Archives For Smart Home

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Ooma, the long-time independent and quite stellar VoIP service provider, is finally poised to expand beyond its core telephonic capabilities… as foreshadowed by the legendary Rich Buchanan way back in 2009:

Ooma won’t say exactly what complementary products it will introduce, but Buchanan will speak in general terms. “We will have applications that fall into three basic categories: network management, home automation, and data management,” he says.

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Google Chromecast ($25, three months of HBO NOW)
Chromecast isn’t my thing. But I’m old and require a physical remote. However, this is a good deal on a generally practical solution to get app content onto a television, controlled by smartphone. Considering HBO NOW runs $15 a month and you get three free, this is a pretty stellar deal.

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Sonos Play:1 ($150, includes 3-months of Apple Music)
Sonos is my preferred whole-home music system and the Play:1 both looks great and sounds great. At $150, it’s priced similar to many well regarded Bluetooth speakers but its WiFi connectivity is infinitely more practical (assuming you run a supported service, which you probably do). Apple’s sweetening the deal with three months of Apple Music.

 

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Google Deals Of The Day

Dave Zatz —  November 23, 2016 — 1 Comment

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Google Home ($99)
Google’s Amazon Alexa competitor is $30 off. And, like the Echo, it’s an always-listening speaker that can tap into a number of services such as Spotify, Nest, or Philips Hue, in addition to being a general Internet-based assistant. Reviews have largely been positive — largely comparable sound and voice recognition to Amazon with better looks and more favorable pricing but without as many integrated 3rd party services. Bonus: 6 months of Google Play Music/YouTube Red for new subscribers – a $60 value. Rather than ordering directly from Google, I’d suggest going thru Target, Walmart, or Best Buy and using ebates for additional cash back and potentially easier returns, if it comes to it.

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YouTube Red / Google Play Music ($0)
One of the very best deals in digital media is that much sweeter when it’s free. Google’s offering up four months of service to new subscribers vs their standard $9.99/mo fee. Not only does it consist of Play Music, which is equivalent to services like Spotify or Apple Music, but it also includes YouTube Red — something I highly recommend (as a parent). Among its best features, YouTube Red kills the commercial interruption and provides mobile video downloads for offline playback.

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Roku Streaming Stick ($50)
While both Amazon and Roku updated their streaming sticks this year, I give a slight edge to Roku’s offering. And, during the holiday deals season, we’ve seen it as low as $35.

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Amazon Echo Dot ($50)
The refreshed Echo Dot brings Amazon’s always-on Alexa voice assistant into homes at a compelling price point with two enclosure color options. The integrated speaker is merely sufficient, but perfectly suitable for broadcasting news (Alexa, play CNN on TuneIn) or music (Pandora, Spotify, etc) in smaller rooms. We expect the Dot to drop to $40 on Black Friday. However, should your budget be larger, both Google Home and the full-on Echo will be $30-40 off later this week.

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Netgear Arlo Cams Go Pro

Dave Zatz —  October 13, 2016 — 16 Comments

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Arlo has long been my preferred network camera, handily besting the likes of Nest due to a generous free tier of service and unrivaled placement flexibility — weather-proof, battery-powered, and wireless. Well, Netgear has just upped the ante with the Arlo Pro line of cameras. In addition to what sounds like generally improved optics (and now audio) to possibly match the Arlo Q model, the two new features that have me contemplating an upgrade are rechargeable batteries (supposedly good for 6 months) and USB video storage. However, these refinements do come at a cost. Whereas my original Arlo 4-pack ran $500, the equivalent Pro bundle goes for $650. It seems I could add enhanced Pro cameras to my current config, but local storage does require the new hub.

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As ZNF regulars are well-aware, I run both Nest and ecobee smart thermostats in my home… and we far prefer the ecobee3 for a number of reasons. The most significant benefit of ecobee, over Nest, is the bundled remote sensor along with the ability to add many more. This opens up all sorts of scenarios in regards to intelligently balancing temperature, accurately identifying presence, and the like.

Well, based on a pulled Home Depot product page, doing away with those capabilities may be the key to lowering the price of entry via a new ecobee3 Lite model.

Having perused the FCC filing last month, I’d assumed remote sensors were still in play while Apple HomeKit licensing (and processing overhead) or the touchscreen might be on the chopping block as likely candidates to drive down manufacturing expenses. However, if the Home Depot page (and supporting product documentation) is any indication, both of those could remain. Should the $169 ecobee3 Lite pricing and presumed functionality line up with reality, I could also see the full-fledged ecobee3 receive a small price drop from $249 to something like $229.

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I’m back…finally. :-)

Intro

For the past few months, I’ve been on a mission to find the best home WiFi. The “best” does not necessarily mean the fastest. It means the most reliable as we move around the house from room to room. It also means The Mrs. will not curse our stupid and slow home internet. This year, we have seen the rise of consumer wireless mesh networks that has typically been only available to corporate environments. Products from eero (that Dave endorses), Ubiquiti, Securifi, and Netgear are vying for you to upgrade your current router with the promise of whole home WiFi goodness!

Our residence is a newer-built detached single family home with two floors and a basement. Over the years, I’ve silently replaced our main router as newer technology has been released. I say silently, as my test for this was basically to see if The Mrs. would notice or comment on our home wireless network. Would she just look at me and ask why I was staring at her while she used her tablet…or would she throw that tablet to the ground screaming to the WiFi gods. In the past, I’ve tried multiple scenarios for our home network. The ONE ROUTER TO RULE THEM ALL approach. The Router + Powerline + Access Point approach. The Router + Extend Me approach.

While all of these might have worked initially, each scenario failed at some point whether it was clients being too far away from the router, or clients not being able to hand off properly to the different access points. Each scenario failed at our house. That’s why the wireless mesh network intrigued me so much. And with the big names finally getting into the ballgame, I thought it was time to try the Netgear Orbi.

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nest-cam-outdoorAfter months of corporate drama, Nest attempts to reboot the conversation with their latest innovation — a $200 weatherproof, outdoor camera that the company expects to ship this fall.

While it’s not entirely fair to pass judgement on a product that hasn’t yet been released, there’s no way I’ll be purchasing one. And, no, it’s not the $10 monthly fee for continuous recording and supposedly smart alerts. It’s the 25′ of power cable you need to screw into your siding. I do recognize Nest’s approach is designed to accommodate a large percent of households unwilling or unable to hardwire and their technical implementation isn’t exactly battery-friendly. Regardless, it just doesn’t work for me.

With that in mind, here are some similarly priced alternatives that solve this problem with a more sophisticated approach:

Kuna
Kuna replaces an entrance light (in three different styles) and cleverly integrates a positional camera into the casing.

Ring
Ring replaces or augments a doorbell and can be either hardwired or rely on a rechargable USB-powered battery.

Arlo
My personal favorite is Netgear’s battery-powered, magnetically mounted camera. Unlike Ring, there is an added expense in replacing the cells every few months. However, the generous free tier of service largely makes up for it.