Sunday, November 11, 2018

Arlo Doorbell and Chime


Nest and Ring both have doorbells in their smart product lines so I have been anxiously waiting for Arlo to release a doorbell as well.  Arlo took a different path with their version of the smart doorbell releasing an audio doorbell rather than a video doorbell.  There was a bit of angst in some of the online communities regarding Arlo's decision to release an audio doorbell rather than a video doorbell, but I like the idea.   First, already have Arlo cameras at my doors so I don't really need a video doorbell, it would be redundant.  Second, by releasing a audio only product they are able to keep teh price down, although it is still a pretty pricey product.  Ultimately I think Arlo is aiming this product at existing Arlo customers like me.   I ended up purchasing two doorbells and the chime.

Features:
  • Mobile notifications - When someone rings your doorbell, the doorbell calls your phone which activates the Arlo app and you can see who is there and speak to them.
  • Messaging- If you are not available, the visitor can leave a message that is saved to the cloud
  • The doorbell works with exiting chimes or you can purchase a smart chime from Arlo
  • Cloud storage - you get 7 days of free cloud storage for messaging
  • Long battery life - Arlo claims the included AA batteries will last a year
  • Motion detection - The doorbell works with your existing cameras to detect motion
  • Silent Mode - You can silence the chime at night when the kids are sleeping
  • Alexa Integration - Alexa Devices will notify you when someone rings the doorbell.  Kind of defeats the purpose of the Arlo chime, wish I would have known this before I bought the Arlo Chime.
Installation:

Installation was pretty straight forward.  I did have an issue getting the app to recognize the doorbell initially but it worked on the third or so try.   Once the doorbell is recognized, you select which camera you would like to pair it with and then screw it into the wall.  I bought the Chime accessory so I cannot comment on how well it works with existing chimes but that part seems easy enough to set up if you need to.

First impressions:

I purchased my two Arlo doorbells and a chime to replace an existing dumb wireless doorbell system that I think I paid $20 for.  The two Arlo doorbells and the chime cost me over $200 so it is a pretty expensive product.  The functionality it gives me over the dumb doorbell probably isn't worth the price but I enjoy trying new smart products so I was willing to pay up.  The one nice piece of functionality is I can assign a different chime to my front and side doors so I know which door a visitor is at if I am home.  It also has a nice led ring that lights up when it detects motion so a visitor can see the doorbell at night.

Issues:

The doorbell button itself does not give the user any feedback, when you press the button there is no click or much movement at all so the visitor may not know whether they pressed the doorbell or not.  Of bigger concern is battery life.  Arlo claims a one year battery life but after having my two Arlo doorbells installed for just two weeks one is at 92% and the other 83%.  At this rate neither will last a year.  Definitely something to keep an eye on, if the batteries need to be replaced a few times a year this may become an expensive product and not at all what I was expecting.

Overall:

If you are an Arlo camera owner and are looking to enhance the functionality of an exiting doorbell you may want to look into the Arlo Doorbell.  It is pretty expensive for the functionality it provides but for a tech geek like me it is just another fun toy for my smart home.  It also looks much nicer than my existing $20 dumb wireless doorbell.  This is evidenced by the trick or treaters at my door on Halloween that I caught on camera commenting that it was the nicest doorbell that they have ever seen.


Tuesday, April 17, 2018

First Alert Onelink Safe & Sound Smart Smoke + Carbon Monoxide Alarm


This is the killer smart home product that I have been hoping for Nest to release for the past couple years.  I love Nest products, I have a couple of their thermostats and have been lusting after their smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.  For $119 though they are just too pricey for just a smoke and carbon monoxide detector.  I have almost 20 smoke and/or carbon monoxide detectors in my home so replacing them all would not make economic sense.  I would have considered replacing a couple if they packed a couple for features into the product.

Now First Alert is releasing a smoke and carbon monoxide detector with a high quality speaker and Alexa built in.  The product is set to be released May 1, 2018, I can't wait to read the reviews and hear about the quality of the speaker.  Unfortunately it is pricey at $250.  To me, if the speaker has high quality sound it is worth it.  You are getting an Alexa device, a wireless speaker, a night light, a smoke detector and a carbon monoxide detector.



As good as it sounds I still have some questions and see some potential issues:
  • If you have already bought into the Google or Apple smart speaker eco-system having an Alexa device may not work.  No word on whether they will release Apple home kit or Google versions of the product.  I am guessing Nest is probably working on something similar for their next version of Nest Protect.
  •  My assumption is the product needs to be hard wired.  Which means you can't just swap out your battery powered  smoke detectors without some major electrical work.
  • Will it interconnect with other smoke detectors n the home.  The fire code in my town requires smoke detectors to be interconnected, so if one goes off they al go off.  Does it support the interconnect wire or does it interconnect wirelessly like Nest Protect.
  • It has a battery backup but I assume that only powers the smoke and carbon monoxide detector in a power outage
  • Most smoke detectors have a 10 year expiration date.  Do I need to throw away my $250 smart speaker when the smoke detector expires.
  • The App.  Sometimes non tech companies do not produce quality phone apps.  This is a wait and see, hopefully they put some resourced into developing a quality app.
I think this is a really cool product that I would consider purchasing.  Yes it is pricey, but could be worth it considering all of the functionality they are packing into the device.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Amazon Echo Spot

 

When Amazon released the Echo Spot a few months back I was intrigued.  As an Echo Show owner I love the functionality it provides and the Spot is almost $100 cheaper.  They seem to be marketing it as a product for the bedroom as an alarm clock alternative.  Initially I was sold.  Then I spoke to my wife about getting one to replace the alarm clock, she seemed intrigued at first until I mentioned the camera and then she changed her tune.  She did not want a product with a camera in the bedroom.  I told her we could turn the camera off but she did not want it, did not trust it, no way.  I guess I can't blame her.  You know someone is going to figure out how to hack them eventually.

So for now no Echo Spot for us.  I really would like to replace my 20 year old dumb alarm clock but there here are a couple factors that are kind of show stoppers for me:

  • The camera - people are freaked out by the drop-in feature and especially don't want people dropping in on their bedroom.  I know you can put a piece of tape over the camera lens but why buy a $130 product if you aren't going to use one of the key features.  Would be great if they would release a sub $100 version without a camera.
  • The Amazon/Google fight - When I first bought my Echo show I could watch YouTube videos. Now Google and Amazon are fighting and the customer loses.  They need to figure the issue out and stop hurting customers.
  • Battery Backup - If they are marketing the Echo Spot as an alarm clock alternative it should have all of the features of an alarm clock, like a battery backup.  This way if the power goes out I still hear my alarm.   Power outages don't happen very often in my area but the past couple weeks we have had numerous power outages due to snow storms.  Obviously most functionality would be lost without power and network connectivity but a battery running the clock and alarm would make the Spot a viable alternative to my alarm clock. 
I love smart products and look for every opportunity to try the latest products.  But for now the Spot is a no for us.  Maybe the 2nd generation will knock off some of the items on my wish list and I will eventually be a buyer.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Sonos Play: 1


Over the holidays I picked up a Sonos Play: 1 speaker for my bathroom.  The speaker replaces an old. ugly 1990s boom box type radio we had sitting on our counter.  It was ugly, got bad reception and I really wanted to replace it with something smaller and unobtrusive.  The speakers went on sale for the holidays so I pilled the trigger.  My only debate was whether to get one of the new Alexa enabled Sonos One speakers or to stick with the Play: 1.   I decide that since the speaker would reside in our bathroom I didn't really need the Alexa functionality and the price was still $200 so I figured I would save the money.  If the speaker was going in another room I probably would have gone with the Alexa enabled One


When the One came out it was priced the same as the Play:1 which seemed odd to me but now with the $60 difference in the speakers it seems priced right.  Sound wise I think the speakers are the same.

So far I am pretty happy with the Play:1.  Setup was easy, I was up and running in about 15 minutes.  My bathroom is rather large with high ceilings and the speaker does fill the room even with the fan and shower running.  Bass output on the speaker is good.  The speaker is rated for damp environments so no worries about damage from moisture, but we will see I guess.

I do have one complaint, the app.  I loved the app when I had just one set of speakers, but the app seems a little clunky now that I have two rooms to control.  I find myself searching around for which room the music is playing in and how to start and stop it.  This could be just a training issue and my unfamiliarity with the app but it definitely isn't as intuitive as I would like.  Luckily we usually listen to the same station in the morning so we just press the button to start / stop the music.

I still need to get a speaker for my office, I would love a Play:5  but not the price.  I may experiment with my Play:1 in the office and compromise with the Play:3 if the Play: 1 does not suffice.  Probably will wait for an Alexa enabled Play:3 though as it would be nice to have Alexa functionality in my office.

Great speaker and sound overall.  Getting it for under $150 was a good value, not as overpriced as the Playbase and Sub.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Rachio Smart Sprinkler

   

The Rachio Smart sprinkler adds intelligence to the standard sprinkler controller.  Not only can you control your sprinklers from your phone or a website but the controller checks the local weather and will not water when it rains saving you money and saving the environment.  It comes in a 8 zone or 16 zone model and can be installed outside with an optional enclosure.

I purchased my Rachio last summer but only recently have I started to use it.   My Rachio was one of the first smart products that I purchased for my home.  I purchased in anticipation of using it on my lawn that I was planning to have installed but because of some higher priority projects around the house the lawn install had to wait.  I was hoping to have my lawn installed this past Spring but my landscaper talked my into waiting into fall as he had better luck with lawn installations in the fall in New England.  So after tearing up what was left of my old lawn, spreading 100 or so yards of loam and laying down the hydro seed I was ready to fire up the Rachio.

I set up the Rachio when it was installed over a year ago and I expect I will continue to tweak the settings as I go along to get the best results for my lawn.  The web and mobile app are impressive the amount of options, settings and customizations available are what make Rachio the top smart sprinkler on the market.   You can set pictures of each of your zones, there are estimates of how much water you used and saves and you get a complete watering history, that can be easily changes from your phone or the site.  Additionally, it can be integrated with other smart products like Alexa and Nest Protect Smoke detectors.  Pretty cool to be able to tell Alexa to water zone 3 for 10 minutes.

Zone Settings


With a new lawn my landscaper suggested I water my lawn a few times a day as o not let the soil get dry.  I was hoping to find a new lawn setting that would take care of this for me but it seems this functionality does not exist in the app.  So I set up 3 fixed schedules for the zones needing to be watered.  This seems to be working fine although I think having multiple schedules watering the same zones in the same day messes with the climate algorithms.  It was raining this morning so the Rachio skipped my morning watering.   But at noon I noticed my sprinklers were on.  Even though the ground was still wet, so I had to manually stop and set a rain delay so it would not water for the rest of the day.  I may post something on the Rachio community forum to see if there is something I am missing but that is my only complaint so far.

Schedule Settings


I look forward to using this in the spring as a set it and forget it app.  Overall I am very impressed with the functionality and features of the Rachio controller.  It to me is the ultimate smart  product, it is easy to use, saves you money and is good for the environment. 

Amazon Alexa and Sonos Integration

I have been anxiously awaiting the release of the Sonos / Amazon Alexa integration.  It was released this last Wednesday along with the news that Sonos is releasing their own smart speaker.

Overall the integration is pretty good, nothing mind blowing, is just works as you would expect it to.  I attempted to set it up without any instructions and failed miserably.  Usually Sonos products are extremely simple to setup but when you are dealing with integration with other products things can get complicated.  Overall setup wasn't too bad.  It only took me 10 minutes or so one I fount the instructions online.  Sonos has a great instruction video below.


First you need to add the Sonos skill in the Alexa app.  You will then be prompted to log into your Sonos and Amazon accounts and give Alexa permission to control your Sonos system.  Next you will be prompted to discover devices in the Alexa app so it can find all of your Sonos speakers,  Then you can add the music services that Sonos supports to the Alexa app.  That is pretty much it.

You need to tell Alexa which speaker your would like to control but it works as you would expect.  You can use the following commands.

Play song or artist in a particular room
Volume up / Volume down
Pause
Stop
Next track
Previous track
Add a Station on Pandora

One disappointment is that I cannot control my music library on my computer.  Hopefully this functionality is coming as right now I can only control Pandora or TunedIn as I am not an Amazon Music subscriber. It is a nice start and works fine but I hope they keep adding functionality as time goes on.


Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Google pulls YouTube from the Echo Show

Last week I was disappointed to find that I could no longer play YouTube videos on my Echo Show.  I asked Alexa to play a particular video and her response was that "Currently, Google is not supporting YouTube on the Echo Show".

After a little googling I found that Amazon and Google have been in negotiations for a while but Google pulled YouTube because the Echo implementation violates their terms of service and creates a broken experience, but they hope to reach an agreement and resolve the issue soon.

So each company is blaming the other and the customer loses, very unfortunate.  My guess is googles issue if that on the Echo you can't subscribe, comment, like or most importantly view and click on ads.  That is a whole revenue stream google is missing out on so that are taking their ball and leaving.

My guess is the Amazon could just serve up YouTube videos through a web browser which the Echo show must have.  Then ads and all the other functionality would be available and wouldn't violate their TOS.

For me the loss of YouTube on the Echo Show is kind of a big deal as I am not an Amazon Prime or Music Subscriber  so I have no way to listen to music on the show.  But that may be a non issue now that Sonos has released Alexa integration.  I will post about the Sonos/Alexa Integration after I have had a chance to play with it a little more.  So far though it looks pretty good.

I think as more companies get into the home automation and music streaming game there will be more and more issues like this as the companies jockey to come out on top.  Will be interesting to see how it all plays out over the next couple years.