Drunkenly Honest Review: Schlage Connected Camelot

It never fails, about once a month, as I fall asleep I have the same dream. I’m laying in bed, I think I’m awake (trying not to get too meta, but I’m asleep) and I hear a noise. My body? It’s almost frozen either in exhaustion or in unwillingness to go investigate the door I hear opening. I’m unable to move my limbs to go and defend myself as I hear the door open. Then a figure walks into the room… It’s my mom and she’s bringing me my tax return from 3 years ago in hopes of saving Earth from the alien invasion before work at 4AM the next day…

I know why I have this dream, I didn’t lock the doors. Or at least I don’t remember locking the doors consciously. So I get up, go check every door, then try to fall back asleep. I know I can’t be the only one who has this dream, but luckily there’s some hope with home automation. That hope comes from Schlage with the Connected Camelot-Series deadbolt.

bb5de73f-38f3-424e-b225-b2997a766171_400The Run Down:

  • Manufacture: Schlage
  • Locking Mechanism: Residential Standard Certification:ANSI/BHMA A156.40-2015 Grade AAA in Security, Durability and Finish/ Commercial Grade 1
  • Power: AA-Type Batteries (2)
  • Wireless: Z-Wave Only
  • Alexa Compatibility: Requires Hub, Lock-Only. (See Automation)
  • SmartThings Compatibility: Native compatibility
  • Hub Required for Automation: Yes and No (See Automation)
  • Phone App: None
  • Temperatures: Outside escutcheon: -35C to 66C,Inside escutcheon: -10C to 49C
  • Colors: Bright Brass, Satin nickel, Matte Black, Bright Chrome, Aged Bronze
  • Additional Features: Anti-Tamper Alarm, Programmable Codes, Auto-Lock
  • Price: Normally sub~$300 | On Sale: $170 – $200. (Includes Handle-Kit) ($180 for Deadbolt-Only)
  • Warranty: 3 Years

 

The Deadbolt/Locking Mechanism:

The first thing I enjoy about the lock, is well, it locks. This is probably the 10th or so deadbolt I have purchased. This is also the first Smart Lock. Until this time, I somewhat assumed all door locks were mostly similar. Turns out, there’s quite a bit of difference. Like cell-phone cases that are “MILSPEC”; deadbolts have certifications that really cause them to be more expensive due to increased strength, lock complexity, and parts. These grades are 1 through 3, with 1 being the highest and the most secure for residential-external doors. This deadbolt earns a grade 1 by the ANSI. I found when searching online that a lot of cheaper deadbolts were grade 3, using plastic parts and their reliability suffering because of that. After owning the Schlage for a little over a month, I have had 0 problems with it. (I’ll update this article as time goes on.) The locking mechanism was heavy and I feel it adequate for the job.

Installation:

As far as installations go, I was replacing a lock previously. It went as smooth as smooth can go. There’s really only a few longer bolts that are home-internal keeping it together. The key for this lock is making sure your weather striping on your door isn’t too bulky. When the door automatically locks, you’ll want to ensure it can do so with the door closed “naturally”, and by that I mean, some doors in homes you have to push shut while locking to make sure the alignment is correct. While this lock just the same as any other, you may encounter a problem with the alignment just based on your door. This isn’t necessarily a problem you cannot fix with the right know-how but it can be a major problem if the lock engages automatically and isn’t able to do so freely, it was retract and remain unlocked. There are a few configurations that all your to adjust the depth internally which I needed to do so. Overall I consider the installation to be “Easy” and the tools required would be a screwdriver/drill for existing holes. Intermediate if this is a new door installation as precision may be key.

Appearance:

The Schlage Camelot series carries a more elegant and traditional look. This is opposed to the Schlage Century which is basically the same thing but more suitable for modern aesthetics with sharp lines. As mentioned before, I purchased the model with the handle-kit as our old one was also on the outs. The “Aged Bronze:” has nice detailing with rubbed/weathered edges. From the outside/front: The lock is clearly visible with a lit touch pad. The touchpad is not illuminated unless you push a key. I’m guessing this is to save battery but if you come home late at night, you’ll have to tap it at least once to see the panel. In the sunlight, when illuminated it’s visible enough but it does get washed out if in direct sunlight making seeing the digits more difficult but not impossible. The back or inside portion is, massive. This isn’t uncommon for automated touchpad or push-button locking mechanisms but I find it to be larger than most of its brethren. This may be attributed to the built-in tamper alarm or superior construction but I would have liked to see it a bit smaller. The handle-kit comes in Right or Left configurations for the lever, or knob. Typically on sale is the left-facing configuration for doors which open to the left from the inside. However, when you’re ready to purchase please remember to take this into account. There is also a knob for those that want. I found that the model that goes on sale is the left-side lever. Luckily, that’s how my door was but I think it wouldn’t be hard to find a replacement part for it to keep the cost down.

“The back or inside portion is, massive. This isn’t uncommon for automated touchpad or push-button locking mechanisms but I find it to be larger than most of its brethren.”

Stand-Alone Operation

In the “Living in a Smart Home Series: Part 4″ I discussed how one of the biggest problems I have when purchasing new “techy” devices is it has to pass the spouse/guest test-factor. Meaning, if someone who is unfamiliar with my home, they’re still able to use their basic human programming to operate the home. I’m happy to say, this lock passes the test, before it was “connected” to my smart home. The deadbolt locks and unlocks from the inside like you would expect it to. The touch screen lights up when you push a button and you can input any code you wish, as long as those codes are 4 to 8 digits long. If you change the digit-length from say 4 to 6 or to 8, ALL codes are erased and all new codes  MUST have that length. We opted for 6 as generally speaking it’s unlikely for another to “guess” a 6 digit code without me knowing. You can also assign many different codes for each individual person or group of people. For example, our neighbor has a code specifically for them, as does my wife, and myself. As a stand-alone unit, programming these codes is somewhat easy if you follow the instructions. In case all codes are forgotten there is a permanent master code provided. (KEEP THIS!) However, I’m a big fan of having backup entries incase, lets say the batteries were dead. The key is always available for you to enter if you wish. The lock can also auto-lock when programmed to do so. This is a good feature if, lets say you’re often home alone and want the door secured even if you forget.  There is also a tamper alarm which is a great option if you do not already have an audible alarm, especially if you don’t have a home alarm . The button is internal and long-press can change the modes. The alarm is piercingly loud, similar to a smoke detector.  I personally don’t use this feature as it isn’t able to be armed via automation and my wife would have a heart attack if she sleepily wanted to let the dogs out. Overall, as a stand-alone touchpad lock I find this so be a great device and worth $180-$200 alone just for these features. Of course, I like to make things complicated…

“The spouse test…if someone who is unfamiliar with my home, they’re still able to use their basic human programming to operate the home. I’m happy to say, this lock passes the test…”

Automation:

Undoubtedly, this is why you’re here. As a home-automation enthusiast, I’m always excited when I get a new toy to integrate and automate. I can say with confidence, after installing and connecting this device, I’ve forgotten that I had it… which is a good thing. The Schlage Camelot features Z-Wave compatibility wireless. I find that Z-wave or similar protocols are superior to Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Their range is slightly further, especially through walls, when compared to wi-fi. As far as bluetooth is concerned, connections are not always guaranteed. (Even my smartwatch fails to recognize my phone in my pocket.) The lock natively integrates with SmartThings using a standard device handler. This allows you to monitor the state of the lock. Using a hub, you can also have Alexa integrate with the device. This will only allow you lock the device. This is to address security concerns I’ve seen from people when talking about smart locks. If it were not this way, someone could stand outside your house and yell: “Alexa, Unlock the door!” and she would comply. I understand this might frustrate some people, and there are ways around this if you’re crafty but I would encourage you not to. (See Security) Out-of-the-box, integration and automation leaves something to be desired. You can lock/unlock the device during a routine with SmartThings. However anything deeper it going to require a custom smart app. (Which SmartThings has available, I’ll discuss that in the next article) I use the CoRE engine to automate the lock when my Smoke Detectors go off so that allows my neighbors to open the doors as necessary to help my furry critters get out safely. Overall, it wasn’t on Schlage to make this thing “smarter” even though they could have. There’s no phone app which I think is a good thing. You can do what you want with a custom device handler and smart app in the SmartThings IDE if you’re savvy but the basic functionality is there.

Security:

Let’s face it. This is a deadbolt and its first and foremost function is to secure your home. However, is it really secure? There’s a lot of people debating having more IoT things in your home and  having them not properly secured is a major risk. (Which, I would agree) I have a vision of a the 5 o’clock evening news running a story on how a hacker could drive by, push two buttons and your home is unlocked leaving you vulnerable. However, let’s face it, when it comes to a lock: They only keep honest people, honest. Most hackers COULD go around breaking into homes but a brick through a window is really just as effective as hacking and much faster. Most homes even have a window right in the front-door or to the sides which means they can just open the door through there anyways. Not to mention, picking locks is an age-old craft and it’s not difficult. Your best defense is to secure your networks and accounts with different, long, non-dictionary based password phrases. (IE: Cheez3tastiehazEYEone) If you’re contemplating home automation security needs to be a focal point however nothing is foolproof. Most hackers would rather have your credit card information or Gmail password to cause more mischief remotely than to find out who and where you live to steal some gear from your home and fence it.  If you have reservations than simply don’t connect this device and leave the Z-Wave features off. This device functions well without those features. Also, most Autmation Assistants (I.E. Google Home or Alexa) will not UNLOCK the device, this is for security however you can automate and run routines to by-pass this behavior. Certainly not-recommend in my opinion.

Wrapping-Up:

In a conversation the other day, I stated to another individual that this is best thing I don’t even remember having. It runs so seemlessly in the background that I never worry about wether or not it’s locked. My only reservations are the price and longevity. I’ve heard from a few people theirs have lasted more than a year with no problems and I’ve heard from some people who haven’t had as much luck. Luckily it has a 3-year warranty to back it and I strongly suggest keeping everything for it incase of problems. The locking mechanism is a little loud and might alarm pets but nothing too bad. Finally $300 dollars handle-kit is certainly more expensive that most other locks however, when it’s on sale for $200 or lower I highly suggest purchasing it if you’re in the market. If you only need the deadbolt, it’s about $180 and that is still a bit out of reach however most Z-wave Grade 1 locks are just as pricey, so I’d suggest waiting for sale or checking some reviews on other brands. Overall, I think you can’t go wrong purchasing this especially if you’re into automation. My next article will be on the Device Handler/Smart App I used to get this from a “Good Purchase” to an “Outstanding Purchase”. Till next time!

Final Verict:

  • Pros:
    • Fairly easy Installation.
    • Great automation features when used with SmartThings and custom Smart App and native functionaility.
    • Best-in-class grade locking and components.
    • Multiple ways to function the lock.
    • 3-year warranty.
    • Functions well on it’s own.
    • Great value at $180 (a Grade 3-deadbolt/handle is easily $100 alone)
  • Cons:
    • Expensive if not on sale.
    • Locking mechanism is a bit noisy.
  • Overall:
    • Great purchase for front door, but look for cheaper models for other home entries.
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Living In a Smart Home Part 4:

The Smart Lock –  A good idea?

My significant other mentioned to me some time ago that the front door lock wasn’t engaging fully and freely. Indeed, when I went to turn the lock, it seemed to snag before the lock fully engaged. Also, our handle button is a bit sticky too. This seems to be a common problem as even in our old house, (in addition the the golden-brass color) also had the same problem. “Great! I said, “I’ll get a smart lock!” Then, quick as you could say “Alexa, buy me a smart lock” I was off researching which one was the best for my needs.

There are many advantages to a smart lock, and like all things, there are some disadvantages. We’re going to go over some of the key features I believe should be on your smart lock and I’ll give the recommendations I have if you’re looking for some. Once again, my buying-decisions are mainly based off of SmartThings compatability, so always do your research first.

First, my “Golden Rule”, it has to work for my wife. Meaning that my wife needs to be able to operate it and integrate seamlessly with her life. Understandingly, she gets frustrated when lights that she expects to perform automatically do not and also if there isn’t a button or switch to fix it immediately, it doesn’t make sense for it to be smart at all. With that being said, any smart lock I thought about had to have some key elements:

  1. It has to be aesthetically pleasing. (Rubbed-oil bronze in our case)
  2. It had to be able to be to work with a key. (Let’s face it, technology fails us)
  3. It needed to have a touch-pad with assignable codes, multiple even.
  4. It needed to integrate natively with SmartThings on the Z-wave protocol.
  5. It needed to be affordable.

My web search landed me in a place of somewhat confusion. Mostly, due to the word “Smart” now being a key-phrase in advertising. To me, “smart” means connected and programmable. As a buzz-word, it can mean something that ranges of “Clever-design” to “fully automated you’ll never need to touch your door”. Not to mention, going down to your local hardware store, you’ll need words like “Bluetooth” and “Wi-Fi” but the more important “Z-wave” or “Zigbee” phrases hidden behind “Wireless”. I’m not sure if this is because manufactures want to construe how these devices work so they can relate to terms people know. (Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, one could argue, are in everyone’s vocabulary.) What I found was that there’s a lot so it was important that I ensure, once again BEFORE I bought something, that it fit my criteria.

Aesthetics of course being number 1, but also the most important aspects. This is my front door handle. It’s where people are greeted and arguably the first thing they see when they get to my doorstep. I didn’t want some gangly-box with glowing neon lights and retina scanner, I wanted something that says “oh, that’s an attractive door handle, and look you can enter a code in.” (Things you say as a suburbanite in their 30s.) I found that companies like Schlage and Yale all have pretty attractive handles so there was an easy path.

The second stipulation, the use of  a key, sounds like a no brainier but there are actually a few locks that eliminate the use of a key. While this sounds like a great idea at first, (No one likes a dangly-key-chain) the problem I would have is if the touch screen failed to work. I’m not sure what happens if it does and quite frankly I didn’t even want to find out. In addition, there are other”Smart locks” that only have a key and no touch screens, like the Kwikset Kevo. in fact I found one that isn’t really “smart”, you can just re-key it yourself. That gets me into the next point:

One of the biggest reasons I wanted a new lock, is: I tend to go out and in different doors. Living on a farm, sometimes I’ll walk out my front door and go in the side door which had yet to be unlocked. I don’t normally carry my keys so I wanted to be able to input a code to unlock the deadbolt. These type of locks have been around for awhile and isn’t necessarily a “smart” feature. However, like I mentioned above, the Kwikset Kevo doesn’t have one and it’s possible I don’t have my phone on me to unlock or “touch it”. The multiple-code feature is also good. That way I can give my farm-sitter a code and they’ll be able to come in and out securely, rather than give them a key.

The other elephant in the room is connecting with SmartThings and not necessarily an app. (I tend to hate single-purpose apps.) With the Kevo being bluetooth and the August being WiFi I’m sure some hackery can be done to get them integrated with SmartThings, but I’ve never really liked how things integrate with SmartThings when they’re not supposed to. As I said in my first article, it is best to make sure everything you buy is compatible with your unit, in this case Z-Wave is my go-to protocol and checking on the SmartThings app, I found the Schlage Camelot integrated well via Z-Wave. Why? Well really it’s the automation side. For example, when my security system arms every evening, it automatically locks all my locks. If my smoke alarm goes off and we’re not home, all the doors unlock making egress easier. If my wife and I are away the doors automatically lock (and we can check the current state of the lock) so there are lots of reasons this adds convenience. However, if it does fail, we still have 2 manual controls to lock and unlock (the touch pad and a key).

The final decision, price. When I found the door handle set I wanted: Schlage Connected Camelot with handle, I was kinda shocked to see the price at a bit north of $300 dollars. As a man on a budget I couldn’t really justify that cost immediately since my lock was still functioning and even though it was kinda janky. Luckily, Home Depot seems to put it on sale from time to time between $180 – $200 dollars. (In fact, depending on when you’re reading this article, it’s on-sale now until April 9th for $200.) This was a decent price since the same oil-rubbed non-smart non-touchpad designs usually run around $110-$140. So, if you’re going to get one I highly suggest putting an alert on SlickDeals.net for one using keywords smart lock, dead bolt, or the brand names like Schlage.

As you may have guessed, I found Schlage Connected Camelot and purchased it as my ultimate decision. I’m still waiting for the standard deadbolts to go on sale to replace them at the other doors. They’re going for $120 and I’m gunning to get them around $60-$80. While this one works great, there are plenty of locks out there that may suit your needs greater than this one so I’d really recommend making a list of features you want and TAKE YOUR TIME. Luckily I wasn’t in a rush and that saved me $110 dollars. If you’re curious about the Schlage Connected Camelot, a review of the unit will be going up soon.

Thanks for reading and I hope this was helpful. As always, feel free to send me an email at manbeertech@gmail.com, via comment, or even on Reddit directly at kaizokudave. Till then, See you next time!

Living in a Smart Home Part 2:

Home Is Where the Hub Is:

With big pushes from Google, Amazon, and many 3rd-party companies in the Smart Home realm we’re almost getting to the point where it’s actually useful. The purpose in this series isn’t necessarily a review or a how-to guide and you may certainly take it with a grain of salt. However, I wanted to write about where, what, how any why in my home and maybe you’ll get some ideas of your own. It’s meant for the novice and the curious from someone who is slightly tech-savvy and someone who isn’t tech-savvy. Feel free to use it as a “drunkenly honest” guide but remember that not everyone’s experience is the same and your applications may be different. With that being said, tet’s get started with this entry!

Your Next Step: The Hub + 1:

    Last post we spoke about Alexa’s integration and why I believe she should be your first step in th smart home. Wether you agree or disagree based upon what she can do is perfectly fine. It’s very debatable on what is the “center” of your Smart Home. While we could debate on Alexa being your first purchase, the next (or first if you disagreed) purchase will be your hub.

Wait… what’s a hub? I thought I just bought some smart light bulbs and there’s an app?

     Sadly, there is an app for that. I said “sadly” because I just bought an Amazon Dot that came with a TP-Link Smart Plug. It wasn’t a bad purchase and it’s certainly compatible with Alexa (which is fine if that’s all we have) but it isn’t directly compatible with my SmartThings Hub. That’s a bummer. There is a Kasa app, (pun intended?) but having to pick up your phone, look for the app, then open it to control one switch is the bummer. The “hub” is/can be the central location of your smart home. They’re designed to run automation and provide a central interface for you to control your various devices. While Alexa can serve is a “hub” of sorts, she doesn’t excel at it and you certainly don’t want to ask her to do everything unless you have her in every room. The hub is where you’re going to do most of your heavy lifting. When you come in the front door, don’t you want your lights to automatically turn on? Isn’t that the point?

Yeah, I mean, that sounds nice.. but why the +1? There’s a lot of them and they’re all like $100 dollars!

     They are! Well, they can be. Depending on your hub and where you get it it’s about $100 dollars. Wink, Iris, and SmartThings are seemingly the front-runners and while there are other alternatives I’m not 100% sure they’re for the non-tech savvy. Heck, even I’m scared to crack open my SmartThings hub and start fiddlin’ with the engine. The +1, is the important part. Your first truly smart device sets the tempo for the other devices you’ll be looking at. Chances, are it’ll be Zigbee, Z-Wave,  or worse, a native protocol (hence the apps earlier) that you’ll have to make sure not only your hub is compatible with but also all your other purchases going forward. We’ll talk about my recommendation but this is where your preferences / budget will need to come into play. I’m not going to presume to know it all, I don’t. There’s literally hundreds of options here. My best advice though: Think about your problem/s and find solutions. Look first. Ask questions. Then decide. Try and think about the future and what you’d like to accomplish.

Okay, Ok… so what so which Hub and which +1 do I get?

     Simple… SmartThings by Samsung. This is a personal choice and my opinion to the novice/enthusiast is that you can do a LOT of things. The SmartThings hub’s basic compatibility is really expansive. Namely, the most trusted Switches (GE Z-Wave) and other integrations with an open-ended API makes it the best choice for both the layman and the advanced. You can get the SmartThings hub from MANY locations, my wife and I were first looking at it as a solution for monitoring underneath our sink with a water sensor and integration with our Ring video doorbell. (Yes, I know.. we’ll get to the Ring later.) We got the Ring for safety concerns and we decided to put off the Hub until we were ready later to buy the kit with sensors. While we got the ring, we never did get the sensor kit cause we moved and wasn’t a big deal anymore. Recall earlier how I was saying think of problems you’d like to solve? After my wife and I moved to the farm, our needs and problems changed. While one of us is home 95% of the time, the other 5% was the problem.

Sorry man, don’t really care about your problems.. what about my +1?

     When we first moved it, we had an alarm system that was disconnected. I looked into hooking it up, it was about $20 dollars a month, included security monitoring and emergency contacts for fire. While $20 dollars is worth my family’s safety, the bigger problem was hidden fees with companies charging you simply to come out. If they monitoring company receives an alert, attempt to call but no one answers? They send out the Po-Po. Was it just a false alarm? $100 bucks. Man, that blows all because my wife and I were out shopping. When we really thought about it I’m more concerned for our furry animals while we’re out. The alarm system is great if you’re home but if there’s a fire and you’re gone? Well, I wanna know immediately so I can call my neighbors. So, our first purchase was a Smart Fire-detector, which was our best and worst choice. If I had to do it over again, I would do the exact same thing and encourage people to think, “Safety First”. Safety can be a broad term. Safety for me meant text/push notifications to my cell phone in case of a fire. It meant all the lights turning on if our security sensors went off at night, giving me a few moments to arm myself, investigate, and contact the authorities if necessary. It COULD mean, if you come home late at night, the lights to automatically come on when you get home. It’s up to you, but I would venture to guess most people’s first +1 should be a safety related item. If I had to give a recommendation, I prefer my Nest Protect, but I said I said earlier it might be a mistake since it’s not directly capable of being integrated with SmartThings. If you’re going for integration, First Alert makes a Z-Wave Smoke/Carbon Dioxide detector for around $50-$60 dollars on Amazon that integrates with SmartThings.

Cool! I’m going to buy that and 5 smart switches to put around my home! Thanks!

     Okay! I’m glad you’re enthusiastic about it but hold off for my next article where we actually start getting into it and what buying too much at once is not the Smartest.. (See what I did there?) thing to do. Till next time!

Living in a Smart Home Series Part 1:

Making a House, a Smart Home

With big pushes from Google, Amazon, and many 3rd-party companies in the Smart Home realm we’re almost getting to the point where it’s actually useful. The purpose in this series isn’t necessarily a review or a how-to guide and you may certainly take it with a grain of salt. However, I wanted to write about where, what, how any why in my home and maybe you’ll get some ideas of your own. It’s meant for the novice and the curious from someone who is slightly tech-savvy and someone who isn’t tech-savvy. Feel free to use it as a “drunkenly honest” guide but remember that not everyone’s experience is the same and your applications may be different. With that being said, tet’s get started with this entry!

Alexa… Write this entry…

Last year, my wife bought me an Amazon Echo for Valentine’s Day. Since then we’ve been using the Echo almost daily. However, like most things when we first got it we were excited and used it to answer questions randomly and made sure to use it. Now, she’s a glorified music player and egg timer in the kitchen. It’s by no means a bad thing. The Echo’s speaker is decent enough to give a good sound and setting timers is a breeze when your hands are full. The cost, being anywhere from $180 dollars normally down to ~$150 dollars on sale is comparable to a lot of Bluetooth speakers in that same price range. However, when we moved to our new house I started integrating with Samsung’s SmartThings. Slowly replacing light switches, adding in a Logitech Harmony remote, and several Amazon Dots (even a Amazon Tap) our house is slowly turning into a fully-featured smart home.

 

When she listens.. she’s great until she’s not:

“Alexa, play some music…” is probably the most common phrased uttered in my house out loud. This is probably the best service Amazon offers. When we’re in the kitchen making some Pizza Rolls our hands are generally full and finding a phone, hooking up a Bluetooth speaker or walking to our “Smart Panel” isn’t a very solid option. Alexa allows us to use voice commands for entertainment and control over our smart home and I would recommend an Alexa device first in your smart home.

     “Whoa, an Alexa-device first? What about a Smart Hub to control the lights?”

Great question random internet person! Why would I tell you to start with her? She can’t do a whole lot to your smart home without the other pieces, I.E. a hub, lights, smart remotes, etc.  Well, she does a million other things (exaggeration, she probably does hundreds or thousands of things) on her own. Namely, she gives your home the Star Trek computer theme. Smart Hubs are a GREAT start but you’ll need more than one component. A hub isn’t good unless you have things to manipulate with it. Alexa on the other hand can integrate with your Pandora account, set alarms, timers, reminders, to-do lists, a few shopping shortcuts, (I’ve yelled Alexa order more toilet paper on one occasion) and quick answers to questions like: “How many tablespoons are in a cup?” and “Which show is better, WWE RAW or the Bachellorette?”.  She can answer very simple questions but is limited on web searches. However, since Alexa has an open-ended API, (programmer speak meaning people can write stuff for it whenever they want) she can get new “Skills” like playing jeopardy. Put in a central  location in your home, you’d be suprised how much she’s used and how when you go into other rooms you’ll miss being able to shout things at her. Speaking of shouting…

The title of this is: She’s great until she’s not… So, what gives?

Well, I just said being able to shout things at her, Alexa listens VERY well when the environment is quiet. Too well, sometimes for some peoples taste but she picks up on Alexa rather keenly. There are occasions where she makes things difficult. For example, when she’s playing music somewhat loudly you’re going to have to overcome the volume to turn down or up the volume. When you tell her to “Play some Music” she tends to think your listening habits are the thing you listened to last time. Occasionally, she’ll mess up a timer with things like Fifty-minutes and Fifteen-minutes. She’s not perfect, but she’s close to it.

That’s cool, but she’s pricey…

Yeah, she is. She’s normally around $180 dollars on Amazon. We got her when there was only one option for a voice enabled speaker. However, with entries from Google Home and two other devices (The Dot verison 2 at $50 and Amazon Tap at $129) you’ve got some options. The Dot is a great beginning point. It’s basically a voice-enabled hockey puck with a speaker, Bluetooth connectivity, and audio out. Use this one if you’ve already got a decent speaker to connect to, (in example, our living room already had a soundbar we used for playing music) or just want to have voice-enabled commands. (We use our second Dot to automate actions in the Family Room such as turning the TV on/off or turning the lights on and off.) Google Home is another alternative at a cheaper price point. While I haven’t used it personally it’s better in someways than Alexa being connected to Google’s massive search engine. One thing I do not like, is the keying phrase of Google. Saying “Ok, Google” I find to be very difficult. It’s not that difficult where I wouldn’t and there’s a reason for having to say Ok, Google (Accuracy of trigger word) but it’s very harsh. Alexa, somewhat rolls off the tongue and you actually feel like you’re working with a companion not just shouting orders to a box. However, Alexa does get confused sometimes when I say my dog’s name, Lexie. (If your name is Alexa, you can change the key-phrase to Echo in the app).

Okay, so Let’s say I ordered one… or I don’t want voice in the home, what do I do next?

Simple, now you’re ready for the Smart Hub of your home. Which will be my next entry. Until then, if you have any questions or comments feel free to leave them! I try and answer everyone’s questions and comments so feel free! Until next time… Alexa, Goodnight!

What does End Of Life mean for Nexus?

So recently, this happened: Google posts End-Of-Life time frames for Nexus devices. Of course, the vocal minority is in a rampage. Everyone is very quick to read the headline and automatically hit reply without actually reading the article to see what is actually going on. So, let us stop the quick judgement and really explore both what does End-Of-Life mean, and how it relates to the Nexus program.

What Does End-of-Life Mean?

Well, according to submissions in Wikipedia, they describe “End-of-Life” as the following:

“End-of-life” (EOL) is a term used with respect to a product supplied to customers, indicating that the product is in the end of its useful life (from the vendor’s point of view), and a vendor stops marketing, selling, or rework sustaining it. (The vendor may simply intend to limit or end support for the product.) ”

So, with that in mind, the concept of End-Of-Life is often used in the tech industry for many products you may not realize. Cisco, Microsoft, and yes, even Apple have End-Of-Life dates for many of their products. (Feel free to reference the Windows XP fiasco.) Generally speaking, this is done when a device, such as a router or switch, needs to be phased out and replaced, either to make way for a newer model or a shift in technology. This does not mean that the businesses need to upgrade their hardware, they also implement something called “End-Of-Support”. End-Of-Support is a period of time after EOL has been exceeded that a product will still receive stability updates or parts/service may be still obtained. Eventually, the cost of support those devices will outweigh the benefit of keeping them. At this point, they will only give “best-effort” service. (Otherwise known as, “eh… if we feel like it” service.)

Yeah, don’t care ’bout that, what about Nexus?

Well, directly from their site, (which you read because you’re an intelligent person) they clearly state: “No guaranteed Android version updates after”. Examining that statement, they’re saying, “Hey.. we’re not going say we are or aren’t, but don’t expect them.” This is what we can call setting a standard for your expectations as a consumer. The Nexus program, for some time now, has had this 18-month support timeframe though it was never really quantified until you see the date. However, where most people quit reading was the 3-years of security, bug-fixes and hardware support they offer. To put it to something relate-able, most computers come with a 90-day warranty and 1 year of tech-support. Windows even has dates set that while they’ll still support the product with critical updates, adding new features isn’t in their best interest.

But… Apple always gets the latest version of iOS, why doesn’t Nexus?

Easy, to quote Steve Balmer: “Developers… Developers, Developers, Developers Developers.” Well, really development in general. Apple has a closed ecosystem. Inside their sandbox, they give you all the details for application development and it is either their way or the information-super-highway. This leaves them with fewer and more standardize hardware models. There are 13 iPhones, 7 iPod touches,12 iPads, and a few other devices. Also, Apple’s software updates don’t always include the latest features either.  While Google may only have 8 in the Nexus lineup,  TheNextWeb has an article stating there are 18.796 distinct Android devices. Wow, that’s a lot to keep up to date. Remember though, Google isn’t really a hardware company, it’s a software and services company. Their product, isn’t necessarily the Nexus, it’s Android. This was more clearly defined back in the day when Nexus phones were more-or-less developer phones and reference devices for how “vanilla” Android should look. However, as time rolled on, so did Google. Hardware/software are usually developed hand-in-hand, it doesn’t make sense to revisit older devices every 6 months, especially when that phone didn’t have a large market share to begin with.

There’s a simple fix:

Stop whining. I do apologize for being blunt but we need to take a step back and look at the broad scope of things. We first complained about fragmentation in Android’s early days. OEMs we’re all over the place in Android versioning, there were few if any updates, and support was severely lacking. Now that Google has enforced rules for device certification and moved its proprietary services in a “walled garden” similar to Apple, we complain that it’s not open. The Nexus program has gone from a developer-tool to a fully fledged prime time consumer phone. Google is a company, companies need to make money. Their image is important and in order to keep up with the industry, it has to advance. If you’re concerned about the time frame of support, don’t buy last years model when this year’s has been out for 6 months. (Nexus 6’s are really cheap are great though, especially for the low-prices.) When you bought the phone, you thought it was the greatest thing and it did everything you want it do. Did that somehow change in the new version? Is it worth it to upgrade? Those are the questions you should ask yourself. You can certainly go buy a car, that is “new” but it be a model that’s well over a year old, the trade off is you’ll get a car for cheaper even though next year’s model might have a “killer” feature. Most of the time, you can wait, or if your budget doesn’t allow, just stay N-1 (meaning current revision, minus 1) for awhile. Or simply switch if it means that much to you. Remember, you’re in control of your money and mind, it’s up to you to make informed decisions.

Till next time….