Tag Archives: smart home

Dial It Up with the Flic Twist

Flic has featured in GNC a couple of times in the past and for those unfamiliar, Flic is an automation system that focusses on small push buttons to trigger actions. They’re really rather handy. Want to turn on the lights? Push a Flic button. Want to play music from Spotify on your Sonos? Push a Flic button. Personally, I use a Flic button in the bedroom for those times when you get into bed and realise that you’ve forgotten to turn off the overhead light.

Flic 2 hub and four buttonsUnusually, the Flic system uses Bluetooth rather than Wi-Fi or Zigbee but it does mean a lower cost of entry as Flic can be used with a smartphone or tablet without the need for a hub (although a hub is available too to avoid the reliance on the phone being in the home). The buttons typically cost around UK£20-£25 depending on how many you buy at a time.

I did a review of their first generation back in 2017, but since then they’ve grown both the hardware and their ecosystem with interfaces to IFTTT, Slack, Microsoft Flow, Philips Hue and Samsung SmartThings, to name a few. The second generation hub can work an IR blaster to control TVs and AV equipment, and the newer buttons are a bit more robust.

The Flic buttons can be programmed with actions triggered from three different behaviours: single press, double press and press & hold. For example, if you had a room with two lights, a single press could turn on one light; a double press could turn on the other; and press & hold could turn on both. It’s also possible to chain actions together – you’re not restricted to only one thing. Unsurprisingly, there’s a Flic app that helps with all the programming.

But that’s all old news as Flic has announced a new controller called the Flic Twist. Simplistically, it’s a central button with an outer dial – press it, rotate it, or press and rotate.

I really like the design of the Twist: while it’s bigger than the Flic buttons, it looks smart and modern. The tactile rotation makes controlling volume or brightness so much easier. It’s a feature that has been missing from the (smart home) market and “how-to-use-it” is somewhat self-evident as we’re familiar with turning dimmer switches.

It’ll be available in two colourways; matte black and frost white, with twelve little LEDs round the button visually showing the rotation. It’s powered by two AAA batteries that should last for two years and the Twist is magnetic which is great for fridges. Finally, while the Twist will be compatible with existing Flic Hubs, there’s a tiny new Flic Hub Mini too – it’s really small!

The Flic Twist and Hub Mini are launching on 2nd November at 1700 GMT / 1800 CET with pre-orders through Kickstarter. The RRP for the Twist is €99, but there will be plenty of early bird deals available which will significantly reduce the price, especially when buying more than one Twist.

Philips Boosts Hue with new Bulbs, Lamps and Spotify Integration

Philips Hue saw a major boost with Spotify integration and whole raft of new lamps and lights for the smart home, including some super bright 1600 lm models. There’s news for gamers too, with an upgrade to Hue Sync. Let’s step through the changes.

While there are several smartphone apps that will synchronise the Hue lights with sound, this is the first time that there’s been a digital integration between Hue and a music service. After linking Hue and Spotify accounts together, Hue colour lights will pulse in time with the music. A new Sync tab in the Hue app allows listeners to adjust brightness, intensity and colour to suit their mood. Sounds fun. There’s an FAQ on the new integration and you can sign up for early access now (as of now, I can’t get this to work). General availability is coming in October and that’s a great freebie for Hue and Spotify owners.

On the lighting side, the Hue Filament bulbs (those are the vintage style ones) are now available in white ambiance which means the colour temperature can be adjusted from warm orange through to cool blue white light. There’s a new candle version, too, which will look great in the candelabra-style lamps.

The standard Hue smart bulbs have been given a brightness boost, with options for 1100 and 1600 lumen versions. The existing models were around 800 lm, so this is a significant jump in output power and is very welcome. I’d previously had to resort to buying a competing bulb in order to get the brightness up in some poorly lit rooms.

The Philips Hue Play HDMI sync box works with TVs to backlight the screen and surrounding walls with colours from nearby lamps that match the onscreen action. It’s impressive when you see it working. Hue has new gradient tubes for installation with TVs that are mounted close to the wall (where lightstrips aren’t effective). The tubes come in two sizes for different sized TVs (40″-55″ and 60″+), and two finishes, black and white.

The HDMI sync box gets a software upgrade next month as well, with the unit now supporting 120 Hz refresh rates at 1080p and 1440p. 4K resolution is supported to 60 Hz.

There are some new lamps including the Signe floor lamp and the Sirumu ceiling panels.

Overall, this is all very welcome news for Hue and addresses gaps in the portfolio that competitors have been keen to fill. It doesn’t get away from the fact that Hue is relatively expensive though there’s definitely an element of “you get what you pay for” as I’m still using bulbs that came with my first gen starter kit back in 2013.

Airthings View Plus Smart Air Monitor

Scandinavian air quality specialists, Airthings, have announced the View Plus smart air monitor which senses over half-a-dozen air quality metrics: particulate matter (PM), carbon dioxide (CO2), radon gas (Rn), temperature, humidity and air pressure. Designed to help create a healthy home, air quality has become all the more important during the pandemic lockdowns with people remaining in their houses to keep themselves and their loved ones safe.

The World Health Organisation estimates that over 4 million people die every year from air pollution, so it’s a very real problem. While generally air quality is poorer indoors compared with outdoors, it varies greatly from place to place and it can sometimes be hard to tell if there’s a problem. For example, radon gas is naturally found in many areas but it’s odourless and invisible. If you are interested in radon exposure and you’re in the UK, Public Health England has a handy interactive map.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve seen the levels of awareness about air quality increase dramatically,” said Oyvind Birkenes, CEO of Airthings. “We decided to develop View Plus to help people everywhere understand that they have more control over their air quality than they might think. Our mission at Airthings has always been to educate people and foster constructive conversation about how air quality can impact their health and daily lives. With View Plus, we can empower people to learn about the air quality in their homes in a way that is constructive and easy to understand.

It’s back to the old business aphorism: you can’t manage what you don’t measure but unlike many smart home gadgets, Airthings have gone to considerable lengths to ensure that the View Plus works for the family and not just for the “geek in charge”. To start with, the View Plus looks good with a sleek minimalistic design, and recognising that smartphones apps aren’t always convenient, the View Plus offers a customisable display showing the current air quality status. Of course, the View Plus does have wireless connectivity (WiFi and Bluetooth) and there is full integration with Airthings smartphone app and web dashboard, plus IFTTT, Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa support.

The View Plus has a battery life of more than two years allowing it to be placed wherever convenient, but if it can be plugged in via USB C, the View Plus has built-in hub functionality, so owners can expand their system and bring together other Airthings devices.

Airthings View Plus is now available for pre-order beginning on Airthings.com with a special10% off pre-launch discount before the end of March 2021. The product will start shipping to customers this June for £259 / $299 USD inc VAT.

Meross WiFi Smart Plug with HomeKit Support Review

The fabled smart home as a building that responds your needs as they arise is still somewhat legendary and will likely remain so until the technology can be built into the fabric of the structure. Regardless there are many practical ways where the new technology can be used on a practical basis. For example, my living room uses a combination of overhead, wall and table lighting and in the past, I would have need to turn on lights at four different places in the room every evening. With smart technology, one of the lights comes on as dusk falls and the others will come on as someone enters the room.

For simple automation like this, one solution might involve smart bulbs such as those from Philips Hue or LIFX, but for floor standing or table lights, a good alternative is to add a smart plug which will do the on-off switching for you. It’s a pass through type device, so no re-wiring is need. Plug the smart plug into the wall socket and then the lamp plug into the smart plug.

And for the purposes of demonstration, here we have the Meross WiFi smart plug with Apple HomeKit support. This is a new iteration of Meross’ smart plug which now supports Apple HomeKit in addition working to working on Android phones via an app – look for HK on the end of the model name (MSS210HK) to be assured of HomeKit support. There’s integration with voice assistants including Amazon Alex and Google Home and the smart plug will work with Samsung SmartThings, which is great if you want to get into more complex automation later on.

As indicated by the name, this is a WiFi smart plug and connects up to any g/n 2.4 GHz WiFi network, which is what the vast majority of people have at home. No Z-Wave, ZigBee or hubs required here. The Meross plug comes in a fairly plain cardboard box and there’s just the smart plug itself plus two small leaflets…and I mean small. A magnifying glass might be required for those with less than ideal eyesight.

As the photographs show, this is the UK variant but it’s available to suit the wiring standards of many countries, including USA. The smart plug is white and plainly styled with just three notable features. One, it’s quite a big plug, so you may struggle to get another plug in to a neighbouring socket: best to check your socket positions. Two, there’s an on-off button with indicator light on the top, which is very handy if you need to switch the plug manually. Three, there’s a HomeKit QR logo and code stuck to the side of the socket, which brings us neatly onto Apple’s Home app.

Apple have made it extremely easy to add devices into the smart home solution. Using the Apple Home app, it’s simply a case of hitting “+” to add a device and then using the iPhone or iPad’s camera to scan the QR code. After a bit of chuntering between the iPad and the Meross, say, 30 seconds, the smart plug is setup within the Home app. Tapping the plug icon in the app turns the smart plug on and off in the real world. Job done and you can easily incorporate the plug into any of routines, scenes etc of the Home app.

Update 29th October 2020 – Thanks to a discussion on my YouTube channel, I’ve been alerted to the problem that if you don’t want to use Apple Home and would rather use the Meross app on Apple devices, it doesn’t actually seem to be possible to do it. The Meross app automatically redirects the setup to Apple Home. This works fine, except that if you want to use the smart plug with Alexa, the Meross skill doesn’t see any devices.

Android users aren’t left out from using the Meross smart plug, though the process is a little less straightforward. The first steps are to download the app from the Google Play store and then sign-up with a username and password.  Adding a device through the Meross app starts with picking the type of device and there’s an initial negotiation between the smartphone and the smart plug which broadly concludes with you having to pick the WiFi network and supply the passcode. It’s not as slick as the Home setup but gets the job done. The Meross app offers direct control of the smart plug; scenes, which allow for setting multiple devices at once; and routines for turning devices on and off according to a schedule.

I was also able to easily setup the smart plug with both Alexa and Samsung’s Smart Things. For Alexa, open Amazon’s app and search for the Meross skill. Enable the skill and enter the username and password for the Meross system. Alexa will then search for new devices, which I find is a bit hit or miss, but eventually you’ll see the Meross smart plug in the list of devices. For me Alexa couldn’t find the smart plug initially, but it was magically there after restarting the app. I was then able to say, “Alexa, turn on living room lamp” and sure enough, the smart plug switched.

Integration with SmartThings was very similar but worked flawlessly in terms of adding and seeing the device straightaway.

Pricewise, the Meross smart plug with HomeKit comes in at GB£16.99 on Amazon.co.uk, which is competitively priced on its own, but note that if you don’t need HomeKit, you can get two Meross smart plugs for the same price. For a bit of extra discount, use the code O3ML85W5 at Amazon.co.uk which should be valid up to the end of August on both single and double packs.

The main takeaway for the Meross WiFi smart plug with HomeKit support is how easy it is to get setup on Apple, Android, Alexa and SmartThings. I was able to do all of these in less than ten minutes – if you don’t believe me check out the video below. The only downside I can find is the plug itself is fairly chunky.

Thanks to Meross for supplying the WiFi Smart Plug for review. The discount code provided above is not a referral code.

Airthings Hub Debuts at CES

Norwegian air quality experts Airthings announced the new Airthings Hub at CES 2020 this week. Centralising the collection of air quality data from the Wave range of monitoring devices, the Hub helps provide a comprehensive understanding of air quality in the home.

Building on the popularity of smart homes and recognising the health benefits relating to air quality, Airthings brought the Wave Plus radon detector to the market in 2008. Radon gas is the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers and the Wave Plus was recently named in Time Magazine’s list of 100 Best Inventions.

Next came the Wave Mini which measures temperature, humidity and indoor air quality level. The Airthings complementary app provides real-time information on indoor air quality using data collected wirelessly from the Wave devices.

With more people than ever relying on smart home ecosystems to provide them with the critical information they need to live healthy and productive lives, we felt it was crucial to deliver a Hub that will simplify the process of indoor air quality monitoring and make it an essential aspect of our customers’ everyday routines,” said Oyvind Birkenes, CEO of Airthings. “In order to truly gain an understanding of your home’s IAQ and threats like Radon and VOCs, regular monitoring is necessary. Our goal is to educate people everywhere about how air quality can impact their daily lives on both a short-term and long-term scale. By helping people track their air quality in real-time, even when they’re not at home, Airthings Hub will empower customers to breathe easy by keeping tabs on their air quality no matter the time or the location.

The Airthings Hub will be available for pre-order throughout Europe and the US beginning January 6 with an MSRP of US$79.99. The product is compatible with Airthings Wave (2nd generation), Wave Plus, and Wave Mini devices. For more information on the Airthings Hub, indoor air quality and why long-term monitoring is important, visit the Airthings website.

Airthings are at CES in Booth #40646 in the Smart Home area of the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas.

Philips Hue Looks Good

There’s a raft of new products and updates coming to Philips Hue with a big announcement from Signify today and confirming the rumoured LED filament lamps. Smart plugs are coming to Hue for the first time too, which have been badly needed and potentially move Hue out of smart lighting and into the wider smart home.

The LED filament bulbs mimic those ever-so-cool retro-style Edison lamps. Depending on your world-wide location, they’re available in up to three shapes – Edison, Filament and Globe. Output is 550lm which, while lower than a standard Hue bulb at 800lm, would be expected for a filament bulb. Think 40W.

In line with previous Hue announcements, these bulbs can be controlled via Bluetooth with a smartphone, while still integrating into the full hub-based Hue setup.

The new smart plug is a much needed addition to the Hue family. There are so many lamps and lights that can’t easily take a Hue bulb but would benefit from inclusion into a smart home. The new smart plug will be perfect, especially when paired with the existing motion detectors. Walk into a room and the lights go on.

An addition to the current controller range, the new smart button attaches magnetically to a wall plate, so can be used as a light switch replacement or as a handy controller.

In minor upgrades, there have been improvements to the GU10 spotlights and the E14 candle bulbs, and the Hue Go now has Bluetooth communication built-in with extended battery life.

Details are thin on the ground, but Hue have announced a partnership with bathroom specialists Hansgrohe. From the beginning of 2020, Philips Hue will be integrated with Hansgrohe’s newest innovation RainTunes. RainTunes “combines water, sound, light, moving image and scent to create a customized and invigorating shower experience. The product is transforming what the bathroom of today can be: a supremely restorative space of sanctuary where a perfect light plays a key role.” Sounds interesting…and expensive!

And in good news for proud home owners everywhere, several companies are now producing light switches that would be considered attractive. Here’s a selection from German firm Busch Jaeger. If I read the blurb correctly, these are kinetically-powered, meaning that the pushing of the button generates enough energy for the switches to work. There’s no need for wiring or batteries, so the switches can be placed wherever is convenient.

All the new Hue products will be available soon.

Flic 2 Launches on Kickstarter

Flic smart buttons first appeared at CES 2015 and since then, they’ve made steady progress as a useful element of a smart home solution. CES 2018 saw the introduction of the Flic Hub which eliminated the need for a nearby smartphone to process activity.

Flic buttons are little rubberised push switches that use Bluetooth to communicate with the complementary Flic smartphone app (or Flic Hub), which then initiates actions based on rules created in the app. There’s lots of flexibility built into the app so the Flic can turn on lights or make Skype calls – all kinds of things.

Flic 2 is coming to Kickstarter on Tuesday and the Swedish team is promising a brand new open platform to encourage community development and integration with other smart home systems. The buttons themselves have been improved with a new design, improved range, better tactile response and a three-coloured LED for additional feedback.

The Flic buttons will support Bluetooth HID (Human Interface Device) meaning the Flics can emulate keyboards, mice, gamepads and other devices. Maybe you want a button to do a screen grab – that’s when you could use HID to “press” PrtScn.

Although I don’t have a Flic Hub, I understand it has a IR port and can control TVs, set-top boxes and media players – anything that has an IR remote control. It would be handy to power everything down without having to find all the remote controls at the end of the day.

If you are interested in more details, you can sign up here (disclosure: this link will get me some Flic brownie points), or you can wait for Flic 2 to launch on Kickstarter at 1600 BST  / 1100 EST on 21st May 2019. Looks like there’s some good value early bird specials.

In particular, I’m hoping there will be good integration with Samsung’s SmartThings. Fingers crossed.