August Smart Lock – 3 stars

The idea of the automated home has been around for a while now. However, it’s our mobile phones, and the advent of Bluetooth 4 Low Energy (LE) and geofencing that has unlocked the potential for this to become mainstream.

In my last post on the Tile, I should have mentioned that this uses Bluetooth LE to do its magic.

Besides finding things, why  not automatically unlock your doors when you arrive at home? There are a number of products on the market today that do this sort of magic. The most popular and mainstream are probably the Kevo Smart Lock and the August Smart Lock. Apple recently started selling the August Smart Lock [$249].

The Kevo Smart Lock is rather invasive as you have to replace your whole deadbolt. A problem for me is that our house is keyed with Baldwin/Schlage blanks, and the Kevo lock is keyed with Kwickset, which are different keys. So that was a non starter. I like having 1 key for every lock in our house.

The August Smart Lock doesn’t require you change out your deadbolt. Rather it replaces the inside part of the deadbolt, so you are not really doing that much to your locking system and it’s easy to install.

August-smart-lock-1-thumb-620x447-60115

So how is it?

Well, it’s OK. There are bugs and kinks, and my quick summary is “really cool” but not ready for main stream.

First, lets discuss what you can do with the August Lock.

  1. Lock and unlock your door with your phone
  2. Set your lock to automatically lock after a set period of time (Everlock)
  3. Set your lock to automatically unlock when you return home
  4. Allow guests to lock and unlock your door

I purchased 2 August Locks for our house where we have deadbolts. I imagine this world where I can leave my house without any keys (well just car key, which is a smartkey and I just push a button). In practice though it only works so so.

Here are my main issues:

1. Auto unlock does not always work.

I’m not sure if this is the interaction between the geofence and bluetooth (August uses geofencing to ensure the battery isn’t constantly looking for your lock – which is smart) but it’s not flawless by any means. It’s a little deflating to come home and not have a $200 gadget work as described

2. The auto lock (ever lock) is great as I often forget to lock the door and my wife gets grumpy about this. However, in practice it can be problematic as I really only want this to run at certain hours, and how when I’ve gone out quickly to take the trash out and the door locks behind me.

3. The auto lock can damage your door frame if the door is not completely shut when the August attempts to lock the door. It’s a bit too aggressive about locking. It would be great if it were able to detect if the door were “shut” before it attempted to lock the door.

4. Finally, the biggest issue I have with the August is a design flaw. The battery door is held in by magnets, and often people in our house turn the lock and inadvertently unseat the battery cover.

So in short. It’s  neat. I’m pretty happy with mine. When the auto unlock works is downright magical. When I’m getting out of my car with my bag and my hands full and the kids in tow, walking right into the house is great.

I expect v2 will address most of these issues. For now, it gets 3 stars.

★★★☆☆
Good, but nothing exceptional.

Tile – 4 stars

In our household, we’ve had our locks replaced almost every year. It’s nuts. But we have around 8 sets of keys, we give them to the baby sitter on the weekends, visitors who stay with us and every so often we lose a set of keys. We look for hours and never find them. One year our son grabbed the keys, played with them and then left them somewhere. Our inquisition into where they were proved unsuccessful and then a few days later we found them in an art supplies box. Fun.

There is a solution to this problem and it’s called Tile. I purchased a Tile about a year ago and it recently arrived. I quickly paired it with my phone, and was sold. I immediately ordered another 4 pack to attach to all our household keys. In fact, last night I could not find my car keys and I wish I had the tile on. I eventually found them but it took me a few minutes of searching.

This is Tile [$25 @ Amazon, or $70 for 4 pack]

Tile_V2-5_220px

51cbBASmk1L._SL1000_

It’s a small piece of white plastic with a battery and Bluetooth radio. You install an App on your phone, pair your Tile, and then give it a name and purpose.

tile-phone-tiles

Then you can launch your Tile app and it will show you where all your Tiles are. If you have multiple phone in your household, it can utilize their phones to locate items too.

The best feature in my mind is that you can issue a “locate” signal and the Tile makes some noise!

There are some interesting uses for this device:

  1. Keys
  2. Purses
  3. Remote Control
  4. Luggage

For us, the most useful application is simply keys.

I purchased the 4 pack a few weeks ago and it arrived yesterday. I’d recommend getting the 4 pack given the price per item is $17.50 vs $25 for one.

Any downsides?

I can think of two downsides.

  1. You need to have this app running on your phone, and using Bluetooth. Regardless of how battery friendly Bluetooth 4.0 is, you are still giving up some battery life. This is not a problem on my epicly awesome iPhone 6 Plus which lasts 2 days.
  2. The battery life of the Tile is about a year as far as I’ve read. That’s a fairly expensive replacement cost if you have a few of these. In our case though, it’s cheaper than having our locks re-keyed. Tile says they are working on a renewal / replacement program.

For these two reasons I give it 4 stars.

★★★★☆
Great. Worth purchasing.

If you are reading this post via Twitter or Facebook you should consider subscribing my weekly newsletter and get weekly reviews of products I love

Capsule Wallet – 5 stars

Hope everyone had a fantastic Thanksgiving and survived Black Friday.

As we are headed into the Holiday Shopping season I thought I would do a post on a nice men’s gift (or womens if you carry a slim wallet). I recently purchased a wallet by a company called Capsule. They got their start on Kickstarter and have successfully transitioned to a full online business.

BKTOR-Cash

I’ve tried many wallets over the last year (most from Kickstarter) and this wallet has the right balance of everything i’m looking for:

  1. It holds cash, folded in half
  2. It holds 4-5 cards in the main compartment
  3. It hold a quick access card in an outer sleeve

You might ask, how can I manage not having a Costanza wallet.

iyU2NVauF5p8

Well, I carry the following items:

  1. A few bills (I don’t use cash, everything goes on the Amazon credit card) and I use Square Cash a lot.
  2. Two bank cards
    1. Chase Amazon Card – my goto card given my excessive Amazon & Amazon Fresh purchasing – 3% on all Amazon purchases including Groceries.
    2. Debit Card – really just for emergencies and getting cash, otherwise I’d leave at home. I’m looking forward to Apple Pay like ATM interactions
  3. Microsoft badge – to get into my building
  4. Health card – you should always carry this
  5. Driver’s license

That’s it. I question needing any more than this. If you ride the bus or train, I could see the addition of a pass. If I get anything like a receipt I need to carry, I take a picture of it.

Recently I discovered the Capsule Wallet via minimallyminimal.com. You can read his review for all the gory details. I will simply end this with a few picks and say that I love this wallet.

BLU_Master_Bills_2_large

Room for a few bills folded once

BLU_Master_ID_expanded_large

You can see the quick access sleeve

Packaging_1638

Attention to detail. The packaging is jaw dropping

I got the Blueprint in saffiano leather.

If you act now, they have 15% off sale which ends tomorrow. It will make a great gift. But warning, if you are buying someone with more than 6 every day carry cards, you might want to reconsider.

★★★★★
Exceptional. A spectacular product.

Amazon Fire TV Stick

Over the years I have owned a number of alternative devices to paying for cable and using a horrid cable box. First there was the Apple TV and I’ve now owned every version of the Apple TV. The Apple TV is a great product with a few exceptions. I chose Amazon for my Video purchases long ago due to their commitment to cross platform and cross device and would prefer that my purchases are playable on my XBox and other devices. Especially now that Amazon pretty much owns the kid’s tablet device market. Both our kids have Kindle Fire HDX (last year’s model) loaded with Amazon’s Kid’s Free Time App giving us some peace of mind. If you are in the market for a kid’s tablet I’d look at the “Kids Edition” which is basically a Fire HD 7 with a 2 year warranty against all the damage your kids might do.

It’s downright silly to get an iPad for your kids given that they cost a lot of money and require a lot of work to lock them down making them virtually useless for anyone else to use.

Anyway, back to the topic I’m writing about. A few months ago I purchased an Amazon Fire TV.

amazon_box

I wasn’t using it much when I first got it as there wasn’t any HBO content. There is now some via Amazon Prime, but word is that the HBO app will land by the end of the year.

Besides that issue, the device is pretty awesome. The most innovative feature is the voice remote. You can speak to it like Siri and not have to navigate around to watch stuff. Unlike Amazon on the XBox you can rent and purchase items directly on the device. And there is a Kid’s Free Time app as well, similar to the Kindle Tablets.

Any downsides to this device? Not really. It competes in a crowded space with Roku, Apple, and Google’s Chromecast (although that’s not really a comparison).

And the biggest difference between this and the Chromecast? It doesn’t require a phone, tablet or PC to operate. Chromecast is only for “casting” content from your device. Fire TV Stick is standalone meaning you can turn on your TV and play stuff without anything else. This alone makes the Chromecast a bit of a joke now as the Fire TV Stick also has the same “casting” features.

The device uses bluetooth for the remote, so if you have a custom remote setup, you’ll need one of the newer Harmony Remotes that support bluetooth.

Enter the Fire TV Stick

A few weeks back Amazon did something unthinkable…. no, not launch a phone. That was a bit of a disaster for them. They did something that’s closer to home and their strenghts. They took most of the functionality in the Fire TV (priced at $99) and removed some of the high end gaming features (which are really not what you’d buy this device for anyway) and packaged it up in a miniature stick like the Google Chromecast. Oh, and it’s $39.

The Amazon Fire TV Stick.

stick

This thing is pretty tiny. It plugs directly into the back of your TV. That’s honestly pretty neat since you don’t have to worry about running cables, or anything else. You just need power for the USB cable, and that’s it.

amazon-fire-tv-stick-review-inTV2

When you plug it in for the first time, it will spend about 30 min downloading an update. And then it will be automatically configured for your Amazon account (just like the kindle).

Interesting side note. Amazon is really really pushy about using their own supplied usb plug and cable for this device. They are so picky about it that the device complained when I started it up that I was not using the supplied cable and plug. In fact I was use an Amazon plug (5W) that came with the Kindle Fire HDX. But that was not acceptable. There must be some kind of software/hardware based detection which I find rather curious.

The device comes with a small remote, not the same voice remote as the Fire TV. You can purchase that separately for $29.99.

Given a choice between lots of devices out there to stream TV content, my choice hands down is the Fire TV or Fire TV Stick for the following reasons:

  1. It’s an open ecosystem. Anyone can write an app without any restrictions. Not true for Apple TV or even Xbox.
  2. It’s cheap. The cost to having streaming is lower than anything else out there
  3. It’s a standalone device.
  4. It’s backed by Amazon. Unlike the Fire Phone, this product is core to what they do. Sell you content. And they are dammed good at it. It’s not a “hobby” for them.
  5. It’s got most of the apps you’d want to stream (minus the HBO issue).
  6. It’s easy to integrate into any TV environment. If you have a TV on the wall and can run any cables, you can use this.

You might ask why not a Roku? Seriously? When you have a choice to buy Amazon branded entertainment hardware over a company no one has ever heard of, the choice is pretty clear. Watching Amazon content (and even Netflix content) will be superior on this device. After all, this thing just runs Android apps anyway.

So, what’s the final verdict?

★★★★★
Exceptional. A spectacular product.

Unfortunately this device is either so popular or they were afraid of making too many, and it’s back ordered till Jan 15th. I got mine last week because I order everything like this within minutes of the announcement. It’s always easy to cancel your order if you change your mind, but there is no skipping the line if you wait.

If you are reading this post via Twitter or Facebook you may want to consider subscribing my weekly newsletter and get reviews of products I love

Dropcam

A few months ago, I started the process of looking into security cameras. There are basically two choices when it comes to these things:

  1. “Old School” systems that your Alarm company can install. These have been upgraded in the past years to include things such as High Definition, WiFi, Power Over Ethernet and DVR capabilities
  2. Internet Connected “Internet of Things” Cameras such as Dropcam or Simplicam

I got a quote from my security company for #1. It was about $3,000 installed with 4 cameras and a DVR. The App and monitoring story was questionable. The company that produced this camera had a few different iOS apps, all with 1-2 stars and nothing but complaints. This was a deal breaker. However, the idea of having a custom installer put these things in appealed to me. I am not an expert at placement and wiring outdoors.

My needs for such a system are pretty simple:

  • Monitor an indoor main living space in our house
  • Monitor the the entrances to the house (outdoor)

My main goal was to have monitoring while we were traveling, in case our alarm went off. And to have video footage for any kind of investigation. It’s a fact of life that Alarms go off for no good reason (motion sensors, etc) and when you are traveling the only peace of mind you’ll get is visual confirmation of something wrong.

I already have a Nest (best thermostat and gadget ever), and a few friends have Dropcams. Generally, like the Nest, the Dropcam has incredible software / service and quality. It’s dammed easy to set up and use. Nest (owned by Google now) aquired Dropcam a few months back. So now Google owns Nest and Nest owns Dropcam.

51ecFGmR51L._SL1000_

As mentioned, I needed cameras outdoors as I mentioned. A little bit of research and I found a company called Dropcases.

02_large

So, for the cost of 3 Dropcams, 2 outdoor kits, I was looking at $800. Well below the $3000 quote I got.

I then signed up for the 7 day Cloud Video Recording Service that Dropcam offers. For 3 cameras I’m looking at $200/year. Still cheaper than adding Video Monitoring to my security system. First camera is $99/yr and then each additional camera is 50% off.

So, How is it?

The quality is top notch. Setup is a breeze. The iOS app is incredible. The custom alerts are amazing. It’s reliable and works from anywhere.

One thing though. These cameras are internet hogs. You see the way they work is that they upload all video to Dropcam and Dropcam’s cloud determins things like activity and alerts. So it requires a constant stream of information to make these decisions.

As a result, each cameara pushes 2GB of data per day. So for 3 cameras running 24/7 you are looking at 60GB per month per camera or 180GB per month for all 3. This will really it into your cable operator bandwidth.

My solution for dealing with this is to set up integration with my Nest so that when the nest determines I’m “Away” the Dropcams activate. This keeps them running only at key times. You can also set up “Geofencing” alerts for the camera so that when your phone leaves the vicinity, the camera turns on and alerts are enabled.

I’ve really enjoyed having these cameras. They are neat for things like triggered alerts when the UPS guy arrives, the mailman delivers a package, or suspicious people enter your property. You can also create time lapse videos and save footage for later.

The only criticism I have is that these cameras are really designed for indoor use. Dropcam needs to make an outdoor camera. If they do, they will simply destroy the custom security camera market.

I have no hesitation recommending these cameras. I’d suggest starting with 1 camera first and then going from there. If you plan to install them outdoors you may need the following:

  1. Dropcases – I got the Case and Goose Neck Arm.
  2. Long USB cable – I recommend the 15 foot Cable Matters (longest cable run you can use)
  3. WiFi Repeater – I recommend the Amped 802.11ac. This is simply the best repeater you can get as it has dedicated bands for connecting to your wifi, and then repeating the signal resulting in no loss of bandwidth.

Final verdict?

I’m using a new system to review products (borrowed from MinimallyMinimal – great blog).

Dropcam gets:

★★★★★
Exceptional. A spectacular product.

Leifheit Wall Dryer

Back to writing about some home related items. My wife suggested I write about our Wall Dryer since we love it, and just got a second one to increase the amount of wall drying space in our laundry room.

What is it?

The Leifheit Wall Dryer is a nice looking plastic device that extends out from your wall for drying clothing. It’s compact, looks good and does the job.

71QNaCpTYsL._SL1500_

Oh, and it’s German. So it rocks.

Here is our setup

2014-11-09 10.02.02

Why did you get it?

We are super fortunate to have a 2nd story laundry room, and while we love that room, it doesn’t have a ton of space. So I looked for solutions for wall drying that did not involve one of those crazy floor standing aluminum drying racks.

How has it made your life better?

In an indirect way. It’s made Lora’s life better, and she likes it so much she suggested a post in the Newsletter.

Are you going to keep it?

We’ve had one on our wall for 4 years. We go the second this week. So yes.

Newsletter

If you are reading this post via Twitter or Facebook, I wanted to note that you can sign up for my weekly email newsletter. It contains all items posted here and is sent on Sundays. You can sign up by going to http://omarknows.com