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
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.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Sonos Sub

I purchased my Sonos Playbase a few months ago and it drastically improved on the sound of my TV speakers but I still felt it was a little weak on bass.  Even though the Playbase has a built in subwoofer port I felt I was just not getting the lows that I was used to with my old home theater.

I demoed the playbase and sub a few times and knew the sub would make the difference I was looking for but the $700 price tag was really making me hesitate.  I could get similar subs for around $250 but I have bought into the Sonos ecosystem so I knew I has to pull the trigger.  The I goy an email from Sonos that they were having a 15% off sale and that tipped the scales for me.

I picked up the Sun a few weeks ago and I have to say I am pretty happy with the purchase.  Is it worth $700?  That is debatable but for me to be truly happy with my home theater system it was what I needed.

Setup of course was very simple.  I just unboxed the sub, plugged it in, added the sub to my room, synced it, ran through TruePlay and I was up and running in about 10 minutes.  The sub really adds a lot of depth to music.  The room I have mu home theater in is about 25' x 25' with cathedral ceiling so it is a lot of space to fill with sound.  The PlayBase and Sub are up to the task.  But where it really shines is movies.  The explosions can now be felt but it feels to be like a more natural low rather than sound that you would get from a cheaper Subwoofer.  Even my 10 year old daughter commented on how much more fun it was to watch Beauty and the Beast with all the extra rumbling and growling.

I've yet to watch a movie to really test it.  I may wait until I am home alone and play Saving Private Ryan at good volume to not disturb the wife and kids.  Overall pretty happy with the purchase I am still struggling a bit with the price but the 15% off makes it a little more palatable.

Next on my Sonos wish list is probably going to be a Play 1 for my office but I think I may wait a bit as I am reading rumors that Sonos will be releasing a new speaker with integrated microphone and voice control.  Sound pretty interesting....

Thursday, September 21, 2017

New Products from Nest

Happened to be on Nest's website the other day and noticed that they are releasing a few new products.  I remember reading an article a few weeks back that they had some products in the pipeline and I guess this is it.  I have to say I am a bit disappointed.  The products they have released are either just upgrades to their existing products or their versions of a competitors product.  Nothing game changing like the original Nest Thermostat.

Nest Secure

Nest secure is their new do-it-yourself home security system.  I guess one of the benefits is ease of install so you don't have to hire a professional to install it.  This is typical with nest products.  I haven't found anywhere whether they offer professional monitoring which to me is a must have with a home security system.  To me this just looks like a rehash of some of the other do-it-yourself home security systems like SimplySafe.   But I guess if you have already invested in Nest cameras it may make sense to go with this security system.   Will be interesting to see how this sells.  At $500 for a starter kit it is not cheap.

Nest Cam IQ Outdoor Camera

Another new product announced was an outdoor version of their Nest IQ camera.  The one thing this camera has going for it is it is true HD 1080p quality.  But it does have to be hard wired and you need to purchase a nest aware subscription to access video history.  One camera is going to set you back $350 but you can get two pack for $590.  Not a bad price but the whole Nest aware subscription just turns me off.  Even though they are just 720p quality I think I will stick with my Arlo Pro Cameras.  They are completely wireless and no subscription needed and I get 7 days of history.

Nest Hello Doorbell

The final product that they released this week is a video doorbell.  To me this looks like a knockoff of the Ring doorbell.  It does seem to have some functionality that the Ring doesn't such as person detection even if they don't ring the doorbell and it will be HD quality.  The product will be released in Q1 2018 and there is no pricing info yet.

Overall I am a bit underwhelmed by these new products.  Nothing I have to have and nothing that is going tp disrupt any industry.  And still no new version of the Nest Protect.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Amazon Echo Show

I have held off on picking up any of Amazon's Echo products thinking they were pretty much a novelty item.  Then last month the released the Echo Show with the screen and I was kind of intrigued.  Then I learned that the Alexa show works with Arlo cameras and now the Show was a must have product for me.  I love my Arlo cameras but often wished there was some kind of monitor that came with then.   My driveway and entry door in my home is just off my kitchen but there are no windows with a view of the driveway or door so if there is someone at the door I can't easily see them.  The Echo Show solves this problem, all I have to do is ask Alexa to "Show my side door camera" and the feed pops up.

I do have quite a few other smart devices in my home that integrate nicely with the Echo.  I can now easily control my Nest thermostats or check the temperature upstairs if  the kids are complaining it is too hot.  I can turn on and off my driveway lights that are connected to my WEMO switch.  I can also control my Rachio sprinkler system by telling Alexa to water a certain zone for x many minutes.  All pretty cool functionality but for me still pretty much a novelty.

Much has been made of the creepiness of the drop-in feature but it doesn't bother me as much as I thought it would and I actually find myself using it.  I only have my wife and I enabled but if we are away and want to check on the kids we can just drop in and see what is going on in the kitchen.

Setup was pretty simple I had all of my connected devices set up in less than an hour.  I find myself asking Alexa for the days weather more now than just checking on my phone.  The device itself is kind of ugly, but I am not bothered by how it looks.   I think the boxiness has to do with fitting in the fairly high quality speakers.   The speakers are good but they aren't going to replace my Sonos speakers anytime soon.  I am also not an Amazon Prime subscriber so I don't have access to any of the music or videos, so the functionality there is limited for me.   The price of the product at $229 was a bit high but I was able to use a couple best buy discount certificates I had and got it for about $180.  

This is the first generation of the show so there is lots of room for improvement.  It has a touch screen but there is not a lot of functionality there.   There is no web browser.  With the Arlo integration it takes about 15 seconds to pull up the camera feed.  The talk feature is also not available through the Echo Show.   But I imagine that more and updated functionality will be coming in the future.

One piece of functionality that I am really looking forward to is the Echo integration with Sonos speakers.  This functionality was announced a year ago and is expected soon.  I will be sure to review how it works as soon as it is available.

Overall, I am pretty happy with my Echo Show.  Looking forward to new functionality and getting new connected products and see how they integrate with my whole house system.