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Technology

Five easy-to-use gadgets to create your dream smart home – from an intelligent front door to light with a choice of 16 million colours

A smart lock, universal remote control, smart surveillance camera, programmable lamp and voice assistant for a combined cost of less than US$800 – who said the intelligent home of the future need cost a fortune?

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 19 November, 2017, 7:18pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 July, 2018, 7:26pm

Turning your humble abode into a smart home needs not involve any major renovation. Here are five easy-to-deploy gadgets that can do the job without costing you a bomb.

August Smart Lock Pro + Connect

Switch your dumb front door to an intelligent one with the August Smart Lock Pro + Connect, a tried and tested, internet-connected lock you can install with a screwdriver.

The battery-powered device lets you unlock your door wirelessly from your smartphone, or send a digital key to your best friend when they come calling. For the forgetful, the August app will even tell you whether the door is closed and locked, sparing you a long day of anxiety or an undignified about-turn to check.

The August Smart Lock leverages your existing deadbolt lock by attaching to the mechanism from the inside. This means that your door looks the same from the outside, and family members who simply must have a physical key can continue to use it that way. Doors without the requisite deadbolt mechanism will require the installation of a second lock, though that should be a relatively quick task for a qualified locksmith.

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Those concerned about not being able to go home due to a dead smartphone can purchase the optional August Smart Keypad. Installed beside your doorbell, the device communicates wirelessly with the August Smart Lock to unlock the front door through a passcode.

Finally, couch potatoes will appreciate that the August Smart Lock Pro is also compatible with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant for voice-controlled door opening.

Price: US$279 (Amazon)

Mi Home Security Camera 360-Degree

Scratching your head for a way to keep an eye on your home, pet or your precocious toddler? This is an affordable 720p resolution digital camera that may be just what the doctor ordered. The well-designed and compact wireless camera is equally at home on your TV console, or mounted on a wall or ceiling – images can be configured to flip – to help you keep a digital tab on things.

No corner of your home is too obscure, given its 100-degree wide-angle lens and the ability to pan and tilt the camera on its quiet and high-speed motors for complete 360-degree viewing.

Elsewhere, infrared night vision ensures that the camera continues to see in the dark without the need for separate illumination. You can keep an eye on your pets too, and speak to them – or whoever is at home – using the built-in two-way voice intercom feature.

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Powered by micro-USB adaptor (included when you buy it), the Mi Home Security Camera 360-Degree connects wirelessly to your Wi-fi network to stream real-time footage that can be accessed using the Mi Home app from your mobile device at home or at work. You can even tweak it to point at different angles depending on what time of the day it is. Recorded footage can either be stored on its microSD (Up to 32GB supported) card storage or streamed to the cloud.

Price: 199 yuan (US$30)

Philips Hue Go

Shaped like a sphere that is sliced in half, the Philips Hue Go is a versatile light appliance that you can deploy in your home – or office – without having to perch on a ladder or fiddle with electrical fittings. Plug the Hue Go into a wall socket and get 300 lumens of light output that can be toggled between seven beautiful preprogrammed light effects using its sole physical button.

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You can pull out the cord and place the lithium-ion battery-powered device anywhere away from a power socket for up to three hours on the balcony or at the dining table for that special romantic meal. Light output is reduced away from the wall socket, though still bright enough for most purposes.

If you get the separately available Hue Bridge, then you can adjust the colours of the Hue Go from a selection of 16 million colours through the smartphone app to create the perfect ambience for your home.

Alternatively, you can also set timers and alarms to indicate the time through changes in lighting without having to endure the discordant sound of an alarm clock.

However, the real value of the Hue Go is probably compatibility with other smart home systems such as HomeKit and Alexa. One downside is that the battery and bulb aren’t replaceable, though the latter does have a lifetime of 20,000 hours. It should last almost seven years if switched on for eight hours a day.

Price: HK$698 (US$89)

Logitech Harmony Ultimate

The Logitech Harmony Ultimate gives you full control of all remote-controlled devices in your smart home, ranging from the air conditioning unit to your TV.

Aside from Bluetooth and Wi-fi control, it also supports IR-based systems such as Blu-ray players or audio-visual systems with the use of the two mini IR blasters. Wired to the main Harmony Hub, the beauty of the IR blasters is that they can be positioned inside a cupboard or TV console, allowing for control of equipment behind closed doors.

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You can remote-control your devices using either the physical Harmony Remote that comes with the package, or the Harmony app running on a smartphone. The latter talks to the Harmony Hub through your home Wi-fi network, making it possible to control all devices supported by the Harmony platform through your smartphone.

Alternatively, stick with the Harmony Remote, which comes with an inbuilt LCD touch-screen that can be customised to display pertinent controls or short cuts. A physical charging station also serves as a docking receptacle for the Harmony Remote to keep it charged. And yes, the Logitech Harmony can also manage the Philips Hue Go and August Smart Lock, too.

Price: HK$2,299

Amazon Echo Dot

AI assistants are all the rage these days, and you can step into the future of voice commands with the Amazon Echo Dot, the smallest and most affordable member of the Echo family of internet-of-things (IoT) devices.

The Echo Dot does practically everything that its larger cousins can do, and comes with Bluetooth and 3.5mm audio output for pairing with a larger speaker. Importantly, seven integrated far-field microphones promise hands-free control, even in noisy environments or with music playing in the background.

The magic behind the Amazon Echo family isn’t so much its ability to understand you, but the large ecosystem of capabilities, which include support for a variety of cloud services and smart devices.

For instance, you can download the relevant pre-packaged services to dim your Philips Hue lights or unlock your August Smart Lock-secured door. And with the Echo Dot powered by a micro-USB port, it also offers the tantalising ability to run from battery packs.

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For Hong Kong dwellers, one downside of the Echo is the need to spend some time getting it to work properly. Aside from the need to figure out a way to download the Amazon Alexa app from the US app store (Google Play or Apple’s App Store) for the initial set-up, expect to make other tweaks, such as setting the time to the right time zone for alarms to work properly.

Price: HK$545 (Expansys)