Archives For Smart Home

Netgear Arlo Cams Go Pro

Dave Zatz —  October 13, 2016 — 14 Comments


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.


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.


I’m back…finally. :-)


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

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

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.


Despite some hopeful announcements, Apple HomeKit continues to limp along. And many have turned to Amazon as the voice-controlled switchboard of their smart homes. Indeed, after originally unloading two Echoes as a novelty, I’m back on board with one Echo and an Amazon Dot — happily barking commands at Alexa. Amazon’s platform is far more inclusive, interoperating with just about anything, sometimes with help from IFTTT, without Apple’s onerous hardware encryption requirement — although endpoints aren’t vetted for security and Amazon is perhaps more ripe for (verbal) abuse, the possibilities seem endless and it’s oh-so-convenient. Next up to the mound is Logitech, who’s working on native Harmony support to start and stop Activities without picking up that remote control or smarthphone.

Logitech is beta testing Harmony remote control integration with Amazon Echo, Echo Dot, and Tap. With this integration, Harmony remote control users will be able to start and stop Harmony Activities using Alexa voice commands. If you own an Echo, we’re looking for people like you try out this new integration and provide feedback on their experience prior to full public release.


It was inevitable. After years of pining, as soon as I purchased additional, colorful Philips Hue BR30 bulbs, a white variant was sure to be released. And, sure enough, here we are. While FCC docs indicate we’ll shortly see a tunable white BR30, the lumens still clock in pretty low at a reported 680 (compared to the bright WiFi Lifx Wi-Fi bulbs that periodically call my name). As to timing, I’d guess these Hue White Ambience will hit retail in the next month or three and I imagine they’ll go for $30-40/pop. In which case, I may still come out OK given the 50% off outlet sale I recently availed myself of.

Staples entered the home automation space with an inspired, bold plan (and hardware hub). But sustaining the smart home movement required more resolve (in the form of time and money) than they’re obviously willing to commit. From the Friday (of course) email blast:

Staples will discontinue selling Staples Connect in our stores and online, but the Staples Connect service and related products will be supported in collaboration with Z-Wave Products, a leading provider of Z-Wave enabled wireless technology including security, lighting, and energy monitoring products, and smart home software company Zonoff. Z-Wave Products will work with Zonoff to continue to make updates to the Staples Connect App ensuring that it continues to operate with your existing home automation products.

Unlike Nest’s ham-handed approach with Revolv, there’s no public shaming required here to encourage the companies to do the right thing. So, while Staples is ceasing sales of their hub, Z-Wave Products and Zonoff will continue to offer some level of support for existing customers. Further, those who bought in will be compensated with a $50 Staples gift card… which is the break-even point for many. Next!

(Thanks Drew!)


Those who follow me on Twitter know how much I dig my Arlo webcams. In fact, the 4-pack was one of my top 2015 gadget purchases. Beyond the original, compelling selling points of being entirely wireless (from both network and power) and providing a generous free tier of network capabilities (vs Nestcam), the service has seen quite a few updates that further improve and refine the experience. However, none are bigger than the two features introduced last month. Continue Reading…