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 protected]
I installed a Wink Relay and love it, though I had to get an electrician to pull a neutral wire to install it. I use it to let my family control the lights from the switch or the Amazon Echo, but I have a new problem. I automated all of the lights in the kitchen/family room except the main kitchen lights, and to turn those off you have to walk across the room. The kitchen light is a fluorescent light and the switch controlling it doesn't have a neutral wire.
So I searched for a ZigBee switch, but they all required a neutral wire, and I did not want to have the electrician back. So I found a Lutron switch that did not require a neutral wire and works with Wink, but I would need to add a Wink hub. So it will be over $100 for the switch and a separate hub to control it. Do you think this is the best solution?
I get that you don't want an electrician to come out, but the lack of a neutral wire will make many of your switch-automation dreams end in sadness. Or an electrician. Before you despair, there are switches that work without a neutral wire, but they will require a hub to talk to your Amazon Echo (That's because the Wink Relay you currently have only "speaks" in ZigBee.) I am unaware of any ZigBee-based switches that don't require a hub that doesn't need a neutral wire. (Please let me know if you find one!)
But you have a second problem with that fluorescent light bulb. Almost all of the supported options that don't require a neutral wire use a proprietary protocol; they're also dimmers as opposed to switches that will turn a light on or off. When you combine a dimmer with non-dimming lights, you get a flicker or a hum from the switch at best and could damage your wiring at worst. So I'm going to recommend you swap the light out with a dimming CFL or even an LED if you can find the right swap at a lighting store.
Then you have some options. I believe Insteon has a switch that works without a neutral wire, but then you'd need an Insteon hub, which sounds like what you are trying to avoid. If you didn't want a Wink hub, you could also connect the Lutron switch and Alexa using the Lutron hub for $150. The Lutron Smart Bridge would then link your switch to If This Then That and Apple's HomeKit. Any of the Wi-Fi switches I've encountered such as Plum, WeMo, or the Relay need a neutral wire.
So then you're likely asking about Lutron. I personally love Lutron switches. I have several around my home and will likely pick up more. But for now, Wink only supports the dimmers, which isn't going to help if you keep the fluorescent bulb.
Also, since I haven't played with the Relay and the hub, I'm not aware of weird interactions in trying to program them, which would be my big concern. For example, you can only link your Lutron switches to one device, which would be the Wink hub. I assume the Relay will let you pull in the kitchen group from the Wink, but even if it doesn't you will still be able to bring all of your rooms together using the Echo. I currently have a Lutron switch (dining room), Hue lights (living room) and a mix of Osram and GE bulbs (Kitchen) all as one setting called "Downstairs" on the Echo. The only downside is I have to regroup everything every time I swap out bulbs and rediscover devices with the Echo.
So for you, the best bet would be to dump the fluorescent for a CFL or LED, and focus on Lutron. It's not a 100 percent guaranteed solution, but others have had luck with it. Lutron also has amazing customer support, which is great when you're trying something a little off the books.
I kind of want an Amazon Echo, but it has been out for a while, and I am wondering if I should wait for a newer, improved model?
After I installed my second generation Nest, I lived in fear for the eventual upgrade that would cause me such feature envy that I would spend another $250 on a thermostat. Luckily the giant clock face on the third-generation Nest didn't pique my interest. But new hardware and features are a fact of life in the device business, and when you expect something to live in your home for a decade, you just have to roll with not having the latest model.
Making this calculation difficult is that no one really knows what the Amazon Echo's expected life should be. Bluetooth speakers can last for a while (I have a 5-year-old Jambox going strong).
The good news is that the Echo's physical hardware is a relatively powerful ARM-based processor inside a speaker packed with seven microphones. While the processor might get an upgrade, it's not terribly consequential given that most of the intelligence of the device is generated from Amazon's cloud. Charlie Kindel, director Alexa Home Services at Amazon, told me on a podcast earlier this year, that the device was engineered to have a very long life cycle. "The device does very little, and that was a very intentional design to make sure the customer's investment in the product would last for a long time," he said.
We also have already seen some of the ways that Amazon plans to update the Echo with the creation of the Echo Dot and the Echo Tap. These two devices have different features than the original Echo, but feel like a way that a user might "upgrade" the device in a home setting without diminishing the value of the original Echo.
So I'd say buy it. With the news that the Echo will soon control Sonos Internet-connected speakers, the Echo keeps getting better and better. If multi-cast music playing across different rooms is important to you and you don't have Sonos speakers, though, you may want to wait for the Google Home device. We don't know much about it now, but the rumor mill suggests we'll learn more on Oct. 4.