Starting out with Philips Hue Lights & Google Home

One of the best new features of Google Home is the ability to use it to control your smart home devices, like smart Philips Hue lighting.

For those who are still learning about this new device, Google Home is a smart speaker and digital assistant that can also be used to control a variety of gadgets in your home by simply asking. Google Home is controlled merely by saying, “OK Google,” followed by a command. Continue reading “Starting out with Philips Hue Lights & Google Home”

T3 Micro Twirl 360 smart curling iron review

I love testing out beauty gadgets, so when I heard about T3’s new curling iron which it says will create, “flawless curls, powered by science” I was more than a little interested.
The T3 Micro Twirl 360 is a 1.25″ barrel ceramic curling iron. While it looks like most standard curling irons, its lovely white sheathing makes it look ultra modern. But behind the nice styling is some serious technology, because this curling iron can curl your hair virtually by itself, because it has a built in gyroscope that whirls the curls for you. Continue reading “T3 Micro Twirl 360 smart curling iron review”

Beauty gadget review – Curl Secret by Conair

Curl Secret Conair ErinLYYCIt’s a mighty odd looking device for a curling iron. The Curl Secret by Conair (also labelled on the box as Infinity Pro) arrived to my tech test center recently, and I’ve been trying it out.

You’ve probably seen this gadget advertised (As seen on TV!); it looks kind of like a giant lollipop, or a bulbous weapon of some sort.

Despite its distinctive shape, the Curl Secret from Conair promises lush bouncy curls with ease.  Does it live up to the hype? I have naturally straight hair and have lots of experience with many kinds of styling tools, so my review will focus on those parameters. You might have a different experience if you are a neophyte with naturally curly hair.

Video review of Conair Curl Secret

Figuring out the Curl Secret

The Curl Secret definitely took some getting used to.  I consider myself pretty adept with curling irons and wands and even using a flat iron to curl my hair, but the Curl Secret works like nothing I’ve ever tried before.Curl Secret Conair ErinLYYC

You clamp the device on a 1/2 to 1″ section of dry hair. The device pulls hair into a round heated chamber, and warms it at the same time it wraps the hair around the inner barrel. When the timer beeps, your hair is ready, you open the clamp, and your beautifully curled hair falls free.

Important note

The opening of the curl chamber must always be facing your head , no matter what side you’re working on. That’s important, because if you mix this up, as I did on one of my early tries, your hair gets stuck. Really stuck. More on that later.

For the most part, the device is easy to use.  It helps enormously if your hair is brushed, so it’s smooth and free of tangles. Then it slips into the chamber easily, and will fall out with ease.

Curl quality of Conair Curl Secret

conair curl secret review erinlyyc
A freeze frame from my video showing rather random curls from the Conair Curl Secret

I found the curls to be rather loose for my hair texture and length, but then I changed some of the settings on the Curl Secret. There are 3 timer settings and 2 heat settings which are supposed to provide may different variations on curl, from light waves to tighter spirals. I found (not surprisingly) that the curl was tightest and lasted longest on high heat and for the longest time. The Curl Secret definitely gave me curls that lasted well into the next day.

conair curl secret review erinlyyc
Care must be taken to get uniform curls using the Conair Curl Secret Infinity.

The problem I had with the device’s curl quality is that it’s quite unpredictable. If you’re not careful to use uniform pieces of hair, and hold the machine in the same way, at the same distance from your head, you can get quite a random head of curls (See my video above for what that looked like). During a couple of tests I got both light waves and spiral curls during the same session and with the same settings, probably due to the fact I was inadvertently varying the size of the pieces of hair I was using. I was forced to do several pieces over again to try to gain some uniformity.

I also noticed that after each test, on the next day my hair felt rougher once the curl was brushed out, kind of like the strands had been fattened up or roughed up by the previous day’s experiments. I needed to wash my hair to get it smooth again.

What happens when Conair Curl Secret malfunctions or it goes wrong?

The Curl Secret has a mechanism that prevents hair from getting stuck.  If it senses resistance via a tangle, it stops drawing hair in and beeps and you must open it and start the curl over. This fail-safe works well, and I had no major problems with tangles or stuck hair.

Curl Secret Conair ErinLYYCThis mechanism obviously seems to work best if the wand is held correctly. Once I accidentally turned the curl chamber away from my head and started the curl process. It sucked in all the hair and heated it but wouldn’t release it. It was then I realized it was hopelessly jammed.

I struggled to free my curl but it was absolutely not budging. With visions of a smoking singed stump on my head, I unplugged the Curl Secret and tried to work the curl free with my hands and some tugging.  It still wouldn’t budge. I ended up having to work the end of a plastic comb into the curl chamber to help pull it free, but it was truly no easy feat. (I’ll say it again: unplug the device and only use plastic if you’re going to stick something into an electrical appliance) Fortunately there was no damage to my hair. You can bet I took extra care never to make that mistake again.

Easy to hold, cool to touch

The outside of the Curl Secret remains cool to the touch so you can manhandle it as you need to. That makes it easy to find a grip or a handhold that works. The device isn’t heavy, certainly no heavier than a blow dryer, though I’d say it felt a wee bit heavier than a large curling iron.

Overall review impressions – Conair Curl Secret

My overall impression was that the Curl Secret was just okay. The box promises “perfect curl… every time” but I’d say that’s not accurate in my experience.

conair curl secret reviewOnce I learned how to use it it was easy enough to use and it gave me a decent enough curl most of the time and the curls did last into the next day.  If I had to name the cons about this device, it’s that you have to be so cautious about how you use it. That tangle I had was no small snarl. With a curling iron or wand you can just release your hair, with this, it felt a lot more desperate when it jammed.

I also felt like the curls were not as smooth as I’d get with a wand or iron. Particularly the next day after I brushed out my curls the hair felt roughed up, something I’ve never felt with my existing wand, tourmaline iron or curling iron (though this device says it too is ‘tourmaline ceramic’).

Another part I didn’t love about the Curl Secret was that I wasn’t able to get the curl very close to my scalp. Just the way the Curl Secret is built, it can’t physically get close to the root, so I’d say I had a 2” area of hair near my scalp that I was unable to curled.

I have straight hair (just below the shoulders in length) and found the device worked fine on me, but I can’t say what the experience would be like for those with curly hair, or with very long hair.

I didn’t care for the randomness of the curl using the Curl Secret. Care must be taken to get very uniform sections in order to get a nice even curl. In my experience, it was quite hard to get even results, unless I took much more time than I would with a curling iron or wand. Even then, sometimes when I thought I was being quite deliberate, I still had sections that needed redoing.

So, would I buy myself a Curl Secret? The answer is no. I feel like I’m faster and more adept with the traditional styling tools I already own, and I can virtually guarantee my results come out soft and even with these other devices. Would a total newbie have a different or better experience with the Curl Secret than I did? I don’t have that answer.

Even so, I think this would be a good starter device for younger people who are learning to do their hair themselves (harder to get burned with this), or those with a bit less dexterity who don’t want to fuss with other pro-sumer tools. For ladies with more experience and dexterity doing their own hair, this is probably a gadget to skip.

iRobot Roomba 980 is all new: more power, more smarts

irobot roomba 980iRobot, the makers of the Roomba vacuum have updated their top of the line robot housekeeper with some brand new technology.

The Roomba 980 looks a little different from previous models; (read my review of the iRobot Roomba 880 HERE) mainly sleeker, slimmer and with a more streamlined control panel.

I had the chance to live with the 980 for several weeks, and to compare it to the earlier 880 model too. Watch my video review & test too; scroll down the page to see it.

What’s new with iRobot Roomba? 980 is all new

There are three primary upgrades to the autonomous vacuum robots: navigation, cloud connectivity, and a new motor that does better on carpet.

Roomba Upgrade #1: Improved Navigation

That window in the bottom of the photo is the irobot roomba camera.
That window in the bottom of the photo is the camera.

The Roomba 980 has a host of improvements on the navigation front. There’s a brand new camera in the top of the robot which helps it find its way around obstacles and rooms. Two optical sensors in the undercarriage work similar to your computer mouse; they read the location on a surface to track the device’s position. This allows the device to see and understand its position in your home. Like previous versions, the Roomba also recognizes drop-offs like staircases, and learns to avoid them, backing away from any cliffs.

No more ‘lighthouses’

The new 980 can also do more; while the previous version 880 was really only able to take on three rooms at a time, and required ‘lighthouses’ to draw the Roomba 880 in to more distant areas. with the new technology, Roomba 980 can find his way around the entire floor of the home, and even learns it’s way around so you are less likely to find the robot stranded in a distant room (a quirk of the 880).

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Knows when to recharge

The Roomba 980 also knows when its time to recharge. It will clean as much as it can on a single charge, then return to its charging base to re-juice.

If you’re watching the new Roomba 980 clean you’ll notice it uses a much more linear grid pattern, and that its movements seem more deliberate than previous models. That comes from, in part, the new navigational guts which create kind of a map of your home, which it them learns to follow. Move some furniture? No problem, Roomba 980 will learn to adapt.

Roomba Upgrade #2: Cloud Connection

irobot roomba appThe new Roomba 980 can now be controlled with your smartphone. Using the iRobot Home app, you can start and stop the cleaning cycle from anywhere. You can also set and change schedules and adjust settings easily, and order up extra passes over extra dirty areas. It’s a handy feature I like because if I go out and want the robot to sweep up while I’m gone (but forgot to turn it on or schedule the cleaning), it’s a single click, and I can come home to a tidy dog-hair-free floor.

The app is very easy to use, and also allows you to manage multiple robots (and name them; fun!), including the iRobot BraavaJet mopping robot. (Read a review of that device here)

The app will let you know too when the dustbin is full, and you can also sound a tone to find the robot if it disappears under a bed. One other handy feature of the app is built in help if you need it and a direct portal to the iRobot store to buy things like replacement mopping pads for the BraavaJet.

Roomba Upgrade #3: New motor & “Carpet Boost”

The final major upgrade to the Roomba system is a new motor for the 980 version. The new motor has a built in feature that attacks carpet dirt better than previous robots. “Carpet Boost” as the technology is called can detect rugs, and when it does it cranks up the motor to increase suction to pull dirt from the fibers.

That low/high switch actually allows the robot to have a longer battery life (closer to 2 hours), since the increase in power only cranks on when it’s needed.

Roomba 980 – Can you see a difference?

The differences between the new Roomba 980, and previous versions may not be stark, but they’re there. I quickly noticed the more linear cleaning pattern on the 980, but I also really heard it when the carpet boost kicked in.

Another difference I noticed was the amount of debris and pet hair that collected in the dustbin; there’s more collecting in the 980. I checked with iRobot to make sure it’s not any bigger, and it’s not, but what is happening is that the more powerful motor is picking up more dirt, compacting it and thus it looks like it’s holding more.

The 980 is obviously more expensive than other robots in the iRobot line, but with the new features it seems worth it.

My take – iRobot Roomba 980
I never thought I’d need a robot vacuum, but I have to say, after living with one for so long, I don’t want to give it up. It takes care of pet hair in particular really well, and saves swiffering daily. I love the fact it can be scheduled to clean when I’m out, or that I can turn it on from the office via the app.

The 980 gets under furniture easily, and does a pretty good job at corners, considering it’s round. I found it super handy, too, for spot cleaning dry spills or crumbs.

While there’s no denying this device is an investment, and you’ll probably still need a second vacuum to do the heavy duty deep cleaning (stairs, blinds, etc), but at least the Roomba 980 will ensure you have to drag out the full sized vacuum a lot less.

The iRobot Roomba 980 is $899US / $1099 from the iRobot website. (The previous model 880 is $599US / $849CAD) You can also find them at places like Best Buy.

 

 

 

Write on paper, see it on your phone or TV instantly; Moleskine Smart Writing set

moleskine-smart-writing-set-erinlyycIf there’s one gadget that’s blown my mind this year, it’s this; Moleskine’s Smart Writing set is a paper notebook and special pen, that allows you to enjoy the tangible feel of writing with the power of technology.

What is the Moleskine Smart Writing set?

The set consists of a thick notebook in traditional Moleskine style; a bound and wrapped cover with an elastic to keep it closed, plus a special pen (called Pen+) that has the ability to connect to your smartphone, and automatically and seamlessly transfer whatever you draw or write in the notebook, direct to digital format, using the free Moleskine app.

The pen has black ink (but with refillable easy-to-replace 4C replacement cartridge you can switch it to whatever you prefer). The pen, which is larger than a standard pen, but not too unwieldy or heavy, has built-in technology.  You push a button on the end of the pen, and connect it to Moleskine’s M+ Notes app.  Then, it tracks where you write on the page, and transfers it in real time to the app, in your own handwriting, or converted to text. The uses for this really cool technology are almost endless.

When you flip a page in the notebook, the app knows it, and starts a new page in the app too, so your notes are always organized.

But you can go one step further, and digitally organize the pages in a different order if that makes more sense for you. The app also keeps several notebooks organized, so if you have more than one, they’re all digitally archived for sharing, or in case you lose it.

Moleskine Smart Writing set – How it worksMoleskine smart writing set 1.jpg

Using the special Moleskine Pen+, you write in the notebook, which has tiny dots on the page. The Pen+ has “a hidden camera that traces and digitizes everything you write,” Moleskine explains on its website.

“The Paper Tablet uses invisible NCode™ technology by NeoLAB Convergence embedded within each page that allows the Moleskine Pen+ to recognize where it is inside the notebook and to transfer all your freehand notes from page to screen in real-time. It allows you to smoothly digitize, edit, organize and share handwritten notes and sketches made on the move for seamless integration between paper and cloud.”

While the pen will work with other paper, just like a regular pen, and the paper notebook can take notes written by another pen, for the kit to work and digitally transfer your notes, the Pen+ and the notebook must work together with the app.

Other amazing functions – Moleskine Smart Writing set

Moleskine transcribe smart writing erinlyycTranscribe function

Amazingly, the Moleskine Smart Writing kit can also transcribe your handwritten notes and turn them to text, which can then be shared via e-mail, Dropbox, or other services. While the app has some trouble seeing shapes or scribbles and understanding those, for the most part, if your handwriting is neat, it does an astonishingly good job at accurately digitizing it.

Use Tags to organize

Your pages can be easily organized or searched in the Moleskine app; just add keywords or tags to the digital file, and they’re instantly archived.moleskine-4

Playback function

Want to see how your sketch took shape, or how that idea you whiteboared came about?  A super-neat Playback function with re-create your words, art or notes in the order you wrote them as a video. While it looks particularly cool for drawings, it can be really helpful for recalling the order of meeting notes and conversations. The next step for this feature would be the ability to export that playback as a video, which I couldn’t seem to do; perhaps that’s a feature that can come in subsequent updates.

Voice input

The pen and app also have a voice dictation function. You record notes, meetings or whatever you need, then play it back by clicking on the ‘play’ button in the app (the same one that will play back your drawings as a video). You can listen to meetings again, or check quotes against your notes. The digital pages in the app keep track of which pages have voice notes associated to them.  The only think missing with this feature, in my opinion, is the ability to dictate notes to the pen, and then have the pen transcribe it into the virtual notebook for you like Apple’s Siri does. As it is, you can only listen back to the recording. But still… a pen that’s that smart and functional?  Impressive.

Calendar and GPS

Another neat function I discovered is that the app records your location and activity in its built-in calendar. Not sure whether you sent that page to your team? Can’t remember where you or what triggered that great idea? The calendar keeps track of all the data to remind you.

Sharing optionsmoleskine smart writing 3

Your notes, drawings, scribbles, whiteboard brainstorms, or meeting notes can be easily shared, saved and sent using a huge number of services. Pages can be saves as images or PDFs, as text/transcribed pages, or as SVG for Adobe illustrator files. You can also connect and share seamlessly with services like Evernote, Dropbox, Spark, Pinterest, or Google Drive, among others. Another cool feature?  Just check the tiny envelope icon on the top corner of the page, and your notes will be instantly emailed to you; you can even pre-set the send-to email address for instant delivery.img_5486

Editing Modes

With a tap you can make changes to your digital notes. Undo/Redo functions make edits or corrections easy, plus Select/Deselect lets you work only on certain areas. A pen or highlighter function means you can feature words or content too.

Use it with mirroring and a TV – Amazing for whiteboarding ideas

A function I thought was super cool is the ability to ‘broadcast’ your notes as you write.  I used Apple TV and the iPhone screen mirroring function to display my scrawls on a large TV screen. This would work great for a presentation, or brainstorming or whiteboarding session where everyone can watch what’s being drawn out, and can then receive a digital copy of the session. Check out my YouTube video to see this feature in action.

Overall review -Moleskine’s Smart Writing set

The Moleskine Smart Writing set really and truly surprised me at how well it worked. The connection between the Pen+ and the app was instant and seamless every time. The connectivity and real time transfer function was also consistently trouble-free.

From voice notes, to video playback of your work, calendars so you know when you worked on items, instant emails and sharing, and tags to make notes fully searchable this kit does a whole lot more than you think.

The kit is expensive, yes, ($249 CAD) but in terms of the technology and versatility, you’re getting your money’s worth here.

Get the Moleskine Smart Writing kit from Moleskine’s website, from select Indigo stores, or Indigo.ca 

 

 

Robot Lawn Mower from Husqvarna saves your summer: Review

Husqvarna Automower lawn robot grass canada calgarySome folks LOVE yard work; for many others, cutting grass is a chore that eats into your time off. Consider then, that you could get a device that takes care of all your lawn cutting needs; the Husqvarna Automower robot lawn mower will cut your grass and keep your yard in shape all without you needing to lift a finger.

Husqvarna Automower is a robot lawn mower

The Husqvarna Automower is a relatively new product in Canada, but it’s been hugely popular in Europe for some time (and boy, do the Europeans have fun with their automowers! From racing stripes, to cammo to ladybugs, they’re totally customizeable.).

The mower is slightly smaller in size than a standard lawn mower, and has no handle.  Small wheels keep it moving, and a small panel in the top allows you to make adjustments as needed.husqvarna mower ladybug

What can the robot lawn mower for for me?

The Automower can be set on an electronic schedule, so it will keep your lawn trim all season long.  The robomower doesn’t go out once per week and slice down the lawn by two inches, instead it mulches the lawn by cutting very small amounts each day; the lawn will appear as though it just stops growing.  The robot is fully autonomous, and will find its way around your yard mulching grass until it needs to return to its base station for a recharge.

How the Husqvarna Automower work?

husqvarna automower review calgary robomower
Guidewire laid in the grass and held in place with stakes.

The mower should be professionally installed. A Husqvarna dealer can help with planning and layout for your new set up.

First, you need to lay a guidewire around your yard so the robot knows where its boundaries are.  While this sounds simple, a small break in your guide wire can render your whole wiring job useless.  It took three pros about 6 hours to properly set up my boundaries, test the connections and troubleshoot it when it wasn’t quite working.  You’ll want to do this right and get it professionally installed so you don’t have to worry about it.

Husqvarna Automower yard robot calgary robomower
The Automower, base station to the left, and a sample patch of grass that was allowed to grow while the mower trimmed the rest of the yard.

The Automower works by operating within its guidewire; essentially acting as a “Roomba vacuum” does, but for your grass.  You can use the wires to “fence” off any areas the robot should steer clear of, whether that’s your vegetable garden, flowers or a child’s play area.

 

The Husqvarna Automower comes with a base station which it uses as a home base and recharging station. The positioning of the station is important; it shouldn’t get too much sunlight, and you’ll want it to be out of the way.  I’m told many homeowners in Europe will actually build tiny “mini garages” for their Automower, and if I were to own one, I think I’d do that too to help it fit into or hide away from the yard.

 

How loud is the Husqvarna Automower? Mine ran at night, without a complaint


Surprisingly, this mower is absolutely silent.  Compared to the ear-splitting grind of a traditional electric or gas mower, you will not even hear this one at work in your yard.  In fact, it was so quiet, I had mine scheduled to run at night, and I never heard it, nor did my neighbours.

What if someone tried to steal my Husqvarna Automower?

The Husqvarna Automower has anti-theft protection built in.  For starters, if someone were to lift it up to carry it off, an alarm will sound.  Second, you need a pin code to operate it.  Third, if a thief were to try to operate it without its base station or pin code, it would cease functioning.  img_3350And fourth even if an intrepid thief were to, say, try to buy a new base station and get the pin code reset, this can only be done via an authorized Husqvarna dealer.  The dealers’ records show who owns each device and their lost/stolen status. Attempting to reconfigure one without the proper documentation would result in all kinds of red flags, and perhaps a call to the police.

What happens in the rain?

Rain doesn’t bother the robot. If the grass is too wet for cutting, the Automover can sense this, and it’ll return to base until things are drier.

Will the Husqvarna Automower hurt pets or children?

The mower won’t hurt anyone, human or animal, that comes into contact with it.  For starters, the mulching blades are small, so they likely wouldn’t even make contact with flesh.  If they did, they have a foldaway spring which prevents them from cutting when they hit a hard object.

Another safety feature; if the mower bumps anything like a foot or a sleeping dog, it will simply back up and choose a new direction.

What happens if something goes wrong?

Husqvarna Automower installation calgary
Getting great service from Alberta Forest & Garden, Husqvarna dealers, in Calgary.

I had a couple of issues with my temporary installation; primarily the wire loop becoming disconnected from the mower base station.  The staff at Alberta Forest & Garden were quick to come out and take a look and make repairs any time I had a problem.  In this case the problem was that the guidewire was only temporarily staked to the surface of my grass.

In an ideal and permanent installation, the wire is buried underground so there’s no worries about kids, pets or trippy adults pulling it loose.

A couple times early in the testing, I heard the alarm go off in the middle of the night. it turns out the robot was falling into a bit of a pit in the lawn, and its built in security system was worried someone was trying to make off with it.  The solution was to make a barrier around the deep pit so they mower wouldn’t get caught.

In another case the automower was missing chunks of grass.  That was easily remedied by adjusting the wire boundary, and also adjusting how far the mover is allowed to stray past the wire.  It was increased by a few inches and that helped it get a good cut from edge to edge.

Overall review of the Husqvarna Automower

I really, really liked this device.  It worked well, and kept my lawn short all summer long, without a lick of work from me.

The totally silent operation meant the mower could work while I slept, and wake up every day to a beautifully manicured lawn; all we had to do was handle the trimming.  If that’s more work than you want to do, it’s possible to make some small adjustments to your yard’s landscaping so no trimming is required either; I’m talking about adding edging, hedges, gravel or mulch.

Any problems I had with the mower were handled quickly and cheerily, and I feel confident any ongoing issues would be dealt with quickly.

I can’t find a single thing to complain about with the Husqvarna automower.  It’s definitely something I’d get for my home or property… and may still one day!

Where can I get one of these Husqvarna Automowers? What do they cost?

My demo unit robomower was supplied for 3 months by Alberta Forest and Garden in Calgary. They are licensed Husqvarna dealers.  I highly recommend them for their great attention to detail and friendly service.

Pricing starts at $2100 CDN (315 model: cuts 1/3 acre) and goes up to $4000 (450X model: cuts 1.25 acre), depending on the model you choose.husqvarna automower review

 

No time for yard work? Get a robot lawnmower

This has to be one of the coolest and most useful gadgets I’ve ever had the pleasure of testing.  Husqvarna’s robotic lawnmower, called the Automower.

The small rectangular device is abut the size of a standard lawn mower, but has no handle. One other key difference? it operates almost completely silently!  The only sound you can hear while it’s running is a soft whir and the clipping of the grass.The Automower benefits from a professional installation; mine was done by local Husqvarna dealers Alberta Forest & Garden. A ‘track’ of rubber-coated copper wire is laid in the grass and spiked in tightly. Then the mower operates within its boundaries.


The robot mower will be mulching my lawn for the next few weeks – watch for a full review here on the blog, and it’ll get demonstrated on an upcoming CTV Tech Talk. I’ll also talk about how you keep it from being stolen, and how you can get it to cut your front lawn AND your back yard, even if the grass doesn’t connect.

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Do you have questions about the mower; how it works, whether it might be right for you? Let me know in comments below!

Is this remote strongbox the future of package delivery?

DOORBIRD PACKAGEIt’s frustrating missing the FedEx guy. If you aren’t home for a delivery, you have to either wait for another attempt, or go get it yourself. And let’s not talk about packages going missing after being left out front unattended.

But a new invention from German tech company Doorbird aims to change that. They’re announcing a Video Parcel Box.

This remote-activated delivery box allows its owners to see the delivery person, talk to them and open a large parcel box  from anywhere. You can also create customized access codes for regular  delivery people to open the box via a keypad.

Another interesting feature? You can save the tracking number of the parcel in Doorbird’s App. TDOORBIRD 2he delivery person then just holds the barcode in front of the camera and the Video Parcel Box opens automatically. In either case: DoorBird notifies you that the parcel arrived safely. A camera also records video of the delivery and lets you see who’s accessing the box.

The Video Parcel Box will be available in different sizes, colors and materials. Prices will start at $1.250.

 

 

Okidokeys Smart Lock: Great idea that needs some work – Update: Okidokeys responds to review

okidokeys lock** I originally posted this review July 10.  On July 14 Okidokeys posted a comment below regarding this review.  It was quite surprising, because for one they called a Tweet I sent “inflammatory”, and for another they imply the facts of this review are not accurate, and in essence that I lied. I’ll respond to their comments at the bottom of this page.   **

I love the idea of a smart lock.  In my head I envision approaching the door, laden with groceries and bags, only to have the door unlock audibly and allow me to slip in without dropping everything and fishing for keys.

That’s what I’d been hoping for when the Okidokeys Smart Lock arrived on my doorstep.  But, much to my disappointment, that wasn’t quite what I got.

The Okidokeys kit looks simple enough, and the instructions seemed straightforward.  It comes with the automatic lock mechanism, 3 different colours of back cover, batteries, (4 AAs) and the tools needed to install it. The instructions says to just remove the back of the deadbolt from your door, leaving the rest of the locking hardware in place, slip the Okidokeys motorized locking system over top, screw it in, and voila! Except that’s not at all what happened.

(Bear with me.  I’m going to give some detailed info here about the problems I encountered, in the event my troubles can help others.  If you’re looking for the straight up ‘thumbs up’ or ‘thumbs down’, go ahead and skip to the bottom)

Installing Okidokeys Smart Lock

Replacing the back of the lock with a new plate.
Replacing the back of the lock with a new plate.

While all you need is a screwdriver to do the installation, and it doesn’t mark or ruin your door, Okidokeys did not fit over top of my existing lock. Some adapters are included with the kit, but none of them seemed to fit right.  No matter which I used, the lock would not sit flush with the door.  Finally I realized the correct adapter was included with the package, but it did not fit properly on our lock; the deadbolt post was just too long. When I called customer service for assistance, I got a rather surly woman, who finally told me the only way around this was to buy a new deadbolt, or to try to file the lock bolt mechanism down so the Okidokeys lock would fit over top of it.

Not wanting to go out and buy another lock just so this new lock would work, I eventually located a file and spent a good amount of time grinding down the post.  It was a lot of work, extending the installation by a good hour.

Once the installation was done I downloaded the app for iPhone 6. Except then I found out you can’t download the app and sign up for an account on your phone.  For that you need a computer.

Once the account was set up on the laptop, I signed into the app using my newly created account, and nothing happened.  while the app loaded, there appeared to be no way to actually tell the app which deadbolt I had. Plus, when I manually engaged the lock, it made a horrible loud grinding sound. After another frustrating 45 minutes trying to sort that out, trying to get the deadbolt to connect to the phone, I put the whole thing away for the night to resume in the morning.

Was It a Dud?

Turns out the next day it was no easier. I went through all of the set up again but had no luck getting anything working. I finally decided to call the Okidokeys support line again. The customer service rep could not seem to figure out what the problem was and said she did not know what was going on, and I was kind of left hanging.  What was I supposed to do with a non-functional lock, and someone who was out of ideas to help me?

I asked to speak to a supervisor or someone with more detailed tech-support background to help me, as I felt that “I don’t know” was not an adequate customer service response. Instead, the CSR asked me to email her a still photo of the lock, to prove it was mounted flush against the door. I declined, because it was flush, and because I was getting annoyed at the non-functionality of the unit. In the end I left a message for a supervisor to call me back at the first available opportunity. In the meantime, I uploaded a video to Twitter of my problem, and hoped someone would be able to help me. Turns out Okidokeys is monitoring their Twitter account rather well (kudos), and within an hour they had called me back to say they had seen my video, and thanks to that they could tell the lock itself was malfunctioning. They offered to send me a new one right away.

Meantime, I decided to get my account set up and ready for when the new lock arrived.
Once signed in to the company webpage on a desktop computer I was able to get logged in and get started. I finally figured out you need to put in the serial number of the lock on the computer (not your phone, again). One small frustration with this is that I went through the process of entering the serial number, door name, door time zone, and a picture to apply to it, but I chose not to select the optional “door group name”, and when I went to click “next”, it gave me an error message for not picking a door group name, and it had reset half of the settings. Annoying since I had to go through and re-set up the lock all over again.  Once that was done I was able to start assigning people to use the door. That process is fairly straightforward you can give certain users a key tag, wristband, or plastic credit card style key, and then you can then assign certain hours of the day they will be able to swipe their ‘key’ to open your door.

The separate Smart Reader and additional keys.
The separate Smart Reader and additional keys.

Setting up the smart keys, like the included key tag, the credit card key, and the wristband, was easy, thankfully. You simply go to the drop-down menu on the website for smart devices, register smart tag using the  serial number that is very clearly printed on the smart tags, and you’re good to go. Then it’s as easy as creating new user profiles, and assigning those people whichever keys you want them to have.

Try, try again

When the new lock finally arrived about a week later, I was already very similar with how to install it, so it went quickly. When I did the self test, everything worked smoothly and the lock was able to turn on it’s own quite easily with no grinding, although the lock is quite loud. Then I decided to try locking the door with the app. The app told me that I first needed to ‘sync’ the door to the app.

Locking Not So Easy

IMG_2551Trying to get the lock to sync took about six attempts, before it randomly worked. Then I tried locking again, but kept getting an error message that I was not standing near enough the door, when I was probably about a foot and a half away from it. Then I tried to manually lock and unlock the door using the buttons on the back of the door lock. That didn’t work either, although I got a helpful looking blue light each time I tried.

I decided to close out of the app and restart it in hopes this would jazz things up a bit. Only then to my frustration I realized I needed to log in again. But when I tried to do that I kept getting an error message saying my login credentials were invalid. At this point, admittedly I was ready to throw the damn lock out the window. To me, a product should not be this hard or this frustrating to set up.

Buggy & Frustrating App

Fortunately, after another attempt at logging in I got back into my account. This time when I went to lock the door using the app it worked! Hallelujah! But my joy was short-lived. The next time I tried to lock the door, I got an ‘operation timeout failure’. I decided to do an experiment and standing next to the door I tried to lock the door or unlock it ten times from a couple distances. The lock only responded four out of those ten times. This is an enormous frustration. No one has time to stand around in front of the door holding loaded bags of groceries waiting for three or four attempts at unlocking the door before it listens.

26 seconds to open

It’s also worth mentioning that the lock, when it actually functions, takes a long time to engage and open.  I timed it, and on one occasion when trying to unlock the door it took about 26 seconds before the lock would finally respond. Again, I could have unlocked the door in about two seconds flat with the old fashioned key in that time.IMG_2554

At this point I was pretty much done with this device. But I decided to give customer service a call one more time to see if perhaps there was something strange going on they could easily remedy. Alas, it was Saturday, and Okidokeys voicemail hopefully told me that their customer service office closes at 2 PM MT on Saturdays. Great.

Later on, feeling optimistic, I decided to try to use the app to lock my door when I left. When I went to load up the app, it wanted me to login from scratch again. Uggghhhh!
I gave up.
Turn On Automatic Login, for gosh sakes!

Another constant frustration was the fact that I needed to input the username or email and password to access the app every time I tried to use it. Making that even more frustrating, is despite entering the username and password correctly at least half a dozen times, I kept getting an error message saying that the ‘user is invalid’. When I left the phone to sit for a few minutes, and tried again by simply hitting ‘enter’ on the information I had already put in, for some reason it would randomly allow me access. Very frustrating. Eventually I figured out that by turning on “automatic logins” in the settings menu in the app, I could forgo logging in every single time I wanted to use it.
Also, in what almost seems like too much security, every time I logged into the Okidokeys webpage on the computer to access my account, it emailed me a security code that I had to input before I was able to login. More steps, more frustration.

smart-lockokidokeysNo remote access

Another thing I found frustrating about this lock set was that there’s no way for me to open the door from a remote location. It would be so handy if I could let the cleaning lady, neighbour, or even a key-forgetting spouse in from my smartphone kilometers away in my office, but that’s not an option.  To let someone else in if I’m not at home (and have not given them a key previously), they’d need to download the app, and I’d have to email them access permission.  But since getting the account working in the first place was such a hassle for me I was not comfortable foisting it on someone else. It would be great if I could just press a button on my phone from far away, and the lock would open for whoever I needed to let in.  But alas.. no.  Okidokeys also says it has a Hands-free Mode where it will unlock your door when your cell phone gets close to it, but (noticing a pattern?) I couldn’t get that to work either.

The Verdict

The Okidokeys Smart Lock was not easy to use.  In my experience it was buggy and unreliable, and took far too long to perform the simple task of unlocking the door. I’m not going to fault the first lock for being a dud, but I also didn’t have great experience with Okidokeys customer service folks on their phone help line.

Having tried some products like the Ring Video Doorbell recently, or the Nest Learning Thermostat which worked perfectly from the moment the box was opened (and reliably from then on), this product appears not quite ready for use by an average customer. It’s just too frustrating.  I’ll be interested in seeing further software updates, but until then, it’s back to using my key.

UPDATE:

I recently wrote the above review of the Okidokeys Smart Lock. It was not flattering, but it was fair, and I stand by it.  Since then, I received a comment on the blog from ‘Okidokeys Team’.  I was rather surprised at the content.  For one it implies I lied in my story; that when I say I spoke to two different customer service reps by phone, that I did not, since the company claims to have no record of this.

Secondly Okidokeys Team calls my Tweets about the installation problems I had “inflammatory”.

Here’s the blog comment :

Dear Erin,
We regret your experience. However we believe it is important to point out that according to our records you did not reach out to us for support, we found your inflammatory twitter post of 2-3 months ago and proactively reached out to you.
According to your responses, we solved your issues as we shipped additional adapters at no charge which are now part of our standard package.
Also, as your test dates back to 2-3 months, we precise we have had a completely new version of handsfree mode with geo fencing available for 3 weeks now.
Best Regards,
OKIDOKEYS Teamokidokeys tweets

Here are the facts:  I keep notes on my calls and dealings with any customer service departments I encounter during each review, and make notes too, as I work on installation and setup as I’m testing products.

I called Okidokeys twice, and my description of each interaction above is factual, and accurately reported. Why they don’t have a record of it I can’t say. I’m also not sure why they indicate they sent me ‘adapters’, when what they sent me was a whole new unit.  Perhaps these ‘records’ are not quite as accurate as they think? As for my “inflammatory” tweet, well, you can see for yourself what I said, and even the follow up kudos I gave.

I find it offensive that instead of addressing the problems with the product’s operation and non-functionality in their blog comment, the customer service response to me was to call my credibility into question, and dub my factual tweet “inflamatory”.

I deliberately don’t read other reviews before I test products, so as not to colour my judgement. However since receiving the comment, a simple Google search showed me other reviewers having the same problems I encountered, to varying degrees of frustration.  While it would have been nice to be able to post an update with the fixes and updates Okidokeys has done, instead I must respond to their other comments.

Smart Home gadgets you NEED now

wemo houseThere’s so much we can do to get our homes running smarter.  There’s any number of products that will do things for you automatically, or examples where once inaccessible technology can now be yours at home. Everything from automating your lights, to remotely locking your doors, checking the weather on demand, or even testing your food for impurities… it’s all possible now inside your own home.

techtalksmart
Tech Talk on CTV News

 

I recently had a chance to run tests in my home of several “smart” gadgets, and we showed them off on CTV Morning Live (watch HERE).  Here’s a bit about each one, and some testing notes.

Wink Hub and Pheripherals

wink hubThe Wink hub is kind of like a nerve centre of home automation.  The hub connects to your home’s wifi, and drives the Wink app on your phone.  The app then allows you to control any number of add-on devices.  I did have some initial trouble getting the hub working, but Wink/Quirky was quick to replace what was likely a defective unit and I was up and running again quickly.  Once the hub and app were in sync, I was quickly able to set up GE Link light bulbs, which allo you to use your phone to turn the lights on and off and to dim them.  I tested the soft while light bulbs, which was great, but it would be even better if the LED bulbs had colour options like LIFX or Philips hue bulbs I’ve reviewed previously.  That said, you can actually run Philips hue bulbs on the wink hub, but you do still need the Philips hub or starter kit, so it’s kind of redundant.ge link bulb

I also tested the Quirky Pivot Power bar along with the Wink hub.  It’s a wifi-enabled power bar that allows you to turn some of the outlets on or off remotely.  The Pivot also curls and pivots (hence the name!) and allows you to plug in large size plugs or transformers with ease.

The Wink system has been easy to use and program, and one of the only downsides is the large size of the hub.  I also know some reviewers have had trouble with getting the system set up initially, as I did, but the Wink/Quirky customer service folks handled things very well.

WeMo Hub and Pheripherals by Belkin

wemo-img-overview-3By comparison to Wink, the WeMo hub is tiny; it fits in my palm.  This was by far the easiest set up I’ve had lately; the hub conected instantly and without trouble.  I set up WeMo light bulbs first and they too connected instantly.  I did have some confusion setting up the add-ons like the WeMo Insight switch, but I figured out after a few minutes that the WeMo app actually has 2 screens that look like the set-up screen.  I was using the wrong one.  Once I figured that out, and got into the right one, the plugs connected easily. Once everything is connected, you can use the WeMo app to set timers for lights, or your heater, fan, you name it.  I wake for work well before the sun is up, so being able to set the lights to slowly come on, or the fan to warm the room before I get out of bed is a treat. The WeMo system is available at Best Buy, Amazon.ca and Future Shop.

ILL_WeMo_Family_v3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lapka personal environment monitor

What’s a Personal environment monitor?  The Lapka kit contains 4 sensors which measure  radiation, electromagnetic fields, humidity and how organic your produce is.lapka It connects to your iPhone and the Lapka app and displays its readings on your phone.  I tested my home for radiation and electromagnetic  fields, and it came up fine.  I also used it to test some fruits in my pantry for the presence of nitrates (from fertilizer).  My biggest beef with the Lapka is that there’s not a lot of information either in the package or online about what you’re testing for, or why.  I felt like I needed an advanced degree to know what I was doing with the PEM.

Roolen Breath Smart Humidifier

I really love this product, both because it looks like the most futuristic humidifier you’ll ever see, and because it was easy to use, and ABSOLUTELY QUIET.  I have a humidifier at home and it’s so noisy we need to keep it on the other side of the house from the bedroom.  The Roolen is silent.  It emits a cool mist that humidifies your home and in “automatic” or smart mode, it will automatically shut off when your home hits optimal humidity. Simple, easy and smart.  A full tank will also last almost 18-24 hours, so it only needs filling once per day. You can get one in Canada on Amazon.ca

roolen breath
Roolen Breath Smart Humidifier

 

Netatmo Weather Station

netatmoThe Netatmo weather station is a neat idea for weather geeks.  One of its brushed aluminum cylinders sits unobtrusively in the home, the other goes outside, and you access their info via an app on your phone.  It measures temperature, of course, but also humidity, and noise levels indoors.  it’s also equipped to send weather alerts to your phone, but I found they didn’t work in Canada.  A neat idea for a gift if someone you know loves weather.  Add-ons include alternate temperature sensors and a rain gauge. You can read my full review of the Netatmo on Future Shop’s Tech Blog or get one on their website.