Wink Lookout review: Do you want total control of your home security system?

As one of the more popular smarthome hubs, it makes sense that Wink recently got involved with home security by introducing its $ 199 Wink Lookout bundle aimed at first-time buyers. The bundle includes a siren, some sensors and a Wink hub.

Even those of us — like me — who already have a Wink hub can add some of the individual security components of Lookout, which are available separately.

This two-pronged strategy is a smart play by Wink but the question is: How well does Wink Lookout work? That’s a trickier question to answer because it depends on how you expect a self-monitoring home security system to behave. More on that later.

A modular system that includes a smart home hub

So what do you get for $ 199 in the Wink Lookout package? There’s a standard Wink Hub 2, a pair of Z-Wave door/window sensors, one Z-Wave motion sensor and one Z-Wave siren/chime module. All of these can be attached walls, doors and windows with included screws, or can be mounted with double-sided tape, also included. Additional motion sensors or siren/chime units are $ 39 each while another door/window sensor costs $ 29, so you can build out your system as needed.

I love the design of the motion sensor. I call it the eyeball because that’s what it looks like, and it blinks a pleasing blue when it sees movement in its 110-degree field of view. The sensor attaches magnetically to its rounded base plate so you can easily adjust the angle. And there’s also a flat spot on the sensor back so you can stand it on the floor, a shelf or table if you’d like. In the Wink app, you have five different sensitivity settings for the motion sensor; helpful if you have pets.

The siren/chime module also looks nice but how it sounds is more important. There are three volume levels for both the siren and the chime function and you can choose from 10 different siren alert sounds. I found that automating the chime with a Wink Robot is useful: Play a pleasant sound when someone opens the front door or garage for example. The siren is really meant for a different purpose, but again, more on that in a minute. At the highest volume level though, you don’t want to be standing next to it.

Easy installation

Lookout devices (click to enlarge)

Installation for the base products was generally easy although I used my own Wink Hub 2 to set things up. I did have a few struggles pairing the motion sensor and siren/chime until I remembered that I typically have to get very close to my hub when pairing Z-Wave devices. Once I did that, the pairing was successful. For folks without a Wink Hub, the products come pre-paired so you don’t have to go through this step, which is a nice touch.

Note that other supported Wink products can feed into Lookout as well: I was able to add my Nest Camera for motion detection as well as my Z-Wave front door lock to the Lookout system.

This is a huge benefit for those with existing smart home products, although I’d caution you before using a webcam, as any detected movement will set the system off: Again, a challenge if you have pets.

A modern twist on home security

Lookout actions (click to enlarge)

Once I had everything paired and connected, I started to scratch my head a little. Wink says that Lookout provides actionable alerts and control. And it pretty much does exactly that because there’s no traditional arm/disarm feature. Instead, in the Wink app, there’s an Alerts On or Alerts Off button. That doesn’t stop the sensors from monitoring, it simply stops sending you notifications from them.

The idea here is that whenever Lookout detects motion or sees that a door or window is open, it will send a notification to your phone. Tap the notification and your phone will open the Wink app where you can choose to dismiss the alert or take action. If you choose the latter, you get another in-app screen with three options: Turn siren on, Call someone in your contacts list or Call 911. Essentially Lookout works as advertised in this regard.

Is that how you want your home security system to work though? There’s no right answer here and for some folks, particularly those that live alone, Lookout should be a perfect fit. I’m not so sure about how it fits me, however.

Your smartphone is the control panel

Since the entire system is smartphone based, I’d need to add my wife, son and daughter as users to my Wink account. That’s not difficult to do, and I probably should have done so a while ago. But I also have to convince my family to then install the Wink app and use it as the “security control panel” for the house.

They’re not likely going to do that: It’s taken me two years just to get them to use the multiple Amazon Echo devices in the house to turn lights on and off. In fact, because they use voice control for the lights, they’re less likely to use the Wink app for the same feature. But if they don’t use the Wink app, how will they know when the Lookout Alerts are on or off?

A perfect example is me going to bed and turning Alerts On. My son often works late shifts nearby and sometimes he drives back to his mom’s house after work. Occasionally, he drives to my house because it’s closer and he’s tired. I can easily envision the entire house woken up by the Siren when he comes in at 1am. Of course, you don’t have automate the Siren like I did in my testing. You can simply be woken by the Alert notification and decide what to do next.

Unfortunately — and maybe it’s just me, although I doubt it — I turn my phone’s Do Not Disturb (DND) function on before going to sleep. And that means I won’t get the alert if my son, or a random stranger, comes in. I suspect most people in that regard are like me, either manually enabling DND or scheduling it during sleep hours: The time you most want your home monitored for any break-ins.

The system works, but will it work the way you want it to?

Again, Wink Lookout works as advertised and it’s very possible that my use case is uniquely different than most other peoples. However, I think there’s a missing piece here for a more appealing product: Some type of connected keypad with a 10 second delay so you can get in the house and disarm the system, or even an NFC swipe tag and reader to accomplish the same thing.

Regardless of my own home, if you’re looking for an inexpensive smart home security system that provides you with total actionable control, Wink Lookout is worth the look. There’s no monthly service fee and the sensors work well at detecting motion and creating notification alerts. And there’s the added bonus of being able to build out your smarthome system with all of the other Wink-supported products, so in some regards, this is a nice two-for-one kit.

Stacey on IoT | Internet of Things news and analysis

Book Review: Digitise or Die

This is a very big book. The review copy was a PDF file that ran to 251 pages. The title is somewhat dramatic but the author does make a convincing case for that statement, citing companies such as Kodak and Nokia. However that is a relatively easy task.

The main thrust of the book is to expand “on the IoT, beyond the pure technology element, in a way that would help companies understand how to transform, leverage themselves and supersede their competition.”

That is a commendable objective, but the book includes a lot of background information before we get to Chapter 3 on “Digitisation Strategy: The IoT Methodology” on page 37. For example, it covers the mainframe computer period from 1950 to 1980; building the backbone of the Internet from 1980 to 2000; and Internet services such as Google from 2000 to 2017, says Bob Emmerson.

The methodology starts with the customers: their needs and pain points, and then it indicates how to digitise the current portfolio while embracing technology, differentiation strategies, business models and a transition process. However, in Chapter 3 the book seems to contradict itself when covering the first step.

The stated starting point is four customer–centric bullet points, but this is followed by a statement that the first step begins by addressing IoT technology, which that has six different layers. If it’s not a contradiction then it is confusing.

The remaining three elements are summarised in Chapter 4, which devotes a mere eight pages to the customer’s needs. However, Chapter 5 employs 60 pages on IoT technology and the reader is told that “to understand the IoT you must understand what hides behind IoT acronyms such as CoAP, AEP, Thread and so forth.” It would have been better to cover technology after the chapters on differentiation strategies and business models and to do so in less detail.

Bob Emmerson

The main thrust of the book, outlined earlier, is somewhat ambitious and it is easy to criticise the result. That said, Digitise or Die covers a lot of IoT ground, too much at times, but that can be seen as a positive problem. It works well for business professionals who know that they need to understand the emerging environment but don’t know where to start. It’s also a book that can serve as a reference work.

The author is Nicolas Windpassinger, global vice president Partner Program, Schneider Electric. Sales revenue will be donated to Alzheimer’s Association and Fondation de France. It’s available for pre-order on Amazon and will be launched mid November.

The book has been reviewed by Bob Emmerson, freelance writer and telecoms industry observer

Comment on this article below or via Twitter: @IoTNow_OR @jcIoTnow

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Book review : Working with blockchain

“Working with Blockchain: all the basics” is a concise, clear explanation of Bitcoin and Distributed Ledger Technology (Blockchain) that is ushering in a groundbreaking way of conducting business. There’s been a lot of hype on the Net about Bitcoin, but this publication puts the business case front and center and backs it up real-world use cases.

The key message is obvious once you read it. “Business over the Internet is based on antiquated rules and processes that were conceived in the pre-Internet age and never designed for the scale, speed and granularity of today’s networked economy.” Think banks and letters of credit, says Bob Emmerson.

The 21st century much-needed alternative it to employ a crypto-currency, Bitcoin, and use a distributed ledger to enable cheap, fast, worldwide payments, conducted transparently and without intermediaries. This is not only doable, it’s being done. Blockchain is improving transparency and trust, simplifying business processes, creating brand-new opportunities and bringing benefits to society and businesses.

There is a clear analogy to the IoT. Although IoT is not essential for Blockchain to function, the combination packs a powerful punch. Check it out here followed by a search on Bitcoin.

The book doesn’t go into techie details but it is comprehensive. There is a brief history of Blockchain and a chapter that covers the issues that are addressed, such as immunity to hacks, the different types of Blockchain Technology and business basics.

Chapter 5 covers a key topic, where and how to apply Blockchain for business processes and it highlights aspects that add value in business ecosystems. They include: the involvement of multiple parties; areas where trust and confidentiality are important; where fast transactions are required; and where there is a community, e.g. a union, association or consortium.

Practical advice on how to get some hands-on experience comes in the next chapter. You start by installing a Bitcoin wallet, and pay for the proposed small number of Bitcoins. Then you download the Bitcoin Blockchain, and that enables participation in a distributed ledger. The authors do not advice investing serious money and speculating with Bitcoins.

Now you can make and receive payments and experience how the verification of payments proceeds transparently. The remainder of the chapter provides advice on how to identify and check use cases followed by a four-step process that will get your business up Blockchain speed.

The remaining chapters cover a variety of Blockchain solutions that include: climate change; critical infrastructure protection; financial services; government and utilities; travel and transportation; and finally the entertainment industry. The book concludes with real-world examples and references.

Conclusion: This publication is an easy, informative read that will get you up to speed with a breakthrough development that meets a real market need.

The authors: Louis de Bruin, European Blockchain leader with IBM Global Business Services, and Willem Vermeend, an Internet entrepreneur and a Professor of Economics at the Open University in the Netherlands. The book costs € 17,50 and can be ordered here.

The author of this blog is Bob Emmerson, freelance writer and telecoms industry observer

Comment on this article below or via Twitter: @IoTNow_OR @jcIoTnow

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Sonos One review: Sweet sound mixed with Alexa voice and smart home controls

It was over a year ago that Sonos announced its strategic partnership with Amazon, saying it would bring Alexa voice integration to Sonos speakers. Fast forward 14 months and that integration is finally here for existing Sonos device owners who also own an Amazon Echo product. The Echo acts as the microphone for voice controls. However, there’s also a new device, the $ 199.99 Sonos One, which works with Alexa without needing an Echo or a Dot.

I’ve spent a week with a loaner Sonos One and overall, I’m very impressed. here are some limitations worth noting if you’re a current Echo device user. And just to level set my observations, I’ve never owned a Sonos product before, while I have purchased one Amazon Echo, an Echo Tap and two Echo Dots.

For those not familiar with Sonos, the company has pioneered Wi-Fi speakers and multi-room audio. Sonos opts for Wi-Fi over Bluetooth because the former can transmit more information, so audio files aren’t as compressed and sound better. Wi-Fi also allows the same audio to be sent to multiple devices, although you can do that with Bluetooth 5.0 to a lesser extent. The Sonos product line boasts compatibility with more than 80 unique streaming services, ranging from Apple Music to Tidal and just about everything in between including Spotify, Pandora, Amazon Music, Google Play Music, SiriusXM, TuneIn, Napster and more. Essentially, if you can stream it, chances are good that Sonos speakers can play it.

Simple setup in just a few minutes

For this review, I used a beta version of the Sonos app, which could be tweaked or different from the app when Sonos starts shipping the One next week. Setup was super simple: I plugged the speaker into an electrical outlet and then pressed a button on the back of the One to start the pairing process.

I signed in to the Sonos app on my iPhone, walked through a few steps to get the One on my Wi-Fi network and told the app which room my speaker would be in; useful if you plan to put speakers in different rooms.

Once the speaker was connected, the app walked me through an optional Trueplay Tuning activity. This fired off test tones for about 3 minutes while I walked around the kitchen waving my phone up and down. Sonos uses the microphone in your handset to gather spatial data and then custom tunes the One for optimal sound in that room, which is clever. You can skip the TruePlay Tuning if you want (sorry Android folks, it’s an iOS-only feature), and there’s also EQ Settings in the app if you prefer to customize sound on your own.

Of course, you need music before using the speaker, so the next part of the process is where I connected the Sonos app to a few music services. In my case, I used Amazon Music and Apple Music although I was able to use other music services without directly connecting them to my Sonos account – I’ll explain that in a bit.

Lastly, I set up Alexa on the One, which connects your Amazon account to the app. I also had to download the Sonos skill for Alexa, which is the secret software sauce to support voice services. Overall, expect to spend 10 minutes at most to set up a One.

Excellent sound plus voice controls

The new Sonos One looks similar to the existing Sonos Play:1 speaker, but don’t judge this book by its cover. The company tells me only two minor parts of the speaker base are re-used in the updated model: Everything else has been redesigned inside and out.

With just a quick look at the two, I’d be hard pressed to tell the difference. The most obvious difference, however, is the top of the speakers. Instead of hard buttons, the new Sonos One has touch sensitive controls for play/pause, volume up/down and a mute button for the microphone – remember, Sonos One has Alexa built in, so there are far-field array of six microphones listening like an Amazon Echo.

Inside is a pair of Class D amplifiers, one tweeter for high frequencies and one mid-range woofer of mid- to low-frequency sounds. I can’t compare the output to an older Sonos device, and to be honest, sound quality can be fairly subjective.

To my ears, however, the audio output is excellent: Crisp and clear highs and midrange tones along with strong, but not overwhelming, thump-y bass you can feel. The rich sound is more powerful than I expected in a speaker that’s 6.36 x 4.69 x 4.69 inches in cubic volume. In fact, I used a decibel level app on my phone to compare the output of the same song on both my original Amazon Echo and the Sonos One with both devices at 50 percent volume. The Sonos sound levels were typically 10 to 13 decibels louder at the same test distances and with no audible distortion that I could hear.

While you can control and choose all of your music with the Sonos app — the app acts like a centralized repository for all of your music services — the big improvement in this iteration is the addition of voice controls using Alexa.

The experience was no different than doing the same thing on my Echo devices, which is to say, it’s pretty good. I rarely experienced any hiccups when voice controlling the One for music, even with the music volume up fairly high. I’d say the microphone array is at least as good as the one in my Amazon Echo, if not better. Those touch screen controls work well too for changing volume or tracks but I rarely used them because the voice controls are so good.

I should note that even though I didn’t link my SiriusXM account with the Sonos One, I could still use voice commands to fire it up. Saying, “Alexa, play channel 18 on Sirius XM” started up my beloved Beatles Channel on the speaker, likely because that music service is tied to my account in the Alexa app.

Exactly what you’d expect as a smarthome assistant

Music is clearly in the roots of the Sonos One, but adding microphones, Alexa Voice Services and the Sonos skill to the speaker turns it into a solid smarthome assistant. There’s no need to set up any smarthome integrations on the Play One if you’ve already done so previously with an Echo device. Everything just works as it does on Amazon’s own devices for lighting controls, smart locks, thermostats and more.

There’s not much to say here because Sonos is — smartly, in my opinion — tapping into Amazon’s existing smarthome control services. Put another way: If you can control a smart device by voice with an Amazon Echo, you can do it with a Sonos One.

It’s not an Echo device but that may be OK for some

While I came away impressed by everything the Sonos One with Alexa can do, there are things it can’t do. Remember, this is not an Amazon Echo device, so some features found in an Echo aren’t here.

For example, you can’t use the Alexa Drop In feature on a One, so you won’t be having any intercom conversations around your house. Alexa can do voice calls too as of a few months ago but only if she’s inside an Amazon Echo device: You can’t make voice calls from a Sonos One.

And when it comes to grouping speakers for multi-room playback, there’s a bit of a hitch unless you’re all in on Echo or Sonos devices. I can group my Echo speakers in the Alexa app and play music on some or all of them at the same time, but I can’t add a Sonos speaker to a group in the Alexa app. Likewise, I don’t see a way to add Echo devices to a Sonos room or group. If you have other Sonos speakers, or Amazon Echo devices for that matter, you can tell them which Sonos speaker to play on, however. I told the Echo in my living room to play music in the kitchen on the Sonos and it worked just fine.

Alexa’s Flash Briefing isn’t yet available on the One but Sonos says it’s coming soon. Sonos will also be adding additional features over time to Alexa inside the One. At launch, Alexa voice controls for music are limited to Amazon Music, iHeartRadio, Pandora, SiriusXM and TuneIn. Spotify is expected soon soon after the launch, however. And until then, you can easily control music in the app, like I had to for my Apple Music tunes.

Are any of these deal breakers? Not for me, but I’m sure some folks might raise an eyebrow over these limitations when considering what smart speakers to purchase: Something we recently discussed on video to help understand all of the different choices currently available or coming soon.

After such a positive experience with the Sonos One review unit, I’m leaning towards buying one or two of my own while retiring a pair of Echo units. I can live without the Alexa Drop In and voice calling features while still using Alexa to control my smart home with a Sonos One. I’d also get what I think is better sound quality and what I know is device that supports more music services. Looking ahead, the Sonos One will be getting Google Assistant integration in 2018, making it more agnostic when it comes to voice assistants.

Keep in mind that Amazon has new Echo speakers available later this month, Google recently announced its Home Max, and Apple’s HomePod is also on the way before year end. We’ll be sure to compare each of these to each other and the Sonos One as these products launch.

Stacey on IoT | Internet of Things news and analysis

How to review and permanently delete voice recordings from a Google Home or Amazon Echo

Digital assistants are great, except when they aren’t.

This week, for example, a software glitch recorded everything people said when doing their reviews of the new Google Home Mini. Yes, everything they said all day and all night was stored on Google’s servers, which is not how these devices are supposed to work. The only voice recordings saved in the cloud for a Google Home or Amazon Echo product are supposed to be short snippets captured after saying the wake word, such as “OK Google” or “Alexa”.

Google has already patched the Home Mini software so don’t fret if you pre-ordered a device. Even so, it’s not a bad idea to periodically check to see what’s actually being recorded and saved by your digital assistant. Here’s how to do it.

Removing what Google Home and Google Assistant have heard

Google lumps the recordings into your Google account, which also captures search history, Google Assistant usage, and Play Music usage, to name a few things. So you’ll have to dig a little to get at your cloud-stored voice recordings. To do that, navigate to http://myaccount.google.com and make sure you’re signed in with your Google account.

On the main My Account page, look for the card titled “My Activity” and click the “Go to my activity link”. Here you’ll find a chronological stream of the data Google has captured and stored that’s associated with your account. While it’s generally a good idea to review all of the data, if you want to filter it for just the voice data, click the “Filter by date & product” link and then choose “Voice and Audio”.

Now you can easily see all of the stored voice snippets, complete with a Play button for each one so you can hear what your Google Home or Google Assistant app recorded.

While you can delete individual recordings, removing them all will take time. That’s where the “nuclear” option comes in handy because it will remove all recordings from Google’s servers in one fell swoop. To do this, choose the “Delete activity by” option in the menu on the left. Here you can choose a time-frame, with “All time” being one of the options. You can also limit the action to “Voice and Audio”.

Choose those, click “Delete” and all of your recordings will be erased from the cloud. Keep in mind, however, that if you continue to use Google Home or Assistant going forward, all new voice commands will be saved. And it’s possible that the digital assistant experience will be worse, at least for a little while, since Google uses the recordings to make its assistant smarter and personalized for you.

If you’d rather do all of this in the Google Assistant app, you can. The process is generally the same. Just look for the “My Activity” option in the app settings to review or delete saved voice conversations.

Removing what Amazon Echo and Alexa have heard

You can actually do this at an individual snippet level right in the Alexa app for iOS and Android as well. Just open the Alexa app and tap the little Home icon at the bottom left to see a stream of cards, which each card representing a voice interaction. Each of these has a little “More” link, so tap it to see or hear what Alexa heard.

To remove all voice history from Amazon’s servers, however, you have to visit their website here and log in. Tapping the “Your Content and Devices” tab will show all of your Echo devices. Click the little menu button to the left of any Echo device for a pop-up menu that provides a “Manage Voice Recordings” option.

You’ll get an informational warning message explaining that your Echo experience may degrade since like Google, Amazon uses the recordings to make Alexa smarter and personalized.

If you’re OK with that just tap the “Delete” button and the recordings will be erased.

What you give and what you get

Remember that our personal digital assistants are just that: Personal. For them to be customized to individual users, they need to learn about us. And not just how we speak, but also about our preferences, purchases, and the type of information we search for. So yes, we’re giving up that data for any of these devices. In return, for those who find that acceptable, our assistants can make our life easier. It’s a trade-off for sure, and one that we all need to individually decide if we’re willing to accept it or not.

Stacey on IoT | Internet of Things news and analysis