial thought was a Belkin Wemo light switch. However, this presents some problems. The current Belkin Wemo light switch only seems to come in a single switch format, so it would be unusable in a 3 switch in one setup. Additionally, Belkin Wemo light switches and wall-mounted plugs only work with wiring schemes that have a so-called “neutral” wire as part of the wiring mix. I know nothing about home electrical wiring, preferring to leave that to the professionals, so I’m not sure it would work with my home wiring.

My next thought was the Phillips Hue lighting kit. The Phillips Hue would certainly work for what I was trying to accomplish, but it seemed to be rather expensive overkill. The Phillips Hue kit of 3 bulbs and the controller sells for $200, with additional Hue bulbs priced at $60 each. Sure, the Phillips Hue can display up to 16 million colors, as well as connect to really cool services such as If This, Then That, but that really seemed a waste for exterior deck lights.

I continued to look, and I ran across an even better solution on the Home Depot website. Home Depot currently sells the TCP Connected Smart LED Light Bulb Starter Kit with (2) A19 LED Light Bulbs for $79.97 which is substantially cheaper than the Phillips Hue 3 bulb kit. They also sell the TCP Connected A19 bulbs sell for $16.97 each on their website. The TCP controller which must be plugged in to an Ethernet port on the home router can handle up to 50 bulbs each.

Initial setup of the TCP light kit is a breeze. I installed the TCP LED light bulbs into the external deck light fixtures. They are the same size and shape as a traditional incandescent bulb so there was no problem making them fit in the fixtures. They initially perform exactly the way you would expect a light bulb to perform, turning them on and off with the wall switch. Next, I simply plugged in the TCP controller bridge into an unused Ethernet port on my router with the supplied Ethernet cable, and plugged the controller bridge into power. Next, I downloaded the TCP Lighting app to my smartphone (there are both Android and iOS versions). Making sure my phone was connected to my home WiFi network, I ran the TCP Lighting app.

TCP Lighting AppThe first time the app is ran it will pop up with a login screen. You initially click past this screen leaving the fields blank. The app then quickly finds the TCP controller bridge and the TCP LED light bulbs.

Next, I was able to name the lights. During the individual light naming process with the bulbs turned on, they will automatically dim to let you easily identify which bulb is which.

The final step was creating an account on the TCP server, right from within the app. It asks for an email address and a password and quickly creates an account. This allows remote control of my TCP lights anywhere I have a data connection literally anywhere in the world.

I installed the TCP Lighting app on another mobile device, and all I had to do to get it to work was to enter my TCP account credentials into the initial app login screen.

The app also includes the ability to schedule the lights to automatically be turned on and off. The bulbs can also be dimmed from within the app.

The TCP A19 LED bulb produces a warm color temperature similar to conventional incandescent bulbs. They also put out about 800 lumens which is close to what a conventional 60 watt bulb produces. They are rated for 25,000 hours of use.

From an external network, the bulbs will respond to on and off and dimming commands with about a half a second delay which is more than acceptable.

Also of course, the wall light switch must be left in the “on” position in order for remote access to function.

So, problem solved at a more reasonable price than either the Phillips Hue kit or 2 Belkin Wemo WiFi wall switches which wouldn’t have worked anyway since I need a 3-in-1 wall switch version.

 

HAL TV Remote Set Top Box, Watch and Ring at CES

HAL logo

Todd and Don interview Eric Stalker from HAL.tv about the new Remote Set Top box for controlling your TV with hand gesture or voice control.  Once the box is setup, it allows you all kinds features like Hand control of your TV, Phone Calls, Reminders and a “mirror” mode.

HAL is also coming out with a smart watch and smart RING that will work with your smart phone. Details can be found at hal.tv.

Prices for the TV box and  the Watch will be $199 and the ring is $99. All these products will be available in the Fall of 2014.

Interview by Don Baine, the Gadget Professor and Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

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Connected crock-pot is a new WeMo-enabled device (CES)

belkin-wemo-crockpotMany of us place dinner in a slow cooker and wonder off to run errands, even go to work. For the most part, this works out well. The stew or chili is perfect when we arrive back home to eat.

But, things happen. We can get delayed in our travels, or perhaps even realize that we’ll be arriving ahead of schedule. So, while an internet-connected crock-pot may sound like a strange, or even unnecessary, idea, it actually could prove quite useful. And Belkin, through the WeMo line of home automation, is bringing you just such a thing.

“The WeMo-enabled Crock-Pot Smart Slow Cooker is the first WeMo equipped product stemming from Belkin’s collaboration with Jarden Consumer Solutions, a family of household appliance brands. The Crock-Pot Smart Slow Cooker is the first smartphone controllable slow cooker, which allows you to adjust the cooker’s settings from anywhere giving you greater flexibility and control over life’s unexpected moments”, the company announces.

The new crock-pot will retail for $99.99 and is available immediately.

Belkin shows WeMo Smart LED Bulb at CES

belkin-wemo-lightsHome automation has quietly become one of the big product lines at CES in Las Vegas. Many of the primary manufacturers in the field are there, showing off new devices, including Belkin.

The company, commonly thought of in the networking world, has a lineup it calls WeMo. One of the new additions to the line is a smart LED bulb, which works similar to the Philips Hue. “Belkin’s new LED Lighting Starter Set and WeMo Smart LED Bulbs allow you to control, schedule and dim your smart LED bulbs from anywhere”.

The long-lasting bulbs are 60-watt equivalent with 800 Lumens and 3000 Kelvin for a bright warm white light. The lights can be controlled either individually or in groups, and are fully dimmable.

The bulbs can be purchased as a starter kit, which includes a WeMo Link that can control up to 50 bulbs. The set is available for $129.99, and individual bulbs retail for $39.99 each.

Philips Hue and IFTTT

Hue Personal Wireless LightingIn my first post on Philips Hue, I referred to “The Internet of things” where normally dumb devices such as fridges and washing machines are connected to the network. Having a washing machine with an IP address may mean that I can check whether the spin cycle has finished without getting out of my chair, but the real value of the internet of things comes when the devices start communicating among themselves. Not in a nefarious SkyNet way, but in a more practical sense: the washing machine counts the number of washes and when the soap is getting low, automatically orders your preferred brand from your preferred grocery service.

Obviously, it’s going to take a little while until this is a reality, but the web site IFTTT is beginning to show what is possible as more and more services are on-line and cloud-based. IFTTT is an abbreviation of “IThis, Then That” and reflects what IFTTT can do. It automates “If something happens, then I want that to happen”. In IFTTT-speak, a trigger on a channel generates an action on another (or the same) channel. A channel is typically an on-line or cloud-based service such as Twitter, Dropbox, Gmail, Evernote or Weather. An example of what could happen is, “If I get a tweet on Twitter, copy it to Evernote” or “Every morning at 7.00 am, text me the weather forecast”. These are recipes, as IFTTT calls them, and there’s a large range of them already cooked up on the IFTTT web site.

It’s at this point in the story that Philips Hue comes in as a channel on IFTTT, which means that the lights in your home can be controlled by external events via the recipes on IFTTT. Here are some examples of recipes already available; at sunset, turn on the lights; when it’s freezing outside, turn the lights blue; when you receive an email from a particular person, blink the links; when the stockmarket closes down, turn the lights red. Some recipes are perhaps more useful than others, but the range of channels means that there’s tremendous flexibility. There are currently 77 channels on IFTTT and you can browse by channel, so it’s easy to see all the recipes that involve Philips Hue.

Setting up your Hue to work with IFTTT is two step process but it only has to be done once. The first step is to register with the Philips Hue website and allow the site to access the bridge unit within your home. Once you’ve done this and have a username and password, you can control your lights from outside your home using the Hue app on your smartphone too, so it’s probably something that most Hue owners have already done.

Back at IFTTT, the second step is then to activate your Hue channel. You’ll need to supply your Hue username and password, and authorise IFTTT to access your account.

Activate Hue

Now I’m going reuse a recipe that someone else has already created. In this instance, I’m going to flash the lights when I receive an email with the latest GNC podcast. I’ve already activated my Gmail channel.

Gmail to Hue

All I have to do is put in the email address – geeknews at gmail.com – and any time I get an email from Todd, the lights flash. This is the basic recipe; there are others that use keywords or other information likely to be in an email. If I want to, I can choose one particular light or all of them. Once the information is typed in and the recipe has been activated, all I have to do is sit back and wait for the latest podcast email to come in. Blink, blink.

That’s it. All pretty straightforward. If you are more adventurous, you can delve deeper into the recipes to customise them to your needs but there are plenty on IFTTT to get you started and provide inspiration. Philips Hue aside, the insight into the possibilities of the “Internet of things” is incredible.

I hope you have enjoyed this short series of articles on Philips Hue. It’s the first time that I’ve done this kind of short serial, so I’d welcome feedback in the comments on whether to actively search out similar opportunities.

Thanks again to Philips for the loan of the Hue Personal Wireless Lighting System.

Philips Hue Chrome App

Hue Personal Wireless LightingWhile researching the Philips Hue Android apps, I discovered that currently there is a single Hue app for Chrome. It’s called Hueful and while it’s fairly basic, it deserves a mention as (a) it’s the only app on Chrome but (b) it shows that Chrome can support this kind of hardware-oriented app. Previously I would have discounted Chrome from being an option but Hueful works fine on my Chromebook.

Hueful isn’t a very advanced Hue app, being limited to setting colours of selected lamps and colour cycling. Sometimes lamps need to be told twice to take on a setting but they usually get there in the end.

Hueful

 

Hueful is free from the Chrome store.