Dip your toes into the 21st Century

Maybe you have been thinking about trying to make your life a little “smarter”, but don’t want to spend the time researching the difference between Zigbee and Zwave. Maybe you just want something that works. Here are some products to get you started that won’t break the bank. These also happen to make excellent stocking stuffers for those of you interested in dipping your toes into IoT for the Holidays!

Wemo® Switch ($30)

wemo, IoTThis is probably the best place for someone to start – the Wemo® Switch offers the simplest integration: just download an app, point it to the right WiFi, and you can turn on and off an outlet (1 socket) with the flip of a Wemo® Switch. The Switch also lets you set rules to control the device and this combination makes the Switch versatile, allowing it to turn on and off your indoor holiday lights at certain hours of the day or that space heater you always forget about.

There are some drawbacks – the Wemo® Switch app looks pretty dated on Android and isn’t the most stable and the plastic encasing will almost always block the entire outlet.

Tips for tinkerers:

Even though you can always use IFTTT or SmartThings hub to interact with a Wemo® Switch, it’s nice to know you can have a bit more control. An unofficial Python API  allows you to set up a small server and interact with switches on your terms.

ROOST Battery ($35)

Roost Battery, IoTI’m a big fan of technology that uses existing home appliances and converts them into smart appliances. With the Roost battery for smoke alarms, the setup is simple and unique in that the battery uses an audio tone to pair with the phone. The app is fast and well designed. The ability to snooze false alarms is a killer feature I had never thought about before this product.

On the downside – it fails with some WiFi setups and doesn’t play well with Smart Hubs.  

Chromecast ($35)

The Chromecast is one of the most popular products out there and there’s a reason for that. It is extremely intuitive and a great solution to turn that dumb TV into a extremely good smart TV. The installation is dead simple and there is tons supported apps.

However, it does require a phone or computer to use.

Tips for tinkerers:

The Chromecast allows you to register it and build out your own applications. The portion of the Cast app that lives on the TV, the receiver, is an API restricted HTML5 site., but the client app, the sender, can be developed for iOS, Android, or Chrome.

iGRILL® MINI ($40)

iGrill, IoTThe iGrill Mini allows you to walk away for your food without having to continuously check on it with a classic probe thermometer… well as long as you stay within the 150 foot range of it Bluetooth connection. The iGrill Mini thermometer doesn’t really offer more that a programmable probe thermometer and the app is a little unintuitive before you setup a device.

Another major pain point is the lack of integration with with other Smart Home products. However there is something nice to say about not having to stand around with a classic probe thermometer or worry about not being able to hear the programmable probe thermometer.

Tips for Tinkerers:

When trying determine what data an device is sending and receiving before packet sniffing, or even decompiling an APK you should always try to find a project on Github or Bitbucket, then use decompiled APKs and packet sniffing to fill in the information you are missing.

LIFX ($60)

smart bulb, IoTLIFX Smart Light Bulb is extremely bright with vibrant colors. It provides better color accuracy than other smart lights and it offers both inside and outside editions, something rare. Unlike most other smart lights it doesn’t require a hub and it integrates with nearly every other product out there.

A couple of drawbacks – LIFX Smart Light Bulbs are more expensive than others in the market, like Hue. They offer limited lamp fittings so they are limited to a standard A19 socket.

Tips for Tinkerers:

If you aren’t satisfied with LIFX existing integrations, you can create your own. LIFX APIs are well documented and allow for both REST calls or directly sending protocol messages via LAN.

Chamberlain MY-Q Garage ($130)

MY-Q Garage is another great product that allows you to convert your garage door into a smart appliance. It’s fairly easy to install, though it is a time consuming process, taking anywhere from 15 mins to 45 mins depending on the strength of your WiFi conditions. Once connected to WiFi, the My-Q Garage maintains a strong connection to the network due to a great internal WiFi receiver. Though the product retails for $130, it is easy to find it around $90 on Amazon and other sites. With the app, you can open and close the garage door from anywhere, as well as get feedback as to the state of the garage doors.

The major downside to the product is that, without any camera features, you lack context. This may have the undesired side effect to pushing you to buy more products (i.e cameras and sensors) for your growing smart home. Like many of the other products, the MY-Q Garage doesn’t integrate well with other systems.

Technical Detail:
The MY-Q Garage dataflow is two part. The hub communicates with senders using the ZWave standard. The hub then will communicate with clients, such as a Android phone, using a WiFi Connection.

Skybell HD ($199)

smart home, IoTThe Skybell HD video doorbell has a good wide angle lens with a great resolution. The Skybell allows you to open the live feed at anytime. It features night vision, motion sensor and talk back. It integrates with the Smartthings and IFTTT which is a huge plus.

The downside – It can be a little slow to start displaying video, there is no way to opt out of push notification and it does require some installation which may be a turnoff.

Tips for Tinkerers:

When throwing together something quickly, IFTTT can service as a handy tool to see what the device’s intended functions are. Triggers and Actions are generally found at the bottom of the page.

Botvac D3™ Connected ($400)

smart home, IoTOK, so this one is a little more expensive than your typical stocking stuffer, but for those of you feeling emboldened by the suggestions on this list, the Botvac D3 is one of the most advanced cleaning robots around. It’s laser-assisted navigation allows it plot a course around furniture and create optimized paths. This specific model can be controlled via an app that, although nothing special, is simple and it works.The new WiFi connectivity allow you to drive the robot vacuum around to clean up any crumbs you may have dropped or terrorize your pets.

It doesn’t integrate with any smart hub, though I don’t think any robot vacuum on the market does.  

Tips for Tinkerers:

Though not well known, Neato Robotics has an official API that is currently in beta. It allows users to create an Android, iOS, or JS app using the SDK or use Rest call directly to the API, giving you the possibility to attach it to your smart home hub.

Hopefully you’ve seen something that intrigues you. Give one of these devices a try and before you know it you have started down the path of making your home smarter… but beware, you might end up with more devices that you know what to do with!

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Robert Gross

Robert Gross

Robert is a software developer specializing in mobile applications and web services. Robert is currently focused on deploying preformant iOS and Android applications. Robert graduated from Southern Polytechnic State University with a B.S in Computer Science.