Smart devices for the home and the office
There's been a deluge of home-automation products released in the last couple of years, ranging from smart light bulbs to thermostats and security cameras. Unsurprisingly, security is the main focus for many home users, with security cameras now accounting for 60 percent of all spending on smart devices in the US.
Security is an important issue for business users too, and although a low-cost camera or smart door-bell won't replace a dedicated security system, it can provide extra peace of mind by allowing you to monitor activity in your office whenever you need to.
Other smart devices can come in handy too, such as smart plugs that provide remote control over lights or other office equipment, or air quality monitors that can measure potentially health-damaging pollutants in the office environment.
Belkin WeMo Switch
Belkin's WeMo smart plugs provide a variety of options. The basic WeMo Switch is a straightforward smart plug that can be controlled via an iOS or Android app, and allows you to schedule On/Off times for your electrical equipment at home or in your office. The plugs also provide wi-fi connectivity for remote control, so you can turn the lights on at different times to make it look as though the building is occupied. For £49.99 ($50) you can get the WeMo Insight, which also monitors energy usage, and -- in the UK only -- there's a WeMo bundle that also includes a security camera for £140. However, US customers do get a number of new WeMo products, including smart LED lights and dimmer switches, that haven't made it to the UK yet.
Apple's HomeKit home-automation software has struggled to match the third-party support that seems to be flocking to the Amazon Echo and Google Home, and D-Link's Omna is the only security camera currently available that supports HomeKit.
The camera itself works well, with a wide-angle lens that provides close to a full 180-degree view of your room, along with 1,920-by-1,080 resolution and infrared night-vision mode. The Omna app streams live video to your iOS devices, and there's a MicroSD slot that allows you to record videos onto a memory card. But, of course, the HomeKit support is the main attraction, allowing you to control the camera with Siri voice commands, or link the camera to other HomeKit devices -- perhaps using the camera to turn on your lights if it detects an intruder.
Elgato Eve Room
Elgato's Eve Room is one of the less expensive air-quality monitors currently available, but it's still a good option for both home and office use. As well as monitoring temperature, humidity, and carbon dioxide levels, the Eve Room can also monitor VOCs -- volatile organic compounds, such as paint fumes or cleaning products, which can contribute to 'sick building syndrome' in many homes and offices. Elgato's long experience in the Mac market -- the Eve Room also supports Apple's HomeKit -- ensures that the Eve app is easy to use and understand, and gives you a quick assessment of air quality, along with a more detailed analysis over time. The downside of its affordable design is that the Eve Room primarily relies on Bluetooth to connect to its app, so it's best if you have an iPhone-wielding HR or H&S officer who can take responsibility for it.
Indoor air pollution has been something of a hot topic recently, and it's particularly relevant in offices, where devices such as laser printers and cleaning equipment can chuck even more potentially harmful substances into our lungs. Many of the more basic air-quality monitors designed for home use just concentrate on humidity and carbon dioxide levels, but the Foobot -- a recent graduate from Indiegogo -- goes much further.
As well as monitoring humidity, carbon monoxide and dioxide, the Foobot can also detect VOCs -- volatile organic compounds such as benzene and ammonia in cleaning equipment. It monitors 'PM2.5' too -- fine particles, smaller than 2.5 micrometers, which are small enough to penetrate the lungs and cause health problems. The Foobot app can go overboard with the statistics at times, but a simple set of warning lights on the device gives a quick indication of general air quality and tells you when to open the windows and get some fresh air.
Netatmo is well-known for its Welcome camera, which is popular for indoor use in many homes, but the Presence is specifically designed for outdoor use and is suitable for use both at home and on business premises.
The sturdy, weather-proof Presence houses both a high-definition (1,920 x 1,080) security camera with night-vision mode, and a powerful floodlight, which can be automatically activated to scare off intruders who are spotted by the camera. Netatmo doesn't provide any online storage plans, but the Presence has a MicroSD slot for local storage, and it's also possible to link the Netatmo app to a Dropbox account, or a private FTP server, if you want to store your videos online. The company is also planning to release a siren and smoke alarm later this year, which will work in conjunction with its security cameras.
Netgear Arlo Q Plus
Netgear's Arlo range of security cameras is primarily designed for home use, but the Arlo Q Plus is a good option for business users. It uses PoE (power over Ethernet) so you can quickly connect it to an office network using just a single Ethernet cable for both power and data transmission.
The camera itself is fairly conventional, with 1080p resolution, two-way audio and infrared night-vision mode, but Netgear allows you to store your video recordings online for free for one week, with additional storage options starting at £6.49 ($10) per month. There's also a Micro-USB connector on the camera that allows you to store your recordings locally on a USB drive.
Ring Video Doorbell Pro
There are many specialist security companies that sell entry systems for office users, but Ring is one of the few that provides off-the-shelf kits that are designed to work with Android and iOS mobile devices. Many of its products are aimed at home users, but the Video Doorbell Pro will also be suitable for many small offices.
The Video Doorbell Pro includes a 1080p camera with motion-detection and night-vision features, and uses dual-band wi-fi to stream live video to your mobile devices even when you're away from the office. There's also a desktop app that lets you monitor the doorbell on a Windows PCs or Macs. The Ring Pro does require installation by a qualified electrician, but there's a less expensive self-install model with 720p camera, priced at £159 ($180).
Samsung SmartThings Starter Kit
Samsung's SmartThings range is primarily designed for home users, but Samsung is also doing a good job of turning its SmartThings Hub into a central controller that can work with smart devices from a variety of manufacturers.
The Hub is sold on its own for £99 ($99), or in a Starter Kit that also includes a number of security sensors for £199 ($249). However, Samsung's SmartApps developer kit has allowed a number of third-party manufacturers to make their own products compatible with the Hub, including Netgear's Arlo cameras, Ring video doorbells, Yale locks, and even multi-room speaker systems from Sonos and Bose. That flexibility makes the SmartThings Hub a good option for creating a customized smart home or office setup using products from several different manufacturers -- something that Apple hasn't yet managed to do with its HomeKit system. You can find more info about products that are compatible with SmartThings on Samsung's website.
You can buy individual security cameras from Swann, but the company's main product line focuses on its range of extendable DVR systems that use multiple cameras and record onto the hard drive of a central digital video recorder (DVR).
The DVR8-4750 is a mid-range option that includes four cameras, each with 3-megapixel resolution and night-vision mode, but it can be further extended with four additional cameras. This makes it ideal for covering a suite of offices, a small warehouse, or shop premises. The kit can stream live video to an app on iOS and Android devices, and the 2TB hard drive also provides HDMI and VGA output for viewing recordings on a computer monitor. There's no option to store your video footage online though, and the cameras don't provide wi-fi connectivity, so there's a fair amount of cabling involved.
TP-Link HS100 Wi-Fi Smart Plug
It's easy to run up big electricity bills in an office full of computers, printers and other devices, so a simple, affordable smart plug can help you to save money by automatically turning off all your office equipment at the end of the day. The HS100 app -- available for Android and iOS -- allows you to schedule times to turn everything on or off, and the plug can also connect to your wi-fi network in order to provide a remote control option when you're out of the office. And, for another £10 ($10), you can get the HS110 model, which allows the app to monitor and analyse your energy consumption as well.