Gift Guide 2017: Advanced Smart Home

Last year, we highlighted some great tech gifts to give during the holidays, and broke them down by different price points: under $100, $100-199, and over $200. This year, we decided to do things a little differently, and highlight four categories of smart technology. Three of our guides (coming this week) will focus on beginning, intermediate, and advanced smart home products; and then next week we’ll have a commercial/office tech gift guide. These guides will cover a variety of price ranges, so there’s sure to be a gift for everyone on your list at any price point. Note that we’re using the suggested retail prices; you can search the Internet for better deals, especially during the holidays.

Today, we’re focusing on advanced smart home tech. Are you or your giftee ready to start taking on your own smart home projects? These ideas will help you hit the ground running with some easy DIY creations.

1. littleBits Smart Home Kit, $249. littleBits have been one of my favorite tech products since my days in working with K-6 teachers to integrate tech into their classrooms, and I was thrilled to find out that they make a Smart Home Kit. Designed for “big kids” – and adults – this easy-to-use kit uses snap-together circuits and sensors to create a variety of smart home projects, including an automated cat feeder, a door sensor for your fridge, and more. Programming is done simply with IFTTT commands, letting you also get a great introduction to some of the more advanced features of IFTTT.
2. Kooke Smart Home Sensor Kit, $21.99, and Raspberry Pi 3, $35. This Smart Home kit is a great way to begin creating IoT devices using Raspberry Pi. The kit comes with a temperature sensor, gas sensors, light sensors, and more, and includes web tutorials to get started with Raspberry Pi and Smart Home products. You’ll need to purchase a separate Raspberry Pi for each project, but you’re getting a great value for a variety of sensors! This kit will require a bit more programming knowledge than a kit like littleBits.
3. Lynda.com membership, starting at $19.99/mo. Want to begin to how to create your own Internet of Things projects, mess with a Raspberry Pi, or perhaps pick up a programming language (or two)? A Lynda.com account is a great investment. They have classes in virtually anything and everything, including high level overviews of concepts like Blockchain and hands-on instruction for IoT devices and more. There’s even a 30-day free trial to the site to start! Lynda is a great way to learn about IFTTT and Raspberry Pi hardware and software for the kits above.

If you’re looking to really get into creating your own smart home products, these are a great springboard for many projects. Soon, you’ll be customizing the smart home of your dreams!

Gift Guide 2017: Intermediate Smart Home

Last year, we highlighted some great tech gifts to give during the holidays, and broke them down by different price points: under $100, $100-199, and over $200. This year, we decided to do things a little differently, and highlight four categories of smart technology. Three of our guides (coming this week) will focus on beginning, intermediate, and advanced smart home products; and then next week we’ll have a commercial/office tech gift guide. These guides will cover a variety of price ranges, so there’s sure to be a gift for everyone on your list at any price point. Note that we’re using the suggested retail prices; you can search the Internet for better deals, especially during the holidays.

Today, we’re focusing on intermediate smart home tech. Do you or your giftee have a few smart devices, but want to start integrating them more? This guide is for you!

1. Samsung SmartThings Convenience and Entertainment Bundle,  $205. We’re huge fans of the SmartThings hub, which alone retails for $99. A smart hub allows you to control your smart home in a convenient and easy way, cutting out the need for multiple apps for multiple manufacturers and products. The SmartThings hub also offers some great programming options that go beyond simply turning devices on and off, and programming your devices is usually just a few taps in the app. The bundle listed here gives you great bang for your buck and includes two smart bulbs by Sylvania that can light up in thousands of different colors as well as a SmartThings motion sensor. The motion sensor is great – you can set it up near your front door and tell SmartThings to flash a color on the light bulbs when someone is coming and going out of the house. When purchasing a SmartThings kit, make sure that the recipient has an open Ethernet port on their WiFi router – the hub requires this in order to control devices.
2. Nest Secure, starter kit $499. The Nest Secure is a new player in the smart security market, and costs a bit more than systems by other companies, but you’re really getting your money’s worth here – especially if you already have Nest products in your home, like the Nest Cam. There’s some truly innovative features here, including the Tag keychain for arming/disarming the system, or temporarily disarming of the system if you want to open a window with a sensor for fresh air or opening the door quickly to let the dog do his business. If you know someone who is interested in getting a security system set up, the Nest Secure is a great way to go.
3. Awair Glow, $99. We’re big fans of knowing about the air you breathe, and the Awair is a great tool at an affordable price for monitoring air quality within your home. The best part is it doesn’t take up an outlet – you can plug any device into it and either use it as a regular plug, or you can even plug in non-smart devices and control them through the Glow. You can even do some programming using the Glow – if your humidity drops below a certain level, it can power on the humidifier you keep plugged in. It works with both Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa, so it can give you verbal feedback about the air as well. It’s a great starting device for indoor air quality monitoring.

These products are great for people who have started dipping their toes into the smart home waters and want to unlock the full potential of their smart home. Stay tuned to see our favorite advanced smart home tech for the super savvy in your lives!

Gift Guide 2017: Beginner Smart Home Tech

Last year, we highlighted some great tech gifts to give during the holidays, and broke them down by different price points: under $100, $100-199, and over $200. This year, we decided to do things a little differently, and highlight four categories of smart technology. Three of our guides (coming this week) will focus on beginning, intermediate, and advanced smart home products; and then next week we’ll have a commercial/office tech gift guide. These guides will cover a variety of price ranges, so there’s sure to be a gift for everyone on your list at any price point. Note that we’re using the suggested retail prices; you can search the Internet for better deals, especially during the holidays.

Today, we’re focusing on beginner smart home tech. If you or your giftee have never played around with smart home devices, this is a great place to start! Our gifts will get you up and running in no time, and are a low-stress way to dip your foot into home automation, voice assistants, and more.

1. IKEA Tradfri smart lighting system,  $7.99 – 34.99. Like our previous choice, the Philips Hue, the Tradfri starting kit comes with two bulbs and a hub, but has options with dimmers, motion sensors, and a variety of different types of lights. The price point is much lower than Hue or other bulbs, making this an attractive option for a starter kit for beginners. As of this writing, the bulbs only work with a proprietary app or with purchasable dimmers and remotes, but IKEA plans on integrating with HomeKit and Alexa in 2018, meaning the lights will become even more customizable through those platforms. Like other bulbs, you can set up programs (like turning on lights at specific times, or when the sun goes down), and the motion sensor allows you to set up lights that turn on and off when motion is detected. Overall, this is an attractive first lighting kit that is easy-to-use and will get anyone started on a smart home in style.
2. Amazon Echo Dot/Google Home Mini, both $49. Last year, we highlighted the Echo Dot and “regular” Google Home in two separate gift guides; in 2017, the Google Home Mini was announced at the same price point as an Echo Dot. We are including both on this gift guide because, a year later, both products are neck and neck in terms of functionality and usability for the beginner smart home user. Choosing an ecosystem is a personal choice – Amazon’s Alexa is great for people who find themselves using Amazon products frequently, and Google Home is an excellent option for people who have other Google services. Both work with major smart home systems like SmartThings, Philips Hue, and more.
3. WeMo Mini Smart Plug, $34.99. Turn almost anything into a smart device by adding a WeMo smart plug to your wall outlets. You can control lights, humidifiers, fans, and more. The WeMo out of the box has a lot of great features – since its WiFi enabled, you can control the plugs from anywhere, its easy to program (for example, you can turn your Christmas tree on at sundown with just a couple taps), and even includes a great feature where if you set your plugs to “away” for vacation, it’ll turn on/off devices at random so it looks like you’re still at home. The plugs also integrate with a ton of different platforms, including Alexa and Google Home, Nest (which is handy for using the Nest’s home/away functionality), and IFTTT. The mini plug has a slimmer profile than its cousin, the WeMo Insight, and tucks away easily without interfering with the second outlet on the wall.

Using these products can get anyone started making their home smarter without breaking the bank. All the devices are easy to use, easy to set-up, and work with a variety of systems so if someone gets the smart home bug, they can continue to expand their horizons and add more to their house. Tomorrow, we will cover technology for people who are interested in starting to customize their smart home and suggest some gifts that are a bit more advanced. Stay tuned to see our favorite intermediate smart home tech!

Smart Home Compatibility FAQs (Part 2)

Today’s post is written by Lee Adkins, founder of Amplified Solutions, and continues with his series about Smart Home Tips for REALTORS® with information about setting up smart home devices, and for REALTORS® who encounter these devices when buying and selling homes.

Smart home devices are fun and trendy now, but this trend is here to stay. As a REALTOR®, you should have a basic familiarity with these devices, what they do and how that affects your clients and your clients’ transactions. The two devices here are generally what we would call voice assistant hubs. They are fully functional on their own, but also work with and to control other devices as well. There are a lot of similarities, but they do have differences in their speech patterns and tempos and their general compatibilities. Amazon Echo allows 3rd party developers to add “Skills” for Alexa (think Apps) and Google Home is actually a more of a closed system at this time (with developers creating apps, but having a more limited number at the moment). BOTH devices currently only can be connected to one account at a time – eventually, it would be great to see them be able to recognize the users voice and access their specific calendar, music and other accounts.

Pro Tips:

  • Both these devices record data when activated AND both show requests to the owner via an app. While it might be fun to play with someone else’s toys while in a home, be respectful and be careful what you or your clients say
  • On a similar note, cameras and microphones, in general, are cheaper and easier to set up than ever before. Be mindful when showing homes (ed. note: more about that below).
  • CRT Labs has recently published Smart Home Simplified guides to help you learn more about possible smart home devices and what makes each type unique.

 

Amazon Echo

Amazon Echo

What does it do?
The Amazon Echo is a voice controlled “hub” that can answer questions, tell you about your day/schedule. It can also control a number of devices by other manufacturers.

What is needed to run it?
AC (wall) power, wi-fi network and app on your phone for setup.

Can you “relocate” it?
YES! It is completely mobile and generally wouldn’t be included in a home purchase/sale, but would remain with owner unless documented otherwise.

Difficulty of set up:
The Amazon Echo is very easy to set up. It will basically walks you through a wizard on the app when you first plug it in.

Cost:
Currently $179 on Amazon with free 2-day shipping for Prime members.

General uses and compatibility tips:

  • Personally, I use mine for a fun fact in the mornings (just say, “Alexa, Good morning”) and then ask about the weather, in my city or wherever I’m traveling to
  • Scheduling or just getting a “daily briefing” on your calendar
  • Answers to general questions
  • Using the grocery/shopping list feature
  • Using the timer or other hands-free options while cooking or otherwise involved in something else.Playing music via Amazon Prime (commercial free, your playlists, etc)

Here is a complete list of devices that are compatible with Amazon Echo.

Google Home

What does it do?
Google Home is a voice controlled “hub” that can answer questions, tell you about your day/schedule. It of course works very well with the data you already have in your google account. It can also control a number of devices by other manufacturers.

What is needed to run it?
AC (wall) power, wi-fi network and app on your phone for setup.

Can you “relocate” it?
YES! It is completely mobile and generally wouldn’t be included in a home purchase/sale, but would remain with owner unless documented otherwise.

Difficulty of set up:
Very Easy – Google Home will walk you through a wizard on the app when you first plug it in.

Cost:
Currently $129 in the Google store and available at several major retailers.

General uses and compatibility tips:

  • Reviewing or adding items to your Calendar (obviously, connected to your Google account)
  • Answers to general questions, powered by Google
  • Basically searching Google – local restaurants, traffic, etc.
  • Play songs from Google Play or Spotify account (even filter explicit songs)
  • It of course works well with Chromecast and YouTube as well as Nest products (since they are all also owned by Google)
  • Play podcasts (a little better than Echo for this)
  • It also has a shopping list feature

Additional Thoughts:
Google Home isn’t currently compatible fully with G Suite (paid Google account, previously known as Google Apps for Business) – Calendar, Google Payments and Uber features currently don’t work with G Suite accounts, but do work with free Gmail accounts. The easiest remedy would be to connect to a free Google account, which might be better if you don’t own the G suite organization you are connecting anyway. However, there’s an extra step if you are the super admin to allow your G Suite account to work – that info is can be found here

Here is a complete list of devices that are compatible with Google Home.

Adrienne from CRT Labs here! I wanted to add some information to Lee’s post about homes that are for sale and have a voice hub inside them. The Amazon Echo and Google Home both are always listening, and thus capable of easy recording – they are programmed to function so that when a “wake word” is spoken, the device will be active, but the device is always passively listening for their specific wake words. If you and your clients are uncomfortable having a recording device on, please speak with the listing agent of the home about turning these devices off when the home is being shown. This is very simple on both devices – the Echo has a button on top, and the Google Home on the side, for turning off the microphone, and both devices have visual feedback to confirm that the microphones are indeed off. NAR’s Jessica Edgerton has written a blog post for us, coming later this week, about security devices such as cameras in homes for sale, and goes into depth on the legal aspects of them; we will link to that blog post when it’s live, as it will cover some of the same issues microphones have.

Lee Adkins is the Founder of Amplified Solutions – a consulting company focused on operational excellence for real estate teams and brokerages. He has served in many leadership and committee roles at the State and Local Associations and is currently a Vice President at the Atlanta REALTORS Association. He frequently teaches and speaks at various conferences around the country. Visit www.PoweringRealEstate.com to learn more or find free resources, tools and suggested reading list.