Now that I’ve settled on the Staples Connect hub for my current home automation setup, I’ve been slowly growing my collection of hardware over time. In this January 2015 installment I’ll preview my thoughts on the Ecolink Door & Window Sensor, plus a pair of D-Link Cloud Cameras (Day/Night) recently installed. Check it out…
Home automation is going to be huge in 2015, and my blog will be swarming with fun reviews of new hardware as it comes my way. For the past few months I’ve been playing around with various smart home hubs. You can check out the two reviews on those items HERE and HERE. Finding devices that are compatible with a hub is fairly easy, with the hardest part being the platform you have to decide to start from.
In my case the Staples Connect Hub is where I’m at, though I have really enjoyed the time I did spend with the Wink Home Hub and suspect their future updates will continue to make that hub a contender. In my case, however, any upgrades that I setup moving forward will most likely be compatible with the SC system. That was the case recently when I ditched my Chamberlain MYQ garage system for a Linear GD00Z-4 instead. (That review is HERE)
Unlike many of my blog entries which are side-by-side comparisons, this article is just a straight and simple review of two items. Note that about a year ago I had tested other IP cameras (though I never blood about it). But overall I feel that D-Link makes the best budget cloud cameras. And when it comes to Z-wave switches, right now the best options (inexpensive) come from Ecolink. Down the road as other competitors come out worthy of considering, I’ll compare them here. Enjoy!
Ecolink Door & Window Sensor
When we purchased our home in 2009 it already had an alarm system. However, based on how the home is laid out some areas aren’t on the system, or instead rely on motion sensors. Since we have two cats the motion sensors trip/false too often, such that we rarely set the alarm. Instead I’ve relied on other devices (such as the IP camera in the next section). One added layer of security here is to have sensors for the doors/windows that would trigger an alert, without setting off an entire alarm.
Though the hardware in the Ecolink Z-Wave Door/Window Sensor isn’t really cutting edge (it uses the same magnet technology most alarm systems have for decades), what it adds beyond that is where the real magic happens. In this case the Z-wave technology allows the magnet to trip the receiver, which then communicates with a Z-wave hub (such as a Wink Hub or in my case my Staples Connect Hub). From there you can create various alerts and such to your hearts content.
Our home has nice wooden framed french doors off our dining room, so it was a pleasure to see that the Ecolink Sensor included both white and brown unit hardware. This made it easier to pick a color that would blend better, which in our case was the brown against the wood that looks best. Rather than mounting the hardware up high (more visible), I opted to mount it around shin-level where there was already a slider-lock on the doors. In the photo below you can easily see the hardware, but most folks won’t notice it being both so low to the ground, and somewhat “subtle” being placed near the exiting lock mechanism.
At this point I’ve setup an alert when that door opens (it will show up on my lock screen), and with the recent updates to the Staples Connect system you’re also able to make this alert not happen when at home, versus away. Staples Connect also adds a slick option that when you swipe to open an alert it can take me directly to one of my devices. So in this case I go right to my camera (see next section, living room camera).
Installation was a breeze, with options for both double-sided tape or screw installation. For wood I suggest screws, and for vinyl windows or similar I would recommend the double sided adhesive tape. If you’re looking for an easy way to monitor doors or windows, this sensor is inexpensive, and very easy to setup. Installation in the wood frame rook only 10 minutes, and then linking to a Z-wave controller takes literally 10-seconds. The sensor has a long lasting battery, and has proven to be quite reliable.
Down the road I could see adding this to two windows on my lower level that are “higher risk” access for break-in. Overall I’m VERY pleased with the Ecolink Z-Wave Door/Window Sensor, and for the price recommend this unit. There are similarly priced units out there from competitors, but the Ecolink unit came recommended to me from other sites, and I can see why; it just works!
D-Link Cloud Camera
Early during my testing of various hubs I ended up with my first IP camera (Cloud Camera). Then I recently added the second (of the same model), just a few nights ago. My first camera was setup to visually monitor my living/dining room, but I quickly realized that instead of the motion sensing I actually would prefer a door sensor (see prior section). And the second camera was added when it dawned on me that it would be nice to have eyes on my garage, which would go hand-in-hand with the Linear GD00Z-4 opener that I had tested HERE.
So as I began to setup my second D-Link Wireless Day/Night (DCS-933L) camera it seemed a good time to write a quick review here. Please be aware that there is also a slightly less expensive D-Link (DCS-932L) model, which may also work with the Staples Connect Hub. However since the DCS-933L is specifically listed as compatible that is the unit I’ve used in both my home installation scenarios. From what I have read I suspect the 932L would work fine too, should you want to give that a whirl.
As you examine the photos below you’ll see that this unit comes ready to be installed in either a wireless or wired location. It boasts some pretty strong specs for a camera this inexpensive. Heck, I remember when these types of cameras had weaker specs, and cost $199 new– just a year or two ago. At this price point it would be easy to justify adding a few cameras to key locations around your home.
And remember, even without a home automation hub, the cameras can be used stand-alone with just your home wifi. They can notify you of sound or motion, via app or email. D-Link offers a really nice iOS app for your iPhone device, as well as access via their cloud. With the premium cameras and services you can pay for recording, but in my review here this is all free, with no monthly recurring fees from anyone. You simply buy the camera and you’ll never pay another dime.
Setup requites that you plug the camera into your router initially, but once configured (takes about 5 minutes) you can set it up to work wirelessly. This means once complete that your permanent installation requires only an outlet for power, and securing the unit to the wall or such. Mounting hardware is included for a drywall installation, and the D-Link software handles all items even firmware updates. (In my case both cameras required a firmware update after install, which took another 5 minutes approximately). Total install time was about 20 minutes total, and was very easy.
Once your camera is setup you have many options for viewing the live stream. First you can most easily do so via mobile, using either that D-Link app I was talking about, or via the Staples Connect app if you prefer. You can also view the camera via the D-Link web portal (cloud) from anywhere. At this time you can’t yet view the D-Link live stream within the Staples web portal, but that feature is coming. With all of these apps you can also listen to the feed, since the D-Link Wireless Day/Night (DCS-933L) features a microphone. And even in dark settings the night-vision capabilities make it easy to see a black-and-white image during low-light scenarios.
From the camera’s HTML based configuring page (which you access locally from your computer) you can get more advanced into the settings if you want. But for most people the feature-set you can easily get to from the Staples or D-Link app will suffice. You can have triggers based on motion or sound. And again for me, when my garage door or french doors open, the Staples Connect app alerts me, and prices quick easy swipe access directly to the cameras that monitor those areas.
There are higher resolution web cameras out there on the market today, with features like push to zoom and such. But many of them don’t really justify the price when compared to the D-Link Wireless Day/Night. I feel like $60-80 is a sweet-spot for the features you get here, especially including a microphone and night vision (the latter being a feature people often forget/overlook when shopping for home security cameras). Bang for buck the D-Link cameras are a great option.
Both of these devices were VERY simple to install & setup. And both of them are inexpensive, and extremely useful. Many people think of home automation as simply a way to control lights or outlets, forgetting that security is a huge portion of the segment. If you’re looking for ways to make your home safer, or just keep tabs on when your family comes and goes, the D-Link Wireless Day/Night camera and the Ecolink Z-Wave Door/Window Sensor are two items to definitely put on your shopping list.