Posts tagged “Home

Stringify for Home Automation

We are able to do more and more with our pocket super computers; however, have you heard of Stringify?  If you haven’t, it may be time for you to take this little quirky app for a spin if you’re into home automation.


Background

Similar to the app IFTTT, Stringify focuses on home automation in addition to one key difference, multiple triggers.

While IFTTT allows you to have one condition to be met to perform an action, you can string together multiple conditions then multiple reactions on top of that which allows you to perform quite complex automations called “Flows”.  See an example that I use below:

Stringify_01

Stringify Flow.

The above flow is used to operate a heater that is powered by a TP Link Smart Plug Mini.  The flow will trigger when the temperature is below 35 degrees Fahrenheit and between the hours of 9 PM and 5 AM, then turning on the heater and sending a confirmation notification to my device.  See the notification confirming that the flow has ran below:

Having multiple triggers is something that IFTTT does not support at the time that this article is being written.  As noted, this is the key difference between the two platforms; moreover,  Stringify also has far less connections than IFTTT.  So, while the most popular APIs may be available for you to integrate with, if you are a IFTTT user, like myself, you may be disappointed with the selection of integrations that are available.


Final Thoughts

Stringify is a very neat, niche app and while it offers a lot of power and customizations, it simply does not integrate with as many third parties as IFTTT; however, this is a growing list.  Note, that Comcast recently purchased Stringify and I am currently unaware how this may pan out.  With this being said, I urge you to give this a try — yet, keep in mind of how Comcast views consumer privacy.

Logitech Harmony Hub Review!!

One central remote, sometimes it’s a dream we never obtain; however, with technology anything is possible and it’s always fun when you’re incorporating it into a smarthome setup.

Enter Logitech Harmony (model 915-000238).


Design

There are no questions to be asked about the “cool” factor, it’s on 100 and this device gives you and your household the ability to manipulate the devices that are paired with your Harmony Hub.  This little guy works with TVs, Roku, Cable, video game consoles and even Phillips Hue lights (sorry I am on the TP-Link wagon) making this a solid addition to your living you and one that disappears given it’s unassuming look.


Setup

Setting up your Harmony Hub is very easy, it can be done either by connecting it to your PC via USB or simply downloading the Harmony app, which is preferred since you’ll need it to build activities and more later.  Once you have the hub connected to your network and running, you connect your devices.  Harmony will automatically detect devices that are connected and suggest that you add them (eg. Roku, Android TV, Apple TV and others).

Fair warning, simply because setup is easy does not mean that your activities (programmable scenes) will necessarily work all of the time.  Logitech uses a Start/End Sequence builder of getting things done, which work with a wide range of electronics, the only issue that I encountered was being able to consistently turn off and on my TV, with that being said, I created a generic “Activate TV” activity that will always run so that Harmony will always be awaiting my commands.  Hopefully, this is a hack that you do not need and is likely due to the age of my set, nearing 8 years.

HH_StartEndSequenceBuild

Logitech Activity builder.

Additionally, when creating an Activity, Harmony utilizes the Start Sequence to turn on all of the devices required for completion of that activity; however, at the end, during the End Sequence it wants to turn those same devices off — which makes no sense when you are watching Netflix, then want to issue the command “Watch Youtube”, which in the background is using the same set of devices.


Usage

Once you have Harmony setup the way you want, with any hacks that were needed to accomplish this setup, you pretty much set free to control your living room via your smartphone or digital assistant such as Google Assistant or Amazon’s Alexa.  Personally, I have my Harmony Hub integrated with Assistant so that I can utilize it with Google Home.  Integrating the two is different that most Home Control devices, so to accomplish this say “Hey Google, as Harmony to link my account”, from there you will be presented with a card that will allow you to link the two.

From there if all goes perfect, perhaps you can get an experience like the below (my original video was flagged for the music I asked Google to play, it happens):

Source: Caroline Dunn, YouTube

See the below example of activities I have created for my Harmony Hub setup:

IMG_1552.jpg


Final Impressions

The Harmony Hub is very powerful, but it is not for everyone.  Sometimes things work and other times they don’t….. The sequences that you do build are very powerful to accomplish tasks; however, in order to get simple things done can appear arduous and cumbersome but once things are in place, it is nothing short of magical.

DexJohn’s PC Score: 3.5/5

Google Home Review for 2018

Ah, Google Home and the omnipresent Google Assistant……just works and whether you are looking to get into home automation with over 1500 devices available, wanting Google Assistant smarts or wanting quality sound — you can get it from one of the Google Home options.

Left to right: Google Home Mini, Google Home, Google Home Max

Key Review Points:

  • How easy is setup?
  • How many devices should I use?
  • Is Google Home good for home automation?
  • How is Google Home for the privacy junkie (like myself)?

Background

When you receive a Google Home for Christmas, then proceed to lose your mind buying “smart” everything, a review is the least that I could do.

Google Home is currently slotted against Amazon’s Echo and the upcoming Apple HomePod in the smarthome “smart speaker” wars, although Apple is touting it as “speaker first”, so we will see how smart it is.  Additionally, similar to the Echo, Google Home comes at multiple price-points with Google Home Mini ($49), Google Home ($129) and Google Home Max ($399) — enabling Google to meet the needs of many different consumers and their underlying budgets.

Google Home.

The key features of Google Home is that it gives you and other Google accounts that are linked access to all of your personal calendars, lists, music accounts and all of the smarts of Google itself through the phenomenal Google Assistant.  Yes, Assistant is better than Siri in every way Apple fans.


Setup

The first thing that you’ll need to do to get started on your Google Home journey is download the Google Home app, which serves as the primary landing spot of every Google home and entertainment product, including the Google Home, ChromeCast and ChromeCast Ultra.  Setup is simple, requiring you to connect the device to your home wifi network and your corresponding Google account.  (Note, the first account used will be the primary account on the device, with other accounts being referred to as “linked accounts” that can also operate on the device and receive personal information such as calendars, reminders and place phone calls.)

One thing of importance, is that if you’re wanting to take full advantage of Google Home by controlling wifi enabled devices throughout your home, customizing news and getting personalized results, you will additionally need to download and use the Google Assistant app.

So, now that your Google Home is all setup, likely in your living room, what happens when you go into the office?  What happens when you go into your kitchen…..  You know where I’m heading with this.

Enter Google Home Mini (or Max).  First, let me state that having one Google Home product is enough; however, Google Home Mini devices are very affordable and can be thrown just about anywhere to ensure that your Assistant is always at your side.  Additionally, for the audiophiles out there, Google Home Max is nothing short of a complete and utter monster, delivering superb audio quality and rivaling the sounds of Sonos.


Day to Day Usage

Get used to this phrase, “Hey Google” because it’ll be around for a while. Using the Google Home, irregardless of flavor (eg. Google Home, Mini or Max), is simple and straightforward and you’re always pleasantly surprised at things just working great. The microphones are incredibly receptive and can pick up your voice from varying distances away even while the speaker is actively playing something. At times there are hiccups or occasional network blips and that should be expected with any product. The hits are far more than the misses. So what will you ask it on a day to day basis? Some of my most used phrases are for:

  • Weather
  • Lights and home automation
  • Timers
  • Music

Additionally, Google has added support for voice calls, I’ve tested this with my Google Voice account and it works flawlessly.

What are you asking your Google Home?


Home Automation

As I noted above, there are literally 1500 devices that can work with Google Home and allow you to control them all with your voice.  The way that this is accomplished is that first (unlike with HomeKit enabled devices) you must download the app from the manufacturer, create any required accounts and setup the device there.  Afterwards, you link that third party account with your Google account inside of the Google Home app.  This is done by going into the hamburger menu and tapping “Home Control”, this will open the Google Assistant app (on iOS), press the “+” button and find your manufacturer there.  Login with your account (similar steps to adding and linking accounts in IFTTT) and those devices will appear in Home Control and be at your beck and call.

Google Home, Home control.


Privacy

Being a privacy nerd is tough while utilizing Google Home because in order to work properly, Google will need to know a bit of information about you, from your location to your search and web activity; although, there are ways to circumvent this, without exposing all of your data.  Google is not some evil company that just wants to know everything about you, the information you give it, is vital to the services and information that YOU get out of it, so when certain aspects of data collection are removed some services may or may not work properly.  With that being said, I do not believe in giving entities your real location, so I chose to not give Google Home/Assistant my real address and let it triangulate it by where my wifi router is.  Additionally, apps that use your location, depending on what they are, can be nefarious — so I’ve turned off all location services from Google.

I let Google keep 3 data points:

  • Web and search history
  • Youtube watch history
  • Youtube search history

Web are search is the only option that is crucial for Assistant to work properly, so in this case with the only queries I push to it being voice, I deem this as acceptable and manually delete things that I do not wish for it to have.  An additional way to remediate this data grant is simply to not use the Chrome browser.  I have proudly switched back to my once favorite web browser, Firefox.  This allows me to more consistently use my search engine of choice, Duck Duck Go and limit the data that I pass into Google. Lastly, just mute the darn thing!!! This is something I certainly do when I am not using it for an extended period of time or if talking about sensitive things.


Final Thoughts

Google Home is fun, exciting and ever growing.  Regardless if you’re part of the Google, Amazon or Apple ecosystem — if you have a Google account, this could be an excellent tool for you to use.  Additionally, barrier to entry is very low with the most economical option, Google Home Mini, starting off at only $49.  Buying one smart device will certainly lead you down the path of “home automation fever”, but it’s a fun one and one that hopefully makes your life a little bit easier.

Made by Google Event 2017

Google has done it again.  They got on stage, as only Google does, and have shown us an array and beautiful new products that will be available in a few weeks, Fall 2017.


Google opened the event with Sundar Pichai expressing sorrow for all of the recent events taking place in the world, from the hurricanes that have swept through coastal cities and islands to the act of terrorism in Las Vegas.  From there it was back to back product announcements that showed the prowess of Google’s machine learning and artificial intelligence skills, in addition to their growing maturity at “Made by Google” hardware.

Google Home

Users of the Google Home love it, from the ability to start playing songs from Google Play Music or Spotify, to playing a YouTube video directly on your ChromeCast enabled TV, Home does an amazing job at connecting you to your “things”.  Updates to Google Home and Google Assistant including the following:

  • Voice Match — Google Home will now identify all users of the device, simply by their voice.  This means that you and your partner’s contacts do not get mixed up when trying to place a call or calendars don’t get intermingled when asking about your day.
  • Integration into an array of new Nest products, while connected will allow the user to view the stream of an entrance to a home and more all from the power of their Voice.

Updates to the Assistant that’s built into Google Home surely mean a new device right?

Absolutely.

Enter Google Home Mini.  The Google Home, in a smaller package, all for $49 and housing the power of Google Assistant.  This could turn out to be a huge game-changer for Google in their quest to capture the living room.  (Especially since this device is included with purchase of another that was released later, read more below.)

Source: The Verge


Google Home Max

Ever wanted a speaker that really “thumped” with the power of Google Assistant baked in?  Meet Max, the newest member of the Google Home family.  Starting at $399, this is a powerful (20x more powerful than the standard Google Home) speaker that’s meant to take on Apple HomePod, Sonos and others.  The device features dual 4.5″ subwoofers for deep bass pulses, a sturdy housing, which means no creaks from the speakers, custom tweeters and acoustically transparent fabric.

Google Home Max listens to where it is in the room and adjusts the audio to just the right levels so that it’s output is perfect for any room.  Additionally, the microphone is extremely sensitive, so it allows for the user to interact with the device without the need for yelling and shouting.

HomeMax_23109-28810-Screen-Shot-2017-10-04-at-124601-PM-l

Google Home Max.

Starting at $399.


Google Pixelbook

Chromebooks, we’ve all heard of them.  How about the fact that now, every child in a classroom can have their own personal laptop — thank Google.  How about the fact that you now have a device that can be essentially virus free with a keyboard — thank Google.  Also, how about the fact that you are  one sign-in away from all of your content, bookmarks, movies and email — thank Google.

Source: The Verge

These are just a few things that make the Chromebook an excellent device, but Google had to make one too.  Say hello to the Pixelbook, the all aluminum, 10 hour battery, core i5 and i7 packing, glass trackpad wielding laptop from Google.  This device is nothing short of beautiful and of course, this is the first Chromebook experience where Google Assistant is baked in.  Additionally, many Android apps are coming out of beta and should run smoothly with powerful Intel chips behind them.  Google is really pushing Chrome OS hard here, especially with the latest feature of this device, which allows you to tether automatically if you have a Pixel phone nearby and wifi signal isn’t strong — Instant Tethering.  Throw in the Pixelbook Pen, which allows you to annotate, pull out content and more all with the lowest latency currently on the market.

Source: Made by Google

Starting at $999 for Intel Core i5 with 8 GB RAM.


Google Pixel 2 & Pixel 2 XL

Building off of the success of the original Google Pixel and Pixel XL, which featured arguably the best camera on an Android device and maybe on a smartphone (Don’t believe me? Look at some pictures for yourself!) Google gives us Pixel 2.  Below is a breakdown of specs:

Pixel2_Screenshot from 2017-10-04 19-48-31

Google Pixel 2 & Pixel 2 XL key specs.

This device looks to have packaged all of the good things of “Pure Android” into a device that just works for the end user adding no gimmicks, just a device that works well without the extra bloat of apps that are trying to replicate a standard Google experience.  Additionally, adding water resistance to this years’ model is huge, which is something I have vocally criticized numerous times due to the fact that Google charges a premium for a device; yet, can’t protect us from a splash….Really?

Similarly, Google has added Portrait Mode into the camera software, which will allow the user to capture photos with realistic (one shot they showed on stage was brutally awful) shallow depth of field.  Pixel 2 is able to achieve this without the need for a second lens due to how the camera captures pixels of the shot and of course some excellent AI.

Overall, the product looks to be a top-tier device that is in contention for Android device of the year.  As said in the below video, “We make it look easy!“.

Source: Made by Google

Starting at $649 for Pixel 2 and $849 for Pixel 2 XL.


Google Pixel Buds

Wireless ear buds with the intelligence of Google Assistant built right in, giving you the capability to translate on the fly.  Yep.  That’s pretty fancy and they are here, built by Google.

Source: Android Authority

While the earbuds are not single ear buds like Apple Airpods, they are tied together; however, the buds follow a similar design scheme that we’ve seen from other Made by Google products.  Since Google Assistant is on board, a quick swipe of the right bud will get you access and you’ll be able to jam out or chat with Google for an estimated 5 hours per day while the case can further charge the headphones.

Google-Pixel-Buds-crop-780x445

Google Pixel Buds (shown in case)

Starting at $159.


Google Clips

A small camera, designed for parents and pet owners alike — that’s built to capture those special moments, with privacy built in that only saves “clips” once you’ve confirmed and stored on the camera fully encrypted before it’s transferred.  Clips is a “smart” camera and recognizes expressions, the appropriate lighting and framing of it’s objects — all automatically when the camera recognizes something that you’d like to capture all while being in the background and non-invasive (no microphone and an indicator light that shows when it’s on).

As you see, this camera is focused on freeing the user from the device and has an emphasis on privacy, something of which people think Google takes for granted — read their privacy policy if you believe that.

Starting at $249.

Source: The Verge


TLDR

Google announced an impressive array of devices, which time will only tell if the company will continue taking hardware seriously — for now and the past couple of years it has by creating solid incremental updates to existing devices and pushing out thoughtful new ones.

Good job, Google.  Good job.

All About Google Home

“Ok Google!  Turn down the lights and make me a sandwich!” — Isn’t this something you’ve been waiting to shout into the depths of your home?  Of course it is, except for maybe the sandwich part.
My friends, the time is here.  Meet Google Home.
We’ve seen and heard the fuss that Amazon’s Echo has made in the digital assistant and smart home world, but it’s time for our friend Google to try it’s hand at it with Google Home, powered by Google Assistant.  That’s right, Google Now and search have been prepping us for this moment and it’s here.  How?  Your voice searches are saved (you didn’t know?) and are used intelligently (not shared) by Google to help power it’s natural language platform that will allow for the Assistant to communicate with you and understand you better.  Doing so simply makes it easier to get the information you need faster based off of the questions you ask.
Google Home will additionally serve as a central automation hub for your home, which will further propel you into the internet of things (IoT).  The device is slated to work with Chromecast, Nest and Philips Hue with certainly more to come.  What does this mean?  While using the Google Home as your hub with you other devices, this will unlock a range of capabilities that will make controlling each of them that much simpler.
The design of the device is simply beautiful and blends in seamlessly with your interior decor.  In the housing are far-field microphone that will help to decipher your voice, in addition to a hi-fi speaker that is designed to deliver crystal-clear highs and rich bass.  On top, there are touch controls that gives the user full control of the device complete with a microphone mute button on the back.
Did I mention that Google Home is hands-free?
Bottom line:  This is what has taken Google 18 years to design, build and create for us.  The future is now and the internet, a recipe, the weather, your to-do list are all literally one keyword away.  Pre-Order yours today, here.