Archives For Smart Home

2016 was the year of the mesh network, with WiFi routers finally breaking free of the commoditized hardware doldrums, and eero ruled the roost (although they didn’t actually serve up a true ‘mesh’ from the get-go) despite some fierce competition from Netgear Orbi. Beyond mesh, eero also successfully emphasized ease-of-use — although what some found simple, others found simplistic. While I’ve had to run my trio in bridge mode for the better part of a year, initial configuration was ridiculously simple and it’s largely been set-and-forget, with stellar throughput available from all corners of our home(s)… other than a transitory perfect storm of events that briefly took me down last December. And now, after 30 software updates since launch, the company is back with new hardware and claims of an even better experience…

Founder and CEO Nick Weaver tells me the second generation eero effectively doubles the performance of the original, in terms of bandwidth and range, largely due to re-engineering the antenna array and moving to triband radios. Whereas the original eero featured identical, interchangeable pods, the new eero system consists of the traditional (iconic?) eero base station and new Beacon satellite units, that take a page from Ubiquiti (and countless painful network extenders), going with a compact, wire-free outlet mount. However, if you appreciate Ethernet connectivity throughout the home, to accessorize (as I do) or for a more robust wired backhaul, all eero models of both generations are mix and match.

Other fun facts: The eero Beacon contains an ambient light sensor and dimmable nightlight (that many of us will simply disable) and the traditionally-shaped eero is powered via a USB-C cable. In our chat, Weaver repeatedly mentioned the home as an operating system, emphasized in practice via forward-looking Thread integration for IoT and an upcoming eero Plus service (with application provider framework) that kicks off with a beefed up proxy to protect against malware and provide enhanced parental controls.  Continue Reading…

As foreshadowed by FCC documents, seemingly displaying a rear-firing speaker, ecobee4 product marketing materials that have come my way and a premature Lowe’s listing confirm the presence of Alexa… to not only adjust one’s temperature via far-field voice recognition, but leverage many if not all of Amazon’s voice assistant capabilities. Hey, look there’s even the signature blinking blue Alexa light pipe up top. The move isn’t entirely surprising given Amazon’s sizable investment in ecobee and their new program that makes microphone technology available to third-party partners.

Beyond Amazon integration, the ecobee4 smart thermostat appears somewhat sleeker than my existing ecobee3 – an upgrade as they continue to fight off the more well known, though less capable, Nest (that, to this day, still lacks remote sensors). Interestingly, Apple HomeKit capabilities remain and we expect the new model to launch within the next couple months given the abundance of leaks and steep ecobee3 discounts.

Update: Confirmation of Alexa support and a photo of the ecobee4 can be found here, ahead of a May 3rd announcement.

The ecobee4 smart thermostat, originally leaked last month by Apple, has just passed through the FCC. As to what it offers over the ecobee3 and its remote sensors, well, that remains mostly a mystery. We assume it will retain Apple HomeKit integration and there is some thought its profile will match the new and slightly revised ecobee3 lite.

But most curious, based on the FCC glamour shot above, is some sort of round opening along the top of the ecobee4’s enclosure. What I’d originally thought might be additional or relocated environmental sensors, versus an exhaust port, may actually be a small speaker given new intel I have received indicating tighter ecobee+Alexa voice integration. Incorporating Amazon’s voice assistant makes a whole lot of sense given the practicality (why clutter things up with yet another Echo Dot) and recent $35 million dollar investment.

Continue Reading…

Sonos Playbase Nears Release

Dave Zatz —  February 18, 2017

First spotted at the USPTO way back in 2014, several signs indicate the mysterious Sonos Playbase nears release. What appears to be a speaker array that one’s television sits upon, similar to the Bose Solo 15, the new Sonos product just popped up on retailer BH Photo’s site for pre-order. With a pencilled-in $699 price point, the Playbase comes in both white and black and is tentatively expected to ship in March. Beyond newly unearthed pics, adding fuel to the fire is a deleted Sonos forum post and an FCC listing referencing the incoming ZPS11/RM011/S11.

Of course, we expect the home theater-centric Playbase to provide similar functionality to its siblings… including the ability to pair with “traditional” Sonos speakers for rear channel audio and upcoming support for Alexa. Whether or not the Playbase incorporates native voice support, with far field microphones, or Alexa integration is handled via an Amazon Echo remains to be seen. Given the rumored pricing, equivalent to the Sonos Playbar and exceeding its Bose equivalents, I’d bet on integrated mics and touch controls, as seen with the recently refreshed Play:5 speaker.

Continue Reading…

ooma-door-sensor

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.

Given that Ooma is simply a Linux-based hub, why not? And now, as revealed by the FCC, we learn the company intends to introduce window/door and water detection sensors managed via an incoming Ooma Home Monitoring app. Due to power and range considerations (and the FCC filing itself), Ooma wouldn’t leverage WiFi or even low-energy Bluetooth for these applications. However, as opposed to their Zigbee and Z-wave contemporaries like Smartthings, Ooma is going with generally phone-centric DECT for communication.

I wonder what other goodies and integrations they have on the docket… and expect all will be revealed next month at CES.

Continue Reading…

chromecast

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.

cons-hkl12-sonos-play1

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.

 

Continue Reading…

Google Deals Of The Day

Dave Zatz —  November 23, 2016

google-home-nest

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.

youtube-red

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.

roku-streaming-stick

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.

echo-dot

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.

Continue Reading…