December 13, 2018

Exploring the Smart Home

Light bulbs

I am old enough to remember television sets before there were remote controls. Yes, we actually had to stand up, walk over to the TV, and change the channel manually. Of course, televisions were small enough in those days that we usually weren't sitting that far away to begin with. I remember my dad's reaction when televisions with remote controls started coming out. "Are you telling me people are so lazy they can't be bothered to get up and change the channel?" He viewed it as an unnecessary gimmick right up until we bought our first television that came with a remote. I think it took him no more than an hour to become completely hooked on having a remote, and that hasn't changed. We all have remotes now, which comes in handy because most of us also have more than three channels.

There were two Black Friday deals I was unable to resist this year. These were items I had been eyeing for some time but had kept dismissing as overpriced, unnecessary, and much like my dad all those years ago, the sort of gimmicks that nobody really needed. And like my dad, I was wrong...mostly. First and most extravagant, I finally decided to pick up some of the Philips Hue smart bulbs I've been eyeing since at least March. Best Buy had one of the starter kits with 3 color changing bulbs, a dimmer switch, and the hub required to make the system work on a good sale. I also found a good price on some of the basic white bulbs. Even though these white bulbs don't do that much, they are far less expensive than the other bulbs and function just as I wanted for my main overhead light fixture.

Admittedly, the color change bulbs are rather gimmicky. I am currently using one for ambient lighting and will soon put one in a lamp next to my bed. While it is neat being able to change the colors, I am not sure how much I will really use these. The basic white lights, however, have been a great addition. I put these in my main overhead fixture, and it is very nice to be able to turn them on and off as well as dim them to whatever level I want without having to get up. But what took them to another level of usefulness was my next Black Friday buy.

I picked up one of the 3rd generation Echo Dots. It was on sale for half the regular price and came with a smart plug. I have been listening to one of my co-workers rave about how much she loves hers, and I figured I'd give it a try. I haven't had it for long enough to learn how to do most of what it can do, but I have been using it to give me voice control over my Hue bulbs and my TV. I no longer have to use my phone to control the lights; I can just ask Alexa. This is handy because I am not someone who carries a phone with me at all times. Being able to adjust the lights with my voice is similar to the TV remotes in the sense that I couldn't appreciate how nice it is until trying it. Even though my use has been very basic at this point, I'll expand it as I get time (e.g., setting up routines so that one command performs multiple functions). It has also been nice to use it for checking the weather, traffic, and getting news updates.

It was not long ago that I remember scoffing at much of the smart home stuff. I am still not sure why I would want smart door locks or whether being able to control my thermostat with my voice is something I need. I have been enjoying being able to control the lights and getting answers to questions without having to mess with my phone. My guess is that there are plenty of other things I just haven't thought of doing yet that will prove to be equally helpful.

The primary warning I'd give to anyone considering Hue bulbs or services like Alexa is that these things tend to be addictive in the sense that one will likely think of buying more of them. Replacing all my light bulbs with Hue bulbs is tempting but would be very expensive. And I know a few people who started with one Echo Dot and now have them in every room. I've only had mine for a little more than a week, and I've already found myself thinking that it would be nice to have another one.