These 7 gadgets mean my home is now quite possibly smarter than I am

In association with Smart Home Week

Smart Home Week

According to research for Smart Home Week, (which is this week), nearly a third of homes now have at least one smart technology.

Are you one of them?

To be honest I was surprised it wasn’t higher, as I’ve been feeling a little bit left behind lately, like everyone had a Google Assistant or a smart lightbulb apart from me. I would make lists in silence on scraps of paper with a pencil I found on top of the fridge and feel like a right chump.

Not any more though. Now I have so much smart home technology that I suspect my various devices could potentially team up and beat me in a game of Trivial Pursuit.

The research also highlighted however that 47% of us find smart technology overwhelming and honestly, I feel your pain. When these smart home products started arriving for me to test, I was SCARED. I would open the boxes and stare at the cables and feel a genuine sense of utter bemusement. I wrote a little bit about it here.

What I quickly discovered though is that the whole thing is really not as scary at it first seems. In fact, the beauty of smart technology is just that – it’s SMART. Often it’s just a case of switching something on and letting it set up ITSELF, but in every case instructions were simple, clear and intuitive.

To help you feel more comfortable with things and to encourage you to think about adding some smart technology to your home, I’m going to give you a quick run down of the seven new products that we’ve added to our home this month. Each is just an overview as they can all do loads of fancy stuff, but if you have any specific questions about set up or how they work then please leave a comment and I will do my best to help.

Okay, here goes…

Ring video doorbell

I’m going to start with this one as this is something that Belle has wanted for a LONG time. I’m not sure what it is about it, I think it reminds her of the good old days when she used to watch MI HIGH and spend her pocket money on spy glasses to help you see behind yourself.

I feel like all of the smart home technologies have this element of ‘I’m a spy’ about them, (because I am old), but the Ring video doorbell is probably the product for me that most solves an actual problem. Where everything else is really fun or useful or saves me time or money, the Ring doorbell means I no longer have to worry about missing parcels while I’m at work. I can literally answer the door from my desk, via my phone. We also have ours connected to a Ring Chime Pro, which can tell you when someone has rung your bell as well as when motion has been detected.

The postman was a bit confused the first time I spoke to him seemingly from nowhere, but I think he liked it. ‘Just leave the parcel behind the bin at the side of the house please!’

‘Okay,’ he said, ‘but don’t forget!’

He knows me so well.

The Ring video doorbell is great from a security point of view too as it allows you to see who is at your door before you answer it. It doesn’t even need to be your own doorbell. If you had an elderly relative living alone for example, you could have it set up to notify your phone when their doorbell rang, and you could check in on who was calling.

(Note: the caller can’t see you, even though you can see them, so if you’re just upstairs and can’t be bothered to get out of bed then they won’t know.)

Ring video doorbell

tadoo smart heating

In terms of set up, this was the one I was most nervous about, but it turned out to be the most satisfying. There is a little more involved as you’ll probably have to rewire your thermostat, but the tadostep by step instructions for this were spot on and afterwards I felt like a superhero. I don’t know what it is about wiring, but it made me feel properly powerful.

The individual radiator thermostats were dead simple – just unscrew the old ones and screw in the new ones. With the individual radiator thermostats you can set different schedules for different rooms, so you can do things like keep bedrooms cooler, or focus heat on the living room in the evenings.

Once set-up I’d say that tadois the smart product that I’ve thought least about. I used the app to set schedules and basically let it get on with it, which is how I feel smart technology SHOULD work – I want smart gadgets to give me less to think about, and tadodoes that.

tadoo also uses your phone’s location to save you money on your heating. When it sees that you’re not at home it turns the heating down, only bringing it back on when it can tell you’re coming back. I’m sure this is going to save me money as during the winter I tend to have my heating on pretty much all of the time, even when I’m not there. It has an ‘open window detector’ too, so you’re not heating rooms up just to have all the heat disappear.

tado heating

tadoo is so confident in its technology in fact that it has a 12-month energy savings guarantee, including a guaranteed refund if your energy bills don’t go down.

All very clever. Definitely a good one to try if you want to dip your toe into low maintenance smart home technology and save money at the same time.

tado heating

Philips Hue lightbulbs

Now these are just SUPER FUN. Dead easy to set up – just screw them in in place of your existing bulbs and let the app find them for you. Change the colour, change the brightness, create a themed scene in a room with multiple bulbs – the Philips Hue app has it all going on.

Smart lightbulbs are a brilliant example of a smart technology that does way more than you ever imagined it would be able to, and you only have to have a look at the Philips Hue Lab to see that. They have ‘formulas’ for all kinds of cool things, from using your Philips Hue bulbs as a cooking timer, to connecting them with a motion sensor and having a light switch on gently in your room if it detects a child has got up in the night.

Philips Hue lightbulbs

This automation has a lamp come on in the living room when I get home if it’s after dark

Connect them up with IFTTT or with a choice of dozens of different apps and you can have your bulbs create a disco synced to your favourite Spotify tunes, recreate a thunderstorm in your bedroom or even play a game of Twister. (An actual thing.)

Security wise they’re really useful too as you can set up automations for while you’re away that mimic your presence and switch lights on and off randomly through the day. Control them from your phone from anywhere, or with your voice via Apple HomeKit, Amazon Alexa or Google Home.

Here’s a thunderstorm in action:

Yale Conexis L1 Smart Door Lock

How cool would it be never to have to worry about losing your front door key? Or never having to pay to have new keys cut when you need someone to come over and feed the cats?

The Yale Conexis L1 Smart Door Lock replaces your regular key with the option of either using a tag attached to your keyring, a card, (so you can pretend you’re about to stay at a swanky hotel), or a virtual key on your phone. It also allows you to share virtual keys with anyone who might need access to your house, either permanently or for a specified period. You can collect other people’s keys too on your virtual keyring.

Yale Conexis L1 smart lock

Security doesn’t need to be an issue either, as you get notifications any time somebody uses one of your mobile keys so you can keep track of who is coming or going, plus access can be revoked on any key instantly, should you change your mind.

(Note: it is worth checking which lock is best suited to your door, especially if it’s an older one.)

Yale Smart Home Alarm

I’ve never had a home alarm before. There is something about owning your own house for the first time though that suddenly makes you feel a whole lot more grown up about things like security, and so I was interested to see exactly how easy the Yale alarm system was to set up – I imagined lots of complicated wires and things having to be aligned.

It wasn’t like that.

The Yale Smart Home Alarm system is one of those smart home gadgets that pretty much does all of the work for you. You set up the hub and download the Yale Home app, and then the various cameras and door sensors all find each other, introduce themselves, and off they go.

I think one of the other reasons I’ve been put off alarm systems in the past is a fear of panicking and forgetting the code. This sounds silly but I have done it in offices before. (I have a BAD memory). With the Yale system though, although you do have a key pad as a back up, you can arm and disarm the system totally from your phone, just by swiping up and down.

There’s also the option to ‘part arm’ the house, so just the downstairs is covered overnight while you’re in bed. You can also easily check in on all the sensors through the app, and get notifications if the alarm is triggered.

One you have the Yale Home app for your alarm, you can also connect your lock, which means all your Yale security things are in one place.

Samsung SmartThings

If you find yourself getting to like the whole ‘smart home’ thing and are beginning to wonder just how many more apps your phone can handle, then Samsung SmartThings is for you.

Samsung SmartThings connects primarily to a whole range of Samsung smart products, from robot vacuum cleaners to washing machines. The starter pack also comes with a whole range of gadgets like motion sensors and trackers that you set to do all kinds of things, from switching on plugs remotely to telling you if your dog has wandered out of the back garden.

Samsung SmartThings

Samsung SmartThings

It also connects to voice activated home systems like Google Home and to several of the products I’ve been testing – my Philips Hue lightbulbs, the Ring doorbell and my Yale lock. With some products it’s simply a case of bringing things together in one place to make monitoring and using them easier to manage, but with others the connection to Samsung SmartThings enables features that you wouldn’t get directly through the product’s own app.

The Conexis L1 lock for example works brilliantly, but the smart aspect of it comes into its own when you connect it to Samsung SmartThings. (You need the Z Wave module in the lock for this.) Integrating it with SmartThings opens up lots of extra features, including the ability to unlock your door from anywhere in the world.

(Opens up? Door lock? See what I did there?)

Yup. Just one tap on your phone could unlock your front door.

Samsung SmartThings

So imagine this – you’re expecting a delivery but they’ve given you one of those annoying ‘any time between 7am and 8pm slots’. No more staying at home all day for you! You’ll get a notification on your phone when the doorbell rings via your Ring video doorbell. You answer it, and can see the delivery person. You can even ask them to hold ID up to the camera if you want to. You open the SmartThings app and unlock the door for them. They deliver your new sofa or juggling firesticks or whatever it is, lift up the door handle to lock it behind them and tada! You’re done. You can check that the door is locked on your phone and everyone’s a winner.

And finally, Google Home

This is basically now Belle’s best friend.

I think I must have been feeling a bit soft the day this arrived, (me every day), and somehow it has ended up in Belle’s bedroom, but I don’t really mind as it gives her someone to boss around that isn’t me. I hear her in there in the evenings – ‘Okay Google, what noise does a panda make? Okay Google, play Bodak Yellow by Cardi B and turn the volume up three notches.’

Our Google Assistant was super easy to set up.

When it arrived, Belle was keen to get started. ‘Can you help me set it up later?’ she asked, eyeing the box greedily.

‘I can help you now,’ I said. ‘Open the box and plug it in.’

And that was pretty much it. She just starts chatting away and telling you what to do. (Google, not Belle. Although that too.)

The great thing about Google Home of course is that you can connect it to your other smart devices and control them with your voice. ‘Okay Google, turn my main light to blue and my lamp to pink,’ Belle could say. ‘And then turn my heating up.’ So long as I bring her bags of popcorn at regular intervals she hardly has a reason now to leave her bed.

Oh, and you can get it to sing to you:

The state of things to come

All of these technologies are things that I could only have dreamt about growing up, so the mind boggles as to how our homes might look in another ten or twenty years from now.

According to futurist Tom Cheesewright, it’s going to be all about personalised automation. 

“For the most part, things will just happen around you automatically,’ says Tom, ‘through a combination of your biometrics and possession of your devices. As you come home from work, your home knows you’re approaching. The temperature is set appropriately, it knows your emotional state, it knows how hungry you are and when you last ate, it knows what your plans for the evening are, it knows what TV shows you like and whether new episodes have been released.’

‘It will even know what you’ve got in the fridge,’ says Tom, ‘and will suggest recipes based on your ingredients, perhaps even switching on the oven to pre-heat it for you.’

It sounds like science fiction, but it’s potentially not that far away.

As soon as there’s a technology that will go as far as cooking my dinner and washing up then count me in.

You can find out more about the individual products by clicking on the titles, or pick them up at retailers such as Amazon, ebay, Argos and B&Q. See what’s been happening on social media by following the hashtag #SmartHomeWeek

Google Home review

Sponsored post

5 Comments

  1. 25 May, 2018 / 8:25 am

    I do love myself a bit of tech! We have the doorbell, lightbulbs, smart plugs & Echo’s. Next I want smart heating & definitely the Yale locks which sound perfect with teens who don’t take their keys anywhere!

    • Jo Middleton
      Author
      25 May, 2018 / 11:25 am

      Yes! The lock would be very handy for forgotten keys because they could just call you and you could unlock it remotely! Weirdly though Belle sees the key tag in a totally different way to the key – she has it attached to her phone and so never forgets it, even though she was always forgetting her actual key.

      • 25 May, 2018 / 1:16 pm

        that’s because #phonesarelife haha

  2. 25 May, 2018 / 2:37 pm

    I love the idea of smart stuff in my home, we have had a NEST – something that controls the heating – for ages. Our only problem is that because we have a large house the wifi doesn’t reach everywhere so nothing works very well. I wish it did!

  3. 27 May, 2018 / 4:20 pm

    Love my Amazon Echo, but not so many home appliances to to her yet without my help ;-) though I strongly believe the smart home revolution gonna be huge trend for coming years,

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