iHome iS550 5:1 Sensor Review – I always feel like Somebodies watching me…

Product

Protocol

Ecosystems

Rating

 iHome  iSS50 5:1 Sensor  Wifi ( 2.4 Ghz )   NewImage

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 Two Stars

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Overview

From the product page 

5-in-1 SmartMonitor, 24/7 Home monitoring from anywhere

Your home is now the “home of the future”. Monitor crucial aspects of your home environment from anywhere in the world. The free iHome Control app allows users to further automate their home. Works with SmartPlugs (sold separately) connected to lights or appliances. Set rules with iHome Control app to control connected devices based on any of the 5 sensors.

The iS550 is supposed to be an all-in-one sensor. It covers

  • motion
  • temperature
  • sound
  • light
  • humidity
One of my goals with my SmartHome setup is to allow the house to dynamically act on the world around it. Not just automating time-of-day routines, but actually reacting to whatever is happening in the house at a specific point in time. At face value, the 5:1 is a potential gold-mine given all the different sensors embedded in this thing. Lots of potential scenes that can be triggered based on the various measurements that the iS550 can provide.
 
Off the top of my head, some of the triggers and scenes I would like to setup might be
  • Trigger Lights and Cameras on Large Sound – After all, a window sensor probably won’t notify you if the window is broken. 
  • Turn on Humidifier when the room becomes too dry
  • Turn on the lights based on the motion sensor, but only when the daylights below a certain level
  • Turn on the furnace when the temperature in the room drops below a certain temperature
  • Turn on the air conditioner when the temperature in the room raises above a certain threshold
  • Close the curtains when the light is brighter than a certain threshold

There are a ton of possibilities with this thing and they only increase as you add more devices to your SmartHome setup!

Setup

Setup was easy. That’s one of the big usability improvements that Apple HomeKit brings to the table. You simply scan in the HomeKit code and the device is added. The WSC (Wireless Simple Configuration ) protocol is used to automatically transfer over your current wi-fi settings to the device so there’s no requirement to manually type in long WPA2 or passphrase or deal with any of the wireless configuration details at all. I’m sure that some of my wireless engineer friends might not like the lack of configurability, but from as typical home-user I’m sure this simplicity is much appreciated. 

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Aesthetics

The iS550 is a bit chunky for my tastes. The fact that it’s also USB powered is also a drawback for me. I’m not a big fan of the dangling cords. A bit of cable management might spruce this up, but the cable and USB power supply are both pieces which I would rather not have to deal with. The fonts on the display screen are built to be able to see across the room, not for fashion. It’s definitely a utility piece, not a conversation piece. 

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Usability

 The iS550 was supposed to be a centre piece for me, but unfortunately, it really hasn’t worked out that way. Some of this is an issue with the iHome design. Some of this is an issue with the Apple Home application. The biggest problem I have with the 5:1 sensor is that fact that it REQUIRES me to plug it into a wall. This really limits my ability to place this where I want to. I’m limited by the distance between the device and the closet electrical socket, as well the requirement for an ugly USB cable dangling out the back (as mentioned above) ruins the appeal of this device, at least for me.  Yes, in theory I could hide it behind something, but then the sensors would lose their effectiveness. Light would be filtered out, sounds would be muffled, motion would be blocked. Definitely not something we’re looking for from a sensor with these capabilities. 

The other issue I has is the lack of automation triggers within the Apple Home app itself. I’ve got a 5:1 sensor here, but unfortunately, the Apple Home app only allows be to create triggers based on the motion sensor. 

Setting Triggers

Native Apple Home App

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Home App

Fortunately the Home app (not to be confused with the Apple’s native Home app) has the ability to create triggers based on Humidity, Light, Motion, and Temperature sensors. No sounds yet, but I did make the request to the developer so hopefully that’s coming soon. 

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And in some true silliness, the triggers created in the Home app DO in fact appear in the Apple native Home app, you just can’t create them there.

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iHome Native App

The iHome app, as can be expected, has the most capabilities. When setting up triggers in the iHome App,you can choose to either get a notification or control a plug (the Koogeek plugs do show up as an option here as well!), and the rule type can be

– time based ( schedule)

– sensor based ( the iS550)

– Nest Home/Away Based – Uses the Nest Home/Away 

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Random Loss of Network

The one other major drawback that I place at iHome alone is the random loss of connectivity from the wireless network. I’ve emailed iHome support on this particular case and there response was that I should move the unit blaming my wireless network. This would work except for two things…

  1. All my other devices work fine in this particular room
  2. I’ve got 3 access points covering my house, so the chances of poor signal are minimal to say the least
  3. The device needs to be plugged in!!!!! Where do they expect me to move it?
I’m hoping this may be fixed in a future firmware, but currently this severely lowers my trust in this device. 

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SDK

I was not able to find any SDK available and when I contacted support they were “not aware” of any such thing.   

Pros

 The iHome IS550 is the only HomeKit compatible sensor on the market that has this many sensors. The possibilities with this many inputs are truly staggering. Imagine

Security Application – If the host is set for AWAY and there’s a large sound ( like a broken window ) a notification could be sent to your phone. As well, you could potentially trigger a camera to turn on and send pictures to your phone. 

Don’t Turn on Lights when Sunny – Combine the motion sensor and the light sensor to only turn on the lights when the motion sensor is triggered AND the light sensor is beneath a specific value.

Turn on Humidifier when Air is too dry – If the humidity in the room drops below a certain threshold, turn on a smart plug that has a humidifier in it. Or alternately, if the humidity sensor raises above a certain threshold turn on the wall socket with a dehumidifier in it. 

Save $$$ –  If temperature raises above a threshold and the light sensor is above a certain threshold, automatically close the curtains.

There are a ton of different applications you could use with this thing!   

Cons

Limited Support in Apple Home App: The Apple Native Home app only supports the motion sensor to create triggers. The other sensors can only be accessed through the iHome or other application. The sound sensor isn’t available at all. (Note: There is currently no HomeKit support for Sound sensors, so this really isn’t a problem with the iHome iS550, but rather the HomeKit framework itself ).  

No SDK:  public facing SDK. Speaks for itself here.

Limited compatibility: This device does work with my Nest thermostat, which is nice, but no support for Amazon Alexa or Googlehome. (Note: iHome just announced Googlehome support for their line of smart plugs, so hoping this support may be added in future firmware. )

Unreliable Network Connection: The fact that this device looses network connectivity means that I can’t depend on it for any security applications based on the sound or motion sensor. 


Final Thoughts

The iHome iS550 is a device that has a lot of potential. It’s definitely the most capable device in the market as far as sensors. This was the major factor in deciding to add this to my SmartHome setup, but the reality leaves a lot to be desired. The loss of network connectivity and the requirement for USB power and the ugly cable it brings along means that it’s pretty limited in where I can place it and how much I can hide it. 

If what you’re looking for is a convenience device that can be used to trigger various SmartHome scenes while you’re home, this is probably not a bad buy. Especially as it’s the only product on the market that I’m aware of with the sensor capabilities that the iS550 brings to the table.  But if you were looking for a sensor to use as part of your home security strategy, I would keep looking. Too much of a chance that the device is going to loose network connectivity when you need it the most. 

Questions, Comments, Corrections?  Feel free to comment below!

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Lutron Caseta – Let there be Light!

The Lutron Caseta is my go-to standard for lights. It’s easy to get up and running. It’s blends into the house and it’s supports a lot of other partners so I’m not worried about moving to another SmartHome ecosystem if I decide I don’t like what Apple HomeKit is doing.

Product

Installation

Ecosystems

Protocol

Rating

 Lutron Caseta Lights System + Lutron Smart Home Bridge Pro  In-Wall, Plug for Lamp NewImage

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  Lutron Clear Connect RF + Wifi/Ethernet  4/5

From the product webpage

You can build your smart lighting system with as few or as many products as you’d like. A kit is the easiest way to begin, but you can also purchase products individually and mix and match them. And you can add more products to your system at any time. The products listed here are available online, at select retailers, your local electrical or A/V distributor, and lighting showrooms. Get inspired! Whether you are just starting out or adding to your Caséta set up, explore the Caséta Advisor for ideas on using Caséta in different rooms throughout your home.

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Product Specifics

You can see the entire line of Lutron Caseta product here. The specific products that I have installed in my home are the following

Smart Bridge with HomeKit technology L-BDG2-WH

This component is what makes the Lutron Caseta system Apple HomeKit compatible. Exactly as the name implies, the Smart Bridge plugs into an RJ-45 port on your network to create a connection between your IP network and the Lutron Caseta Clear Connect RF environment.

In-wall dimmer for wall and ceiling lights PD-6WCL-XX

The Lutron casita in-wall dimmer replaces the switch in the wall. Some basic electrical knowledge is required for this installation. Be warned.

Plug-in lamp dimmer for table and floor lamps PD-3PCL-WH

The Lutron Plug-in lamp dimmer is also exactly what you think it is. You plug this device into the wall, then you plug the lamp into this device.

Overview

Lutron has been in lights for a long time and it shows with this product line. I already had Lutron light switches through most of my house so the installation was amazingly straight forward. They also looked like they belong and there wasn’t a visible difference as I gradually installed more and more of these throughout the house.

The main reason I really like the Lutron is the cost savings. These are definitely one of the most economical ways to turn whole rooms into SmartZones while saving a few dollars. We did a bunch of renovations a few years back and I have a bunch of in-ceiling lights.  (GU10 bulbs).  A single Lutron Caseta in-wall switch can drive 8 of these GU10 bulbs for a cost of about $60 dollars.

I have probably 40+ of these bulbs spread out throughout my house. Although I love the Philipps Hue solution as well….

Philipps Hue Bulbs 

White GU10      Cost: $25 each       Total Cost:  $1000

Color GU10.      Cost: $50 each.      Total Cost: $2000

Lutron Light Switches

(5 switches):    Cost: 65$.   Total Cost: $325

As you can see, the Lutron comes in a lot lower than the Philipps Hue bulbs when the quantities start to add up. There’s definitely some sacrifice in flexibility as each switch controls a zone of 8 bulbs as compared to the Philips Hue system where you have individual bulb control.

Setup

The Lutron system was really easy to setup. The setup guide was easy to follow and with a little help from Youtube and a HomeDepot home improvement book. I had the light switches installed in no time. As you can see in the video, connecting the bridge and adding the switches to both the Lutron App and the Apple Home app was a breeze. This is one of the places where Apples attention to user experience and  app interface is REALLY appreciated. As you can see in the setup videos above, discovering the bridge was simple and I was easily able to create all the rooms and put the light switches in the appropriate room.

Aesthetics

The Lutron Caseta lighting system looks like it belongs. This is where Lutron’s pedigree really shines through in that this has been their core business for years. During the conversion between the old Lutron switches and the Caseta  Smart switches, no one really noticed that there was anything special about the caseta versions. Personally, I want my SmartHome to be invisible. It’s there when I need it, but I wanted the smart aspects to fade into the background and only become apparent when the magic is happening. The Caseta definitely scored high marks in this regards.

Usability

The Lutron Caseta system IS a light switch. Using the casita in-wall switches feels exactly like a light switch should feel. Unlike the bulb and light socket options, you don’t ever have to worry about turning off the switch and losing power to the light socket or bulb.

Note: If you’re using the light socket or bulb lighting systems and you flick the switch, you end up turning off the power to the light which leaves you just talking to your self with nothing happening.

The Lutron app is pretty good and the system integrates seamlessly into the Apple Home app available on iOS 10. There are the occasional minor naming mishaps upon first discovery ( see the video ) but once it’s up it’s incredibly stable.

The one major place where Lutron loses marks for me is the lack of available motion sensor to trigger the lights. This is a major oversight on Lutron’s part and should definitely have been part of the system. I did contact Lutron on twitter and was given the following answer

You can either:
1.Use the LRF2 sensors with the Caséta Wireless dimmers or switches, and not have them as part of the bridge/app.
2.Use the Caséta Wireless dimmers or switches with the bridge/app, and not work with the LRF2 sensors.

There’s still no great HomeKit motion sensor (Elgato Eve has a 2 second delay!) so this is kind of a big deal. I was able tie together some HomeKit triggers using a combo of the philipps lights and the philipps motion sensor, but I just don’t feel like I should have to hack a solution into place for something that should be there.

I also have one lamp which I used with the Lutron Lamp Dimmer and it just worked. I didn’t realize this when I bought it, but the lamp dimmer also acts as a bridge/repeater extending the range and reliability of the Lutron Clear Connect wireless system.  Based on the size of my house, I have no idea if I actually need a repeater, but I can tell you that I haven’t had a single problem with my Lutron lights responding.

Portability

The Lutron Caseta system is really flexible and can be leveraged in a bunch of different use-cases. My kids grandmother recently remodelled her apartment and they wired all the light switches to a central location near the front door. Of course this resulted in some bruised shins trying to navigate the new apartment at night. We installed a Caseta Wall switch with the Pico remote and suddenly she could turn off the lights to the kitchen once she got to her bedroom. Avoided running the wiring and also scored points with the baby sitter which is ALWAYS a good thing.

The Lutron Caseta system is also compatible with various other ecosystems and platforms inclusion: SmartThings, Nest, GoogleHome, Apple HomeKit, Amazon Alexa as well as others. If I decide to move from the Apple HomeKit platform to another SmartHome ecosystem, I’m not worried that I can take my light switches with me.

SDK

The Lutron Caseta Smart Bridge Pro has an “SDK”. I use that word in quotes as there “API” uses Telnet. Not exactly a secure protocol. It’s nice to know that it’s not only networking that still seems to use screen scraping as the method to access gear remotely. I haven’t coded anything using this API yet, but I also don’t really want to as it uses Telnet.

Pros

The Lutron Caseta has a lot going for it

  • Cost-Effective
  • Looks Great
  • Flexible Deployment options
  • Good HomeKit Integration

Cons

The Lutron is not a perfect product, but the negative can be worked around.

  •  No Motion detector
  • Telnet “API”

Final Thoughts

The Lutron Caseta is my go-to standard for lights. It’s easy to get up and running. It’s blends into the house and it’s supports a lot of other partners so I’m not worried about moving to another SmartHome ecosystem if I decide I don’t like what Apple HomeKit is doing.  The usability is seamless. It’s just like using a light switch so there’s no frustration when the kids turn the lights off. It’s not as flexible as the Philipps Hue lighting system but it just works.

Comments or Questions? Please feel free to post below.

@netmanchris