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Published on December 24th, 2012 | by Greg

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Lowe’s Iris: A Major Advance In Home Automation

The smart home- a dream a long time in coming, but getting closer. We’ve seen everything from Z-Wave and ZigBee gear that can control lights to a wide array of wireless home security cameras that can help you monitor your house or apartment. But few systems pull everything together in one package, and few offer a free service package for live monitoring with no long-term contracts.

That’s the promise of Lowe’s new Iris line, which offers both packages and lots of individual options for assembling precisely the gear you need to outfit your living quarters. We’ve been testing out the Iris Smart Kit, which includes a keypad, thermostat, smart plug, a pair of contact sensors for windows or doors, motion sensor, range extender and wireless hub. It uses Z-Wave, Zigbee, and your home wifi to connect everything together. Batteries are even included, so you’re ready to go right out of the box.

One great thing is that no wiring is required, but you will need a a wireless home network to take full advantage of all of the features, as well as an open port on your router. We had a small enough location that we didn’t use the range extender, but those with larger spaces will probably find it handy (note that it works only with the Iris gear, not your wireless network). We’ll look at a few of the other items in turn. The Iris 100-Volt Smart Plug works indoors only, and we tried it with both lights and small appliances with luck- a simple setup process and you’ll be able to remotely control it, and anything plugged in. The only downside is that it is fairly large and can block an outlet, but like the rest of the Iris gear, we liked the clean and logo-less look.

The contact sensors install with included mounting adhesive strips, and can spark immediate alarms- and you can, with some programming, make them trigger events as well (like lights). They’re usable both indoors and outdoors, and can work on safes or cabinets as well as the more typical security uses. We liked the touchscreen thermostat, which is programmable for a seven-day period, but isn’t quite as fully-featured as some others that we’ve seen. It’s not as easy to use as the Ecobee, for instance, but does have a nice backlight and an nice large display. The keypad works great as a way to arm and disarm the entire system, and you can set custom codes easily. On the other hand, there are no indicator lights, which is an odd omission. There’s a built-in alarm, and with the little work, you can set up alerts for when the system is used.

The Smart Hub is the core of the entire system and serves as the brain of the central nervous system, handling all of the input and sending out the command and control signals. It’s easy to setup, and has a battery backup in the case of power loss. And it connects to the software package, which is a pretty essential component, and is where the Iris shines over many others. While some competitors charge for various software pieces, and others don’t actually have a software component, this one has both PC and mobile apps for Android and iOS. Which means that you can, say, turn off your lights from your phone- or monitor the alarm status or current temperature inside your domicile or office via the thermostat. We loved the ability to view your electricity usage- it’s handy, works pretty well, and is a great addition that we haven’t seen on other home automation systems (and stand-alone solutions are pretty expensive).

There aren’t any smoke detectors or carbon monoxide detectors at the moment, though word is that support for both those and a keyless entry system are on the horizon. Also, there’s not a lot of security options- you cannot choose to automatically notify police or fire in case of emergency or break-in. The free plan offers most important features and functions, but a paid plan is available for $10 a month that adds some extra nifty add-ons, like additional text messaging, a longer history of notifications, and even the ability to create temporary PINs for visitors.

The Lowe’s Iris Digital IP Wireless Security Camera works great, as a basic video camera to connect to a home security system and work in conjunction with the rest of the gear. On it’s own, it wouldn’t be that compelling- there’s night vision included, but no audio or speaker, so it can’t serve well as a baby monitor, for example. There’s no zoom, no pan-tilt functionality, it isn’t weatherproof, and it doesn’t work via power over ethernet nor include battery backup, so it’ll be fairly limited in the locations it can be used. But the image quality is quite decent (1280 x 720 at top quality settings), and there’s motion detection alerts that can go directly to your phone or tablet via the app. The basic plan doesn’t allowing any recording, and we did find it takes awhile to buffer. But it is small, cute, and offers a decent field of view. At $129, it’s actually a compelling addition, and definitely worth it if you’re getting onboard with Iris, but does require the Smart Hub and works best if you’re getting the paid plan.

The Lowe’s Iris Smart Kit is the best “home automation in a box” setup that we’ve seen, offering everything that you’ll need. Other kits change up the basic formula and can save you some money if you don’t need a specific component, but the Smart Kit is their top-of-the-line. Available now, for $299, directly from Lowe’s.

 

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About the Author

Greg dreamed up the idea for the Truly Network while living in Hawaii, which began with a single site called TrulyObscure. In 2010, when advertisers and readers were requesting coverage beyond the scope of that site, TrulyNet was launched, reaching a broader audience over a variety of niche sites. Formerly the head technology correspondent for the Des Moines Register at age 16, he has since lived and worked in five states and two countries, helping a list of organizations and companies that includes the United States Census Bureau, TripAdvisor, Events Photo Group, Berlitz, and Computer Geeks. He also served as the Content Strategy Manager for HearPlanet, a multi-platform app that has reached over a million users and has been featured in the New York Times, Hemispheres Magazine, National Geographic Adventure, Fox Business News, PC Magazine, and even Apple’s own iPhone ads. Greg has written as a restaurant critic and feature journalist for a number of national and international publications, including City Weekend Magazine, Red Egg Magazine, the Newton Daily News, Capital Change Magazine, and an arm of China Daily, Beijing Weekend. In addition, he has served as a consulting editor for the Foreign Language Press of Beijing, as well as a writer and editor for the George Washington University Hatchet, the school newspaper of his alma mater. Originally from Iowa, Greg is currently living in the West Village of Manhattan.



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