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Nov 07, 2016

6 Smart Home Devices You Actually Want in Your House (and a Few You Don't)

As you  might have read last week, I'm the proud new owner of a honest to goodness house in Portland, Oregon— a city I love, surrounded by forests, rivers, and mountains. Our house is a classic Northwest-style bungalow, full of character, and plenty of history. And while the 'patina' our house has developed over many years, I don't see any reason why the old can't co-exist with the new. These days, there are dozens of new gadgets, technologies, and inventions that can bring even the oldest of homes into the modern era. Here are some of the ones I excited about, and a few I think aren't that interesting. 

Smart Locks


This keyless smart door lock allows you to unlock your deadbolt with the touch of a finger, eliminating the need to fumble for keys. It unlocks by sensing the presence of your smartphone, and it’s totally awesome. And if you don’t have your phone on you, it unlocks like any deadbolt using traditional keys

Last week I installed Kwikset's second generation Kevo Smartlock, because lots of tenants had been through my house over the years, and I didn't know how many keys were still floating around out there. Also, I love the idea that I'll never get locked out of my house again. Seriously; getting locked out is the most annoying thing that can happen to any home owner. And happen it will.

Plus, I can control my smart lock remotely from my phone (say, to let someone in when I'm away) through the Kevo Plus upgrade, or give temporary access to friends or visitors through the Kevo app. It's great!

We like:

Thermostats

Smart thermostats make a lot of sense; they let you control the temperature settings from anywhere in your home (and beyond!). If you leave for vacation they can automatically sense that you're gone and lower the temperature to save energy. Then when you're on the way home from the airport, you can tap mobile app to bring the house back to a cozy setting by the time you step foot in the door.

The Nest even syncs with smart locks, like my Kevo, so it can automatically adjust the temperature based on your comings and goings. Cool!

We like:

 

Home security 

Home security can bring a huge amount of peace of mind, if it's done right. Likewise, wondering wether or not your home is safe is a great way to get stressed and lose sleep. So I'm definitely in the market for a simple, affordable, reliable smart home security system. Something that's dead-simple to set up and will let me capture video of my home's entry points, but doesn't have any ongoing maintenance fees or yearly contracts. 

Options:

 

Smart outlets

I don't really get the appeal of connect electrical outlets. Sure, they let you control stuff with your phone, but if turning on a lamp remotely was that big of a win, we'd all have "The Clapper" installed throughout our homes (remember those?). Still, I expect connected outlets to become the norm in new construction and new remodels. But I'm not sure a compelling use case exists.

Options:

 

Virtual Assistants and Home Media

Unlike smart outlets, I'm bullish on this category of devices. These things (you've probably seen the Amazon Echo commercials) sit in your house, listening for a verbal cue. Once you give it, you can ask the device to do a bunch of things using nothing but your voice. If you have other smart devices in your home, you can control them with voice commands (turn on lights, adjust the thermostat, control your sound system, etc.). And they can help with lots of real-world tasks too, like setting reminders or ordering pizza. Or, just asking who's that actor in the movie you're watching that you just can't seem to place. 

Some of these functions may seem silly (like: why wouldn't I just call and order pizza myself?), but I think that's just because it's the early days of this technology. I think we'll see lots of useful and innovative applications for this stuff coming out over the next few years, and it won't be long before we wonder how we ever lived without it. And telling your stereo to play your favorite album and have it filling your house within seconds? Pretty cool.

Recommended:

 

Smart lights

I'm skeptical about this category. These gadgets do all kinds of clever things with your home lighting, like the BeOn Home Lighting System, which claims to learn your lighting patterns/routines, and mimic them when you're out of town, to deter would-be burglars.

I just don't get excited about it. Changing the color of my living room lights, or turning on the porch light from my iPhone? Whatever. 

One that I do think is pretty cool (if it works as advertised), is the Sengled Pulse wireless sound system. These are LED bulbs (they screw into any standard socket) with Bluetooth-enabled speakers built in. So you can set up a sleek, wireless sound system in any home (new or old), and get your smart lighting fix covered at the same time. Sign me up.

Options:

 

The Rest

 

And then there are a bunch of 'smart' home devices that we just think are solutions in search of a problem. 

First up, this app-enabled smart egg tray? We like a breakfast full of eggs as much as anyone, and I guess it's kinda cool that someone figured out how to make this work. If it actually worked...check the Amazon reviews for its reliability. We don't need robots in our fridge.

Speaking of which, how about all those refrigerators that have a touch screen built into the front? I don't even want a water dispenser on my fridge (they just tend to cause maintenance issues), much less a computer. A planter that waters itself? Maybe I'm old fashioned, but I actually like watering my plants. Why add technology into the equation? It's simple: you feel the soil, you look at the leaves, you give them some water. Finally there's the HAPI Fork, which I'm sure is well-meaning, but, come on ... you don't need an electronic fork to tell you to slow down and chew your food. Just have your mother over for dinner ... she'll remind you.

 

What do you think about connected smart home devices? Which ones are you most excited about trying out in your home? Let us know in the comments.

 

 

This post is sponsored by Kwikset. All opinions are mine alone. Thanks for supporting the brands that make ManMade possible. 

 

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Fred on Nov 13, 2016:

@bruno

Thanks for the reply. Of course it often depends on how this products are used. I also assume that manufacturers want their products to be secure. But they don't know the environment where the products will be in use. A lock is never the only security measure for a door (or at home). So, if someone thinks about upgrading security, they have to check the complete system (door or house in general) and not only the door locks. The other thing is trusting the manufacturer. Of course they want their locks to be secure. But a smart lock is much more complex than a normal lock. There is much more space for failure (just take a look at IT security in any product). And many failures or attack vectors they maybe don't know (again often depending on the environment). The security issue can be in the lock itself or it can be in the online platform to control this lock. And you don't know if an update will increase or decrease security. The problem with smart devices is, they need to be accessible from the internet. There are even search engines specialised to find certain devices. No matter if it is a router, a smart lock or a smart freezer. And if your freezer or thermostat (maybe in combination with the (default) setup if your router) is not secure, your smart lock might be under attack from a device you never expected to be a threat.

Well, if you regularly forget to lock your doors, smart locks might be a solution. But not a solution concerning the security of locks in general (old school and new school), but a solution regarding your inability to lock your door. Again, it is a question depending on the whole setup and the processes in use.


bruno on Nov 11, 2016:

@fred - thanks for the comment. I think you bring up some valid concerns, and as you read above, I'm skeptical of some smart home devices too.

In terms of security, I think you have a point. But I also think the manufacturers of these products understand that privacy/security is a huge concern, and are working hard to address it. It's still pretty early days, but it seems clear to me that we're going to continue seeing *more* tech in our home devices, not less. So on some level we should embrace it and make sure we influence the trend in the direction of security.

Re: remote vs. on-site: I think it's a toss-up. Yes, with a smart lock perhaps someone could hack your account and operate it remotely. But at the same time, if you forget to lock your door when you leave for vacation, you can just lock it from your phone, which you couldn't do with a traditional lock.

Re: money savings: I have a Nest thermostat, and I can tell you conclusively that in my case, it has saved me money. Yeah, you can adjust the temp when you leave the home, but my smart Thermostat learns the patterns of our temperature preferences automatically. It automatically lowers the temp at 9:30pm on a Monday, because that's usually when we go to bed on that day, and at 11pm on Fridays, because we tend to stay up later then. That seems pretty smart to me.


Fred on Nov 11, 2016:

Two things make me sceptical about 'smart' home devices.

First is security. You can lock or unlock your door remotely etc. That is an advantage. But is this technology really secure? What if someone else locks my doors or unlocks them? Remotely! What if they revoke all my permissions?

One can say, that old fashioned locks are also not completely secure. But the attacker needs to be on location. There is no remote threat. And you need support from the manufacturer because smart devices are much more complex and probably have a shorter life cycle. Smart devices make it easier to 'spy' on people if the devices are not secure and up to date (in terms of IT security).

Secondly, often one advantage of a smart home is that people can save money. Or they tell us how much we can save. But all this devices need energy, they are not cheap when you buy them and so forth. Is it not possible to save money without investing money in 'smart' thermostats for the whole house? Is it so hard to adjust the temperature before you leave your home?


Fo on Nov 09, 2016:

A smart espresso machine would be the alternative, that's true. But luckily, they are quite solid, so at least my machine is older than most smart devices...
I've the main switch constantly switched on, so as soon as the outlet is powered, it starts heating up the boiler. Right now, the logic is quite simple: I switch it on when I get up or leave work. When I've got too much time on my hands, I'll maybe add some other criteria, alarm or something similar.


Grisha on Nov 09, 2016:

Doug:

Check out the Nest Protect. It is dual-sensing and sends alerts to your phone!


Doug on Nov 09, 2016:

What about connected smoke detectors? I can't seem to find any dual-sensing alarms that would be able to notify me while I'm away.


Luke on Nov 08, 2016:

The "Internet of Shit", as it's called by the majority of IT professionals, is pretty poorly executed.

e.g. The failed Nest software update that turned off people's heating systems overnight IN JANUARY.
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/14/fashion/nest-thermostat-glitch-battery-dies-software-freeze.html

Or the very recent DDoS attack on Dyn, the hosting service for Reddit/Spotify/Soundcloud/Twitter/etc., that was achieved by using a botnet made up of hacked "Internet of Things" devices. because people think that "passsword123" is "good enough"


Chris on Nov 08, 2016:

@Fo - That's an interesting way to look at things. Is that how smart outlets actually work? Does turning on an outlet necessarily start the espresso machine process? I guess it could if it has "fuzzy logic" and the switch is somehow always engaged. But would it need an additional start function to get moving? Would you need a "smart" espresso machine?


Fo on Nov 08, 2016:

Smart outlets can make sense imho, at least one does to me.
If you're a sucker for good espresso you'll have a machine at home. And a solid machine means a lot of metal and water that will need heating up before making a shot. So a controlled outlet lets me switch on the machine and I don't have to wait 15-30 minutes when I'm back home. ;)


bruno on Nov 07, 2016:

@George - can you share a link? I didn't come across any, but opening your garage door seems like something that has been covered (by radio frequency remotes) for a long time. What would be the great benefit of doing it from your phone?


George James Cieutat on Nov 07, 2016:

What about garage door openers or controllers for garage doors?


bruno on Nov 07, 2016:

@david - interesting comment. Actually I'm not sure I agree. Seems like a water heater that can let me know if it sprung a leak while I'm on vacation would be pretty useful. Or maybe a moisture sensor in the basement would do the job just as well?


DavidM on Nov 07, 2016:

I replaced my water heater two days ago. I could have bought a more expensive model that was "wifi-ready" (for yet another $50)...but why? So I could put it on vacation mode when I'm on vacation? So that if it sprung a leak and sent me a text, I could stress about it while I'm on vacation?