Start 2020 with a smarter home

30th December 2019
Start 2020 with a smarter home
The Echo Flex is the smallest smart speaker from Amazon

 With fast-n-furious data speeds on offer,  affordable devices, from light bulbs to streaming TV sticks,   finally  exploit  the untapped  potential of   home wireless networks.
By Anand Parthasarathy
Bangalore, December 30 2019:
Push came to shove when megabits became gigabits at the home end of   an Internet cable. Every data service provider, offers  speeds of 1 GBPS ( that is 1000 MBPS) for around Rs 1500 - Rs 2000 a month.  This  turns any home into a smart home.  Now, we can  'smarten' our homes  for amoderate outlay . Here is a rundown on what is achievable today.
Gigabit router
Forget the basic free router that  cable data providers  give away. It is better  to invest in a faster router, if you have multiple users and appliances. Go for a Gigabit router.  Make sure it works in dual  band -- that is 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. Buy  one that has 4 antennae.  I have been trying out a router  that meets all the three criteria  -- at a reasonable price.
Tenda is a Chinese brand, sold and supported in India  and their  AC 1200 dual band gigabit wireless router  model AC8  is  easy to set up.  Models like this put  brains into the router so that it dynamically switches from the 2.4 GHz band the 5 GHz band depending on the traffic  congestion.  The router also offers the MU-MIMO ( Multiple User: Multiple In Multiple Out)  technology that by clever beam forming ensures that, all  users are equally served even if one sucks in more bandwidth. The makers  say the AC8 can cover some 90 square meters  of space  and can penetrate 2 walls.  My tryout  bears this out.  
You can install  the Smart Tenda  WiFi app on your phone  to better manage usage.  Reasonably priced at Rs  4900.
Smart Voice Control
Amazon's Echo smart speakers  fuelled by the Alexa voice, have evolved  into a wide portfolio of  devices, some  with display screens, others with high  quality audio.  Google has its own range, featuring  Voice Assistant. In recent days  Amazon  has further shrunk the Echo.  The  Echo Flex, is its  smallest yet,   just  150 grams and so compact, it can be  plugged into a power socket.  Yet it does all the usual Echo things:  controls lights, cameras and other  smart devices , allows hands-free calling,  answers your spoken questions and executes your commands -- in Hindi and English.
Sensitive to  privacy concerns, the makers  have provided a prominent button to turn off the microphone. And small bonus:  a built-in USB port to charge your phone. At Rs 2999, you get a small 0.6 inch speaker,  but that's enough  to  get  all the  Alexa action  within the  room. Small Wonder? Yes!
Smart Bulb
We are perfectly happy operating  refrigerator, microwave or  air conditioner without any extra smartness. But lighting is another thing.
A smart bulb offers  a huge jump in utility. Go for one, especially if you  already have a smart speaker.  Popular makes in India that work with Alexa or Google Voice Assistant are Wipro, Syska and Philips. I have tried out  a new  entrant: the Mi LED Smart Bulb from Xiaomi.  It comes in 10 watts  compared to 9 watts of the others.  You can install a phone app and  change the "colour temperature"  from a dim candle light of 1700K to a regular incandescent bulb of 2800K to  a fluorescent flood lamp at 6500K -- all with a flick on the phone screen.  You can change  white light into a warm yellow one --or any other colour. It costs Rs 1299  and is a  lot of fun  plus some real productivity
Smart media stick
In 2020, there is more TV content on the Internet, than in any Cable TV connection. Which is why a streaming media stick is a smart investment -- particularly if your TV is of the  non-smart kind. The Amazon Fire TV stick was the first  to  market  and  the basic Rs  3999 device  is now  joined by a 4K version for  Rs  5999. Worth it, provided your TV is 4K.
In 2019, ACT launched its own Stream TV 4K,  with 4K,  Dolby audio, Google  Assistant and Chromecast to send video from mobile phone to TV.   Easy links to Netflix, Hooq, Hotstar, Sony LIV are provided. The  basic kit costs Rs 4499, but you need an ACT data connection which costs around Rs 1000 a  month.
Airtel, has  launched the XStream Box at Rs 3999:  a 4K  device with Chromecast and Google Voice Assistant. Their data subscriptions are similar.
All these streaming options  need  a home Internet  connection -- so it is sensible to invest in  decent data speed. Did we say sensible? Make that smart!
Images for the devices  described can be found here