The automated home was the futuristic promise of many world fairs, even going as far as to show robots as helpers. Most of everything that was exhibited is now a reality. However, pricing up until recently has been out of reach for the average gadget consumer. That’s where Belkin’s WeMo switch, the well-designed Nest automatic thermostat and the Dropcam Pro come into action. Over the past few weeks, I’ve had some time to play around with the gadgets and apps that control them.
Setting up home automation used to take hours with a professional installer and thousands of dollars. With easy instructions included, the WeMo switch from Belkin only took a few minutes to setup. After downloading the WeMo app on my iPhone with iOS 7 from the Apple iTunes app store, I selected the WeMo WiFi connection. It recognized the device within 20 seconds and alerted me to a firmware update. I opted to do the firmware update to see if anything would go wrong. The switch upgraded itself, blinked on and off a few times and then the app recognized it again. Setting it up on my secure 2.4GHz WiFi connection was as simple as selecting it from a list, keying in the code and giving it a few minutes to establish a connection with the Internet.
The Belkin WeMo switch at $49.99 responded quickly while on the same network as the iPhone and was only slightly delayed when controlling it via cellular. I tested it many times from multiple states away throughout the month and the switch never failed to turn on and off my fan.
True home automation is when the device controls itself depending on a schedule or a specific trigger. The WeMo switch is programmable via If This Then That in its app under the rules tab. The app also allows the user to turn off remote access to the switch.I liked how the WeMo Switch app has space for other devices from Belkin that can automate items in the home or office. Each device can be controlled individually via the app, however all of the devices will need to be attached to one WiFi network to show up on the list. Homes with multiple networks may require adjustments to make everything work properly. Switches that plug into wall outlets are one thing, but attaining a higher level of home automation can be achieved when replacing semi-programmable thermostats.
Nest’s learning thermostat is a well-designed round home automation gadget with an easy to read screen that according to the company, “99% of the people who installed Nest themselves would do it again. Four out of five people install Nest in 30 minutes or less.” Luckily for me, I have installed many ceiling fans in the past. However, those were a lot more difficult and always required two people for setup.
The Nest thermostat at $249 should be easy enough to install for one person who has the patience to shut off the power to the already installed thermostat, removing it from the wall, sliding in a few color coded wires and finish a guided setup.
It is basically a giant single button with a sliding ring that allows for manual temperature adjustments. But the beauty of the gadget is when it’s connected to WiFi with Internet access so that it can be controlled with a smartphone or tablet. It even downloads local weather data and utilizes that information to build a personalized schedule of temperatures after a week’s worth of use.
There are just a few parts to the Nest package and everything that came with it, as seen in this unboxing video, was well organized and cleanly laid out. Their designers spent a lot of time evaluating how to take as much of the guess work out of getting the device installed and operational. Their website has sections to hire a Nest Certified Installer, a compatibility checker and support from their staff.The biggest factor for anyone considering a Nest learning thermostat that programs itself, is if it’s compatible with their home heating and air conditioner unit. The Nest is labeled to be compatible with, ”95% of 24V heating and cooling systems, including gas, electric, forced air, heat pump, radiant hot water, solar, and geothermal.”
My home has two thermostats, so in order for me to take full advantage of claimed power savings, I would need to get two of them installed. The company that makes the Nest says that after a full year, it could save me enough to pay for itself. The cool factor of having a controllable thermostat with an app on a smartphone is something also to consider. For now, there is no monthly fee to use the Nest. Controllable switches and thermostats that learn are great, but some want to add an additional layer of security and surveillance to their setup at home or office.
Dropcam has filled the need of an easy to setup home or office video surveillance camera with their new Dropcam Pro at $199. The name for the camera fits exactly with how someone sets it up on his or her home network. It literally just drops right into an existing WiFi system. The pro camera has a few benefits over the first gen unit including a setup that saves people time by only taking about a minute, clearer video so that they can see more of what’s going on in the home and secure streaming with AES encryption to keep video away from snoopers.Setting up a video surveillance camera can be tricky with many of the professional models on the market today. I have had to spend many hours with network technicians and outside support staff to get a controllable video camera installed at a business. Many of the professional cameras have far less features than what the Dropcam Pro has included like night vision, two-way audio, intelligent alerts and secure streaming. A cloud service that costs a little extra is available to record and save video for a rolling seven or thirty days.
Most of the services and online features that the camera uses are connected to a Dropcam account created during the short initial setup process. While the camera is wirelessly connected to the Internet via WiFi, it does need to be plugged into power. Most consumer grade surveillance cameras, including the Dropcam Pro, do not have a battery backup. Connecting it to a UPS or uninterruptable power source will be necessary for a greater level of security.
Seeing is believing and the Dropcam Pro can be your eyes and ears in the home with automated alerts that are sent directly to your smartphone. One of the best features of the camera is its two-way audio capability. The audio feature would work well for people that leave on vacation and want to check on the status of their home. They would be able to have a conversation in real time with a house sitter via the software and hardware built into the Dropcam Pro.
Home automation and security is finally a reality with consumer level devices and pricing. The Belking WeMo switch, Nest thermostat and Dropcam Pro can be controlled with mobile apps available on the iTunes Apple app store and the Google play app store for Android. With a few gadgets that can be setup in under an hour, home and business owners can save money on electricity, monitor their valuables and protect their family.
Disclosure: I am a member of the Verizon Wireless Buzz group and I did receive the Nest and Belkin WeMo Switch devices for testing and review. I received the Dropcam Pro directly from Dropcam. They are not associated with the VZWBuzz Group. However, my opinions are my own.