Smart Home Automation Review – Control of Your Home

Installation and Performance

Amazon Echo Dot

The first thing we did was to configure our Amazon Echo, this clever little box of tricks is super easy to set up and only required a USB cable for power (Echo Dot) and the Alexa app on our mobile device. Alexa will walk you through the setup process in a few minutes and you’ll be ready to rock before you know it! I’ve put one on my desk and another on the bookcase in my bedroom, giving me voice controls if I’m in the living room or kitchen, as well as the small study space and bedroom upstairs.

Alexa works pretty much straight out of the box, and you can simply ask it “Alexa, discover devices.” and it’ll search your home network, pick up your smart devices (our LIFX bulbs for example) and that’s it. Since we named out bulbs living room, bedroom, kitchen, etc. It’s simply a case of saying “Alexa, turn on living room lights” and it simply works, and it’s amazing. You can create endless groups too such as “party light”, “all light”, “downstairs lights” and trigger each group in the same way, with on/off/brightness level and so on. These groups can even include other smart devices such as power socket adaptors, Harmony commands, and more, giving you the ability to launch a whole range of configurations with ease.

Of course, with Alexa being a pretty slick AI, even asking “Alexa, what is the time” or “Alexa, how far away is the Sun in miles” can come in pretty handy.

Harmony Elite

The Harmony Elite is its own perfect little ecosystem, and setting it up was a breeze, it seemed to have every product we could think of (within reason) stored in its database, simply type in the name on the mobile app, it ran a few power tests, synced with the remote and bam! You’re good to go. What’s really fun is you can set up “activities” and these can include any of your smart devices in groups, just like we did with the lights and Alexa.

We set up one called “Watch a Movie” and it would turn on the TV to the correct source, power on the subwoofer, turn on the amp, turn off any other devices that were no longer needed, such as the PlayStation, dim the living room lamp to 40% and turn off the kitchen light. Very impressive and easy to chain all your devices to suit each scenario via the mobile app or desktop software. While the Alexa skill for services like IFTTT aren’t in the UK yet, nor is the Logitech Skill, you can work around it with the Yonomi app for now, allowing you to then use Alexa to trigger one of these activities such as “Alexa turn on TV” and you can control things via voice too. When you’ve got guests around, you’ll find casually turning on your TV and dimming your lights by voice really blows people’s minds, especially family members who aren’t very up to speed with technology.

When it comes to home automation, simplicity is the main goal. There’s no point spending hundreds on smart gear only to make things even more complicated and that’s where the Harmony shines the most, especially with all this on my TV stand.

As well as my NAS, router, printer, mobile devices, and two consoles on the bookcase, the last thing I need is complications…

…yet here are my home entertainment centre controls. Two Sky TV remotes, TV, UHD Blu-Ray player, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Surround Sound and Shield. I’ll be honest, it’s a bloody nightmare keeping track of them all, swapping between devices, and the kids losing them down the back of the couch. Given my love of tech, my collection of remotes is only going to get bigger without a serious change.

…and that’s where the Logitech Harmony comes into play. This is every single one of those remotes replaced with a single device, a neat little charging hub for it, and an IR blaster; your setup may or may not require an IR Blaster to be installed. That’s one hell of a difference, and given I can control Wi-Fi power adaptors, my lighting and more from this, it’s going way beyond what my old remotes could do already.

I needed somewhere for the hub, but since I already have a 5 x USB port hub and an Ikea pan lin holder (seriously) that I use for a mobile charging rack, and the hub can be powered via USB anyway, it seems to fit in with those very nicely, keeping all my tech gore in one section of the bookcase.

One setup, the control comes with seemingly endless customisation, with customisable one-touch channel shortcuts for my Sky Q box and more, making it very friendly for the whole family to use. Plus, with Yonomi and Alexa, even if we can’t find the remote, I can still change the channels!

Activities are certainly one of the most welcoming smart home additions that Harmony provides. When I hit “Plex” it fires up my devices, but also turns out my kitchen light, and dims the living room lights. It’s a little touch of luxury I don’t need, but to have it is to love it. Of course, I can trigger these activities via Alexa, or even trigger them via the Logitech Pop buttons if I so desire. If you need to add delays and custom buttons presses to your Activities, say to get a certain volume, a particular channel number, or menu, you can do that via the desktop software and it’ll sync just as easily as the mobile app does.

Logitech Pop

The Logitech Pop switches are a welcome addition the home automation setup, as they’re great for replacing existing dumb light switches. As you can see, you can put them virtually anywhere in your home, and with three commands on each (single press, double press and long press), they can do almost anything in your smart home network. This one is here for family and my kids who aren’t well versed in the Harmony remote or Alexa, or simply prefer the one button approach. One push turns on all the TV hardware, two turns on the music setup, holding it turns it all off – couldn’t be more simple than that!

This one controls my smart lights, with one tap turning on/off the lamp, double tap the kitchen lights, and hold it to turn on all downstairs light to max brightness in my hallway, living room and kitchen. We have one more in the bedroom, which turns on the lights and starts a music playlist on Amazon Music through my Bluetooth dock, controls the bedroom lights, and even the bathroom light should we get to bed and forget to power it off. The setup works great for the times you don’t want to say “Alexa turn off the light” such as 3am when you don’t want to wake the kids, but we do feel that more of these Pop buttons will be required soon to do all the lights and entertainment devices we have in this setup, especially as we start expanding it with more features.

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Peter Donnell

As a child still in my 30's (but not for long), I spend my day combining my love of music and movies with a life-long passion for gaming, from arcade classics and retro consoles to the latest high-end PC and console games. So it's no wonder I write about tech and test the latest hardware while I enjoy my hobbies!

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