Review 2

Smart switches, plugs and connectivity

When I first came out of hospital in January 2018, I was having far more of the episodes where I lose muscle function. These have been improved greatly by the new medication. It meant that at the time much of my day I was unable to move at all. My first priority was to buy voice activated controls. This gave me the ability to call for help, if Mary or a carer was in the other room. Request music or an audio book, adjust the heating. Then after later additions, control lighting and even TV and other devices. I also had several cameras setup and activated by voice so that my world was expanded. The most important being a view outside our front door. I will look at the devices that made all this possible and explain their strengths and weaknesses.

There are two main things needed for a voice activated system. 1/ An internet connection. 2/ A smart voice control system. I know of three, Amazon Echo (Alexa), Google Home and Apple Siri. There are others. The main two that offer connection to devices in your home are Amazon and Google. I use Amazon, but I have tried out Google.

You setup the system by buying one or more of your chosen devices. I bought an Amazon Echo speaker and a few of the small Echo dots as my first purchases. Having connected them to my internet router (instructions with device), putting the speaker by me and the Dots around the house, I was then able to listen to music (add reminders, check weather etc) and call to Mary or my carers. The Echo Dots can also listen to music etc, but their speakers are a bit small. We used them as an intercom system. After we added smart wi-fi cameras and doorbell it became necessary to upgrade my Echo speaker to an Echo Show. This has a small screen that can show the picture from the camera in the doorbell or external camera.

Echo Show

The other thing that we did at the beginning was have Hive heating fitted. This is where the heating control and thermostat is replaced by a wireless smart, internet linked controller and thermostat. Then you can connect it to an app on your phone or iPad and also to your Alexa or Google Home, you still have a wall thermostat. So, I can say “Alexa change the heating to 20 degrees.” Or “Alexa, ask Hive the temperature.” We were fortunate that the initial cost of fitting Hive and the first Amazon Echo was covered by a grant. This is because of its benefit to me in giving me control in my limitations.

Hive Thermostat

There are weaknesses with the Echo system. Sometimes it doesn’t hear you right. I have often had to repeat myself many times when trying to add a reminder. Even the heating can be a frustration at times, either Echo or Hive can have connection problems. But for the few times that happens I would not swap it. It gives me such a great satisfaction being able to control my environment. It’s very difficult being able to see but not reach light switches and thermostats. I wake at 4am, long before Mary, so I can turn the heating up in winter when I wake.

If you are thinking of getting a smart system. Consider if you will get cameras, if so, buy an Echo Show, or the Google equivalent. Amazon have upgraded versions of their system, but that means they are selling off the old ones cheaper. I would also consider security. The smart devices listen all the time. Amazon and Google say they don’t record and keep your conversations. Do you trust them, that’s up to you? If you buy an Echo Show or the small Echo Spot as a bedside clock, remember it has a built-in camera. Do you want a camera by your bed?

Echo Spot for a bedside clock?

I extended my smart system over the last year and a half with smart switches and plugs. There are many out there, just search smart plugs, sockets or switches. I would recommend Meross. This is because they are well made, easy to setup and the app they supply is well laid out. One point on this, I have several devices, and each has its own app for my phone. It’s better to try and stick with one manufacturer or you have a lot of apps, like me. They all work with Alexa or Google Home. Just to explain that. The app on your phone and/or iPad gives you control of your smart switches, plugs and cameras from anywhere you have internet access. But all of them also connect to your home hub via your Amazon Alexa or Google Home. So, you can voice control them at home.

Meross Smart plugs

Smart plugs or sockets enable you to plug anything in (check power rating if you are planning on plugging in a kettle or tumble dryer). Smart switches replace your wall light switch with a device that can still be turned on or off at the wall, but also voice or app operated. A few things to note about that.

1/ Not all smart switches are dimmable.

2/ It is complicated to buy a multi way switch (one that operates two lights up and down stairs)

3/ the wiring in your house needs to be modern (have a neutral wire) so consult an electrician, don’t do it yourself.

I have several smart sockets and switches setup, which means I can turn lights on and off by voice and cut power on various things in the house by voice.

Smart light switch

The smart cameras and doorbell I use are all Netvue. I have not tried others, but I can say the Netvue ones work great. The only downside being that to record movement you need to subscribe to their cloud service. Otherwise without the subscription you just get notice there has been movement and a snapshot. They are currently beta testing human only recognition for movement. Anyone who has tried CCTV cameras and setup movement sensors will know how annoying animals or sunlight triggers can be. The beta looks good so far.

Netvue exterior camera

The Netvue doorbell is very useful. We got it after a particularly persistent visitor rang and rang our doorbell when Mary was in the bath. I thought it must be urgent, but by the time Mary got out the bath and to the door we discovered it was not. With the camera and voice doorbell, I can see who is there and chat to them. If necessary, I could give them a keycode (in an emergency). I would love to be able to afford an electric door lock, to let people in.

Netvue Doorbell

Smart technology is a great blessing, although not perfect. I know I have pushed Amazon Echo. But that is the one I know best. The little I know of Google Home; it is a more limited system. If you are looking into smart tech maybe try buying one of the older Amazon Echo Dot’s to try out. See how you get on. Or get the new better one and then if you don’t like it return it within 30 days for a refund from Amazon.

One last thing. When setting up any smart device, do follow the instructions to the letter. I tried skipping steps and had to reset and try again. You really must do it properly. That’s especially true with setting the device up on your phone or iPad, you must use 2.4ghz not 5ghz. You can set it back after setup.

I hope you get to try smart tech and it benefits you as much as it does me.

Thanks for reading. Please do read my other bogs, like share and comment.

Author: Mike Nevin

I decided to write about the funny side of being cared for. I am a full time wheelchair user with daily carers. It's my experiences with my carers that inspired this blog.

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