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….

 

 

Deal-Alert! Spigen selling S7/edge cases on the cheap!

phone-module1Thanks to a blog post by AndroidCentral.com, Spigen, through Amazon is selling quite an assortment of cases for your new Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge that you pre-ordered last week. No details on the en d of this promotion, but jump on them while they’re hot! Make sure you’re using the Amazon Prime Listing.

Please use the links below as they will give credit to Android Central.

Instructions: Click the link, add to cart, and upon checkout paste in coupon code:

 

Galaxy S7 Cases:

Galaxy S7 Case, Spigen® [Wallet S] Stand Feature [Black] Premium Wallet Case with STAND Flip Cover for Samsung Galaxy S7 (2016) 

Coupon code: ZKINZUPM

Galaxy S7 Case, Spigen® [Ultra Hybrid] AIR CUSHION [Crystal Clear] Clear back panel + TPU bumper for Samsung Galaxy S7 (2016)

Coupon code: RBUTFXSB
Galaxy S7 Case, Spigen® [Tough Armor] HEAVY DUTY [Gunmetal] EXTREME Protection / Rugged but Slim Dual Layer Protective Case for Samsung Galaxy S7 (2016)

Coupon: ORCII4EV

Galaxy S7 Case, Spigen® [Thin Fit] Exact-Fit [Black] Premium Matte Finish Hard Case for Samsung Galaxy S7 (2016)

Coupon: JGE5QOOD

Galaxy S7 Case, Spigen® [Rugged Armor] Resilient [Black] Ultimate protection from drops and impacts for Samsung Galaxy S7 (2016)

Coupon: CJY5T4UQ

Galaxy S7 Case, Spigen® [Neo Hybrid] PREMIUM BUMPER [Satin Silver] Bumper Style Premium Case Slim Fit Dual Layer Protective Cover for Samsung Galaxy S7 (2016)
*This is the one I chose

Coupon: RBFD7EUJ

Galaxy S7 Case, Spigen® [Neo Hybrid Crystal] PREMIUM BUMPER [Gunmetal] Clear TPU / PC Frame Slim Dual Layer Premium Case for Samsung Galaxy S7 (2016)

Coupon: WLP9ZLDE

Galaxy S7 Case, Spigen® [Liquid Crystal] Ultra-Thin [Crystal Clear] Premium Semi-transparent / Exact Fit / NO Bulkiness Soft Case for Samsung Galaxy S7 (2016)

Coupon: D669P6MG

Galaxy S7 Edge:

 

Galaxy S7 Edge Case, Spigen® [Wallet S] Stand Feature [Black] Premium Wallet Case with STAND Flip Cover for Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge (2016)

Coupon: XW3QR5GY

Galaxy S7 Edge Case, Spigen® [Ultra Hybrid] AIR CUSHION [Crystal Clear] Clear back panel + TPU bumper for Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge (2016

Coupon: 8QNXC223

Galaxy S7 Edge Case, Spigen® [Tough Armor] HEAVY DUTY [Gunmetal] EXTREME Protection / Rugged but Slim Dual Layer Protective Case for Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge (2016)

Coupon: G4NQOG3H

Galaxy S7 Edge Case, Spigen® [Thin Fit] Exact-Fit [Black] Premium Matte Finish Hard Case for Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge (2016)

Coupon: AALT8PIF

Galaxy S7 Edge Case, Spigen® [Thin Fit] Exact-Fit [Black] Premium Matte Finish Hard Case for Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge (2016)

Coupon: OWQ8CMXZ

Galaxy S7 Edge Case, Spigen® [Neo Hybrid Crystal] PREMIUM BUMPER [Gunmetal] Clear TPU / PC Frame Slim Dual Layer Premium Case for Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge (2016)

Coupon: 7X77HYRN

Galaxy S7 Edge Case, Spigen® [Neo Hybrid] PREMIUM BUMPER [Satin Silver] Bumper Style Premium Case Slim Fit Dual Layer Protective Cover for Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge (2016)

Coupon: L3YVFPSO

Galaxy S7 Edge Case, Spigen® [Liquid Crystal] Ultra-Thin [Crystal Clear] Premium Semi-transparent / Exact Fit / NO Bulkiness Soft Case for Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge (2016)

Coupon: 4WLTCE66

Source: AndroidCentral.com

Confirmed: Samsung Galaxy S7/Edge Pre-Orders shipping early

Coming as aphone-module1 surprise so shortly after the announcement of the Samsung Galaxy S7/Edge at Mobile World Congress 2016, certain customers who pre-ordered are receiving shipment notifications and tracking numbers. I myself have even received a notification that the order was ready for UPS pick-up on  Saturday (however, as of 4 AM 3/1/2016 it has not left their facility). While it’s not a big deal, it is certainly a nice surprise to get it a bit early.

After receiving my S7, I’ll be posting my drunk review! Watch me get hammered then unbox the Galaxy S7.