If you’ve been following my blog you know that I’m Apple Fanboy #1. It should come as no surprise that new Apple products are snapped up immediately upon release, especially if they’re related even remotely to home automation. This month’s installment talks about some new hardware gracing my HomeKit array.
For more than half a decade now I’ve been playing with smart home devices. It has been a long time since my first Amazon Echo review, but as I’ve migrated deeper into the Apple sand box, it was a given that I’d ditch my Echo Dot for something from Cupertino. With the release of the Apple HomePod, I’ve finally been able to better integrate my HomeKit house.
Now that I’ve been living with the Apple HomePod for over a week I can clearly say this is a really awesome speaker that is great for music, but mediocre at just about anything “smart” beyond what you already have in your pocket. That is to say this: your Apple Watch, or iPhone, are more than capable of powering your smart home just fine.
Let me be clear: everyone’s needs are different, and for us, the HomePod was definitely a frivolous device. We’re not huge music listeners outside of our cars, so for us to put a $350 speaker anywhere in a house was perplexing. We’ve placed our HomePod in the kitchen because my wife does enjoy music while cooking, but not necessarily at this price point.
That said, I did hear her using Siri on the HomePod the other night, while cooking, to obtain a few conversions in fluid measurements. I’ve personally used it when entering the house at twilight hours where some added lighting is nice as you head towards/past the HomePod’s great central location. And my daughter thinks it is fun, feels squishy, and “very loud” we’ve been told.
Acoustically speaking, you will NOT be disappointed. Every other review on the ‘net screams this loudly (pun intended). It comes down to where it really makes sense from an app standpoint. Apple really needs to open up 3rd party options here, and I suspect they eventually will. But when comparing my old $30-50 Echo Dot (devices), you can’t help but think the HomePod is just a touch overpriced.
Adjusting the Lutron blinds, or opening the garage door, are all features that could be done without the HomePod before. It does add a more centralized device that has better speakers, and perhaps clearer microphone functionality too– but I don’t think I could in good conscience recommend this device to very many people. And that is the rub– I’m the biggest fan of Apple, owning one of just about every device they offer– yet even I question if it was money well spent. When AirPlay 2 and other features and functionality get unlocked, the device may shine a bit brighter. For now, it is just a really expensive, really good sounding speaker. (..and we’re subscribers to Apple Music, so at least we have that going for us!)
I’ve flip-flopped my thermostat at home a bunch of times. And I’ve always been a big fan of the Ecobee systems. You can read one of my better prior reviews RIGHT HERE about their Ecobee4 unit. That unit, the Ecobee4, has features that make it perhaps the best bang for the buck thermostat on the market today. However, after having countless WiFi issues and figuring out it stemmed from a compatibility issue with my Google WiFi, the past 6 months were spent using a Nest Thermostat.
However, I really missed having my stat be on the same home automation system as everything else, so I recently acquired the Ecobee3 Lite device. It was a great price point, and I wanted to see if this unit would have better luck staying connected to my 2.4/5GHz system. (Note: the prior Ecobee4 would drop WiFi, because the SSID of both networks was the same and Google doesn’t allow that to be changed– perhaps a firmware issue by Ecobee, but one I was never able to resolve).
Needless to say, the Ecobee3 Lite has been flawless! I’ve been using it over a month now, and have not dropped WiFi connection even once. Back when it would drop I’d get alerts on the face of the unit sometimes multiple ones that needed dismissed. Whether this fix was a firmware fix that would also resolve the Ecobee4 problems or not remains to be seen. But either way, I’m glad to have HomeKit control of my home’s temperature.
This section is intentionally small because there isn’t much to say that wasn’t already covered in that prior review HERE. So check that out– and know that the Ecobee brand is still my top pick for Apple HomeKit compatible thermostats– and the 3 vs 4 is really just a matter of budget and personal preference. I like the 3/lite because I didn’t need an Alexa device, and the savings was worthwhile to me.
Logi Circle 2
One the last group of non-HomeKit devices that had been lingering in my home was a set of three ARLO Q wired cameras. NETGEAR’s ARLO brand remains my favorite on the market, with their ARLO Pro System my #1 suggestion for wireless outdoor cameras on the market. Even their indoor cams are great, and the free cloud recording is perhaps the best on the market, cost for quality.
In the past I’ve blogged about various Ring devices, and to this day I continue to use a Ring Video Doorbell for the front of my home, a Ring Floodlight Cam for my driveway, and Ring Spotlight devices elsewhere. For outdoor wired security, I’m a huge fan of Ring. But I had those ARLO Q devices inside still– and I had been thinking about ditching them for something HomeKit.
Not long ago Logitech unveiled their new Circle2 Camera. Long time readers of my blog might remember that I reviewed the first generation device (see HERE). That device wasn’t HomeKit compatible, but it did have some awesome features. This new Circle2 brings the same magic, like the 24-hour time-lapse “day in review” feature and more– but expands on the device.
Most notable for me, and the reason I ditched my three ARLO Q wired cameras, was the fact that the new Circle2 from Logitech includes HomeKit features. This not only means being able to see the feed right from the Home app on iOS devices (which made sharing it with my wife “automatic” and hence a breeze) — but it also means the motion sensor in the camera can become a trigger. This is great way to turn on lights in a specific room, which could be useful as a robbery/theft deterrent, or simply for sake of automation for your own personal needs.
Like most HomeKit devices, I recommend adding the device to your Home first, before actually going into the native app. This can sometimes resolve issues where the device errors out, and reading reviews, some early Circle2 users made this claim. Following their directions, I simply plugged the unit in, used the Home app on my iPhone to add it to my family room, and was done. Granted you still want to install the native iOS app from Logitech, as it grants access to deeper features, such as disabling the LED, or tweaking volumes and such.
There are plenty of options still on the home automation market, and the selection grows daily. Obviously I remain a loyal Apple fan, and hence HomeKit is my platform of choice. There are other options though, and the Wink and SmartThings platforms are ones I’ve tested before with good results. Picking the right platform for you requires some homework, choosing devices you “must have” and then making sure they’ll work together in a coherent way you’ll be happy with.
It is easy for me to say that these three new devices above make sense, but that is for my home, and my needs. If you’re a huge Amazon Echo fan you might prefer a different thermostat, perhaps the Ecobee4 with its built-in mic/speaker. And in that case, you may want to look at the Echo Show, and then find security cameras that work on that screen.
No matter how you put together your own smart home, the options are growing, and the prices are finally starting to show some thinning. As we head further in 2018 we should see benefits all around– so go ahead, treat yourself, and try out some home automation!