Super Simple Equipment To Make Your Home Smarter

The latest tools to keep your house running smoothly aren’t a power drill and duct tape—they’re broadband and a smartphone.



When it comes to home automation, the future is now, as companies large and small  are rolling out broadband-enabled “connected home products” that do everything from tracking your keys to controlling your thermostat to monitoring who rings your doorbell—all via mobile apps for tablets and smartphones. Here are some of the latest home-automation gadgets, devices, and systems. 

Controllers, Sensors & Security Systems

The Plum WiFi Lightpad Dimmer ($89; www.plumlife.com) lets you turn lights on and off or set a timer from your smartphone, even when you’re on vacation. Belkin offers an extensive line of WeMo switches and bulbs; the WeMo Switch + Motion ($80; www.belkin.com) fits into a conventional plug and lets you control any plug-in device—such as a coffeemaker, slow cooker, or humidifier—from your phone.

If you want to catch your neighbor’s dog leaving a souvenir on the lawn, the Ring Video Doorbell ($199; www.ring.com) has a 180-degree HD camera that scans your whole front yard; you can watch live footage or record it for later viewing. The Video Doorbell also has motion sensors, so you can literally keep an eye on your front door—and speak to who’s ringing—from  anywhere using the Ring smartphone app. It’s a doorbell, too.  You can hardwire it to your existing bell or use battery power.

The August Smart Lock lets you control access to your home. You can send a Bluetooth “invitation” to someone’s smartphone, which unlocks the door when they approach, or set it to recognize you so it automatically unlocks. It keeps a log of who has come and gone ($249.99; www.august.com).

If you live in an apartment or a condo, the Canary Smart Home Security System ($249; www.canary.is) is designed to simplify safety:  Just place the sleek, six-inch monitoring device in a central location, plug it in, and connect it to your WiFi. This little package includes a motion detector, HD video feed, a sound-recording microphone, and temperature and humidity sensors. Canary uses advanced algorithm technology, and the smartphone app controls all from anywhere, notifying you of a problem. 

SimpliSafe Home Security (www.simplisafe.com) consists of motion detectors for the doors and windows and a base station with a siren loud enough to deafen any would-be burglars. The components are powered with five-year lithium batteries and the system works with a cellular connection, not a phone line; if you pay $15 for the monthly monitoring service, you can control it with your smartphone. Choose from several packages, from the five-piece Starter Package for apartments and condos ($230) to the 17-piece Ultimate Package ($540), which includes smoke and carbon-monoxide detectors as well as water and freeze sensors.

hipKey

Invented by Tony Fadell, “the father of the iPod,” The Nest Learning Thermostat ($249) and Nest Protect: Smoke + Carbon Monoxide Alarm ($99) were among the first mainstream smart-home devices and were so successful that Google bought the company earlier this year for $3.2 billion. The Nest Lab (www.nest.com), as it’s now called, has made its next-generation thermostat more reliable. Designed for conventional forced-air systems, the Learning Thermostat’s sensors, called Nest Sense, read your comings and goings and time the thermostat accordingly. It can also control your air conditioner and recommend energy-efficient settings, saving you up to 20 percent on your energy budget. Set up a Nest account on your smartphone, and use the Nest app to control the thermostat remotely, among other functions. The new Protect is said to be more “intuitive” than a conventional battery-powered alarm. If one of its six sensors detects smoke or carbon monoxide, a loud horn sounds and a female voice informs you what the problem is (smoke or carbon monoxide), which room it’s in, and if you’re in immediate danger. Nest Protects installed in various rooms can communicate wirelessly, so that a hazard in one room triggers all of them. 

Trackers

If you’re one of those people who’d lose your head if it wasn’t attached, you’ll love Bluetooth trackers, which attach to keys or other personal possessions. If you lose your item, you can find it using the smartphone app that speaks to the tracker. Available at Apple stores, hipKey ($90; www.hippih.com), from a Danish company called hippih, features a round fob that attaches to your key ring and emits an alarm if your phone gets separated. 

Tile, from a Silicon Valley start-up of the same name, is a small square plastic tracker ($25 each or four for $70; www.thetileapp.com) you can stick to almost anything, and an iPhone app helps you find it by emitting a signal that sounds as you get closer to your lost object. (An Android app is in the offing, too.) Trackers don’t just find things; they alert you to things, too. SmartThings, a home-automation start-up now owned by Samsung, offers a SmartSense Presence Sensor ($31; www.smartthings.com) that alerts your smartphone when people or pets come and go. 


Nexia Home Intelligence

Hubs, Bridges & Whole-Home Systems

Want to control everything from one central unit? Get a hub, a wireless device that controls a whole range of smart-home gadgets. The SmartThings Hub controls a family of smart-home products with an iPhone or Droid app. The Smart Home starter kit ($224) includes the hub, a motion sensor, open/close sensor for doors and windows, and a presence sensor. The Iris Home Management System from Lowe’s (www.lowes.com) includes an ethernet unit and app that links motion sensors, wireless video cameras, thermostats, and other Iris devices to your smartphone, as well as Iris-compatible products such as the Kwikset Deadbolt and Z-Wave Garage Door Controller. There are three kits: Safe & Secure for home surveillance ($179), Comfort & Control for thermostats and plugs ($179), and the Smart Kit ($299), which includes both the Safe & Secure and Comfort & Control. All of it’s controlled by the Iris app. 

Hubs that link up to other manufacturers’ products are the wave of the future. Quirky (www.quirky.com) is a game-changing invention start-up that finds cool ideas from small inventors and builds them. Quirky partnered with GE on the Wink Aros Smart Window Air Conditioner ($300), which adapts to your usage patterns and lets you cool your room with a Wink app. Now there’s a whole line of Wink: Instant Connected products, controllable with the Wink Relay ($300), a sleek, wall-mounted control pad. The Wink Hub ($50) is a central control station that “speaks” a variety of wireless languages, like WiFi, ZigBee, and Z-Wave.

This makes it compatible with products from other companies, including Bali Blinds, QuickSet Locks, and DropCam cameras, so you can do everything from opening your garage door to raising your shades with the Wink smartphone app. The Nexia Home Intelligence bridge ($60) and app connects with Z-Wave products from Trane, American Standard, Schlage, GE, and Levitron. Apple’s Homekit platform for its new iOS 8 operating system also works with compatible devices from other companies, including Philips, Sylvania, and Honeywell, whose app-controlled Lyric WiFi Thermostat ($249) is designed to compete with Google-owned Nest. The platform should be launched fully next year and may be designed to work with the new Apple Watch. Stay tuned.


Sonos Wireless Music System

Sounds & Lights

The Sonos Wireless Music System (www.sonos.com) is a collection of audio components and speakers run by an app that works with both Apple and Droid devices. A wireless base unit, or “bridge,” connects to your existing WiFi. The app controls all your digital playlists, beaming the music to Play speakers, which come in three sizes, placed around the house. You can even hook up your existing stereo, including your turntable, with the Connect device ($399).   

The Hue Personal Wireless Lighting System ($200; www.meethue.com) from Philips connects to existing WiFi and links a Hue app to up to 50 wireless LED bulbs, which screw right into your existing fittings. The app can control brightness and program lights to dim and turn off. Each bulb can change colors to settings like relax, concentrate, energize, and reading. The Hue starter kit includes three Hue bulbs, one bridge, ethernet cable, and power adapter.   

 

 

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