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Smart phones seem to have killed off the alarm clock, and I think that’s kind of a shame. It may be more convenient to set a quick alarm with Siri and fumble for a phone in the morning, but something about that routine can seem kind of lacking. I miss having a clock to glance at when I stumble out of bed, and I think everyone knows the simple pleasure of a well-placed snooze button.
Since the folks at Withings have been putting out some really interesting stuff lately, I’ve had my eye on their Aura connected alarm clock for a while. Does it do a better job on your nightstand than your trusty smart phone? Read on to find out!
What Does It Claim to Do?
The Withings Aura is a “connected alarm clock” that features a built in lamp, clock, speaker, and a sleep tracking accessory (in the package I tested). It claims to be able to help you fall asleep, wake you up gently, and be a generally great bedside companion.
- Ambient lamp with adjustable light
- Built-in speaker (for alarm and music)
- Support for Spotify and 20,000 radio stations
- Tracks temperature, light, and sound levels
- Detailed sleep analysis available through optional REM Sleep Tracker
Let’s dive in to the details…
Look and Feel
I feel like the design team at Withings marches to the beat of their own drummer, and I mean that in a very positive way. This is only my second Withings product to live with (the first being their Home camera), but these guys make some truly interesting design decisions.
The alarm clock/lamp unit embraces a futuristic minimalism that somehow fits just about any bedroom you would put it in. It’s the right size to place on a nightstand, and I love the way the clock glows behind the cloth just enough to be noticed (but not enough that it’s bright or distracting in a room).
The lamp itself might surprise you, as it’s actually a concave “reflector” of sorts that has a bright LED unit located in the bottom. Think of it as a giant glossy ice cream spoon that reflects light into a beautiful diffused glow.
The controls on the device itself are wild, and probably unlike any other gadget in your house. Tap the top to turn on the light, and slide your hand up and down the right side to change the dimness. It’s funny, this took me a while to get accustomed to, but my kids love doing this; it’s always interesting when a UI seems immediately obvious to children.
As for the app, it’s kind of a mixed bag. It’s functional and effective once you get used to it, especially if you’re using the sleep tracking features. As far as the other functions like sleep programs and alarm clocks go, I actually had to do some research online to find out where to set those up via the app. Again, it’s fine once you find out where those settings are located, but the app can make some of the Aura’s core features seem kind of like afterthoughts.
Setup was quick and easy. Plug the device in, download the Withings Health Mate app (tested on my iPhone 7), and walk through the prompts to connect the Aura to WiFi and get the REM Sleep Tracker installed under your mattress. The whole process took me about 90 seconds (not including a slight wait to let the crazy sleep tracker calibrate itself). Just like the Home camera we reviewed a short time ago, it’s obvious that Withings designs their setup processes for normal human beings (and not just gadget nerds).
Using It as an Alarm Clock
Withings promises some really interesting stuff with the alarm features on this, but I have a feeling these features are highly subjective to the person using it. The Aura offers programs to both lull you to sleep and gently wake you up, both of which were hit or miss with me (as someone who is a bit of an insomniac). Long press the top of the unit, and the Aura will attempt to help you fall asleep with a gently dimming light and some ethereal music or sounds (try the Siren song, which is both soothing and slightly unnerving). It can also keep track of your sleep cycle in the morning (if you’re using the optional sensor like I was) and use the same tools to wake you up in a 30 minute window where you’ll be more refreshed.
Due to my odd sleep habits, I found neither of these to be particularly effective for me over a traditional alarm experience, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t benefit from those features. What I did love was the ability to wake up to a preset Spotify playlist or song (I’ll discuss the speaker quality in a second).
Using It As a Lamp
Depending on how you plan to use the Aura, you’ll either find the lamp to be lovely or lacking. Personally, I like it.
As mentioned above, you simply tap the top to turn it on, and slide your hand up and down the right side to adjust the color tone and dimness. As a bedside lamp, it’s just enough light to read by and set a mood, but it definitely won’t meaningfully illuminate a room. It’s a great complimentary ambient light, though, and my daughter is begging for me to put it on her little nightstand.
Using It As a Sleep Tracker
You might think the sleep tracking on this would be more of an afterthought, but I found it to be one of the most compelling features.
My Aura included a sleep sensor accessory that plugs into the back of the lamp via USB and places a large(ish) pad directly under the mattress that is apparently full of all sorts of magic. Seriously, I was expecting some sort of pressure sensor that just knows when someone is sitting it bed, but whatever voodoo is going on inside of the pad somehow detects your pulse and breathing patterns to know exactly when you’re asleep (and and what sleep cycle you’re in). I’ve been judiciously testing it for a month now trying to trick it and look for errors, but it seems to be something like 95% accurate.
Feel like you had a restless night? The Withings Health Mate app will tell you exactly how much sleep you got. In bed all night but still feel tired? It’ll tell you if you had a deep sleep or were just tossing and turning.
Now, is all of that data useful? I guess that depends on the person. If you’re like me and like living a quantified life, I think you’ll at least have a lot of fun with it.
Using It As a Speaker
The Aura includes a speaker that you can use with your alarm clock, but it can also pull double duty as a fun little speaker for Spotify (which will even show up as an output source in the Spotify app!). It sounds much better than just playing music through your phone, but don’t expect it to have the dynamic range of something like a dedicated Sonos speaker, or even something like the Amazon Echo. I’d put the sound quality something near a $50 bluetooth speaker, which I think is great as an extra feature on a gadget like this.
Integration with Other Platforms
This is a great self-contained device, but the integration with services like Spotify and even some tie-ins to hub apps like Apple Health add some great value. I’d love to see some links to Wink or SmartThings in the future. Wouldn’t it be cool to have the heat turn on downstairs the second you hit snooze on your alarm, or maybe the lights turn off once it knows you’re asleep?
Build Quality and Reliability
This is my second Withings gadget, and their hardware is just top notch. There’s an unusual amount of polish present in the Aura, and all of its functions (speaker, sleep tracking, alarms, and much more) all work without a hitch.
If you’re just looking for a lamp or nice alarm clock, you can probably find a better product for cheaper. If you’re ready to double down on some really innovate sleep tools, a beautiful ambient light source, and a really fun smart gadget that’s absolutely packed with features and sensors, the Aura might be exactly what you’re looking for.
The Aura may not be for everyone, but it could be exactly what your bedside table is looking for. I’ve really enjoyed the unique features it’s added to our smart home, and if you’re interested in sleeping better or living a more quantified lifestyle, I think you’ll enjoy this connected alarm clock.
AUTHOR: Eric Murrell
Eric is the creator of At Home in the Future and has been a passionate fan of the future since he was seven. He's a web developer by trade, and serves as the Director of Communication and Technology for a large church in Nashville, TN (where he and his family are building a high tech home in the woods).
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It’s been almost two years since we originally reviewed the innovative Kevo bluetooth smart lock, so the folks at Kwikset asked us to check out their latest model (which hit the market earlier this fall). Does the Kevo still make a name for itself in a market flooded with competitors? Let’s get to it!
What Does It Claim to Do?
The Kevo is Kwikset’s second generation bluetooth smart lock. It uses your smart phone as a digital key, claiming to lock and unlock your door with just a tap of the deadbolt (without the need for an actual key).
- Available in three finishes
- Operates on 4 AA batteries (included)
- Installs in minutes with just a screwdriver
- Works with iOS and Android (certain models)
- Additional Fobs and Kevo Plus accessory available separately
Look and Feel
One of the best reasons to take another look at the revised Kevo is a huge upgrade in the materials used on the lock. Whereas the first generation Kevo made some compromises in materials to accommodate its high-tech guts (lots of plastic where you would hope for metal), the second generation unit has a completely metal construction that feels a lot more confident on a doorframe.
The satin nickel model I’m testing has a beautiful silver finish that compliments our other hardware and is surprisingly fingerprint resistant. It also features a deceptively neutral design direction that seems to match both modern and ornate door handles. I dig it.
Something I dig even more is that hidden LED ring that’s featured on the lock side of the dead bolt. It’s beautiful and futuristic in use, but completely hidden when it’s idle. What a fantastic user interface design.
A video posted by At Home in the Future (@athomeinthefuture) on Nov 4, 2016 at 11:32am PDT
The app doesn’t seem to have changed much over the years, but that’s not a bad thing. You’ll rarely spend time in it due to the seamless way the system works, and when you do, it’s thoughtfully designed and easy to tap through.
Performance and User Experience
Let’s start with the lock install, which seemed to have more steps that I remembered with the first generation unit. It took me about 20 minutes to get the Kevo on my door, and although the process wasn’t necessarily difficult, I felt like I was constantly glancing at my iPad and rereading instructions. It’s smooth sailing once you make sense of Kwikset’s choose-your-own-adventure style user guide, but you might find it takes some concentration to get the hardware assembled correctly.
Thankfully the software side is much more painless. Install the app, tap your phone to the side of the lock to create an eKey, and you’re pretty much ready to get going. That’s where the fun begins!
Using the Kevo is blissfully simple. Need to unlock the door? As long as you have your phone on you, just walk up and tap the deadbolt and wait a second for the motor to slide the bolt while the ring flashes a friendly green. Need to lock up on the way out the door? Same thing… one tap of the deadbolt locks the door before you can even reach your car. It’s awesome.
This all works through a magical Bluetooth system that detects any phone with a corresponding eKey, and it’s able to differentiate between someone standing outside of the door, and someone standing inside (in which case an intruder couldn’t get in). That latter part is an important security feature, and something I wasn’t entirely pleased with in my initial review, in which I was able to trick the system once in my testing.
Thankfully, the generation two lock seems to be much more robust, and I wasn’t able to fool it even once. If your phone is inside the house with you, the tap-to-unlock feature absolutely refuses to work for intruders.
The Kevo line continues to include lots of features you’ll love (tracking who unlocked the door and when, sharing unlimited eKeys with friends and family, etc), but a few of its best features like remote locking and monitoring require the purchase of the $99 Kevo Plus add-on. That’s a bummer, but it’s good to have those options available should you want to expand your Kevo’s potential.
Integration with Other Platforms
The Kevo line has made a lot of friends over the last few years, and it’s great to see integration with other brands like Nest, Ring, and the Skybell doorbell. The only disappointment in my mind is their lack of compatibility with smart home hubs like SmartThings, Wink, Apple’s HomeKit, or Amazon’s Alexa. That would go a long way toward making the Kevo a more integrated part of your smart home.
Build Quality and Reliability
The change in materials makes for a huge improvement in the quality of the lock unit itself. It’s built like a tank now, and makes me feel a lot more confident to keep it on my door. I’m also pleased with how reliably its smart functions work. I’ve had to tap it twice once in a blue moon to get it to unlock, but it never unlocks when it shouldn’t or requires software reboots or resets.
The new Kevo retails for $229, which is a fair price that’s in line with other common smart locks. If you want remote access, though, that requires the $99 Kevo Plus add-on, bringing your total cost to $100 more than competing products with similar functionality. The Kevo isn’t a bad deal, but it’s definitely not the best deal.
The Kevo is a really good product, and it might be the right fit for your family if you want to make a meaningful upgrade to your door with minimal hassle. If you’re building a more strategic smart home, you could find its limited integration with other platforms and lack of out-of-the-box remote access to be kind of limiting.
Still, the second generation Kevo is better than ever, and its tap-to-unlock interface is about as simple as it gets. Depending on your smart home demands, the Kevo could be just what you’re looking for.
RTI control system unifies the operation of a huge assortment of smart devices to make home management a breeze.
At a retrofit installation in Little Rock, Ark., residents were looking to implement a solution that would provide their 2,430-square-foot condo with a customized automation experience where scenes could automatically adjust systems such as lighting, security, shading, and a wide range of A/V components. To bring this vision to life, the home systems integration team at Little Rock-based FX Pros LLC went with RTI’s lineup of powerful control and automation products. By combining advanced processor technology with convenient and simple-to-master user interfaces, FX Pros designed a smart home setup that enabled the homeowners to more easily manage their new cutting-edge abode.
Sophisticated Yet Simple:
“A complex integration project doesn’t have to mean difficult operation for the user,” says Jeff Jenkins, owner of FX Pros. “For these homeowners the main concern was keeping things as simple as possible while pulling out all the stops in terms of fluid automation of shades, lights, thermostats, security cameras, fans, and a full range of top-of-the-line A/V equipment. RTI’s automation solutions maintain simplicity while blending seamlessly within any environment, which is crucial during residential projects where clients actively participate in the design process. Thanks to the ability to program custom interfaces and integration with third-party devices the residents simply push a single button to set up scenes to match any mood, environment, or time of day.”
Setting the Scene
[rk1] By using RTI’s Integration Designer software, the Jenkins was able to program a selection of pre-determined scenes that with the push of a single button transform the entire living experience. Using presets such as “Morning,” “Welcome,” “Goodbye,” and “Condo Off,” the system automatically regulates smart home components such as the main room’s QMotion shades and lights in the kitchen or hallway, or instantly activates the TV while turning on the news. Facilitated by RTI’s extensive library of pre-written two-way drivers, the wide-range of systems also incorporates a Sonos wireless sound system, Lutrondimmers, Nest Learning Thermostats, a SnapAV Wirepath IP surveillance camera, and more.
Versatile Home Control
To interact with the system in the condominium’s entrance and master bedroom, household members use RTI KX7 in-wall touchpanels. Featuring 7-inch LCD screens, they provide an intuitive touchscreen experience by letting users select unified scenes or functions such as shades, colored RGB lighting, a bedroom TV, or live security camera feeds. From the kitchen or main room, RTI’s RK1+ four- and eight-button keypads provide the homeowners with instant command of a 60-inch TV, a Comcast X1 DVR, and the ability to engage scenes that impact the entire residence. For handheld control in the master bedroom and main bathroom, RTI’s T1-B+ remote control can transmit both IR (infrared) and RF (radio frequency) signals to a full range of A/V components, while a wall-mounted iPad mini running RTI’s RTiPanel mobile app provides access to any system across the entire home.
Tying the entire installation together is RTI’s XP-6 and XP-8s control processors. Featuring control via RS-232, relay, IP, and routable IR, these solutions provide the reliability and processing speed needed to orchestrate the operation of a diverse assortment of equipment. Although the processors are critical to the seamless operation of the home, they remain completely out of sight, hidden in a TV cabinet.
“The flexibility of RTI’s solutions allowed us to provide our customers with the automation experience they expected,” adds Jenkins. “With no more than two page flips on any device, RTI’s intuitive ecosystem lets the condo owners access all facets of their system without any technical knowledge or ‘component confusion.’ This was particularly important for features such as the space’s large number of switches, including over 50 individual lighting loads that could have been overwhelming on a less functional system. The customers are pleasantly surprised at how easily every system on their list came together, proving once again that simplicity does not need to compromise integration possibilities, power, or overall performance.”