All posts in “Home Automation”

Nest’s video doorbell is now shipping

Back in September of last year, Nest announced its first smart doorbell. When it would actually ship, however, was left sort of up in the air; all the company said at the time was to expect it sometime in Q1 of 2018.

Turns out, that means today. The Nest doorbell — or the Nest Hello, as it’s known — is now shipping for $229.

Nest also mentioned a few other bits of news:

  • The front door lock/touchpad they built in partnership with Yale, also announced back in September of last year, is now shipping
  • They’re now making external, wireless, battery-powered temperature sensors for the Nest Thermostat (previously, the thermostat only really cared about the temperature of whichever room it was in). You can add up to six sensors. One sensor will cost $39, or a three pack goes for $99. The sensor (pictured at the bottom of this post) is a simple white puck, just a bit over an inch wide.

Not unlike the now Amazon-owned Ring, the Hello’s primary purpose is to let you know when someone rings the doorbell, and to let you see and communicate with them by way of the built-in camera/microphone/speaker rig. Out of the box, sans subscriptions, Nest will store the video of who rang your doorbell for 3 hours; if you want to access it beyond that, you’ll need a monthly Nest Aware subscription.

In most cases, hooking up the Hello should be a matter of popping out your old doorbell and wiring up the new one; it pulls its power from the same wiring setup that most doorbells use, and it should play friendly with any in-door chimes you probably already have in place.

Its got a 3-megapixel camera (with infrared night vision) for 1600×1200 video at 30 frames per second, a 160º field of view, and 802.11 a/b/g/n WiFi. Unlike some competitors, it doesn’t have a battery — so you’ll need that aforementioned power line.

With that said, it’s got a few tricks I haven’t seen with others in the space, like a “Quiet time” mode for when you (or, say, your baby) are sleeping. It’ll still buzz your phone, but in-door chimes won’t go ringin’ away. Pre-recorded messages, meanwhile, let you communicate with delivery people and anyone else who might be hanging around your porch during those times when shouting “PLEASE LEAVE THE PACKAGE ON THE PORCH I’LL GRAB IT SHORTLY” might feel a bit weird.

We should have one to check out before too long, so expect a review as soon as we’ve put it through the paces.

Ecobee’s new voice-powered light switch moves closer to whole-home Alexa


Alexa is already everywhere in a lot of homes, thanks to the affordability and ease of installation/setup of the Echo Dot. But Alexa could become even more seamlessly integrated into your home, if you think about it. And Canadian smart home tech maker ecobee did think about it, which is how they came up with the ecobee Switch+.

Ecobee is probably most known for their connected thermostats, which are one of the strongest competitors out there for Nest. The company’s been building other products, too, however, and developing closer ties with Amazon and its Alexa virtual assistant. The Switch+ has the closest ties yet, since it includes Alexa Voice Service and far-field voice detection microphone arrays to essential put an Echo in your wall wherever you have a light switch handy.

The ecobee Switch+ is still a connected light switch that works like similar offerings from Belkin’s Wemo, too, and offers full compatibility with Alexa, HomeKit and Assistant for remote voice control. But it goes a step further with Alexa, acting not only as the connected home smart device, but also the command center, too.

The Switch+ is now available for pre-order from ecobee and select retail partners including, unsurprisingly, Amazon, in both the U.S. and Canada for a retail price of $99 U.S. or $119 Canadian. It should work with most standard light switches, although not 2-way switches where multiple switches control the same light or lights. In-store availability and shipping starts on March 26.

Samsung turns to Harman to further SmartThings development


Harman and Samsung have entered into a strategic association that will have Harman taking up the SmartThings’ standard and carrying it forward against other Internet of Things products. Announced today, Samsung SmartThings R&D team and HARMAN Connected Services (HCS), a division of HARMAN International, will collaborate on the platform with HCS developing and supporting the SmartThings applications and device development.

Samsung purchased early Internet of Things darling SmartThings in 2014 for around $200 million. Since then Samsung has slowly expanded the product line and worked the services into several Samsung product. Yet from an outside vantage point, SmartThings has been treading water.

Harman, also a Samsung company, will take on key SmartThings development tasks including with developing and deploying the SmartThings app, work third party sensors into the SmartThings ecosystem, develop SmartThings Cloud and develop the SmartThings roadmap.

SmartThings launched as one of the early companies that offered a complete, turnkey Internet of Things ecosystem. The company raised a $3 million seed round in 2012 and demoed its wears at CES 2013 by retrofitting a rented house in Vegas. Samsung purchased the company in 2014 when the IoT wars were heating up. Since then, SmartThings has largely been left behind as Alexa and Google Home have grown in popularity. It will now be up to Harman to make SmartThings live up to its early promises.

Philips releases outdoor connected Hue lighting


Philips Hue products are going outside. Available for purchase this summer in the U.S., the lighting company has a range of new outdoor lighting products extending the world of Internet of Things to the great outdoors.

These products mark an important change for the Internet of Things world. As WiFi range and consumer demand increases, products such as these will become more available. Soon, consumers will expect to talk to products outdoors as they would indoors. I do. Last summer, I retrofitted an Echo Dot for outdoor use and connected it to a small amp that powers some outdoor speakers. It made weeding the garden a lot more enjoyable.

Like their indoor counterparts, these Hue products are a tad on the pricey side but offer a range of features not available on traditional lighting products. Once connected to a standard Philips Hue hub, the lights can be controlled through the Hue app or a voice assistant.

The new line includes a standard, weather-resistant bulb for $29.99, wall mounted lights starting at $49 and several color changing models, too. The spotlight Philips Hue Lily costs $270 and comes with three lights, while the Calla is $129 and is designed to illuminate pathways — both have access to 16 million different colors.

The Ring Floodlight Cam is an outdoor security slam dunk

A good home security camera is easy to install while offering surprising peace of mind. The Ring Floodlight Cam, $249 and available now, offers both.

The camera mounts where your old floodlight would have been – if you have a standard outdoor electrical box it will connect right into your current setup and it even worked with my older “pancake” style electric box – and it connects to your network via Wi-Fi. It works flawlessly right out of the box and all you have to remember is to not turn off the light switch (thankfully they include a sticker for your switch). Once it’s set up you can make the cam react to motion and light up when it senses an intruder nearby or simply stay on all night, maintaining vigil over your car or fruit trees. It also includes a night vision mode that keeps an eye on things even in the dark.

The system will send notifications when it senses motion and a $30/year monitoring plan will keep video for up to 60 days. The video, as you can see below, is good enough to make out motion and possibly identify people but it doesn’t quite offer enough resolution to read a license plate a few feet away.


Finally, like other Ring devices, you can speak to folks who are approaching the light through the app and even set off a siren that, while loud, will probably get swallowed in the sea of city noise. It is, however, nice to know it’s there.

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After using a number of these cameras, including the Netatmo Presence, I’m pleased with the durability of the Ring Cam. While it doesn’t have Netatmo’s sci-fi styling, the floodlight looks just like what it purports to be: a big light for dark places. Further, because there is no internal SD card the Ring is completely watertight, an issue that came up when I was running the Presence.

Ring did everything right. Unlike other camera solutions that are either standalone or must be installed into new construction, the Floodlight Cam is backwards compatible and very well made. The entire system installed quickly and works flawlessly (so far) although time will tell if it can survive Brooklyn rainstorms.

If you’re in the market for a floodlight and high design isn’t a concern this is the way to go.