Google Home is a super smart home automation portal that works with just your voice commands. While it can play music and answer trivia questions, and much more (Read Erin’s review of the device here) it can also be used to automate and control smart home gadgets. Here’s how to get smart home devices connected with Google Home. Continue reading “How to set up smart lights & home control with Google Home”
I ran into a wee problem with one of my WeMo LED smart light bulbs. It was easily cleared up with a reset, but it took me some surfing to find out how to do it.
That got me thinking, you might someday need to know how to do this yourself, and possibly for other bulbs. So here’s a few smart light bulbs and how to reset them, with instructions from each manufacturer’s website. Continue reading “How to Reset Your WeMo, LIFX, Philips, Osram/Lightify Light Bulbs”
There are two types of people when it comes to lighting up the house for the holidays; the gung-ho Clark Griswold types, and those for whom the thought of climbing a ladder in the cold inspires dread.
If you’re in the latter camp, know there are easier ways to make your home festive thanks to technology.
Holiday Hack #1: Smart Plugs for Automation
Want to control your Christmas lights from another room, or even another city? Smart plugs like the WeMo Switch allow you to plug in virtually anything, from Christmas lights, to mobiles or animated figurines and turn it off an on with your smartphone or tablet. This works really well for tree lights in particular, since crawling under or behind the tree to pull out the plug is often a pain.
Smart plugs can also be used on automatic timers, coming on at dusk and turning off when you want.
Holiday Hack #2: App-connected string lights
MiPow, makers of Playbulb lights has come out with a smart connected string light for this holiday. These smart LED light strings give you smart functionality via a Bluetooth connection; you can turn them on or off with your smartphone, adjust colour to dozens of different subtler hues, you can set timers, or use a handful of special effects, all automatically. Best of all, these are for indoors or out.
With a kit like this you don’t even need a smart plug. Read my full review of String here.
Holiday Hack #3: Stick-up LED Lights go anywhere
Philips Hue String, Osram Lightify Flex and MiPow Playbulb Comet are just three great examples of lights you can stick anywhere for holiday decor. If you use removable 3M Command adhesive tabs, it makes moving them and removing the tape even easier.
Use these light strips on the inside of a window frame to show your neighbourhood your red, green or icy blue colours. Coil them into frosted glass vases for temporary colourful lamps, wrap them around large mirrors, or stick them under furniture for holiday ambiance.
Want to go to another level? Nanoleaf Aurora is a unique set of flat plastic panels that can be stuck pretty much anywhere; you can use them to create a holiday-themed wall decoration, and adjust the lights to flicker red and green or frosty blue and white.
Holiday Hack #4: Make a light-up Christmas Tree
Feeling creative? Why not use the Aurora to create a flat panel Christmas tree in a small space where a real tree is just not realistic? Simply arrange the triangular shaped panels in a tree shape, configure the panels to turn green (go for a gold on on top, reminiscent of a star!) and you’re holiday ready!
Read my review and all about the Nanoleaf Aurora here.
Table setting is an art, if you ask me. Matching dishes to napkins and selecting florals requires some level of flair which I struggle to achieve. That’s where I pull in smart lamps; I can turn the Mipow Sphere glass globe green to match my good china, or I can set the Philips Hue Go lamp to a cool snowy hue for a winter feast. The Go lamp also works well under the Christmas tree to give it some extra colour pop or by the fireplace.
Holiday Hack #6: Use coloured bulbs for decor
As I’ve written before, smart lights are an easy way to decorate your home for any occasion. Painting your room with light can warm up a room, cool it off, or give it a holiday theme with the touch of an app. Lights like Philips Hue smart bulbs can be set to holiday red or green easily, you can use LIFX’s ‘scenes’ to create a holiday glow, or employ a MiPow Playbulb to provide both a light show AND music from its built-in speaker!
Holiday Hack #6: Use the Internet of Things to automate … ANYTHING
If you haven’t experimented with IFTTT (If This Then That), you’re missing out. IFTTT uses apps and smart devices to create actions that happen automatically. I wrote about how you can use it to turn coloured smart lights blue when snow is in the forecast. But you can also use it for holiday fun. Need a quick lesson on how it all works? Click here.
If you own a smart doorbell and some smart lights you can use an IFTTT ‘recipe’ to play Christmas music on a Sonos speaker when the doorbell is pressed, and to set lights flashing green and red. Read more about how to do that, or to achieve the same effect with a motion sensor, via the Yonomi app here. You can also surf the IFTTT website for holiday light and sound recipes that have already been created and borrow one that suits you.
Do you have a Holiday hack or IFTTT recipe we should try? Post your ideas in comments below!
Most of us have heard of “smart” home technology, and most of us know that means many new appliances and products from dishwashers to light bulbs will have some degree of automation. While home automation is really handy, it’s limited by the software each manufacturer supplies with it. Maybe you don’t want your lights to just turn off and on, you want them to come on at a low level of brightness to gently wake the kids instead. Take it one step further; you want the lights to come on gently, and as they do, you want the coffee maker to turn on and start brewing your coffee, maybe even have the radio come on softly too. That’s where IFTTT technology comes in; it lets YOU decide exactly how your connected appliances, accessories and devices work by creating simple and easy to use shortcuts. Continue reading “What is IFTTT and what can it do for you?”
Halloween is around the corner, and there’s an easy way to get your home ready.
Coloured light bulbs can easily transform your home into a spooky space; whether you want orange to light up your front window pumpkin, or some darker lighting scenes to create a creepier vibe. Continue reading “Easy Halloween hacks; decorate with smart lights”
Need your gadgets and devices to do more for you? I have a new trick that helps me keep ahead of bad weather; my smart light bulbs in my living room turn bright blue when snow is in the forecast for the following day. So how can you get this kind of personalized heads up, and not need to constantly keep checking your weather app?
You’ll need two things: a Wi-Fi enabled smart bulb with colour-change abilities, such as Philips Hue or LIFX, and an app called IFTTT.
The acronym stands for “IF This Then That”. Simply put it translates to, “IF I do This (your choice of activity), Then That (your selected result) happens automatically. IFTTT (pronounced to rhyme with ‘gift’) is actually a website where you go, create a free user account, and start automating your life.
One of the ways you automate things is by using or making “recipes”, such as “if the temperature drops below zero, Then turn my Nest thermostat up 3 degrees,” “If there’s a flight deal (to a certain city), Then notify me on email,” and even, “If the pollen count is high, Then remind me to take allergy medicine,” and “If the current weather condition changes to rain, then change my Philips Hue light bulbs pastel blue.” The possibilities are literally endless, and while you can create your own custom recipes, you can browse and use the recipes others have made on the IFTTT website too. For a look at the full list of apps and services, or Channels that work with IFTTT, click here.
My IFTTT recipe: IF snow turn LIFX bulbs blue
I have some LIFX bulbs in a living room lamp, so I went to the IFTTT app and created a recipe that uses the local forecast in my area, to tell the bulbs to turn blue when snow is coming, and I also get an alert sent to my cell phone (click here to access my recipe). Now I get a super helpful 24 hour advance heads up about inclement weather. In the summer, I create a new recipe to warn me of rain. Another similar recipe on IFTTT will turn your LIFX bulb cyan and slowly blink them.
It’s worth getting to know IFTTT technology. It’s easy and fun to automate life’s tasks and get your devices working smarter.
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There’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.
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.
The 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.
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.
By 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.
What’s a Personal environment monitor? The Lapka kit contains 4 sensors which measure radiation, electromagnetic fields, humidity and how organic your produce is. 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.
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
The 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.
Our homes are getting smarter every year; dishwashers can now figure out what’s wrong, and assist in getting it fixed. Refrigerators can tell you when you’re low on butter or creamer. Now light bulbs are getting smart too!
LED light bulbs (most of today’s ‘smart’ bulbs are LED) are becoming more common because they’re extraordinarily energy efficient; many bulbs can last 30,000 or even 40,000 hours. That’s up to 23 years! That’s good because while smart light bulbs and LEDs will cost you more in the short term, in the long term they’ll mean fewer replacements are needed, and you’ll have a smaller energy bill too.
Smart light bulbs are becoming more popular, because adding connectivity allows you to do things like turn them off or on whenever you want, whether you’re home, or while away. You can even use geo-locating to have light bulbs switch on when you arrive home, or at work, and shut off when you leave. Smart bulbs can be set to slowly come on at your bedside, giving you a gentle wake-up, or slowly softening to black to help you drift off to sleep. Those are just the practical uses; many of these ‘smart’ bulbs also come with fun options too, like colour, which can give the room a nice ambiance for entertaining, or relaxing. Smart bulbs can also give you the option of supplying brighter task or work lighting when you need it, or mimicking a candlelit table when you don’t! Plus, there are holiday applications. I used my LIFX test bulbs to create a bright orange glow in the window on Halloween to give my jack o’lantern some extra kick. At Christmas, I coupled two bulbs together by the Christmas tree in red and green. And at Valentine’s it will make a nice soft warm peachy glow for a romantic dinner. Smart bulbs have a multitude of uses!
On this week’s CTV Morning Live Tech Talk segment (Watch it here), we looked at three types of Smart light bulbs:
Drift and Sense bulbs by Saffron $29/BULB – DRIFT-LIGHT.COM
I’ve been testing these lights recently. The Drift bulb doesn’t have any wifi ability, but it is smart. A simple click of the switch, and it operates like a regular bulb. Two clicks of the switch on your lamp or wall and the Drift bulb will flash back at you, indicating it’s set. In this mode it will slowly fade out over 37 minutes, the period of time of the average sunset. What this does is tune your body to the fact that it’s night time and sleep is near. I found it quite soothing, and felt after a few days of use that it did give me a feeling of being ready to sleep by the time the bulb went out. The company says these bulbs will increase your body’s natural production of melatonin, the sleep hormone, helping you get into a restful state naturally.
If you give the Drift bulb three clicks, it will fade out over the same time frame, but keep a bit of light as a night light, making it great for kids’ rooms.
The Sense bulbs by Saffron are slightly different. They are able to detect ambient light, and will turn on when it gets dark, meaning you can leave your porch light or interior switch on, but not waste energy all day long with the bulb burning away in daylight.
These bulbs are plastic cased, making them nearly break-proof
LIFX Smart Bulbs $99/BULB – LIFX.CO
These bulbs are some of my favourites; they’re easy to use, programmable, and give you a great array of colour options, from warm white, to cool blues, and specialty colours all over the spectrum.
The bulbs connect to your home’s wifi network, and then are manipulated using an app. There’s no hub to fuss with; all the hardware is in the bulb. Now, for that reason, the bulbs are large and may not fit in some fixtures, but in my in-home testing, they fit easily in a living room lamp, and in an overhead fixture in the dining room.
You simply screw in the bulbs, and turn them on. Using the app, connect to wifi and set up the bulbs. Then, the app becomes a remote control for your lights; allowing you to control one at a time, or multiple bulbs all at once. You can dim or brighten the bulbs, or change colour options. Basic white light can be warmed or cooled, depending on the type or colour of light you prefer; my personal preference is for warm white-ish pink light in the house. I find it soothing. If you lose wifi, the bulbs still work, reverting to the last setting you used. That’s one other think I liked about the LIFX bulbs; when you switch them off, and then on again, they’ll still be set to the colour you last used, whereas some other bulbs (Philips Hue, below), resets itself each time you shut it off. You can select an infinite number of colours, both strong and subtle, and the app allows you to dim them too. You can also use the app to build your own favourite colour combinations, and it remembers them for you. And if for some reason the bulbs are reset, they’ll still function as regular white-light LED bulbs.
Take note that these bulbs are not for outdoor use.
One other point worth mentioning; I had some difficulty getting one of the bulbs to connect to my home’s wifi. I got great customer service help from a patient person at LIFX, who was able to walk me through some troubleshooting, and help me update the bulb’s firmware online. I can always forgive a glitch if the customer service help that’s available is rock solid.
Philips Hue Bulbs $99/STARTER KIT – MEETHUE.COM
Philips Hue are another wifi enabled bulb, but these differ in that they require a hub, or what Philips calls its “bridge”, to function. The bridge must be physically connected to your home’s router via an included Ethernet cable, which I found to be an annoying extra step (and something else taking up space on my desk). That said, the use of the bridge appears to allow Philips to make their smart bulbs smaller than the LIFX version.
The Hue kit was easy enough to set up; once the bridge is plugged in, you use the app to set up the system, and then to control your bulbs. I liked the simplicity of the Philips app, which has 2 pages of shortcuts to give you lighting profiles like candle light, ‘underwater’ and ‘hammock’ to name just a few. The Hue, too, will allow you to use an infinite number of colours, in both warm and cool light. Philips also has an online portal which will allow you to access your bulbs from any computer, anywhere. Want to make it look like you’re home? Switch the lights on or off or program them as you wish. No need for those outdated timer boxes.
I’ve been absolutely loving having smart bulbs in my home, primarily because I use them to create relaxing atmospheres, to make the room seem warmer on cold nights, or to create a flattering candlelit glow. Most of them are easy to set up, and even easier to use. I recommend getting your feet wet with one bulb first to see how you like it.
Our homes are getting smarter; whether it’s a dishwasher that can self-diagnose problems, or small appliances that turn themselves off, or washing machines that can sense how full the machine is or how dirty the clothes are, or thermostats that learn our habits and adjust themselves accordingly, every year we’re gaining the ability to do more. Once a novelty, smart light bulbs are popping up everywhere.
I tested a pair by LIFX, a US company that got its start on Kickstarter. LIFX is a wifi enabled, multi-color, energy efficient LED light bulb that you can control with your smartphone. But why would you need to use your smartphone for a light bulb? Well, wifi connectivity allow you to use your phone as a remote control, dimming or brightening light from where you sit, or even adjusting colour and hue.
The bulbs arrive with just a tiny basic instruction booklet in a nice heavyweight box. All you need to do is download their free app and click on it to begin the set up process. While they required minimal set up (just screw them in and turn them on) I did have some difficulty initially getting them started out of the box, since neither would connect to the app. I hit google and the company’s website for solutions and found each bulb has a tiny reset button on it. I simply flipped the switch, and the bulbs connected almost instantly. Once they were installed, the fun began.
The lights have a wide array of colors and brightnesses. For the basic ‘white’ light most of us use every day, there’s a host of variations; on your smart phone there’s a dial which allows you to control whether you want a cool bluish light, or a warmer pinkish yellow light. In the house, in rooms like the bedroom and living room, I prefer a warm soft glow. Cold light to me, i.e. blue reminds me too much of the harsh fluorescent lights of the workplace, so I avoid it wherever possible. On each of the variations of the white setting, you also have the ability to brighten or dim the bulb from your smart phone. It’s very easy to control, and the color wheel setup in the app makes it easy to see what you’re getting or what else is available to change it to.
I wasn’t certain I’d be using the colored bulbs settings, after all, who needs a red light bulb in their lamp? As it turns out, I did find several great uses for the various colors. On Halloween night, I dialed up a bright orange light in one of our lamps and set it in the front window. It was an instant signal to trick or treating children to come to our house for a candy bounty. Similarly, at Christmas time, I could definitely see using red or green settings in a lamp to create a festive atmosphere.
Now that Halloween is over, I find myself setting up a lavender color or warm orange or yellow, just to warm up the house as winter weather sets in. In the summer, I could see a cool blue or green giving off a nice refreshing vibe, on a hot summer night. I also really like the fact that there’s not just your standard red-orange-yellow-green-blue-purple range of colours; there is every shade and tone in between so you can find a colour that perfectly suits you and your moods. So as far as colours go, I actually did find I used them frequently, which is not what I was expecting.
LIFX bulbs also work with a product I love and recently reviewed, the Nest thermostat. As soon as your Nest switches itself into Away mode, LIFX can make it look as if someone’s home by automatically turning on and off your lights throughout the house. A feature LIFX says it’s adding with an app update is the ability to set timers for the bulb that will allow you to dim yourself to sleep, or wake up to a gently brightening light in the morning.
While these are likely not bulbs that will replace each and every light bulb in your home, in a few key fixtures such as lamps, or dining room lighting, they are perfect to give you variety and atmosphere. In the bedroom, or children’s rooms, they will also provide a nice ambiance, or a little more fun for kids.
LIFX says their bulbs are designed to last 40,000 hours, which if used at 4 hours per day is 27 years. That’s a good thing, because the bulbs are not cheap. Whereas traditional bulbs, or even compact fluorescents can be had for a dollar apiece or less, the LIFX cost $99 from the company’s web store.
I’ll be demonstrating these on an upcoming Tech Talk TV segment on CTV. Watch for updates!