2014-01-14

Co.Labs

The Smart Home And Office Devices From CES

Now that Nest is part of the Googlesphere, we take a look at what else is out there.



The best part about the future is, baby, you’re living in it--literally. The “smart home” is becoming a real thing, and we’re finally getting choices in our intelligent devices. Here are the best of the bunch.

1. Canary

After raising nearly $2 million on its Indiegogo campaign, excitement over this inexpensive connected security system seems well-founded. The Canary ($199, preorder delivery in July) is a powerhouse of sensors--HD camera, microphone, thermometer, motion detector--that the security it offers isn't so much a trust in its capabilities as it is a responsive window into your house, ready to view at any time.

Of course, it wouldn't be a smart product if it didn't also track your life. The longer you leave it on, the more you can measure the comings, goings, and environmental conditions of your home. This long-term visualization combined with instant updates should something go awry makes the Canary not just a pair of eyes in the home--it's an entire thinking, hearing robot head that offers the same instant access to your home that you expect from the rest of the world.

2. LG Home Chat

Stay with us here. As Charles Arthur of The Guardian points out, the moment we stop to think about it, we really don't care to text our washing machine about its spin-cycle progress. Further, these are top-line expensive LG appliances--certainly not an affordable gadget or game-changing feature that would encourage appliance replacement.

What we do care about is LG Home Chat's use of SMS interaction. Device interoperability is hampered by the myriad methods that devices and hubs use to communicate with each other, whether they use Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, Z-Wave, Zigbee--SMS' minimal data means we're moving toward catering communication options to the user, both in extending accessible range and expanding the possibility for devices to interpret commands of user language, Siri-style.

"After the shine wears off, consumers will want simplicity--and not have to download an app for each product," says Shane Dyer, CEO of Arrayent, a company that develops connectivity tech for brands like Maytag and Whirlpool. Dyer told MIT Technology Review that consumer pressure will get device designers to simplify connectivity--and what's simpler than sending a text?"

3. Revolv Hub

The Revolv Hub ($299) isn’t a single device to be programmed, but a master controller of devices, an ur-device that connects your gizmos to a smartphone app. The Hub has seven wireless radios speaking 10 different wireless languages, meaning your Z-Wave, Insteon, and regular ol’ Wi-Fi devices can all link back with ease. The Hub is preset to work with big names like Sonos, Philips hue, and Yale locks right out of the gate, but Revolv is committed to automatic firmware updates that’ll bring other devices into its fold.

The best part isn’t that you’re able to talk to multiple devices through Revolv’s umbrella app--it’s that the devices can be programmed to talk to each other. If you move within 100 yards of your house, the Kwikset can unlock the door and Sonos can turn up the heat. In Matt Burns of Techcrunch’s immortal words, the Revolv Hub is “akin to the formation of the Avengers. Separate, all your devices are like superheros that can stand their own. Together they can take on thousands of aliens dumping out of a wormhole in the sky.”

4. SmartThings

Alright, if one’s a pioneer, two’s a trend--and SmartThings is another hub that wants to lord over your home devices. After a successful Kickstarter in September 2012, SmartThings is just now getting its international devices out to CE-certified countries, a hitch that doesn’t seem to apply to Stateside orders. While SmartThings handles smart devices using Z-Wave and Zigbee wireless protocols just like Revolv, SmartThings’ secret weapon is interoperability with a suite of optional sensors to tell you when the dog leaves the house or a window is left open. Each will probably run you around $50 (though there are bundles in the store), but the SmartThings hub can be bought alone for $99--a definite plus over Revolv’s hefty $299 pricetag.

The SmartThings app is all buddy-buddy with IFTTT (“If This Then That”) programming, meaning you can setup protocols like "If I come within 50 feet of the hub, Then unlock/heat up house." Its reigning superiority, however, probably comes from its friendly API and even a purchasable Arduino hookup to the hub. Customizable indeed.

5. Enblink

Don’t want to buy a whole hub & caboodle, but happen to have a Google TV? Get the Enblink dongle ($89) and plug it into your Google TV’s USB port. Voilà! It’s now a hub specifically for Z-wave-connecting smart products. The Enblink works off the GTV’s Android architecture and connects to your smartphone, turning it into a control station for your smart gizmos. You can even turn your ordinary lighting fixtures into Enblink-controllable devices via a Z-wave middleman, but it seems you can only buy them in a starter pack with the dongle ($145), which is both curious and lame (same deal with security systems). Buy now for $85!

6. Goji Smart Lock

You knew a smart door lock was coming. Lucky for you, Goji one-ups its predecessors in a dozen ways. Set up auto-unlock to lazily slide your pocket/bag holding your paired phone to unlock the door (and then have it autolock behind you as soon as you close it). If you lose your Goji-paired phone, don’t sweat--contact Goji via phone or their website and they’ll transfer access to a phone of your choice. Very considerate for those moments when your phone is “stolen” by large bodies of water or nasty collisions with the ground.

Instead of giving out duplicate keys for guests, the Goji app lets you send access via text message and set up temporary or recurring access time frames. Plus, you’ll get text updates when a person unlocks the door (and files a log of unlocks--kids coming home late, beware). But the absolute number-one best feature is a camera in the front lock that sends a photo to your phone when somebody approaches the door.

Though their successful Indiegogo campaign is over, you can still preorder a Goji for $245. They expect to ship next March.

7. Nest Protect

College dormers and small apartment-dwellers, rejoice: The Nest Protect smoke alarm will save your bacon if you have a tendency to burn the bacon and wake everyone up with a screeching smoke alarm. Before the Nest Protect goes DEFCON 1, it kindly speaks in a human voice and alerts you of smoke (and where it’s coming from) or a carbon monoxide leak. To dismiss, simply wave at the Nest device. Presto! You remain safe and your roommates remain allies. The Nest Protect will run you $129--but really, what price is safety and comfort worth?

8. WeMo Baby/Withings Baby Monitor

Both of these are of the “well, just to be sure” school of parenting, with the WeMo Baby (left, $69.99) connected to your Wi-Fi and accessible via smartphone app, while the Withings Baby Monitor (right, $249.99) has a 3-megapixel camera that you can view and control via iPhone.

9. Sound!

Alright, Bluetooth speakers are here to stay--but the Z-wave and Zigbee speakers have yet to arrive, meaning you’ll need to bridge your Bluetooth or Wi-Fi-broadcasting speakers to access them via a central hub--or just connect to them directly on your smartphone/tablet/computer like a peasant. Luckily, Bluetooth speakers abound, like the bizarre iboxstyle Twist, above.

The alternative is to just listen to your tunes through an Enblink-connected Google TV, as we listed above. Alas for simplicity.

10. Beddit

At the intersection of our greatest obsessions--technology and sleep--lie myriad devices that are promising to achieve “superior” rest by warping your sleep cycle. Slow your roll, technomancer--let’s just start with a device that tracks our sleep patterns and tells us what we might be doing wrong. Beddit, a bed-mounted sensor strip paired with an app, raised 400% of its $80,000 Indiegogo goal and retails for $149, giving you all the crazy sleep data you can wrap your head around. Seriously, it’s called ballistocardiography, and it’s sensitive enough to measure the mechanical forces of a person’s heartbeat (along with when you shift in your sleep).

Okay, we’ll fess up--this isn’t programmable, but in a world where your smarthome senses motion, humidity, and temperature, biometric data is sadly lacking. With Beddit, you can make informed decisions to better your sleep--and decide when best to program your window shades to rise and your coffee to brew in the morning.

[Photo courtesy of Nest]





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