Going back a few weeks ago to my column on free and paid movie/TV streaming services, CNet recently published a list of the channels offered by each of the major services. Useful if you are looking for a certain channel. It’s at https://go.ttot.link/CNetChannels.
Last week we talked about smart LED lights and I hope you are better equipped to read and make your own decisions about color, light output and brand. If you are undecided, try one and if you don’t like it, return it. My smart lights have become almost indispensable. I have them tied into Google Assistant routines so I can turn them on and off with voice commands, and when I go out and come home they automatically turn on and off as well (see Google Assistant help for how to pull off this last little trick) . It’s nice to come home to a bright house.
This week we’re going to talk about smart POS, something else I really can’t imagine being without. I have a multi-plug USB charging station that is plugged into one of my smart plugs and I have it automatically turn on every day at 4:00 pm and turn off at 10:00 pm when I leave the house, along with other outlets and lights turn off automatically so you don’t have to wonder if I remembered to turn them off. The smart plugs I have plug into a regular plug, but you can get smart plugs that replace a regular plug if you want. You use the point of sale app or, in some cases, your preferred assistant (Google, Siri, Amazon) to set them up. Some even report how much power they use.
Different smart outlets have different ways to connect. Some use WiFi, some use Bluetooth, some use techniques that require the use of a hub or controller and you’ll see terms like Zigbee and Z-wave and Matter. There is a good discussion of the various options here: https://go.ttot.link/ZigbeeVs. The short answer is that if you’re only going to have a few devices then WiFi is probably fine, but if you get more than a few they’ll be competing with all your other devices for WiFi bandwidth, in which case a hub and Zigbee or could it may be worth considering one of the other connectivity methods. When you go shopping, please pay attention to these terms. Often the product description will also tell you if they work directly with Google, Amazon, or Siri.
I have had smart outlets for quite a few years and have a mix of brands with various features. All of them integrate with both Amazon Alexa and Google Home. When I started, there weren’t many (any?) WiFi smart outlets, so I got a hub from SmartThings (https://go.ttot.link/SmartThings) that allowed me to connect and control Zigbee and Z-wave devices, ultimately also interacting with Google and Amazon assistants. I still use and prefer SmartThings and generally try to buy products that work with SmartThings.
Where can you find smart outlets? Search for Best Buy (use this link to easily search https://go.ttot.link/BestBuyOutlets), Amazon (via this link https://go.ttot.link/AmazonOutlets), and Lowe’s (https://go.ttot.link/AmazonOutlets). .ttot.link/BestBuyOutlets). ttot.link/LowesOutlets). There are power strips and even safe outlets for outdoor use (Christmas lights, anyone?). If you’re ambitious and enjoy that kind of work, you can even replace some regular plugs in your home with smart ones. But make sure any you buy are UL or CE approved (most are, but it never hurts to check). Every one I have purchased has worked as expected. Some have stopped working and others have been cut off from support, but over the course of 10 years, I hope that will happen.
The plugs are cheap enough to buy another one and change it. I care about the power usage of some of the smart plugs I have. Outlets that report energy use are more difficult to replace because they are less common and more expensive. One I use regularly is no longer available but there is a newer model https://go.ttot.link/NeoOutlet. It monitors and reports power usage, but it’s a Z-wave device, so it must have a hub. The POS has its own timer facilities so you can schedule on and off times using your app, without the hub or smart assistant.
I’ve mentioned hubs but haven’t really gone into detail about them. What are they and why would you want one? Hubs are the connection point for certain smart devices (smart LED bulbs, smart switches, humidity sensors, motion detectors, open/close sensors, etc.). Hubs speak one or more standards (eg Zigbee, Z-wave, Bluetooth, WiFi) and connect to and control devices that connect to it. Amazon’s newer Echo devices include the ability to directly connect to and control Zigbee devices (https://go.ttot.link/EchoZigbee) and then connect them to your WiFi network. Apple has HomeKit that supports a completely different standard called Thread (which Google also supports with its Nest Hub devices). NBC News provided a good synopsis and summary of what they consider to be the best smart home hubs (https://go.ttot.link/BestHubs). Personally, I am very happy with my SmartThings (now Aeotec) hub. It works with Google Assistant, Amazon Echo, and another service, IFTTT (which stands for If This Then That), giving you the ability to link multiple disparate services together. But that is a topic for another column.
Next week I’ll talk about other smart home devices you might be interested in. I’m sticking with plugs and lights, but there’s no reason to limit yourself if you’re interested in more automation.
That’s all for this week. Keep in mind that my intent with these columns is to pique your curiosity, give you enough information to get you started, and arm you with the necessary keywords (or buzzwords) so you understand the basics and are equipped to search for more detailed information.
Email me with questions, comments, suggestions, requests for future columns, you name it. [email protected] and don’t forget I keep links to the original columns with active clickable links to all references at https://go.ttot.link/TGColumns+Links or https://go.ttot.link/TGC +L . It should be updated shortly after this column comes online. My links tell me that I am getting some international readers. Regardless of where you’re from, drop me a quick note and say hi!
Tony Sumrall, a Hillsboro native whose parents ran the old Highland Lanes bowling alley, is a creator with technical and leadership skills. He has been in the computing field since he graduated from the University of Miami with a bachelor’s degree in systems analysis, working for and with companies ranging in size from five to hundreds of thousands of employees. He holds five patents and lives and thrives in Silicon Valley, fueling his love for all things tech.
Tony Sumrall Contributing Columnist