Best Buy Canada’s Life & Tech Festival returning to Toronto’s Yonge-Dundas Square

 

Best Buy Life & Tech

Best Buy Canada announced Thursday that their Life & Tech Festival is returning to Toronto’s Yonge-Dundas Square for the third year.

The interactive festival showcases smart home and connected health devices, along with the latest in wearable tech, connected toys and drones, and gaming and virtual reality systems.

Best Buy says over 60 exhibitors from around the globe will be demonstrating products at the 2017 fest.

The event runs daily from September 12 to 14 between 11 a.m. and 9 p.m. It’s free for the public to check out.

Are you interested in Best Buy Canada’s Life & Tech Festival? Share your thoughts in the comments below or at facebook.com/bamcatBuzz.

Head back to school with the Luma Home WiFi system

Luma Home WiFi

If you’re worried about online security, have kids in the home or have a lot of connected devices, the Luma Home is a solid, secure mesh WiFi system that offers many great features.

In my review of Netgear’s Orbi WiFi system earlier this summer I mentioned that mesh WiFi routers are all the rage these days. And while the Orbi is a powerful system, it lacked some features I expected and I found that the base station and satellite were unreasonably large (especially if you live in an apartment or smaller house). This led to me looking into other mesh WiFi systems like the Luma Home.

Unboxing

Because I live in a side-split and have had issues with coverage in the past, I went for the three-pack Luma offers. This comes with a base hub and two nodes (they are all interchangeable and any of the three can be used as the base hub). I was immediately impressed with the size of the hexagon-shaped units when I opened the box as these are small and well-designed, and you can plug them in and hide them easily around your home.

Setup

I connected the main hub to my cable modem in the middle of my basement and followed the instructions on the Luma app to complete the setup of the nodes and find the best placement for them. The app asks for the type of home you have then uses Bluetooth to sync the nodes to the main hub. The app makes the setup super easy and hassle-free and I was up and running in under 20 minutes.

The connection

While not as powerful as the Orbi, I found the WiFi connection from Luma to be stable and strong throughout my entire home, even with a family of four and endless devices connected I found everything worked seamlessly.

RELATED: Orbi delivers on performance, falls on features

Luma also constantly fine tunes the connection depending on where you’ve placed the nodes and what is happening around your home. You will also be notified via the app if there are any issues. This is a great as it learns your habits and helps you get the strongest signal.

Each of the nodes has two ethernet ports that can be used to connect to other devices, such as smart home hubs or networked printers. If you find you are having issues getting a strong connection between the three units wirelessly you can wire them all together via the ethernet ports to create a larger wireless area.

The Luma nodes also have a USB port. Unfortunately, these are only able to charge devices, like an iPhone or iPad, and not connect to a network drive or printer.

App and features

Where Luma stands out from the Orbi and other mesh WiFi systems I’ve tried is with the features it offers via the app.

You can name and assign all devices connected to your network to individual people. This keeps your network more organized and means you can set ratings for each person, pause the Internet for a person and also monitor if anything weird is happening with a specific device.

RELATED: Google Home review: How my family got hooked on a personal assistant speaker

This is ideal if you have children in the home (or roommates you want to limit). I set my son’s profile to a PG rating so that any content or sites he tries to view on his iPad that is not PG-friendly will not work, including YouTube videos. If I call him for dinner and he’s not listening, I can pause his connection. I can also set a time limit for him and set a daily bedtime – a time of day where his assigned devices will not be able to access the Internet.

Luma also monitors for any malicious activity and will alert you to such. This is perfect for devices that don’t have anti-virus software available, such as TVs and light bulbs. Because of this feature I was able to identify that my Vizio TV was sending info to a tracking site and that my Pixel phone was constantly hitting a phishing URL from a tab I had opened in Chrome.

For extra security you can also sign-up for the $5 per month Luma Guardian service which gives you a stealth VPN service, antivirus protection and a 2-year extended warranty on your Luma WiFi devices. It also monitors your ISP speed to see if you’re getting what you’re paying for.

The only feature missing from Luma that annoyed me is the ability to see your bandwidth usage. This would be a great addition and hopefully they add it in the future.

Final thoughts

If you’re worried about online security, have kids in the home or have a lot of connected devices, the Luma Home is a solid, secure mesh WiFi system that offers many great features. Because of it’s compact size, it’s also perfect for people who live in an apartment or smaller home, and for students heading off to college.

The Luma Home WiFi system three-pack sells for $399 at Best Buy Canada. Single units can be purchased for $149.99. For more information on the Luma Home WiFi system, visit lumahome.com.

Are you interested in mesh WiFi systems? Share your thoughts in the comments below or at facebook.com/bamcatBuzz.

Google Home review: How my family got hooked on a personal assistant speaker

Google Home

My Google Home patiently waiting for me to ask it something.

Ever since I heard about the Amazon Echo a couple of years ago I’ve wanted a personal assistant speaker. The idea I could just walk into my home and tell it to turn on lights or adjust my thermostat was the obvious next level in my dream of having a high-tech house.

While I waited for Amazon to release the Echo (or its cousin, the Echo Dot) in Canada, Google unleashed the Google Assistant on its line of Pixel phones. The Assistant was near perfection and was the main reason I ditched my iPhone and made the move to Android (bye, Siri). It kept getting better and better, too, with new capabilities being added frequently.

So when Google announced the Google Home, their Echo competitor, back in 2016, I was intrigued at what it could offer. It appeared to be just like the Assistant on my phone but able to do more in my home and for my entire family. And unlike the Echo, which uses Bing to look things up, Home has the almighty Google Search behind it. Then Google did something Amazon didn’t (and still hasn’t) – they released the Google Home in Canada!

Now, my excitement of having a personal assistant speaker over the years was not shared by my wife. My kids, of course, were on my side, but she was not sold on having a device “listening” in on us and told me I was never going to be allowed to bring one into our home. When Google offered to lend me a Home to review I figured it would be the only way I could convince her we needed one and, spoiler alert, it worked!

Here’s what impressed my family the most about the Google Home and why we can’t live without one now.

The speaker

I was not expecting much in the sound department from the air freshener looking Google Home. I’m used to streaming music via my Sonos system, which is still the gold standard for connected speakers in my opinion. That said, the Google Home offers really good sound quality that fills my living room quite nicely.

Being able to control Spotify (my streaming music service of choice) and raise or lower the volume via my voice is also a big benefit and a huge timesaver. This was by far the biggest selling feature for my wife, and even my kids ask it to play songs they like (although my youngest is hooked on Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone” thanks to Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare and that’s all I hear now).

Home control

Controlling my lights and thermostat by voice is what I wanted the Google Home for in the first place, and it has lived up to my expectations!

The Google Home works with a majority of “smart” products and was easy to connect with my Philips Hue bulbs, Nest thermostat and Lutron switches. I can say things like “Ok, Google dim my living room lights” and ta-da, my living room Hue bulbs dim! Or I can say “Ok, Google adjust the temperature to 21” and I can see my Nest light up and adjust the temperature. It also works with the Wink hub, WeMo plugs and switches, TP-Link bulbs and Samsung’s SmartThings hub (among a slew of other devices).

Sadly, Logitech does not support the Google Home in Canada yet so users of the Harmony remote won’t be able to control their TVs via voice (this is an option in the U.S. and I still don’t understand why it doesn’t work here). If you have a Chromecast though (which, I do not) you can use the Google Home to control it via voice.

It really is an assistant

Since the Google Home is connected to your Google account it truly does act as a personal assistant. “Ok, Google what’s my day like?” will tell you things that are on your calendar, let you know how long your commute to work is and tell you the weather for the day.

You can also ask for the latest headlines and it will play you clips from news providers you’ve selected (CBC, Global News, Sportsnet and CityNews are available Canadian sources). And it works for multiple users, meaning my wife and I can both access our own info depending on who is talking.

Perfect in the kitchen

Using the Google Home to add items to our shopping list, set timers when we’re cooking, convert measurements and even find recipes are features of the Home I never expected to be hooked on. It’s pretty much the perfect kitchen gadget and has become a great motivation to get me cooking more.

General knowledge

With a six and a 10-year-old in the house we get a lot of questions about a lot of different things. We try our best to answer everything we can but when they ask a question like “how many home runs did Jackie Robinson hit?” I need to look it up. These questions usually come up at the dinner table when phones and computers are not around (and not allowed). Now we can ask the Google Home questions to get the answer and that tends to lead into more questions and more learning opportunities.

My wife also found this to be a blessing when doing homework for a class she was taking. Instead of getting distracted on her phone or computer she asked it a few questions to clarify info as she was writing notes.

Games

The Google Home is loaded with fun word and sound games you can play. These range from trivia and math-based games to things like Mad Libs and Tic Tac Toe. Because there is no screen, you need to visualize and actually use your brain a bit more than if you were just playing a game on your phone or tablet. My kids and I find it’s great to play these around the breakfast table and I’ve even caught them forgoing their iPad time in favour of these games.

The Google Home can be purchased in Canada for $159 from the Google Store. It’s also available to purchase at Best Buy and Home Depot.

Have a Google Home or want one? Share your thoughts on it in the comments below or at facebook.com/bamcatBuzz.

Orbi delivers on performance, falls on features

Mesh WiFi routers are all the rage this year, and rightfully so. A mesh network delivers a stronger connection throughout your home with fewer dead zones and dropouts. And Netgear’s Orbi WiFi system is one of the most powerful systems I’ve tested.

Unboxing

I received the two-unit AC3000 Orbi WiFi system to test from Netgear. It comes with a base router and one satellite. Both feature four Ethernet ports and a USB 2.0 port. To my surprise, the units are much larger than I expected, especially when compared to other mesh WiFi systems, and finding a spot to place them proved difficult.

Setup

After finding a spot for the oversize base unit and satellite to live, I set my system up using my Google Pixel. I did the entire setup via the phone’s web browser and it was a breeze. In total it took about 15 minutes to get everything up and running.

Orbi WiFi

Trying to find a spot to hide the large Orbi satellite proved to be difficult.

The connection

Netgear says that the two-unit Orbi system covers up to 5000 sq. ft. and they don’t lie. I live in a side-split bungalow and have had issues in the past with dropouts and dead zones. With the Orbi my connection has been solid throughout my home, in my garage, and all around my yard.

The Ethernet ports on the satellite have proved beneficial for connecting IoT/Smart Home hubs, like my Philips Hue and Wink hubs. I also found that the Orbi works with wireless IoT/Smart Home products much better than other mesh systems I have tested.

Sadly, the USB ports on both the base unit and satellite are for networked storage only and not printers.

App and features

The official Orbi app is quite useless and I recommend Netgear’s genie app to manage your Orbi system. While the genie app offers some nice features for mapping out devices and monitoring traffic, it still does not give enough control when it comes to security or parental features (you can’t even turn on the guest network via the app and will need to login through the web portal for this). The system can supposedly be controlled via an Amazon Echo, which would be a bonus if it ever gets released in Canada.

Final thoughts

Overall, if you are having issues with WiFi dropouts in your home or have a lot of connected devices, the Orbi should solve your problems. If you want more parental controls, features or a better app experience, look into other mesh systems like the eero or Luma.

The two-unit Orbi WiFi system retails for $499 on Amazon.ca. For more info and full specs, visit netgear.com.

Are you looking to upgrade your home WiFi network? Share your thoughts in the comments below or at facebook.com/bamcatBuzz.

Never fumble for keys again with the Schlage Connect Touchscreen Deadbolt

Schlage Connect Touchscreen Deadbolt

Schlage’s Connect Touchscreen Deadbolt is an easy-to-use connected lock that is functional and sleek.

Along with connected bulbs and thermostats, one of the most obvious places to implement a “smart” home device is your front door. I’ve tested a few of these connected locks in the past but none have been as sleek or friendly to use as the Schlage Connect Touchscreen Deadbolt.

Unboxing

The Schlage Connect Touchscreen Deadbolt comes with a numbered touchpad panel for the outside of the door and a bulkier inside unit that holds the batteries, wires and also acts as an alarm. All required hardware, instructions and batteries are included in the box, along with one physical key (which I have still not used).

There are different trim and colour options available for the Schlage Connect Touchscreen Deadbolt. I picked up the century trim model in satin nickel and was surprised at how well it immediately blended into the features of my house.

Installation

I was replacing a Kevo Bluetooth Deadbolt with the Schlage Connect Touchscreen Deadbolt. Swapping the two was extremely simple and took about 20 minutes to do. If you are installing it on a brand new door or a non-standard door, it could take longer to install. The instructions are very detailed and easy to follow, though.

Setting up codes

The Schlage Connect Touchscreen Deadbolt comes with two preset 4-digit PIN numbers programmed and a 6-digit programming code (all of these are located in the user guide and on the back of the inside unit). A total of 17 other unique 4-digit PIN numbers can be programmed, making it easy for each family member to have their own code. Setting these up is as simple as entering the programming code followed by the 4-digit PIN you want to set. Again, the instructions are easy to follow and you won’t be lost setting up a PIN.

RELATED: Netatmo Welcome review: the security camera you didn’t know you needed

Locking and unlocking

I have never had a lock as easy to use as the Schlage Connect Touchscreen Deadbolt. To lock it from the outside all you need to do is press the Schlage logo on the front of the touchpad and, boom! It locks. When you want to unlock your door from the outside, you press the Schlage logo to get it to light up then enter one of your 4-digit PIN numbers (locking and unlocking from the inside works the way any other deadbolt does). You can also set it to auto-lock after 30 seconds and link it to a Wink Hub (see below).

Wink integration

Being able to double check that you locked your door when you get to work or being able to open your door for someone when you’re not home is probably the control you want from a “smart” lock. The Schlage Connect Touchscreen Deadbolt can connect to a Wink Hub or Wink Hub 2 in order to give you this control from within the Wink app or from a Wink Relay switch. And it’s worth getting a Wink Hub in order to gain this ability as it truly opens up a whole new world (when I get home with a load of groceries or a sleeping child in the backseat I unlock the door from my car and don’t have to mess around with my arms full).

The alarm

The unit I got has a built-in alarm. While this sounds like a good idea, I found it very sensitive and awkward to use (wind blowing against the door even set it off one night). It also takes a bit to get the alarm to stop once it goes off (my poor papergirl had the scare of her life when I was testing it). After playing with the settings I never found a good middle ground and ended up disabling it.

RELATED: 5 reasons to add Philips Hue bulbs to your smart home

Final thoughts

Issues with the alarm feature aside, the Schlage Connect Touchscreen Deadbolt is a great lock that’s easy to use and extra functional when paired with a Wink Hub. The ability to use codes instead of keys makes life much easier and has already saved me hours trying to find my keys multiple times a day.

The Schlage Connect Touchscreen Deadbolt retails for around $239.99 at Home Depot and Lowe’s in Canada. For more information, visit schlage.com.

Do you use a connected “smart” lock? Interested in one? Share your thoughts in the comments below or at facebook.com/bamcatBuzz.

Netatmo Welcome review: the security camera you didn’t know you needed

Netatmo Welcome

The Netatmo Welcome is a slick and functional connected security camera. Courtesy Netatmo.

I have a love-hate relationship with indoor connected security cameras. On one hand, I like feeling safe and knowing my house is being monitored when I’m not there. On the other hand, I don’t like the idea of a camera recording me while I’m walking around in my briefs, or worse, a hacker hijacking the camera and watching me walk around in my briefs!

My feelings for connected cameras changed after testing the Netatmo Welcome for a few weeks. Unlike the Netatmo Weather Station (which I found to be a cool, but unnecessary device) the Netatmo Welcome is slick and functional.

First thoughts

After unboxing the Netatmo Welcome (I was too excited to shoot a video of it), the cylinder shape and goldish colour instantly made it stand out from other security cameras I’ve tested (it comes across much more like a Bluetooth speaker than a camera). Along with a USB port to power the device, there’s an Ethernet port and a  MicroSD card slot located on the back.

RELATED: Netatmo Weather Station review: Cool device; far from perfect

Getting it connected

Because it requires a power source and I only wanted it to point at my front door to see when people come and go, it took some maneuvering and extension cords before I got it up and running. Once it was hooked up, getting it onto my home WiFi network and setting it up via the iOS app was a very simple process (there’s also an Android app available).

Features

The big feature of the Netatmo Welcome is its facial recognition capabilities. For the most part this worked well with my kids (both boys) and I. For some reason it seemed to recognize my wife or mother even after flagging multiple images of them during its training (the only explanation I have for this is their longer hair got in the way of a full face view).

Via the app you can set up and be alerted to any motion detected by the camera. It can also listen for alarms, such a smoke or security alarm, going off inside your home and notify you of them as well. Like the facial recognition it takes some tweaking in order to get this working smoothly.

Netatmo Welcome face recognition

Example of face recognition with the Netatmo Welcome. Courtesy Netatmo.

Other features of the Netatmo Welcome include the ability to get a live view in 1080p HD from within the app and have recorded clips uploaded directly to Dropbox or an FTP server.

Hands on

As I mentioned above, it took a few days to get the camera working to my liking. Faces from reflections of my TV in a window were picked up and kept alerting me of “unknown faces”. I re-positioned it and then trees moving outside kept alerting me of “motion detected”. When I finally found the “sweet spot” for it, it worked like a charm.

RELATED: 5 reasons to add Philips Hue bulbs to your smart home

Being able to get a clear live view when no one was home (even at night when all the lights were off inside) and being able to confirm that all my timers and smart bulbs were working as they were supposed to was a big selling point for me. I was also impressed with the integration of Netatmo Tags, which are additional sensors available to purchase that can be attached to windows and doors. These talk to the Welcome to alert you if a window or door is opened.

Cons

The only real con to the Netatmo Welcome I found was lack of compatibility with other “smart” devices. It would be nice to be able to use it with the Wink Relay or via the Apple Home app. This is the same issue I had with the Netatmo Weather Station and it’s a real problem if Netatmo wants to compete in the the “Internet of Things” market (you even need separate apps for the Weather Station and Welcome).

Final thoughts

Overall, I was impressed enough with the Netatmo Welcome to seriously consider adding one to my home. For $219 it’s cheaper than the similar Nest Cam ($249) and with no monthly fee for services or cloud storage it’s a solid contender.

The Netatmo Welcome is available in Canada at Home Depot, Best Buy and Amazon.ca. For more information, visit netatmo.com.

Do you use a Netatmo Welcome or similar connected security camera? Share your thoughts in the comments below or at facebook.com/bamcatBuzz.

Around the House (Oct. 4, 2016)

Around the House is a weekly roundup of news items related to smart devices, tools, kitchen gadgets and anything else worth mentioning that affects how we live at home.

Google Home not coming to Canada

Google held a big event Tuesday to announce the new Pixel smartphone, which features Google Assistant and supposedly has the best smartphone camera ever. The more exciting news was about their Amazon Echo competitor, Google Home. Considering the Echo is still not available in Canada I fully expected Google to jump on the market with Home and completely crush Amazon here (the Home and Echo pretty much do the exact same thing). Sadly, Google did not mention availability in Canada at all and now we have two devices we can only dream about using.

Amazon now ships faster in Toronto and Vancouver

Speaking of Amazon, they now offer same-day and weekend shipping to Amazon Prime members in Toronto and Vancouver (they really should launch their own delivery service here). They also rolled out Twitch Prime last week which offers exclusive gaming content every month, discounts on new release games and a free monthly Twitch channel subscription. Twitch Prime is included with the annual $79 Amazon Prime service for Canadians.

Samsung washing machines could hurt you

Did you purchase a top-loading Samsung washing machine between March 2011 and April 2016? If so, you might want to listen up. Samsung has issued a warning about some of these machines after reports of them “exploding”. According to Consumer Reports, “the problem seems to occur during the spin cycle when some machines suddenly and sometimes violently break apart.” Considering Samsung just had to recall the Galaxy Note 7 over reports of it exploding, this is not a very good year for the company.

No Apple Home support for the Wink Hub 2

In one of the worst-kept secrets around the smart home and “Internet of Things” community, the Wink Hub 2 was officially announced last week. Coming to a Walmart or Home Depot near you for $99US, the Wink Hub 2 adds 5GHz Wi-Fi, an Ethernet port and upgrades the internal memory from 64MB to 512MB. Unfortunately, it does not support Apple Home yet which means it’s really not worth upgrading to if you already have a first-gen Wink Hub. (When I complained about lack of Apple Home support on Twitter the company pointed out they support over 31 brands and 300 devices).

You could win $10,000 in tools from Milwaukee Tools

Milwaukee Tools launched their “Cut the Cord” contest on Oct. 1 with a grand prize of $10,000 in cordless tools! All you have to do to enter is submit a photo of your Milwaukee tool collection at cutthecordcontest.ca and get your friends and family to vote for you. There’s also monthly and weekly prizes up for grabs, along with a “most voted” prize worth $1,200. The contest closes on Jan. 31, 2017. Good luck!

Have something to add to Around the House weekly? Share your thoughts in the comments below or at facebook.com/bamcatBuzz.

Around the House (Sept. 12, 2016)

Around the House is a weekly roundup of news items related to smart devices, tools, kitchen gadgets and anything else worth mentioning from the last week that affects our home life.

Nest Cam Outdoor arrives

The highly anticipated Nest Cam Outdoor is now available to purchase for a cool $249.99 CDN. The weatherproof camera allows users to monitor the outside of their homes live 24/7 and also includes two-way audio. Users with a Nest Aware subscription can receive person alerts and have 10 or 30-day video history saved in the cloud depending on the package they subscribe to. Nest also added three new thermostat colour options this week. For those unhappy with only being able to purchase the standard stainless steel model, you can now get it in white, black and copper.

Nest Cam Outdoor

The Nest Cam Outdoor is now available in Canada for $249.

Apple shows off ‘Home’ app

During its iPhone 7 event last week, Apple briefly showed off its new ‘Home’ app in iOS 10, which will give users total control of HomeKit integrated smart devices in one location. Compatible devices include the likes of Philips Hue bulbs, the ecobee3 thermostat and Schlage Connect locks (among others). Besides the announcement that Mario is coming to the iPhone and iPad this holiday season (about time!), the ‘Home’ demo was the most exciting thing about the event.

Apple Home App

Apple’s ‘Home’ app.

PlayStation 4 Pro announced

The PlayStation 4 Pro is coming November 10. Along with a faster processor and a 1TB hard drive, it opens up 4K gaming. Unfortunately it does not not support 4K UltraHD Blu-ray titles like the XBOX One S does. This is somewhat odd since Sony Home Entertainment has been pumping out 4K UltraHD Blu-ray movies all year, including the Angry Birds movie (which, if you’re going to watch, it might as well be in 4K UltraHD).

PS4 Pro

The Sony PlayStation Pro 4.

Milwaukee Tool has a light for everyone

Four new lighting options are coming this fall from Milwaukee Tool. These include the M18 Rocket LED Tower Light/Charger, M12 ROVER LED Compact Flood Light, M18 LED Search Light and M18 RADIUS LED Compact Site Light w/ONE-KEY, which can be programmed via the ONE-KEY app and remotely controlled from up to 50-feet away. As a fan of the Milwaukee Tool brand I’m excited for all of these. All four options will be available in October.

Milwaukee M18 RADIUS LED Compact Site Light w/ONE-KEY

The Milwaukee M18 RADIUS LED Compact Site Light w/ONE-KEY.

Samsung Canada officially recalls Note 7

After some serious issues surrounding the Note 7 battery (like the potential of it to explode and cause a fire), Samsung Canada has issued a recall notice for the device. If you purchased one between August 19 and September 1, 2016, you are urged to power it down and register for a new one. There’s been approximately 21,953 of these sold in Canada (according to Health Canada) so if you know someone with one let them know about the recall.

Have something to add to Around the House weekly? Share your thoughts in the comments below or at facebook.com/bamcatBuzz.

5 reasons to add Philips Hue bulbs to your smart home

Philips Hue

Philips Hue bulbs truly add the “smart” to “smart home”.

For the last few years I’ve been attempting to turn my home into a “smart home”. Some of the products I have added or tested have been great, while others have had constant issues or just didn’t live up to the hype. My latest addition, the Philips Hue connected LED bulb, blows every other “smart” thing out of the water. Here’s five reasons why.

Easy to setup

For my review Philips sent me the Hue White Ambiance A19 Starter Kit. This kit consists of two connected bulbs, a bridge and a remote. Hook the bridge up to your router via an Ethernet cable, screw the bulbs into the light fixtures you want them in, download the app and you’re up and running (seriously, the setup took about 10 minutes in total).

Works with everything

There is nothing more infuriating than not being able to control a “smart” device the way you want. One of the standout features of the Philips Hue bulbs is it can be controlled from almost everything. The Wink Relay works with it as does Amazon’s Echo device (still not available in Canada) and it’s compatible with Apple HomeKit (meaning you can tell Siri to turn lights on and off). It also works with Nest (lights turn on when thermostat is in “Away” mode and turn on if your smoke detector goes off) and can also be controlled via the Harmony Ultimate One remote.

Total control

Along with it working with everything I threw at it, the Hue app gives you total control of the bulbs. You can set routines for the bulbs to turn on and off, change the brightness level (“Dimmed” is great for watching Stranger Things on Netflix) and even change the colour (only if you have a colour Hue bulb). The supplied remote (which can also be mounted to the wall) can be programmed and both the Android and iOS app are easy to use. You can also control it via certain wearables, like the Apple Watch, and use the IFTTT app with it. There’s also third-party apps available that opens up the potential of Hue even further.

RELATED: Nest aims to make your home safer with new outdoor camera

Great bulb

My entire house has been updated to LED bulbs and the Philips Hue bulbs give off some of the best light out of the bunch. The White Ambiance bulbs range between 2000K and 6500K, giving you the ability to have warm or cold light depending on your mood. They’re 800 lumens, use only 10.5 watts and can last up to 25,000 hours (comparable to most LED bulbs these days). Because you can dim them via the bulb there is also no need for expensive dimmer switches, which sometimes cause LED bulbs to hum.

Expandable

Philips makes a range of Hue bulbs and up to 50 bulbs can run off of one bridge. I’ve already purchased extra bulbs for around my house and added some colour ones to the mix (having my lights outside turn orange for Halloween or red and green for Christmas is going to be awesome). There’s also Hue light strips available, which are perfect for under kitchen cabinets.

RELATED: Netatmo Weather Station review: Cool device; far from perfect

Final thoughts

The initial cost of adding Philips Hue bulbs is a bit shocking (the starter kit I was sent is about $129.99) but once you see the control they give you you’ll realize it’s well worth the investment. I honestly don’t know how I survived this long without them.

Are you a fan of Philips Hue bulbs? Use something similar? Share your thoughts in the comments below or at facebook.com/bamcatBuzz.

Netatmo Weather Station review: Cool device; far from perfect

Netatmo Weather Station

The Netatmo Weather Station is a cool “smart” device, but lacks a lot of features that would make it a must-have item.

The Netatmo Weather Station is the first personal home weather station I’ve used and from what I read beforehand, I expected a full featured connected home device. And while it has many great qualities, it lacks in a few critical areas. Here are my thoughts on the device after playing with it for a few weeks.

What is the Netatmo Weather Station?

The Netatmo Weather Station is a personal home weather station that connects via your Android or iOS device. The base kit consists of an indoor base station and an outdoor module that can detect heat, humidity, air pressure, air quality and carbon dioxide (CO2) levels. The indoor base station can also monitor those things as well as noise levels. Accessories like a rain gauge and a wind gauge can be added to give a user more information.

BELOW: Watch as I unbox the Netatmo Weather Station and its accessories

Setting up the Netatmo Weather Station

The indoor base station plugs into a wall outlet to get power and needs to be somewhere close enough to the outside module. Once it’s booted, you use the app to connect it to your home Wi-Fi and set it up. The outdoor module requires AAA batteries and needs to be mounted in a location that it won’t get wet or be in direct sunlight. It needs to be positioned close enough to the indoor base station for the two to sync. Getting those working together was a fairly simple task.

Netatmo Weather Station

The Netatmo Weather Station outdoor module mounted to my house.

Where I had issues was when connecting the rain gauge and wind gauge accessories. Both use AAA batteries and both need to be near the indoor base station as well. After a few hiccups, the rain gauge synced and I found a good spot to mount it where it could collect rain and still be in range. I fought with the wind gauge for about an hour and never got it to connect. I packed it up and never bothered trying it again as it was too frustrating.

Using the Netatmo Weather Station

Once the Netatmo Weather Station is set-up it pretty much runs itself. The app will notify you when CO2 levels are over 1,000 ppm or when there is a large amount of rain collected. You can of course load the app to check conditions whenever you want. The main indoor base station also lights up with different colours if CO2 levels are high.

What I liked about the Netatmo Weather Station

For the most part, the Netatmo Weather Station is a slick-looking “smart home” device that has a lot of information to offer. From the packaging to the slim design of the base station and outdoor module, it feels very much like an Apple product. I liked the fact the outdoor module and accessories took batteries and didn’t rely on house power. The app (I tested both the Android and iOS version) is well designed and I discovered having a super local forecast in my backyard really does make a difference. There’s also a nice weather map feature that shows other Netatmo Weather Station readings from around the world.

What I didn’t like about the Netatmo Weather Station

Besides not being able to get the wind gauge to work, I was irked that it and the rain gauge didn’t include a mounting bracket and that Netatmo sells the bracket as a separate accessory. I only had one bracket in my review kit, meaning that even if I got the wind gauge to work I would have had to decide on what accessory to use as I could only use one. This is a bit sneaky on Netatmo’s part in my opinion. Also, no matter how tight I had the bracket, the rain gauge tipped over a few times during heavy downpours making it seem like there was no rain at all.

Netatmo Weather Station

The Netatmo Weather Station rain gauge accessory mounted on my fence.

I was also disappointed with the lack of integration with other “smart home” devices, such as the Nest Learning Thermostat and Wink Relay. Both of these would make the Netatmo Weather Station a much more valuable tool for the connected home.

How the Netatmo Weather Station could be better

It would be great if the Netatmo Weather Station included a wall-mounted display panel as having to always load an app is a bit tiresome, especially when there’s a whole family involved. This could easily be solved if it could integrate with other devices better, such as the Wink Relay. I would also like the ability to have the Netatmo data sync with other weather apps. I also think that the wind gauge and rain gauge could be merged into one unit for space and cost savings.

Final thoughts

The Netatmo Weather Station is a cool “smart” device, but with the lack of a wall display and no integration with my other devices, it’s not an essential tool for my connected home and I won’t be running out to buy one anytime soon. It did open my eyes to the potential of having a personal weather station though and I do now want one.

The Netatmo Weather Station base package retails for $179.99. The rain gauge is an extra $79.99 and the wind gauge runs for $99.99 (the mounting bracket is $24.99). An additional indoor module is also available for $79.99. For more information, visit netatmo.com.

Do you use a Netatmo or other connected weather station at home? Share your thoughts in the comments below or at facebook.com/bamcatBuzz.