Having moved from a single family home to a townhouse last year, my smart home has changed a little. Mostly for the better, but not always: Gotta keep the HOA happy, which is why my smart lock is brass, which both my wife and I are not fans of. C’est la vie!
So what do we have now and why? Glad you asked! Here’s a rundown of our current smart home devices as well as a few items I’m looking forward to adding soon. Stay tuned for reviews of those.
The $99 Wink Hub 2 is the brains of home
There are plenty of hub choices available on the market but I chose the original Wink hub to build everything around. I later upgraded to the Wink Hub 2 as it added support for Wi-Fi connectivity. There’s no need for this hub to be hard wired into a router or wireless access point, which allows me to place the hub in a central location.
This hub supports all of the radio protocols I need for the other products I currently use: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Zigbee and Z-Wave. Thread support is planned for the future, and although I don’t have any compatible products, the Wink Hub 2 also works with Lutron ClearConnect and Kidde devices. All of my products are accessible from the Wink app in iOS and Android — I use both — although there’s no Room settings in the app like Apple provides in Home.
Since I have a door lock and open/close sensors that use Z-Wave, I won’t be buying the new Amazon Echo Plus, which has hub functionality built in, but not for Z-Wave products. Additionally, I just ordered a Samsung SmartThings Link for my Nvidia Shield TV. The small USB dongle will turn my Android TV unit into SmartThings hub for testing. You can get loads of smart technology for your TV. For home entertainment Android TV boxes are a must-have according to Coolest-Gadgets, so it might be worth checking them out.
A few notes on our Wink app usage. Aside from basic controls and device status, I do have some automation and scheduling built in. Outside lights go on at dusk and off at 10pm, for example. Kitchen lights go on at 5:30am and off by 7am. And whenever the front door is unlocked for five minutes, Wink automatically relocks it: The kids were coming in late at night and forgetting to lock the door.
Alexa is our current digital butler, but Google Assistant may change that
We’ve had Amazon Echo devices in the house ever since Amazon added the smart home functionality. The main Echo is our living room and used for voice control of lights as well as music playback. There’s an Echo Dot in my office (which is currently displaced by a Sonos One review unit with Alexa support) and another Dot on my nightstand. Lastly, I use an Echo Tap in the study for music and home controls while relaxing. When I want to head out on the back deck, I take the Tap with me.
I do keep a Google Home in the office as well, but that’s mainly for testing purposes. And the Nvidia Shield TV on the shelf right above the Home works has Google Assistant integration as well: I can control things by voice using the Shield TV remote or game controller as both have integrated microphones. Essentially then, we have voice control all around the house in the rooms that we use the most.
If Nvidia ever delivers on the $50 Spot microphones for Google Assistant it announced at CES in January, I may try one or two of those in the future. Note that I may switch out an Echo or two with the new Sonos One: Not just because of the wider range of supported music services and better sound quality but also because they’ll be getting Google Assistant integration in 2018. At that point, I can choose to use either Alexa or Google on the same hardware.
I’m light on lights
Compared to some folks, I’m fairly conservative with smart lighting. I don’t want or need colored lights, so no Philips Hue for me. Plus, I’m not a fan of adding more bridges, hubs and boxes to the system.
All told I only have nine LED smart lights in the new place: Some are Cree bulbs which are dimmable but not tunable and others are Osram which have both functions. Three of the bulbs are outdoors although they’re not rated for outdoor use. My fixtures are doing a good job at keeping water away from those bulbs since they’ve been out there for a few months without any issues.
I also have one non-smart light that’s controlled by an automatic schedule using a WeMo Insight Switch: That’s my bedroom lamp which goes on automatically at dusk and shuts off at 11pm if we haven’t already turned it off.
Locks, sensors, camera, thermostat and…. our oven
We opted for a Kwikset Z-Wave deadbolt lock on our front door, mainly because we hate carrying house keys.
It works perfectly fine for remotely unlocking/locking with a mobile device or through voice controls. Note that Alexa can’t perform unlocks by voice as of today, which is a security feature. The lock also has a programmable combination we can punch in for unlocking, so unless the batteries are dead, we simply don’t need our key. Kwikset makes a more modern looking version in different finishes but since the lock is on the outside of our townhouse, our HOA rules require a traditional look in brass.
I recently added an inexpensive GoControl Z-Wave open/close magnetic sensor to our bedroom closet. Triggering it tells the Wink hub to turn the light on when the door is open. That’s just a convenience factor since my wife wakes up far earlier than I do and she can just pop into the closet quickly to get her outfit in the morning.
One original Nest Cam is strategically placed in a corner of the house that provides a view to all access points. Nothing fancy there although it has captured some amusing videos of Norm after we’ve left the house.
The camera is programmed to shut off at 5:30am every morning because that’s when my wife heads downstairs. It fires back up at night. And our phones are setup to enable or disable the camera by GPS location when we’re home or away.
We had a Nest thermostat in the old home and while it worked fine, I opted for an Ecobee 3 in the townhouse. The main reason? Ecobee includes a wireless sensor that helps the HVAC system understand where people are in the home and what the temperature is away from the main thermostat. That unit is placed in my office since that’s where I often am.
Lastly is the June Oven we bought in February. I almost didn’t include it in this list because it’s not a product that connects to the Wink Hub.
Instead, you use the June app (if you want to) for remote commands, checking food status or watching a live webcam shot of your meal in progress. But earlier this week, June added a skill to Alexa for the oven. So now we can simply say “Alexa, ask June to preheat to 450” and it just happens.
More to look forward to!
I’m sure to add more lights to the home and possible some additional open/sensors for security purposes. We’re also (slowly) redoing our interior and I’m considering a connected ceiling fan in the living room, which is open to the second floor. Aside from the SmartThings Link dongle I ordered, I also have a Go-Control garage door opening arriving soon. This uses Z-Wave and will provide remote control and status to the garage using our existing opener. I’m also looking on getting an IoT HVAC system, from such hvac companies Vancouver or someone local to me.
And of course, if we can get the HOA to update rules with more modern hardware, I’ll quickly swap out that brass front door lock with a nice new one. Satin chrome looks good to me!