I would describe myself as a "connectivity junkie". I want things that talk to other things and then make those things do things to the things and everything work together.
I want to wake up in the morning to my favourite radio station and the moment I take my head off the pillow I want the lights to come on. When I walk into the lounge I want the lights to come on at the right soothing colour and the smell of freshly brewing coffee to drift over as BBC Breakfast gives me the days headlines.
All of which was the stuff of millionaires and villains until recently, and then of hobbyists and nerds.
18 months ago, whole home kits which required programming knowledge were the thing. Fibaro and Loxone provide excellent whole home solutions, but they require either a hobbyist or paying an expert.
Now we've reached the point of being able to do it yourself - the decentralised, democratised smart home. It's affordable, you can build it in stages, it requires absolutely no knowledge of coding and you get to feel like a Bond villain every day.
In this introduction, we'll look at some of the core kit you need to build a smart home yourself. There's no one right order to buy stuff in, but you need to have an Android or iOS phone as a controller to get started. There are four main areas to consider - security, entertainment, heat, and light.
Before we start, it's important to understand the aims of a smart home. The idea is not to have things happen at the touch of a button (though the option to is always good) but to not have to do anything at all. Smart homes are about making gadgets work for you not the other way round.
Security can sometimes feel a little awkward. Cameras, such as Netatmo's Welcome take away the "always being watched" feeling by only recording faces that it doesn't recognise. It can also be used to trigger alarms, or turn all the lights on to give the intruder a fright. Most importantly, it will be able to alert you, wherever you are in the world that something is afoot. Cameras are a definite must have.
We like Netgear's Arlo range because it has completely wireless cameras, making them stupidly easy to fit. D-Link have a good range, but they do require a bit more fiddling with, we found. As well as the Netatmo Welcome, the Withings Home is a good bet. Both have added value such as air quality alerts, which you can use in conjunction with sensors to control your heating.
Speaking of heating, Hive from British Gas is probably the best of the myriad of smart thermostats we've seen. After a slow start where it wasn't compatible with anything else, it's now fully connected with IFTTT (IF This THEN That) which is the de facto standard for interoperability via the cloud. All the products in this report are IFTTT ready and also work with Amazon's Alexa.
A word about Alexa. Not all Alexas are Echo, and as we saw at CES this year, there's going to be a spectacular range of Alexa integrated devices bringing voice control to everywhere. The first device we've seen that really takes Alexa to the next level is Triby, a small rubberised speaker with an e-ink screen. It acts as a radio, hands-free kit, house noticeboard, and incorporates Alexa Voice, so you can give voice commands to your whole home set up. We love Triby, it's exceedingly cute and takes up the mantel where Echo ends. It's worth considering over Echo, though both are fine, game-changing devices.
The next stage to add is light. This, of course provides lots of opportunity for setting the mood of your house, as well as securing it. But it goes beyond on and off timers. Smart bulbs such as those from Lifx can go through a range of colours, shades, dim, bright, and even make little displays. The limit is your imagination. Hive bulbs are a lot more "white bread" but still offer the basics, and can even tie in to your Hive thermostat. The third option is retro-fitting. This is where you swap out your existing switches for new, smart ones. We love Energenie, because their MiHome kit is incredibly simple to install yourself (turn the ‘leccy off first). It also offers smart power points, smart plug adapters, and radiator valves for those rogue rooms that need something different.
Finally, entertainment. The ins and outs of streaming media and smart tv are for another day, but what you will want to do is control it all. For this, Logitech's Harmony Elite Hub is ideal. It works with over 270,000 devices, and can be taught to create complete scenes. Set up correctly you can do fancy things like making the lights match the mood for a movie, or bring them up when the pizza man rings the doorbell. And yes, Harmony ties in to IFTTT and Alexa.
Whilst this isn't going to cost you pennies, it's also massively cheaper than it was just a couple of years ago and you can expect it to keep dropping as the "early adopter" tag moves into it being the norm.
But if you take the transition a stage at a time, you'll be able to look with fresh eyes on your home with every purchase, and think of new and exciting ways to pair up your mobile, your heating and Radio 2 (hint: your phone has GPS).
So the take away from all this is obviously to buy loads of smart gear. But not all at once. Don't feel you have to take a whole house system or nothing, those days were gone. But in terms of my serotonin levels, the joy of making things connect has been huge and more cones along with every passing day.
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