Best smart home system

 

Updated July 18, 2017 to include our review of the Home8 Video-Verified Home Security Alarm System. From smart light bulbs and thermostats that think for themselves to  Bluetooth door locks, wireless security cameras, and all manner of sensors, today’s home technology can sound awfully sophisticated while actually being a messy hodgepodge of gizmos and apps. Whether you call it home automation or the connected home, installing all this stuff in your house is one thing. Getting it to work together smoothly and with a single user interface can be something entirely different.

Here’s the essential gear to get you there, which we’ve separated into two categories: all-around smart home systems, which are designed to coordinate a wide variety of smart home products, and security-focused systems, which are built around sensors and sirens. You should also note that some of our picks are starter kits, consisting of a smart-home hub and a handful of devices, while others are just the hub. You’ll need to add the components you want to the latter, choosing from products certified by the hub manufacturer.

 smart home hub lead art

For breadth and depth of supported smart home products, you won’t find a smart home system that handles more than Samsung SmartThings. At its core is a small square box that plugs into your router (and Samsung’s Connect Home will soon eliminate that requirement by integrated a mesh router with a SmartThings hub). Through the SmartThings mobile app, you then start adding your various devices through its simple yet intuitive control system. These can be sensors or light bulbs that Samsung sells directly, or (more likely) you can choose from a vast number of products that boast “Works with SmartThings” compatibility.

Seemingly every major category is covered, including the Amazon Echo and Google Home, numerous major smart lighting products (including Philips and Sylvania gear), the Ring Video Doorbell, and a full 20 smart door locks. SmartThings can also integrate with your Samsung smart appliances—even the vacuum cleaner. If there’s a gap in SmartThings’ coverage, it’s a lack of (official) support for Nest products and relatively weak support for third-party security cameras (although third-party support code is often available if you’re willing to tinker). Otherwise it’s hard to find a smart market that SmartThings doesn’t play in.

 

Amazon Dash Wand review: A home shopping device made for a not-too-distant future

 

Amazon will sell you groceries, one way or another. Case in point: The day before it announced plans to buy Whole Foods for a cool $13.7 billion, it released Amazon Dash Wand, a small Alexa-powered gadget that will likely be just as integral to the company’s produce push.amazon dash wand button

Amazon’s new scanning stick is Jeff Bezos’s latest attempt to link the virtual world with the physical one. But even though it’s not Amazon’s first shot at a home shopping assistant, it’s definitely the first fully formed one. Combining the ease of a Dash button with the versatility of the relatively unknown Dash scanner and the smarts of an Echo, Dash Wand could be the thing that finally streamlines the way we buy groceries, and eliminates checkout lines, empty refrigerators, and even trips to the store. But that’s going to take a while.

For today, Dash Wand has too many quirks and shortcomings to be considered a threat to your local supermarket. While it’s cheap enough to be an impulse buy, it probably won’t do much to enhance your existing Amazon-Alexa experience, at least not yet.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

  • Dash drawbacks
  • Simple scanning
  • Alexa lite
  • A marathon, not a Dash

Dash drawbacks

Amazon’s wand is basically Dash 2.0. Like the company’s first bar-code scanner, which was limited to Amazon Fresh customers, the 6-inch stick has a rubberized loop at the top for hanging purposes, but this time around it’s also magnetic. Unlike the Echo, the Dash Wand needs to be within reach—keeping it in a drawer will severely cut down on its use and usefulness—and its refrigerator-friendly design is definitely one of its best qualities.

amazon dash wand batteriesChristopher Hebert/IDG
Dash Wand’s releiance on AA batteries cuts down on Alexa’s usefulness.

Even with Alexa built in, Dash Wand is very much an active device, in that it doesn’t respond to a wake word. Like the Echo Tap and the Alexa Voice Remote for Fire TV, you need to press the button to activate it, a consequence of Dash Wand being powered by a pair of AA batteries. Amazon kindly includes a set in the box, but with Wi-Fi, a bar-code scanner, and an AI assistant, I have to assume it will burn through them pretty quickly.

While your Dash Wand will likely live on your refrigerator, for most customers, what’s inside the icebox is off-limits. Unless you live in one of the areas served by Amazon Fresh—currently limited to the Seattle, Northern California, Southern California, New York, and Philadelphia areas—produce and other perishables won’t be added to your Amazon cart when you scan them.

amazon dash wand scannerChristopher Hebert/IDG
The bottom of Dash Wand contains a laser bar-code scanner.

That’s a deficiency that’s likely to be corrected within a year or two, once the fruits of Amazon’s Whole Foods purchase begin to be realized. It might have been a coincidence that Dash Wand was released the day before the announcement of Amazon’s Whole Foods purchase, but the Dash Wand is clearly built for a grocery store. It’s not hard to imagine a day when you can scan some items and have them show up within an hour, or even take your wand to your local Whole Foods store to do your own scanning.

Simple scanning

As far as the other items in your house, Dash Wand will work pretty well, eventually. My wand struggled to read bar codes the first time around, but after a reset it performed much better. Thankfully, the setup process is a snap, requiring little more than signing into your account and typing in your Wi-Fi password, both of which are done via the iOS or Android app. (Note that the Dash Wand works with 2.4GHz networks only.)

amazon dash wand scanChristopher Hebert/IDG
Scanning items with your Dash Wand is as easy as it as at a grocery store.

To use it, you need only press its button and the bottom bar-code scanner springs to life, ready to read whatever’s placed in front of it. It struggled occasionally with bar codes that were curved and some itemsds didn’t show up at all, but for the most part it worked as well as a department store price checker kiosk. I tested a variety of items, from salad dressing to soda to a Sonos Play:1 speaker, and the wand dutifully added them to my cart, though when head over to the app or site to check out, make sure to pay attention to what’s inside it.

If Amazon doesn’t sell the exact item in question (which happens more than you think), it will offer an alternative. For example, when I scanned a can of Goya Red Kidney Beans, it offered an 8-pack or a bag of dry beans instead. This is fine, but you’ll need to pay close attention to the cost. Amazon often suggested items that were priced outrageously high. In the case of the red beans, the price for a case of eight cans was $19.59, a surcharge of 150 percent over the average supermarket price of $0.99 a can.

 

VeraPlus Advanced Home Controller review: This expensive hub fails to deliver

 

Samsung SmartThings, Wink, and to a lesser degree, Iris by Lowe’s. Vera Control, Ltd. seems to be targeting the hardest of the hard-core enthusiast, boasting that its VeraPlus Advanced Home Controller is certified to work with more than 1700 smart devices. But I had trouble getting two of the three products they sent along with the VeraPlus to work at all. Installing the VeraPlus itself wasn’t a cakewalk either.

As with many smart home hubs, the VeraPlus connects to your router via an ethernet cable. Once you’ve done that, you’re walked through a setup routine—either via a web interface or a downloadable app. I performed the initial setup over the web, but used both approaches to set up sensors and smart devices. The trouble started on the first screen, as the setup routine was unable to auto-discover my new VeraPlus unit.

Instructions told me to type in serial numbers and MAC addresses printed on the bottom of the device, after which I was able to proceed. Again, setup was tedious and a little arcane (this is the first time I can recall having to type out “California” in a setup field), with multiple validation emails/text messages and the ever-popular firmware update—in this case, two of them. That process oddly erased about half of my account information, placing me in Alabama but also the time zone for American Samoa.

Veraplus error message

Christopher Null/IDG

If you don’t understand what it means to “exclude” and “include again” a Z-Wave node, the VeraPlus isn’t the right smart-home hub for you (and it might not be even if you do).

I put it all behind me, because now it was time to set up some devices to work with the VeraPlus. The hub supports all the important smart-home protocols—802.11ac Wi-Fi, Z-Wave Plus, ZigBee, Bluetooth LE, and even Insteon—and with a universe of 1700 certified devices, you shouldn’t have trouble finding popular brands, right? Yeah, not so much. Honeywell’s Lyric and all Nest thermostats are supported, but First Alert is the only certified smoke/carbon-monoxide detector you’re likely to recognize.

You can connect a Philips Hue bridge for lighting control, but many other popular smart bulbs—LIFX, Cree, and TP-Link—aren’t listed as being certified. Prefer in-wall controls? GoControl is well represented, but not Leviton or even GE Jasco (only that company’s plug-in modules are listed). There’s a Z-Wave doorbell—and dozens of sensors—from Aeotec, but the Ring Video Doorbell isn’t listed. You’ll see lots of Samsung smart appliances, but no other brand is represented.

 

 

The new G6 from LG is a really good Android phone in its own right, but if you were on the fence, T-Mobile and LG have a pair of offers that you might find too good to refuse. Starting with T-Mobile, the spunky “uncarrier,” as it likes to call itself, is offering the LG 6 for $20 per month for 24 months, plus a $20 down payment. That breaks down to $500, versus the phone’s $650 MSRP.

So right off the bat you’re set to save $150 on the G6. To sweeten the pot, T-Mobile is throwing in a free LG G Pad X 8.0 tablet, which it normally sells for $240 ($10 per month for 24 months). Tablets are not as popular as they once were, but it is still a nice inclusion at no extra cost. If nothing else, you could gift it to a friend or family member, or hawk the thing on eBay or Craigslist.

On top of the discount and free tablet, LG is running a separate promotion in which G6 buyers can claim a free Google Home smart speaker. That’s another $129 value. If you’re keeping count, that is $150 saved on the phone itself, a $240 tablet, and a $129 smart speaker for a grand total of $519 in saved money and free goodies combined.

LG G6

The pot gets even sweeter if you’re into mobile gaming. Yet another promotion tied to LG’s latest flagship phone is its LG G6 Game Collection offer. Through that promo, you can get up to $200 towards in-app game credits on Google Play. The total value of the deal depends on which games interest you. For example, LG offers a “Vault of Coins” for Temple Run 2 and a “Nice Pile of SimCash” for SimCity BuildIt, to name two examples. You can check out the rest of the in-app offers here.

We’re not quite as enthralled with the G6 as we are Samsung’s Galaxy S8 and S8+ handsets. However, the reduced cost and free goodies combine to make a strong argument in favor of the G6. As a refresher, the G6 wields a gorgeous 5.7-inch QHD+ IPS display powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 SoC and 4GB of RAM. It also has 32GB of built-in storage (expandable via microSD), 5MP front camera, 13MP rear camera, a bevy of sensors, and a 3,300 mAh non-removable battery with Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0 support.

 

iPhone 8 Design Leaked, Nokia 9 Specifications Revealed, Xiaomi India Mi Home Sales, and More: Your 360 Daily

 

HIGHLIGHTS

  • iPhone 8, iPhone 7s Plus, iPhone 7s design leaked
  • Nokia 9 flagship phone’s specifications, design revealed
  • Xiaomi India rakes in Rs. 5 crores in 12 hours via Mi Home

The iPhone 8 rumour mill is in full swing, even though we are at least five months away from the launch. The latest leak suggests that Apple will launch three new iPhones, The latest leak suggests the iPhone 8 will sport a vertical dual camera unit, while the iPhone 7s Plus will continue to have the horizontal dual camera setup; on the other hand, the iPhone 7s will be stuck with the single-camera module, according to the leaked moulds. The expected price of the iPhone 8 is over $1,000 (roughly Rs. 65,000) and that could explain why Apple may try to change things around and sell three iPhones instead of one. Whether you believe these rumours or not, there’s no smoke without fire so it is likely that Apple may change things around this year.

Here’s what else made news in the world of technology.

Nokia 9 spotted in leaked images
Nokia is far from done with smartphones. The company already has Nokia 3310 in the market, and Nokia 3, Nokia 5, and Nokia 6 are expected to launch soon. Now the company may be planning to launch another smartphone called the Nokia 9. This new Nokia 9 leak shows live images of the smartphone, showing dual camera setup, USB Type-C port, 3.5mm earphone jack, and antenna lines. Other Nokia 9 specifications leaked in the images include a 5.3-inch display QHD display, Snapdragon 835 processor, 4GB RAM, and Android 7.1.1 out of the box; notably the leak does not rule out a 6GB RAM variant of the phone.

Xiaomi’s first store in India’s a hit
Xiaomi recently launched the Mi Home offline store in Bengaluru and it’s no surprise that the store is already a big hit. The company announced that the Mi Home store raked in Rs. 5 crores in revenue in the first 12 hours of opening. That’s great news for the largely online-only brand in India, and hopefully for people who want to buy its products – there will be more options now. The figure was largely attributed to sales of Redmi 4, Redmi 4A, and Redmi Note 4, along with Xiaomi audio accessories, Mi VR Play, Mi Router 3C, Mi Band 2, and Mi Air Purifier 2iPhone 8 Design Leaked, Nokia 9 Specifications Revealed, Xiaomi India Mi Home Sales, and More: Your 360 Daily

Tesla Model 3 India launch delayed?
The Tesla Model 3 is the company’s most affordable electric car but it may not come to India anytime soon. Even though Tesla CEO Elon Musk had hoped to launch the Tesla Model 3 electric car in India in 2017, it appears that the plan may not work out. The Tesla CEO tweeted, “Maybe I’m misinformed, but I was told that 30 percent of parts must be locally sourced and the supply doesn’t yet exist in India to support that.” If you were hoping to buy it soon, then prepare to revise your expectations.
Tejas Express with Wi-Fi sets off on first journey
Tejas Express has become the fastest train in India at a top speed of 200kmph, faster than the Shatabdi Express, but that’s not the only interesting feature of the train. It will have Wi-Fi, an infotainment system, LED TVs, among other things. The doors of this train are centrally controlled as well. We’ve got a full list of all the high-tech stuff this train has, in our in-depth article.

Government wants your views on Bitcoin
Bitcoin may be in a regulatory grey area right now, but the government plans to change that. The government has sought public opinion on the currency before it decides whether virtual currencies are viable in India. The government wants your suggestions on this topic via its MyGov platform, which was launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014.

A More dangerous variant of WannaCry ransomware found
Thought WannaCry ransomware was bad? Wait till you hear about EternalRocks, a much more dangerous variant of WannaCry. This one is a lot stronger than WannaCry because it doesn’t have any weaknesses, including the kill switch that a researcher used to help contain the ransomware.. Let’s hope EternalRocks doesn’t infect our computers as it’s going to be a lot harder to get rid of.

Nubia N1 lite launched in India
Nubia India has launched the N1 lite smartphone in India at Rs. 6,999. It runs Android 6.0 Marshmallow out-of-the-box and sports a 5.5-inch display. The new Nubia N1 lite smartphone is powered by a 64-bit 1.25GHz quad-core MediaTek MT6737 processor, and comes with 2GB of RAM. Nubia N1 lite sports an 8-megapixel rear camera with an f/2.0 aperture tagged with dual-LED flash and a 5-megapixel camera at front with soft-light flash support.

More details on Samsung Galaxy J7 (2017) and Moto Z2 Play
Samsung’s popular J-series smartphones, the Galaxy J5 (2016) and Galaxy J7 (2016), may soon get successors. The Galaxy J7 (2017) has now been spotted in a leaked render. It shows a design refresh on its back panel. Once you’ve checked that out, you might be interested in knowing that Lenovo has confirmed the 3000mAh battery capacity of the upcoming Moto Z2 Play smartphone, making it smaller than the 3510mAh battery of the original Moto Z Play.

OnePlus 5 leaks hint at camera, audio details
Like you, we’ve been speculating on what the OnePlus 5 smartphone needs to beat flagships. OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei may have revealed whether the upcoming smartphone has a headphone jack. In another OnePlus 5 leak, we got to know more about the smartphone’s dual-camera setup, which has been a point of contention considering some reports suggest a horizontal dual camera setup, while others point at vertical alignment of the camera module.

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Tags: OnePlus, OnePlus 5, Android, Google, Apple, iPhone, iPhone 8, iPhone 7s, iPhone 7s Plus, Tesla, Tesla Model 3, Tejas, Bitcoin, WannaCry, EternalRocks, Nokia, Xiaomi

 

Generation Rent: Why Millennials Aren’t Buying Homes

House For Sale sign and daffodils, Spring of 2010Back in the day, moving out of your parents’ home probably meant you were moving into one of your own.

But whether you blame it on the economy or just a generational shift in values, young adult homeowners are becoming increasingly rare.

Case in point: recent stats find that only 38 percent of millennials between the ages of 25 and 34 owned homes in 2012, compared to 52 percent of the same age group in 1980.

So just why is “generation rent” so adverse to home-buying?

Well, that depends on where they live. Asurvey from Carrington Mortgage Services found that the underlying causes actually vary from region to region.

In the Western states, for example, millennials are most worried about being able to shore up enough for a down payment. That makes sense — considering the region’s average down payment amount tends to far exceed the national average.

Moving over to the Midwest however, millennials have misgivings for a much different reason: student loan debt. Experts suspect this is because salaries tend to be lower here, leaving student loan debt taking a greater chunk of the generation’s take-home pay — and making homeownership a more daunting challenge.

In the Northeast, Gen Y is most concerned with credit card debt, while Southern millennials actually shy away from homeownership for two reasons: concern about low credit scores, as well as simply not knowing where to start.

But not everyone is ditching the white-picket fence altogether. Despite their current low confidence, more than half of millennials surveyed said that they plan to buy a home within the next two years.

Pending Home Sales Jump to Strongest Level in 9 Years

California Homes

WASHINGTON — Americans signed contracts to buy homes in April at the fastest pace in nearly nine years, evidence that steady job growth is strengthening the real estate market.

The National Association of Realtors said Thursday that its seasonally adjusted pending home sales index climbed 3.4 percent to 112.4 last month. It’s the fourth consecutive monthly gain. The index now stands at its highest level since May 2006.

The confidence has returned to housing, not only as shelter but as a good long-term investment.

“The confidence has returned to housing, not only as shelter but as a good long-term investment,” said Ron Peltier, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway’s real estate affiliate, HomeServices of America.

The upswing comes after a year of strong hiring, which has heightened demand to buy houses. Increased sales should help bolster the economy, but the surge could potentially destabilize the housing market, Peltier cautioned. Inventories remain low, causing home values to rise at a pace that is eclipsing wage growth.

Signed contracts are a barometer of future purchases. A one- to two-month lag usually exists between a contract and a completed sale.

Pending sales increased in the Northeast, Midwest and South, while barely edging upward in the West. Greater demand has fueled sales growth this year after a lackluster 2014. Still, there is evidence that limited inventories are beginning to weigh on the market.

Sales of existing homes fell slightly between April and March to an annual clip of 5.04 million last month, the Realtors reported last week. The decrease may reflect complications in finalizing sales in addition to the shortage of listings.

Less Inventory

The inventory of homes listed for sale has declined 0.9 percent over the past year, so would-be buyers have fewer choices and may face bidding wars.

On average, existing homes sold in 39 days last month, versus 52 days in March and 62 days in February, the Realtors said.

Employers have hired 3.1 million new workers over the past 12 months. But wages are rising at a 2.1 percent annual clip, about four times slower than prices of existing homes.

Nationwide, the median price of an existing home surged 8.9 percent over the past 12 months to $219,400.

Unless home values level off because more supply comes onto the market, economists warn that buyers will be priced out of the market and sales will suffer.

Still, there is tremendous pressure on buyers to find homes quickly, since average rates for 30-year, fixed mortgages may start to climb from the relatively low sub-4 percent level.

A new analysis by Realtor.com indicates nationwide that waiting one year to buy will subtract $18,672 from the benefits of owning over the course of 30 years.