Reagle Gateway Review

As you may remember from my review of the Reagle Smart Deadbolt Lock back in August, the excellent low cost lock utilizes Bluetooth to communicate to your HomeKit setup. Bluetooth, while great for providing a local and secure connection, is often limited by range, suffers from slighlty longer response times, and lacks remote capabilities without a HomeKit hub. The Reagle Gateway, which is a small companion device was released early last month, aims to solve some of these common Bluetooth downfalls by bridging the connection to your home’s Wi-Fi network. So in the world of HomeKit, is such as accessory worth the extra cost? Let’s take a look.

The Reagle Gateway comes in a rather ordinary, small brown cardboard box, with the company’s namesake and the device name front and center. Opening the box reveals the gateway unit itself, along with a power extension cable, USB power brick, and the associated paperwork. The Gateway features a clean black square design, with a male USB-A connector extending out from the bottom.

The USB port design was handy in our use case, as the area that it was plugged into had USB-A ports built-into the wall outlet, giving us a clean placement with no additional wires. As mentioned, Reagle does include an extension cable and a power brick if you want to go the traditional route, which was nice to see everything included in the box.

The front of the Gateway has no branding on it, with just a small LED indicator light sitting near the center. The sides of the unit were also bare, allowing it to blend in to its surroundings, which we quite liked, and around the back was just a simple label with all the appropriate regulatory markings and such. The USB power brick is also void of branding, and has a slim profile, allowing it to fit in tighter spaces such as connecting it to a power strip.

After using the USB design to its advantage by plugging it directly into a USB port in our outlet, it was time begin the pairing process. Since the hub is not involved with HomeKit, the pairing process is completed entirely through the Reagle app, and consists of just a few steps. When the Gateway first powers up, it displays a solid red color on its LED indicator light, and is followed by a series of flashing to indicate that it is ready for pairing. The Reagle app guides you through the beginning of the process by asking the user if the light is blinking, with a simple yes or no answer for confirmation.

After tapping on yes, the app proceeds to the actual pairing procedure, where it reminds you to stay close to your lock and to ensure that others in your home are not actively attempting to use it. The pairing process took just a couple of minutes, with its progress displayed via a percentage in the middle of the app. After pairing completes, a diagnostic screen is shown, providing a run-down of the connection strength from both the Gateway to the Wi-Fi router, and the Deadbolt to the Gateway.

During our pairing process, the diagnostic screen let us know that our connection from the Deadbolt to the Gateway (which is via Bluetooth) was “Bad” although it did allow us to proceed. We are not quite sure as to why our connection was stated as such, as the Gateway was within just around 5 foot away from the Deadbolt, and despite the app providing a tip on how to improve the connection, we proceeded anyway as we could not has possibly gotten any closer to the Deadbolt with how our home is configured.

Once you are finished with the pairing process, a new “Gateway” tab appears in the settings portion of the Reagle App near the top and to the right of the “Lock” tab. The Gateway tab gives you some basic information about the unit itself, such as when it was paired, the SSID that it is connected to, model, firmware version, device ID, and its connection status.

Also available is a handy “Diagnose” function for testing your Gateway’s connection, and the option to “Delete” the Gateway from your account. Since the Gateway is just an accessory to the Deadbolt, there isn’t much else that you get with the app, and the same goes for HomeKit, as Apple’s smart home platform doesn’t note its connection, and it appears just as it did before.

So as a HomeKit user, you may be wondering at this point, just what is the Reagle Gateway for? As previously mentioned, the Gateway is essentially a bridge that gives users without a HomeKit hub, or those that use a different platform such as Android, a way to access their locks remotely. However, for those more invested in HomeKit, there are still some benefits to be had that could make it worth your while.

One such benefit is that the Gateway gives owners of the Smart Deadbolt a much larger operating range, which can be crucial in larger homes where the HomeKit hub is not near your entry door. The Gateway’s compact design along with its clever integrated male USB-A connector makes it perfect for placement just about anywhere. Another is that the Gateway enables the ability to manage entry codes any time and anywhere.

The code ability is particularly handy for scenarios where you are out of the home, and either someone needs to drop something off at your home, or if you need to grant access to someone for just a little while. Previously, you could assign codes to people that persist or expire after a certain amount of time, or just simply unlock the door remotely for them, but the Gateway makes things a little more convenient, as you can delete the code as soon as you know that they are gone, preventing possible re-entry.

In our case, our Smart Deadbolt did not have any issues previously using just its Bluetooth connection to our HomeKit hub, so we didn’t see any improvements to speed and responsiveness with the added Gateway. This was a little surprising, as we expected some slight performance gains with commands sent and other queries through HomeKit, but this is not something that is advertised by Reagle, so it was merely our assumption and not a fault of the Gateway itself.

Reagle only states that the Gateway offers the following benefits, and even points out some that are already covered through the nature of HomeKit and a hub, which we certainly give them kudos for:

  • Remotely lock/unlock your smart lock from anywhere with your smartphone
  • Remotely change the lock’s configuration and enable/disable special functions such as auto-locking or lockdown
  • Remotely add or remove customizable access Codes for your guests without having to be near your lock for syncing
  • Remotely check the status of your smart lock and its batteries in real-time
  • Receive notifications when guests or family members enter and leave your home
  • View detailed access logs of all lock activities and stay in control 24/7

So in the end, the Reagle Gateway is one of those devices that is purpose built, and its true value is only for those with specific needs, such as for range extension. If you know that your existing Smart Deadbolt could benefit from extending its range via Wi-Fi, or if you or others that access your home use other operating systems, then it is certainly an easy accessory to recommend. The clever USB design, included accessories, and easy setup make it a great addition in these scenarios.

However, for most HomeKit users with an existing HomeKit hub near their deadbolt though, the slightly high retail price makes it a tougher sell. In this case the only benefit that will be seen is the ability to modify your access codes remotely, the need of which may not come around very often. We certainly give the company credit for being upfront about what is and what isn’t gained with the Gateway when it comes to HomeKit, and we are interested to see any additional features that Reagle adds to the Gateway in the future.

Disclaimer: This product was provided by Reagle for review purposes. No other compensation was received and the opinions and views expressed in this review are our own.


 

HomeKit Secure Video: Everything you need to know

Just published over on iMore is my “everything you need to know” post regarding HomeKit Secure Video. This is a question and answer format covering some of the basics of the feature:

HomeKit Secure Video, announced back in June at Apple’s annual World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC), has finally arrived. The feature, which is only available as a beta for Logitech’s Circle 2 camera, delivers private and secure video recording to everyone using it. Here’s everything you need to know about the latest and greatest HomeKit feature.

>Continue reading at iMore

The Ambient: Why HomeKit is Still Lagging Behind Alexa and Google Assistant

Hugh Langley over at The Ambient provides an in-depth look at some of the reasons behind HomeKit’s struggles to keep up with the expanding accessory market from Amazon’s Alexa and the Google Assistant over the years:

When Apple HomeKit launched in 2014, the smart home was anyone’s game. The Echo, Alexa’s trojan horse, wouldn’t be announced for another two months, and the Google Assistant not for two years. Home automation was still a bungled mess.

Apple has principled itself on being “best, not first,” but HomeKit was the first of the big three platforms to land. Sure enough, unlike some of Apple’s less punctual products – the Apple Watch, Apple Music – HomeKit has been much slower to take hold.

But when the most basic HomeKit control requires nothing more than an iPhone, 900 million of which are actively in use (you’ll find an Apple smartphone in almost 45% of American pockets) you have to wonder: what’s going on?

Well worth a read as it has some great takes on the matter from the HomeKit community, including some from myself. Overall, I am certainly optimistic about HomeKit’s future, although I don’t see dramatic changes in the pacing of accessory releases and added features coming in the near future.

>Continue reading at The Ambient

How To: Manage HomeKit Secure Video Cameras in the Home app

Here’s the step by step guide on how to manage recorded video in the Home app for HomeKit Secure Video Cameras that I wrote for iMore. This covers reviewing your videos, saving them permanently, deleting, and sharing them with others:

HomeKit Secure Video, Apple’s privacy-centric security camera feature recently hit the scene bringing a whole new way to manage compatible cameras. Starting with the Logitech Circle 2 camera, you can now view, save, and share recordings directly from the Home app. However, things can be a little hard to find at first, so here’s our guide on how to navigate the new features.

>Continue reading on iMore

Eton Blackout Buddy Connect Charge Review

The Eton Blackout Buddy Connect Charge, which I believe holds the crown for longest HomeKit accessory name, is one of those HomeKit devices that I have always been curious about, but not enough so to actually purchase it, until just recently. As I posted about just a little over a week ago, Amazon ran what looked to be a blow-out sale on Eton’s accessory, dropping the price all the way down to $10. At that price, it was essentially a no-brainer, regardless of how bad it could be, just for the sheer joy of trying a new piece of HomeKit hardware.

It also didn’t hurt that the Blackout Buddy was marketed as an emergency preparedness device, which is something that always plays in the back of everyone’s mind as being nice to have type of stuff. The Blackout Buddy boasts an on-board rechargeable battery to power USB devices, an automatic light that turns on in case of power failure, and works as a portable flashlight, covering a lot of the emergency essentials. Finally, while not directly related to emergencies, there is also a built-in motion sensor, which allows it to work as a path-light and more using HomeKit accessories. So was this jack of all trades device worth the price of admission? Let’s take a look.

The Blackout Buddy Connect Charge came neatly packed in a combination of an inner plastic tray and an outer cardboard box. Upon opening the packaging, I was immediately struck by how large the device was, even with having previous knowledge of the exact measurements. The entire accessory is large enough to cover a standard dual power outlet in its entirety, blocking even the most slimmest of plugs from being used on the second receptacle. The Blackout Buddy does have a neat swivel plug feature, allowing it to work in a wide variety of positions, however, the bulkiness of the device pretty much negates its usefulness. The Blackout Buddy’s housing is a glossy plastic, which is certainly not the most premium of looks, and it does feel rather cheap in the hand, but it will most likely be a device that you set and forget, unless you need it for a power outage.

The front of the Blackout Buddy consists of a lot of branding, including Eton “engraved” near the top, a large America Red Cross logo below it, and the accessories namesake at the bottom. Along the top of the device is the flashlight portion, which comes in the form of a shiny, chrome-like finish, complete with visible LEDs and reflectors. Below that is a toggle button for the flashlight, which makes perfect sense if it will be used in that manner. Just below the midpoint of the device is a large window for the motion sensor, and rounding things out is the nightlight at the very bottom, covered by a white diffuser.

Around the left side of the Blackout Buddy are 2 USB-A ports, used for keeping your devices topped off in case of emergency or power failure. Both ports are labeled iPhone/iPod, which suggests that it won’t charge an iPad at full speed, although we did not test to confirm this. You may have noticed that I said “topped off” with regards to these ports, and that is because the internal battery is rather small, rated at just 2,000 mAh, which pales in comparison to most modern battery packs. Further down the left side of the unit is a toggle switch that sets the behavior of the light when it detects power failure. The back of the device is rather plain, with just the power prongs, and the same goes for the right-hand side, which does not have any switches, labeling, or design features at all.

Setting up the Blackout Buddy Connect was quick and easy as it worked out of the box with the Home app. Plugging in the Blackout Buddy brought the nightlight portion immediately to life, but surprisingly, not the flashlight. It appears that the flashlight is somehow powered by the internal rechargeable battery, and in this case, needed to charge before it was able to be turned on, which took around an hour.

The pairing process was pretty much par for the course as far as HomeKit devices go, with a quick scan of the HomeKit code and assigning room and names being the only required interactions, and the whole thing was ready to go in less than 5 minutes. I will note that the Eton Blackout Buddy, like all HomeKit Wi-Fi devices, requires a 2.4ghz connection, and the setup process will fail if you try to connect it to a 5ghz access point.

Here’s where things kind go off a predictable path though. Upon searching the App Store for Eton’s app, I was actually presented with 2 options. Each app description stated that they were for the Blackout Buddy Connect Charge, and were both published by Eton Corp, which was quite confusing. Naturally, I went over to the Home app for guidance, and it reported that the Eton Home app was the one to go with, despite it having an interface that looked much simpler than that of the Eton Smart app, and the app’s update description featured broken English.

Now, when it comes to apps from accessory manufacturers, I generally prepare for the worst, and yet the Eton Home app was still surprisingly bad. The app asks for access to your Home data after opening, and once granted, it brings up an account screen where you gives the impression that you need to have one to access your new device. This isn’t the case though, as you can simply hit the back button, and then acknowledge that you know that you need an account for it to work with Alexa and the Google Assistant.

After escaping potential privacy hell, you are sent to the “Home” tab, where a bunch of empty space is located, as in most cases there will only be your HomeKit home listed and the option to “Add Home”. The Home tab in the app is also home to a creepy picture of a what appears to be a child in the top right hand side of the screen, which gave me the feeling that it was a punishment for skipping the registration process.

The next tab within the app is the “Device” section, where an ugly list of all your HomeKit accessory is displayed. Basic good user interface design aside, this list displayed almost all of my accessories next to a picture of a generic smart plug, which would undoubtably confuse those not accustomed to terrible accessory manufacturer apps.

Keeping the trend of oddity alive is the “Scene” tab. This screen presented me with a list of all my scenes next to a picture of someone holding a pencil in front of a laptop. To make things worse, there are two icons displayed on each scene, one of an “X” in the top right, and one on the top left, which features three circles, two connected to each other by a line, and the other on its own. I honestly have no clue what these buttons do, and I never intend to find out as their potential to destroy my HomeKit setup is certainly a possibility.

Ok so this wonderful portion of the app gives us 4 icons to tap on: a question mark, an exclamation mark, an upside-down exclamation mark, and two people. Conjuring up all of my strength, I tapped on each one… The green question mark, just a FAQ/Help section. The blue icon with 2 people, just a screen that shows Eton’s icon and name. The yellow icon with the upside-down exclamation mark, just a screen that looks exactly the same as the previous one, with the app version displayed. And finally, the red warning looking icon brought me to, well I am still not quite sure. This screen consisted of the same icon with inverted colors shown, and the words “Support US standard“, and “TIPS” with nothing below it and it didn’t lead to any support pages or anything.

Needless to say, I promptly deleted the Eton Home app after grabbing some screens to share the horror. Moving over to the Home app, the Eton Blackout Buddy Connect shows as 3 accessories, either as one tile by default in iOS 13, or separate if desired. The motion sensor, nightlight, and flashlight are all available to use with HomeKit automations, with the 2 lights also controllable with a tap or with Siri. What is surprising though, is that both lights are an all or nothing affair, meaning that there is no dimming feature, which could limit its usefulness if used as a nightlight as it may be seen as too bright. In my case, this device is situated in a hallway, acting as a path-light during the night hours so the brighter the better.

Since the Blackout Buddy Connect utilizes Wi-Fi for commands, toggling the lights on and off via the Home app was extremely fast, pretty much responding instantly. The motion sensor portion however, was a slightly different experience. While the motion sensor generally worked within a second or so of movement, I found that the sensitivity was kind of hit and miss. There were times where a slight movement would set off the sensor, whereas other times required more deliberate actions to get it to recognize that something was happening in front of it. This inconsistent behavior would definitely keep me from using it as something critical such as making it the primary way that you turn on and off room lights, but it is fine for minor tasks.

On the positive side of things, the Blackout Buddy has been rock solid as far as reliability goes. Over the course of my first week with the device, I have yet to see an instance of “No Response” in the Home app, and have not had any issues where the device failed to respond to manual controls. I am also happy to report that the Blackout Buddy performed as stated when it comes to power failure, as a small power dip caused its lights to kick on instantly, even though the situation only lasted for a second or so. This definitely gave me some reassurance that it will indeed be ready if needed for longer events in the future, and made it worth the low price that I paid for the entire package.

The Eton Blackout Buddy Connect is one of those accessories that can definitely go either way as far as recommendations go, and it hinges entirely on its price. Yes, the Blackout Buddy is reliable, responds fast to taps in the Home app, and worked as advertised for the blackout portion its name. However, Eton’s accessory is bulky, the rechargeable battery is tiny, the motion sensor seems to take a break every once in a while, and the flashlight is about as bright as your iPhone’s flash.

So would I recommend it at its suggested retail price of $39.99? No, as there are better alternatives for motion sensors and lighting. Would I recommend it at a price of $20 or less? Yes, I would, especially if you tend to use it strictly for emergency purposes. At the end of the day, getting what you pay for may not necessarily mean that its a bad thing with the Eton Blackout Buddy Connect Charge.

How To: Upgrade your Logitech Circle 2 Camera to HomeKit Secure Video

Here’s the guide that I wrote for iMore detailing the steps involved with upgrading the Logitech Circle 2 Camera to HomeKit Secure Video. Please note that this “conversion” process is listed as a beta by Logitech, and things can go awry. Also you will lose the ability to control and view your camera via the Circle app, and downgrades will require contacting Logitech’s support channels, so venture in at your own risk:

HomeKit Secure Video is finally here! The Logitech Circle 2 Camera is the first camera to support the privacy-focused feature, and although it may look scary, the upgrade process is quite easy. All you need is version 3.4.5 or later of the Logi Circle Security Camera app. Here’s how to get your camera updated in no time.

>Continue reading at iMore.

SwitchBot/SwitchBot Mini Hub Review (Siri Shortcuts)

Note: This accessory is only compatible with Siri Shortcuts, and does not support HomeKit.

Kickstarter success story SwitchBot recently hit the spotlight again with the introduction of their newest product, the SwitchBot Curtain. This latest announcement caught my attention as it looks to be quite the clever device, one that rolls along a curtain rod to open and close the attached curtains on demand or via scheduling. Naturally, their original SwitchBot, a device that essentially acts as a “finger” to push a button on older devices that do not have smart home capabilities, also piqued my interest as I had not heard of it beforehand. Looking over the device, I eventually found that it supports Siri Shortcuts (with an additional hub), which is enough to fulfill one use case for my home, so I decided to give it a shot. The SwitchBot and SwitchBot Hub Mini are both currently available on Amazon, so it’s long past its crowd funding days, and both retail for $30 each, but can be found cheaper every once and a while. So how does this unique little device perform? Let’s take a look.

The SwitchBot and SwitchBot Mini Hub both arrived in tiny packages, which while expected, were still somehow smaller than I imagined. Starting with the SwitchBot itself, the device was neatly nestled into a small removable plastic insert, on top of its related paperwork. Included along with the device were an extra adhesive strip which is used for mounting the SwitchBot onto whatever your application is for, as well as some small attachments that allow it to work with light switches. The attachments are clear plastic and allow the SwitchBot’s finger to pull a toggle light switch down to turn it off as its main function would only be capable of pushing the toggle on direction without them. In my case, I didn’t have a need to use them, so I can’t speak to just how effective they are, but they look like they would get the job done.

The SwitchBot that I ordered was black (it is also available in white) as I intended to use it on a black electric fireplace, that I have tried a few ways to make smart over the years, including using the Harmony Bridge macOS app that I reviewed earlier this year, which while great, I wanted to move to something that didn’t require my Mac to be on all the time just to use. The unit itself is a compact plastic square, with a pre-attached adhesive strip on the back. While the adhesive makes installation easy, I would have liked to have seen an option for mounting it “permanently” using screws, as with most adhesives, it will eventually fail. In its default state, the retractable “finger”, which is also comprised of plastic sits neatly inside of the device, and only makes its appearance when it is called upon.

As previously mentioned, in order to make the SwitchBot work with Siri Shortcuts, an additional hub was required. SwitchBot actually has three different hubs available, which is confusing to say the least, but I eventually settled on the SwitchBot Mini, which as its name suggests, is the smaller option. The SwitchBot Mini is a pretty basic white box, which looks similar to Lutron’s Caseta Wireless Hub, only smaller. Like Lutron’s hub, the SwitchBot Mini is powered by Micro-USB which was perfect for my use case, as the outlet that I was plugging it into had some unused USB ports. A small LED indicator light rests near the top of the hub, as well as a tiny button used for pairing the device to the SwitchBot app. I will mention that even though I have no use for it, the SwitchBot Mini Hub also includes the ability to act as an IR “blaster”, capable of controlling IR devices, which could be handy for some, especially considering how cheap it is ($30) when compared to Logitech’s Harmony line of products.

Setting up the SwitchBot was an extremely simple experience, which was nice to see, it was also kind of strange. After attaching the device to my electric fireplace, I downloaded the SwitchBot App, and to my surprise, found the SwitchBot right after opening the app. There was no pairing process at all, the app simply scanned for available units using Bluetooth and had it appear in the device list. There was also no account set up to be had, which is really nice, but this just screams potential security issue, as it looked like anyone can download the SwitchBot app, and gain control of any devices around it if you just set it and forget it without turning on a password. While I don’t believe that I need to worry about anyone that happens to be in my home, or just outside my home, having access to turning my electric fireplace on and off, it is something to keep in mind if you plan to use it for something a like having it push a garage door opener switch, so be sure to set that password option found in the SwitchBot app.

Adding the SwitchBot Mini Hub to the mix was a more “traditional” experience, as it involved creating an account, adding it to your home’s Wi-Fi network, and finally, pairing the hub to your account. The pairing process consists of holding down the small button on the hub for a few seconds until the indicator light flashes rapidly. While the process was ultimately simple, my first pairing attempt failed for no apparent reason, with the app going through all of the steps, before it eventually just went back to the app’s home screen. My second attempt at pairing worked just fine, which took around 2 minutes when it worked properly.

Like most smart home device apps, the SwitchBot app is good enough to get the job done, but it isn’t the prettiest around. Typically for HomeKit accessories, I take a look around the manufacturer’s app, ultimately find myself annoyed by navigation issues or visuals, and promptly delete it in favor of using Apple’s Home app. This obviously won’t be the case with the SwitchBot as it doesn’t support HomeKit, but I don’t have to rely on it often as our main use case will be via Siri through our HomePod. SwitchBot’s app is pretty sparse, with a theme consisting mainly of white and light gray, with a few touches of red here and there. The “home” screen of the app somewhat mimics the aforementioned Home app, with tiles for your devices front and center. As expected, tapping directly on a device tile activates your SwitchBot. Also on the device tile is a small signal strength indicator which only displays when the device is just being used with Bluetooth, and when a hub is involved, an icon of a cloud takes its place.

On top of the device tile is a small settings icon that brings up a list of 5 additional actions. The first, and most important setting is for establishing a password for accessing your SwitchBot. For some reason, a potentially critical “long press” setting is also found on the password screen, which sets how long the SwitchBot will remain extended when activated. This setting is designed to accommodate devices that don’t quite turn on or change settings with a simple single press, and it can be set to keep extended for up to 60 seconds. Another useful option found buried under the password settings area is a toggle for enabling the SwitchBot to work with the light switch attachments mentioned earlier.

Moving back to the device settings panel, an option for setting a timer or schedule is listed, the name of which depends on if a hub is involved. In my particular set up, I do not plan to use it with timers or scheduling so I skipped this portion, which looks to be pretty standard stuff. Another setting that I skipped is “Pair with a Remote”, which as you may have guessed, is for setting up its IR functionality. Moving along, a small toggle switch is near the bottom of the list which keeps your SwitchBot on the main device screen, which I assume would be useful if you have a ton of them deployed. The last item on the list is a small setting for viewing the battery level and firmware version of your SwitchBot, but oddly there is no area to check for updates.

Setting up the SwitchBot with Siri Shortcuts can be found in the menu labeled “Cloud Service”. Inside of this menu is a toggle for turning on and off the hubs connection to the cloud, as well as a list of services that the hub works with as well as an option for creating “scenes”. With the hub, the SwitchBot can be linked to Amazon’s Alexa, Google Assistant, and IFTTT in addition to Siri Shortcuts. Setting up a Shortcut followed a familiar process, with selecting your SwitchBot, and then naming your Shortcut. This process was simple and fast, and for my use case it just required entering in “Turn on the fireplace”, and then selecting “Add to Siri”. Now since this is for my electric fireplace, and that others will be using Siri via our HomePod in the living room, I also needed to do a little extra work to make it perfect for the family. This involved jumping over to the ShortCuts App, duplicating the newly created shortcut, and then naming the duplicate “Turn off the fireplace”. Also, because iOS 13.2 for the HomePod added voice recognition, I had to share the shortcuts with everyone in my home, as the HomePod would only run the shortcut for me.

Rounding out the app side of things, is the SwitchBot Apple Watch app. Just like its iOS parent, the watch app is simplistic, consisting of a small heading and a giant button for toggling your device with its associated name. The watch app worked as advertised, but we could see its design becoming cumbersome to navigate if you have multiple units, which would require lots of scrolling. One final thing to note on the watch app is that the device button has an icon that somewhat looks like the word on, but it is just the SwitchBot logo, which may confuse some, and it should be removed as it doesn’t add to the experience in any way. In fact, the only reason why I knew that this was the company’s logo was that it was included in the company’s press kit for the device, without it I would have assumed that it was a typo or graphical issue as it doesn’t look related to the company at all.

Since the SwitchBot relies on Bluetooth for commands, response times can, and will vary. This is the case even when using the hub, as it simply acts as a relay to the SwitchBot. In most cases, commands sent via the SwitchBot iOS and Apple Watch apps took between 3-5 seconds. However, using it via a Siri Shortcut and HomePod, response times took were longer, with most instances taking right at 10 seconds. Even though I am using the Hub Mini in my setup, I did notice that the SwitchBot had a somewhat smaller Bluetooth range than I am used to, causing it to fail to function or show as available within the SwitchBot app if my iPhone was located a room away, which I estimate it to be around 100 foot in distance, with just 1 wall in-between. Obviously, the hub negates this range issue as I have my hub located about 3 foot away in the same room, but it is something that you may need to keep in mind if you decide to give it a go without it. With that being said, I have yet to run into any failures or lack of availability with the hub installed, and has been going strong for just a little over a week.

During the actual operation of the SwitchBot, it does make “mechanical” noise, but it isn’t over-powering. The sound itself is reminiscent of a small motor on a toy or electronic, and lasts for about 2 seconds, along with whatever click the device that it is pressing makes. For the sake of the review, I went ahead and tested its sound level using the built-in Noise app on the Apple Watch, and found that it was around 5 decibels. Staying with operation, the portion of the SwitchBot that extends does so in one clean, motion, at least with the default 0 second long press setting. I did notice that the SwitchBot itself tends to move a little more than I would have liked to have seen during operation, as the extension seems to have quite a bit of range of motion (135 degrees) which is likely to ensure that it is able to press buttons on a variety of surfaces. Unfortunately, the range of motion is not adjustable, which could be an issue over time, as the extra stress created by a single set motion will no doubt cause the adhesive backing to fail over time, especially when used in a vertical position.

As far as battery life goes, the SwitchBot is powered by a 3v CR2 lithium battery and is rated for up to 600 days by the manufacturer, which is based on activating the device just 2 times a day. Since it has been just over a week since installation, we haven’t been able to confirm these claims, but we will update this review when we have to change the included. The battery change process looks to be simple, with just popping off the back of the device without the need of any tools, and the company has provided a handy YouTube video showing off the process.

In the end the SwitchBot ultimately accomplishes its task of acting as a “finger” or “button pusher” and does so in an affordable package that is easy to recommend. However, the device does not support HomeKit, at least not natively, and only supports Siri Shortcuts, which while improved with the advent of iOS 13, is still not a full-fledged replacement. Some potential downfalls that keep the device from being perfect are its requirement for the Hub to enable Siri Shortcuts, which we can see as being accomplished just via software, as well as Bluetooth response times which are a little slower than most people are used to if they have experience with Wi-Fi or hardwired devices. The SwitchBot is certainly one of those devices that isn’t essential, but it is a convenience item that bridges the gap between legacy devices and smart devices that may or may not be available for your platform or choice, or available at all. So if you have a need for such a device and can deal with just having Shortcuts for voice control, then go for the SwitchBot, you will definitely get your money’s worth while you wait for newer, more integrated options.


How to use a HomePod as a HomeKit alarm

Been waiting for this feature for quite a long time. There are great sound effects on Apple Music including a classic car alarm sound and a burglar alarm that I linked. Here’s the guide on how to get it all set up that I wrote for iMore:

Even though the HomeKit ecosystem has grown over the past few years, a crucial piece of the security side of the platform has yet to materialize: alarm systems. Thankfully, iOS 13.2 on iOS and the HomePod now allows you to use Apple’s speaker (or other AirPlay 2 enabled speakers) in automations, giving us the ability to create our own DIY security systems. Here’s our guide on how to get it all set up.

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Pushcut App Review

Pushcut, an iOS app from developer Simon Leeb introduced earlier this year, has recently received an update that adds in support for our favorite smart home platform, HomeKit. The premise of the app is rather simple, providing actionable notifications that trigger automations, shortcuts, HomeKit scenes and more, but there is no doubt that making it all happen behind the curtains is no small feat. On the surface this may seem somewhat redundant when it comes to HomeKit, as we have already had the ability to automate tasks based on time, location, and other conditions for years now, but the hope is that notification based actions can ultimately lead to more timely, more appropriate, and more importantly, more meaningful interactions. Does the app truly accomplish its goals? Let’s take a look.

Pushcut, which is available for free on the App Store, uses a free to try model, which is becoming increasingly more common due to the changing dynamics of app usage and purchasing habits. More robust features and the removal of certain limitations are available through a few different subscription options, which are reasonably priced, starting at $0.99 a month for the “basic” tier leading up to $19.99 a year for the “pro” level. While this may turn away some, we are more than willing to shell out a few dollars on a reoccurring basis if it means keeping the app in a state of development, and not one that is never updated again.

Upon launching the app for the first time, we were greeted by a splash screen that provides a brief summary of its potential, as well as a link to an online guide that can help get users started on setting up their notifications. At the bottom of the splash screen is a standard “Try For Free” option coming in the form of a button, which sits atop the option to try the limited version of the app. Next it is on to permission prompts, and in this case, notifications are absolutely necessary to get any kind of functionality at all. Users are then greeted with a blank canvas of sorts, essentially letting them know that they must create something to get it all started.

Before getting into our first notification, I will touch on the privacy side of things, since the app does involve the use of the cloud in order to function. While all of the information regarding how it all works is available in the Privacy portion of the apps website, it essentially boils down to an account (not user facing) being automatically created for your device, with a unique identifier. This account works with another identifier or “token” that is used to for notification delivery. According to the developer, they do not collect or store your name, email address, or location data, with emphasis that location data is completely, well, local, on device. With that being said though, we always suggest taking a look at privacy policies to better understand where your data is going and what it could be used for.

Setting up your first notification can seem a little daunting at first, especially with the way that it displays a Webhook URL directly under the section for naming as well as the sheer amount of options and text, but in reality it is rather simple to use. For those that are not used to working with apps and services like Shortcuts and IFTTT, there are several handy links positioned at the bottom, which are worded in the form of questions, such as “What is all of this?”, which is a really nice touch.

For our first notification, we took the easy route and went with one that was based on time, and would merely prompt us to turn on or off lighting. To set this up, we provided a name and the message that we wanted our notification to say, and then followed it up with selecting 2 scenes in the actions portion that would most likely be appropriate for the time. Finally, we set the desired time under the “Local triggers” section and then hit “Save” in the top right corner.

So what does our newly created notification look like? Well as you may have guessed, it looked exactly like a standard iOS notification that had the custom message that we typed in which fired at the exact moment our time was condition was met. Tapping on the notification brought us straight to the Pushcut app, which then displayed the notification again with large buttons to set the scenes that we assigned, along with an option to dismiss it. Haptic touching (that is hard to get used to saying) the notification brought up the scene selection options right underneath the notification itself without going into the app, which is the route that we assume most people will go.

As you may have guessed, our example notification was basic to say the least, and there are of course a lot more options that can be set to create even more personalized and more powerful actions. These options include setting things such as default actions, which is the action that will take place if you simply tap on the notification, and sounds, which is comprised of 5 selections as well as off and vibration only. Power user settings include adding conditionals to the mix which starts by using the “Copy URL” button located in the bottom left hand corner of the set up screen, and then hopping into the Home app. In the Home app, you would utilize the create automation process, where you would assign conditions such as location before using the new iOS 13 option to convert it into a Shortcut.

To finish it all off, you would simply use the URL option, paste in your Webhook URL from Pushcut, and then add in the “Get Contents of URL” option. This process would allow for the creation of notifications such as one that could be sent at sunset, only if you are home, which would ask what evening scene that you would like to run. To take things even further, you can incorporate other services like IFTTT, as well as stuff like JSON and Zapier which we are not going to pretend to act like we know what those mean. Finally, things can ramp up even more when the convert to Shortcut option is used, essentially putting these steps as just a minor part within a intricate Shortcuts routine or action set as they are simply commands that are readily available.

While we are still wrapping our heads around all of the potential options to use notification actions for, we can say that we can certainly see some as being more meaningful than normal HomeKit automations. Instead of turning off our bedroom lights every day at a set time with the assumption that it is time to hang things up and go to sleep, we now have the ability to be prompted via a notification at the end of the day asking if it is truly the time to turn things off. To make things even more convenient and timely, the developer also has an Apple Watch companion in the works, which is currently in testing and nearing release. The companion watch app will allow for launching the actions assigned through the app with just a tap, just like a notification on your iOS device, which makes them even more convenient.

Want some more examples of what the app can do? According to the aforementioned guides provided by the developer, notifications can be sent based on the status of other accessories. This allows for a notification such as one that is sent at a certain time a day if the heater is still running, or only sending a notification to turn the lights off if they are still on at a certain time. It is also important to keep in mind that these examples are only related to HomeKit, which is just a portion of the app, again one that was just added to the already available app earlier this month.

To sum it all up, the Pushcut app works exactly as advertised, but its usefulness is ultimately up to the user. Yes, there are examples to follow which help to get things established, but meaningful notifications require creating the scenarios that are unique to the individual. This is certainly nothing new for HomeKi aficionados, with automations requiring the same level of thought and attention to detail to make them perfect for specific situations, which makes Pushcut an easy app to recommend, and one that I have no problem labeling as an essential tool for HomeKit power users. While I am excited to continue digging into the apps potential, I am even more excited for the possibilities that the HomeKit community comes up with.

Kaiterra Laser Egg + CO2 Review

While air quality monitoring is one of the most important aspects of our daily lives, the concept has yet to really have its breakthrough moment in North America. We are slowly getting there though, as time passes and technological advances occur, air quality monitors have made their way into more and more devices and platforms, including Apple’s HomeKit. Currently, there are about a handful of devices on the market, and if you have ever researched them, you have probably ran into Kaiterra, and their Laser Egg line. I have always been intrigued by these monitors, and Kaiterra in general due to a quote that I read once on their website “Kaiterra – We exist so that one day, we won’t have to“. However, my relative lack of knowledge surrounding air quality has always kept me from making the investment despite always wondering what I was missing. Sure, I have air purifiers set up in all of the bedrooms, and the living room of my home, but I will be the first to admit that I am terrible about changing their filters, and that my family and I mostly use them as white noise machines at night.

Kaiterra’s latest entry into the Laser Egg series, dubbed the Laser Egg + CO2 is set for release today, September 24th, to be exact, and I recently had the chance to take a look at the powerful little device. As you might have guessed by its name, the Laser Egg + CO2 packs in the same air quality sensors from the previous iterations of the Laser Egg, but it adds in carbon dioxide monitoring as well. If you are anything like me, with just a passive interest in air quality, you may be wondering to yourself, why would Kaiterra would put a carbon dioxide sensor in their latest version? This metric is quite simply one that doesn’t get a lot of attention, and thus is something that I never gave any thought to. However, my thought process surrounding this changed almost instantly after powering on the device, quickly becoming something that I felt compelled to correct. Let’s dive into what makes Kaiterra’s latest Laser Egg a fantastic resource for the home.

Unboxing the Laser Egg + CO2 was an interesting experience, as the company uses a unique design that places an outer sleeve with all of the sensors capabilities that must be “peeled” open to reveal the actual box. Inside the box is the Laser Egg unit itself, a USB charging brick, micro-USB cable, and of course, the assorted manuals and regulatory information. The hardware itself was well packed, with no room for movement and potential damaged, showing that Kaiterra cares about the importance of good packaging, which is nice to see.

Having never owned a Laser Egg before, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect as far as size of the device goes. Looking over pictures of previous versions always led me to believe that these monitors were a little bulky, however, I was pleasantly surprised upon laying my eyes on the new model. The monitor is compact, and has a clean, white design, with a silver ring surrounding a large LCD screen in the center. Behind the silver ring is an inlet that allows the monitor to measure temperature, humidity, air quality, and carbon dioxide, but is only noticeable if you turn the unit to the side and are actively looking for it. The design of the device actually makes it a really nice accessory to place just about anywhere in the home, matching the look of a nice clock. The Laser Egg also includes a rechargeable battery built-in, making it easy to move the unit to another room along with you as you go about your day. On the top of the device rests two buttons, one for toggling the device’s power, and the other acting as a way to switch what information is displayed.

After plugging in the included cable and charger, the LCD screen came to life, displaying information on how to start the set up process, but it can also be used without further intervention for those that just want a plug and play monitor. Of course, I wanted all the HomeKit goodness that is available with the Laser Egg, so I immediately downloaded Kaiterra’s App. After just a screen or two asking for the location of where the device is being set at (general city, not specific location of your iPhone), HomeKit pairing was ready to go with HomeKit code being displayed on the LCD screen (by pressing the “hamburger” button down for 2-3 seconds). A quick scan of the code with our device’s camera, and allowing it to connect to our Wi-Fi network began the process, which all told, took about 2 minutes from firing up the app to having it added to HomeKit. This was of course, after I remembered to switch to my 2.4ghz Wi-Fi network after the first attempt failed as the device, like most HomeKit accessories, does not support 5.4ghz.

I do want to mention that I did notice one slight issue during the location assignment process, which was that the city that I currently reside in not being an option to select. Since this portion of the app pulls in air quality data that is provided by various stations around the world, mostly only available in larger cities, I was not surprised to find my location unavailable. However, I do not see this as a deal breaker, as this data is merely shown to provide you with an overview of the outside world, and since I live in a somewhat rural area, outdoor pollution isn’t really a concern. I am more focused on what is floating around in the air inside my home, so I essentially would have dismissed this information even if it was available.

Kaiterra’s App features a rather clean design, with bright colors used to represent each tab or page. The app also relies heavily on the usage of charts to display your home’s data, which is handy, but I did find it a little hard to determine actual readings throughout the course of the day. The App also provides what looks to be an overall score for your home’s air quality above the charts, but it doesn’t really give you a breakdown as far as what the number actually means, and doesn’t provide you with a reference point to put things into perspective, other than a vague statement, such as “unhealthy“. Below the condition, the App will show the primary reason for the status, however, I would have liked to have seen a comparison between data from other homes around the country, state, or city. I assume that this is for privacy reasons, although I would probably opt in if asked and if it was completely anonymized.

Speaking of privacy, you may have noticed that I did not mention having to set up an account to get things going. This was absolutely fantastic to see, as I have always been leery of providing personal information just to view the data in my own home, and I applaud Kaiterra for not making one required. You can connect the Laser Egg to the “cloud” if you would like, but I did not see much in the way of benefits other then adding in support for IFTTT so I refrained from doing so. I am pretty sure that you can set up the device completely free of Kaiterra’s own App as well, but for the sake of the review, I used it to see if there was anything that I would be missing when compared to the Home App. The App offers things such as notifications when your device reads levels above defined setpoints, as well as firmware updates (which there was not one as of yet), so I will be keeping it around, but you can definitely get by without it.

Moving over the the Home App, all four metrics measures by the device are available to review independently (but are grouped together into one “tile” by iOS 13). The Home App, when set up, can display the overall condition of the air quality and CO2 sensors, in simple phrasing as well, such as “Abnormal” on the favorites screen. Since the device is mainly used to monitor your air, it isn’t an accessory that you will be interacting with, in either the Home app or Kaiterra’s App, so don’t expect to be toggling things like other HomeKit devices.

Now its time to talk about performance. As far as connectivity goes, I have yet to see any issues with response or it failing to update data. In fact, I have been really impressed with how quickly it sends data to HomeKit apps, which looks to be almost in real time. During the course of my testing, and even writing this review, I have had apps such as Eve for HomeKit and Wallflower running as a “screensaver” of sorts or in split view, as a way to see how quickly it reacts to changes in my home’s condition. I found this to be incredibly useful, despite the devices passive nature, as I was alerted to one big air quality issue almost instantly after setting it up, which was, as you may have guessed by now, carbon dioxide, and I wanted to keep an eye on it.

Before I talk about CO2, I wanted to mention that I fully expected to use the Laser Egg as strictly a way to see how the actual air quality was in my home, and didn’t expect to ever look at CO2. I was planning on using the device was a way to determine how or if my air purifiers were actually doing their intended job, using the data to justify their value or to invest in replacement filters. The Laser Egg + CO2 measures fine particulates in the air, and mentions PM 2.5, which has to do with the size and type of matter in the air. To my surprise, I found that the air in my home was pretty much clean and free of major issues, but I was perplexed as to why the App and the Home App both listed it as the phrases that I have previously mentioned “inferior” or “abnormal“.

It turns out that this was due to the sheer amount of carbon dioxide within the bedroom that I set the Laser Egg up in. The initial, and subsequent readings throughout the first day it was running ranged from 1,500 ppm all the way up to 2,500 ppm. Naturally, I wanted to learn a little bit more about CO2 and what high levels meant, so I began researching it only to find out that it can negatively impact our physical and well being. In case you are wondering, anything above 1,000 ppm can lead to effects such as headaches, lack of focus, dizziness, fatigue, and elevated heart rate. Of course, I immediately looked for ways to improve the levels in my home, and found that it is pretty simply to handle, through actions like opening up windows, especially if you haven’t done so in a while. So with this in mind, I wanted to see just how sensitive and responsive the Laser Egg was, and in just seconds after opening up my bedroom window, I began to see the CO2 levels decrease. After about 30 minutes, the carbon dioxide levels had dropped dramatically, putting then back into “normal” range, and down below 500 ppm.

Needless to say, that I am impressed with the Laser Egg + CO2 and am glad to have been given the opportunity to review my home’s air. Not only does the device work as advertised, it has brought a level of awareness to me that I did not have before, and has me thinking more proactively about my home’s air quality. I have already begun the journey to looking into additional ways to improve the amount of carbon dioxide in the air when the windows are shut, and will be adding things such as specific plants, something that I never thought I would have in my home, to help. With my newfound knowledge at hand, I plan to move from room to room within my home to review potential issues, and take action as needed, which again can be accomplished thanks to the Laser Egg’s built-in battery.

Note: This product was provided by Kaiterra for review purposes. No other compensation was received and the opinions and views expressed in this review were our own.