The smart home is gaining ground, but it's still a muddle of confusing standards, competing platforms, and gadgets that don't do what you might expect. But the promise of products that can make your life a little easier is hard to resist, so I'm here to answer the inevitable questions that arise.
Whether it's figuring out the best connected door lock to assembling the right recipe to wake you up with a faux sunrise at the optimal moment based on your fitness tracker's data, I've got you covered. As the host of The Internet of Things Podcast, I install a lot of gear and spend hours testing hardware and software to see what works. Smart homes are still pretty dumb, but I want to help you feel smart.
If you have smart home questions you'd like me to answer, send an email to email@example.com.
Q: I really like some of the Aeotec sensors. I think their design is ahead of the rest. Specifically, the recessed door sensors and the Mini 6 Sensor that monitors light, temperature, humidity, UV, and motion. It is recessed into the ceiling, aka clean lines. It says it is Z-wave, but I can't tell if it will work with Wink. Do you have any experience with these?
A: Mark, as a minimalist, I'm all for your love of clean lines, but thanks to the winking, blinking cluster of gadgets around the house, I have given up on that dream. And when it comes to the two Aeotec sensors, you're going to have to give up the idea of them working with the Wink, too. While the Wink hub does support the Z-wave radio inside the Aeotec Multi Sensor 6, it won't support all of the sensors. This requires the Wink folks to add some software to the Wink platform, which according to the Aeotec site, it hasn't done.
The story is the same for the recessed door sensor.
What I can tell you is not to lose hope. You can ask Wink to support it, because Aeotec does work with platform vendors. A Wink spokesman says it plans an update in the fall time frame that will enable the hub to work with all Z-wave sensors, so you can wait.
Or you can go to Aeotec's site and check out all of the other hubs that will work with that sensor. They include SmartThings, the Vera hub, and even openHAB if you want to get all crazy and build your own hub. I'm going to recommend using SmartThings as it functions closest to the Wink and even has processing on the device, so some commands will work when the Internet goes down. SmartThings has had a rough time, but it's actually improved its reliability a lot in the last month or so.
Q: I sort of know the answer to this, but can you use a Nest Cam as a baby monitor? Why or why not?
A: Laura, there is a relatively large segment of people who rely on their Nest Cam as a baby monitor, but I think it's a pricey way to go, and isn't the most reliable solution. Of course, for a short period of time my baby slept in my closet, so I am not qualified in offering parenting advice.
Let's start with the cons of this arrangement. First up, the Nest camera isn't going to share your baby's status if the Internet or the Nest service goes out. So if you can't hear your baby cry in their room, this may not be the best solution. The second con is that you will undoubtedly fall in love with some of the pictures of your baby sleeping or laughing or gumming their pacifier and want to keep it for all of eternity. But for that, you have to pay for Nest Aware, which starts at $10 a month for a 10-day video history.
I asked folks on Twitter when they ditched their baby monitor, and my (unscientific results) showed that a third kept theirs between a year to two years. If you fall into that category, you'll be paying between $120 and $240 in cloud-hosting fees at $10 a month to have access to those precious files. The last negative is pretty specific to video cameras, but is worth asking yourself. Kids have a right to privacy, too, but as a parent it can be hard to give up the ability to watch them figure out the world as they grow up. (If you want to try it out on the Nest Cam, here's how.)
But it's not all bad. If reliability isn't a big concern and you are fine paying the cost of the camera and the cloud-storage fees (or don't want them), then this is a baby monitor that could get repurposed easily into a regular security camera once the baby gets older. There is also the size of the Nest ecosystem to consider. The Works with Nest program enables some fun integrations that might be worth adding, such as the ability to turn on lights made by Philips Hue or LIFX after a specific event, such as motion or sound detection.
But if you want to monitor your baby and use some new-fangled tech to do it, there are other options. Mimo doesn't have a video component (it does work with Nest, though), but this sensor attached to a onesie measures a baby's temperature, breathing, and sounds for $199. It is expensive but offers parents the promise of data. Plus, if the Internet goes out, it will still sound an alarm.
Or, for a rich $249 you can purchase the Owlet connected sock and baby monitor for your baby. It will work if the Internet is down (although you won't be able to use the app). Frankly, I'm betting a more traditional baby monitor at $100 for a video-enabled one or sub-$50 for a radio-only model will be fine.