The poster at one of the flashy new Amazon Books stores was inviting.
“Smart Home Made Easy — want to get started but don’t know where to start?”
I think most customers there would raise their hands and say, “That’s me.”
Amazon’s list put hard-to-understand tech geekdom into words we all get. What it didn’t do was spell out the dollars that would be needed to be invested or how some of this stuff might work. Sowe’re going to decode that for you.
Let’s start with money. If you bought everything listed — and were handy at home enough to handle installation — you’re looking at just over $1,000 to buy the smart outlet, lights, Fire TV Stick, doorbell, thermostat, lock, security cameras and a device to interact with all this good stuff, which, in Amazon’s case, is the $220 Echo Show, which brings video to Alexa.
Decoding time! Start with:
This is the simplest of the smart home accessories. The Amazon Smart Plug ($24.99) or the WeMo Switch Smart Plug ($34.99). You plug this into wall power and then put your pre-existing products (lamps, TV, radio, you name it) into the Smart Plug. From there, you can use an app, or voice assistant like Alexa, to command the product to be turned on and off. Amazon suggests using it with a coffee pot to start it in the morning from bed, but our coffee pot needs a filter, coffee, fresh water and a button that requires a physical turn on to get it going. But hey, no dispute about the lamp, right?
“Set your mood using colored smart bulbs, dimmers and light strips.” That sounds cool, but the bulbs are pricey (around $50 each) and to get the colors Amazon mentions, you’ll need to also buy and plug in a hub that speaks to the bulbs. Luckily, many newer plain bulbs are Bluetooth-enabled and don’t require the extra set up of the hub. Once plugged into the socket, you can now say, “Alexa, turn on the lights” and get it done.
“Change channels, turn up the volume and fast forward a program, using just your voice,” Amazon says. Yes, this is technically possible, but it depends on which TV you have, and which accessory you buy. With the Fire TV Cube ($119), Amazon says it can control compatible TVs from certain manufacturers. “You cannot use your voice to change channels through an over-the-air HD antenna.” With the $49 Fire TV Stick, the functions Amazon touts on the poster happen by speaking the commands into the Fire TV remote.
With a Ring video doorbell (starting at $99), you can look at a smartphone app, or the big screen of the Echo Show, to see who’s at the door — from wherever you are.The Alexa angle is that you can talk to the person outside via the Echo speaker.
“Smart home saves the day when you forgot to lock the door or can’t find your keys.” Ask Alexa to lock and unlock your front door. And look to spend $125 to $225 to buy a lock from a number of makers, including August, Schlage or others, and possibly installation fees, though you may be able to install it yourself.
“Use your voice to turn up the heat or turn on the AC from anywhere in the house.” You’ll invest around $250 for your smart thermostat, from Nest or ecobee, and you’ll replace the old thermostat by installing this new one. Expect to potentially need to pay to have it installed.