In the UK, we have now seemingly adopted the US’s Black Friday following their Thanksgiving holiday, as well as their Cyber Monday retail opportunity. It’s a veritable smorgasbord of capitalism and it represents the onset of the Christmas shopping season, where many deals can be sought. Well, I’m not one to “bah humbug” the opportunity of massive savings, so the wife and I indulged in some online shopping and took advantage of several great offers.

No turkey this year – just sprouts!

In particular, we grabbed the new Amazon Echo – three in fact, due to a trio discount deal; we also picked up the Philips Hue color bulb and bridge starter pack. It worked out a much better deal to purchase two packs since each included three bulbs and we needed six. Of course, we now have an unused bridge, which will inevitably collect dust; and, I forgot to mention that Amazon also provided the option for a discounted “smart plug” with each purchase of a new Echo – something else we took advantage of as they were heavily discounted – “Get in!”

Sadly, this left our bank balance a little bruised. But, doing my best to remain in festive spirits, and having Amazon Prime, we didn’t have to wait too long before our early Christmas goodies arrived, thus avoiding the full financial realization of our indulgence and the associated guilt. We have to forego the turkey this year and it’s just Brussels sprouts all round but hey, we have great lighting!

Alexa, play my “classic” playlist “everywhere” 

Anyway, with our goodies in hand, we both started to set up and retrofit our home with our smart devices. As is traditional with any new gadgets, all manuals and associated blurb were suitably discarded and instead we were determined to just go ahead and play with our toys. So, first of all, we replaced our sitting room wall lights with the Hue bulbs – quite easy to do, since the connectors for the wall lights and Hue bulbs were both bayonet. Then, we installed a smart plug for the floor lamp in our sitting room – again, simple and a true “plug and play” experience (more about this later). We then proceeded to replace our bedside lamp bulbs with the two remaining Hue bulbs, although we had to use adaptors to accommodate the bayonet to screw-in bulbs due to the Black Friday deal only offering a three pack in bayonet form.

Lastly, we adorned our primary living spaces with the new Echos to accompany our existing array of Echos around the house – yep, we pretty much have an Echo in every room now! One superb feature of Alexa is the ability to play music “everywhere” using the smart home “Groups” functionality. Oh, and incidentally, I’m not entirely sure what the plural of Amazon Echo is – whilst the plural of “echo” is “echoes”, I think in this instance to refer to multiple Echo products as ‘Echos’ would be correct (comments welcome).

Alexa, discover my smart devices

Okay. So, all devices are installed and, of course, the next thing to do is to enable them to recognize each other and to voice activate them through Amazon Echo using Alexa. To come back to the smart plug, the Smart Wi-Fi Plug by TP-Link was a total breeze to configure. The manufacturer has a dedicated “app” named “Kasa” for both iOS and Android and, once I downloaded this on to my iPad, I was good to go. I opened the app and navigated to the “smart plug” option, where I was prompted to connect using Wi-Fi. Finally, I asked Alexa to “discover smart devices” whereupon, she rapidly located the newly configured “sitting room light” – I could now ask Alexa to turn this on and off as desired.

Similarly, Philips Hue also has a dedicated app for iOS and Android. In the app, you’re prompted to search for Hue bulbs, but this wasn’t as straightforward as hoped, since the app only discovered three of the four bulbs in our sitting room. A quick online search later and I learned that each bulb has a unique serial number, which can be manually entered into the app. Once the app recognized all bulbs, I could then group them accordingly, that is, “sitting room wall” and “the Huckle suite” (named after our home’s architect). Again, I asked Alexa to discover smart devices and indeed she did!

The Amazon Echo is teamed with skill sets, so I can further control my Philips Hue lighting system to reflect scenes depending on motivation or mood. For example, I have access to scenes such as “Savanna Sunset,” “Tropical Twilight” and “Relax” and, of course, I can also manually control the ambience, as well as voice activating my scenes through Alexa.

Until next year …

I am quite excited to witness a truer vision and experience of the smart home, since for many years (in fact it’s decades) the whole notion of the smart home has been a somewhat half-baked attempt. Yes, I’m also guilty of wrestling with what constitutes a smart home and don’t get me started on smart fridges – seriously? Anyway, as technology advances and evolves, I hope we can begin to shape a more realistic and purposeful proposition of the smart home and I read every day how innovators, the technology and user experiences have become more practical and tangible. 

The simple, yet intuitive products that I purchased over the Black Friday/Cyber Monday weekend were easy to set up and configure and, as such, I see the smart home experience becoming innately intuitive for both old and new homes and, most importantly, us consumers! 

So, this is where an “I’m loving my smart home experience” Dr. G signs off.

Have a wonderful Christmas and a fantastic New Year everyone!