Is a Smart Home a dumb idea? I gave it a try

In the Christmas of 2016 I was bought an Amazon Echo Dot and I very much enjoyed it. I used it mostly to set alarms and play music. A function I had never used is turning the device into a voice controller for your smart home. Smart home technology has been around for a while now but the fact it can now be controlled using purely your voice has taken the convenience and the “geekiness” to the next level. Over the past few weeks I have invested time and money in smart home technology to see what the fuss was really all about.

So what did I to to make my bedroom have a life of its own? I got this bulb, 2 of these WiFi sockets, this diffuser and these smart switches. The way you control these devices is through the “Tuya” app… except the diffuser which uses its own proprietary service. Setting these up is as simple as pairing it to the WiFi and giving it a name.  I set up the smart adaptors on my lamp, desk and fan while the bulb went in the ceiling. To get the full experience I also set up some schedules and some “If This Then That” commands so they would do the work on their own and do things like turn on/off at set times, when my alarm goes off or when I leave the house.

The best aspect of the setup is without a doubt being able to use your voice to turn on/off any Alexa-Enabled devices, while this does make it much easier to make your room into JARVIS from Iron Man, it does also make it much easier to say “Alexa, snooze” to my alarm. Thankfully smart home tech doesn’t just stop at turning on/off lights on command. Schedules, timers, lighting styles and chain reactions can all be configured with little technical knowledge and the right app. Scheduling means that my lights and fan can turn off without me doing anything which is perfect when I am in a rush for work, I set them to turn off 2 mins after I leave and we are good to go.

A normal light will work fine, but have one set colour and one set brightness. The smart bulb I purchased is different, not only can you adjust the brightness by 5% increments but you can also choose form a large variety of colours too including my personal favourite, Aqua Blue.

While the Tuya app holds all the information, settings and acts as a hub, the real magic happens in an app called IFTTT (If This Then That). IFTTT is pretty self-explanatory in what it can do, I have it set up so when my alarm does go off, the light comes on meaning that hitting the snooze is less tempting. I can also both call and change the volume on my phone with Alexa, making it much easier to find. IFTTT can also turn off certain devices when I leave an area, so my lights will always turn off when I leave.

At first I loved this little connected world, but the more and more I used it the more its pitfalls arise. Voice recognition has still got very far to go and I found this out when I would ask for the lamp to be turned on and then music would start playing, or I ask a command and Alexa just says “Thanks”. You still have to make sure your voice is clear, even though 80% of the time it works on the first try. Another issue I’ve had experiences with are connection drops and while there are manual switches on all the plugs, they are not the easiest thing to get to, the fact that turning the ceiling light on and off using the wall switch is also the way you reset the bulb is not the best either.

Dropping connections may be frustrating, but if there is a power cut I am guaranteed to know about it. I sit there all cosy and fast asleep in my bed when all of a sudden this huge flash of light and noise come out of nowhere, I thought I was going to hell but no. It Turns out when there’s a power cut and then the power comes back everything turns itself on regardless of settings. Being asleep and everything going the brightest and loudest setting is not the nicest way to wake up.

The benefits of this system heavily outweigh the drawbacks here. While the bad points still have credit, there are not significant enough to drag me away from this system. As blinding as it was that is the only power cut that I’ve had since living in Cheltenham and the connection doesn’t drop as much if you keep the WiFi on constantly. This technology does not get in the way for me, it helps. I am a very forgetful person so having the lights shut down automatically is great, being able to have the fan turn off halfway through the night helps me save energy and the lights are just plain cool. I’m keeping this set up and will most likely add to it. My experiment paid off and I think this is something I will invest in throughout my adult life.

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