Archos-Smart-Home-tablet

Review: Archos Smart Home Automation and Security

September 13, 2014 - Written By Nick Sutrich

Looking for a little more automation in your life to simplify things?  Trying to make your home more comfortable and secure, while not spending too much money in the process?  Archos has you covered here with their new Smart Home bundle, and it’s designed to give you a little better grip on the climate inside and outside of your house, and help you set up things like security cameras, smart light bulbs and more.  Archos Smart Home is a kit consisting of a fully-functioning Android tablet, along with a number of different accessories including two mini cameras, two movement tags and a two weather tags.  Archos calls their little devices tags simply because they are so small and generally not noticable, and all of them have a sticker that you peel off the back and can adhere to any surface you’d like them to be on.  The whole setup is a really great package that’ll cost you around $250, but is the asking price worth it?  Let’s find out.

Base Station

Starting from the top when opening the box you’ll be greeted with a little Android tablet that features a build-in desk stand that’s non-removable.  This stand is designed so that you can place it on any table or shelf in the house and the tablet doesn’t look out of place, rather it looks just like a digital picture frame that you might already have plugged in around the house.  The tablet does have a battery that lets it stay on in case power goes out, or if you need to take it to another room for some reason, but it’s not a big enough battery to keep the tablet operating for more than a few hours of standby time.  This thing is meant to be plugged in, which is actually fine given its declared function.  While you’re getting a full-featured Android tablet here running Android 4.2 Jelly Bean, it’s not exactly a powerhouse and probably won’t give you much satisfaction when trying to play the latest 3D game, plus the stand doesn’t lend itself to be held like a normal tablet anyway.

There’s not much to complain about here simply because of the functional role that the tablet is supposed to play in Archos Smart Home design, and that’s fine.  On top there’s a large power button for easy turning on and off, and if you’d rather just have the unit on you can set up a nice wallpaper or other Android Daydream to be running 24/7 on the thing instead.  There’s a pretty decent speaker on the unit too, so while you won’t want to necessarily listen to music on it you could if you wanted to, and any apps with audio feedback are well represented by it.  There’s a front-facing camera on the device that’s designed more for security than anything, so placing this in the middle of your living room or near your expensive TV would make it particularly advantageous.  There’s also a micro SD card slot on the back that will give you plenty of additional storage for other tasks, which we’ll cover in a bit.  My only gripe with the hardware is that it’s almost too light, and you need to at least rest one finger on the top while touching the screen to be able to press the screen without moving the tablet.  A little more weight at the bottom would fix this, but it’s really not a big deal or any real inconvenience, just worth mentioning.

Other Hardware

 

Besides the tablet Archos includes what it calls “tags” inside the box consisting of two mini cameras, two movement tags and two weather tags.  Each of these serve a different purpose, so we’ll start with the simplest; the weather tag.  The weather tag does exactly what it sounds like: tells you the temperature and relative humidity.  The Smart Home tablet collects this information and stores it for you, letting you know how comfortable it is in any given room in the house, as well as being quite useful as an outside measurement tool too.

The Movement tags are designed to be placed on a door and will let you know when the door opens and closes.  There are two parts to the movement tags, the base which actually has an accelerometer inside to detect movement, and the magnet that lets the movement tag know that the door is open.  This lets you set up all kinds of alerts not just for doors opening, but for the movement of the tag as well, but more on that later.  Both tags have a sticky adhesive on the back and can be stuck to any surface you’d like, so placing them on the wall or ceiling or something like that isn’t out of the question.

Lastly are the mini cameras which are generally off, but will take a picture or record video whenever you’d like them to.  The cameras are a ball and sit on a magnetic base which allows the camera to easily swivel and keeps them locked in place no matter what angle you have them set to.  There’s also a sticky adhesive on the back like the tags have so you can stick these to basically any surface you’d like, giving you some incredible free reign of the house to place them.  These are simple VGA cameras with no night vision at all, so they are only useful in a lit environment.  Essentially these can be used as security cameras during the day, maybe to show you who’s at the front door or something similar, but definitely don’t help anyone when it’s even a little bit dark out.

All of the devices hook up to the tag via Bluetooth, and there’s doesn’t appear to be a limit to how many devices you can pair with the tablet either.  Each device is powered by a Lithium battery of varying sizes depending on the size of the device in question of course.  The mini cameras take 3 large lithium batteries, while the smaller tags only take a single lithium battery.  All the tags are rated at 1 year battery life, and while I’m hoping that’s the case I didn’t get this kind of life out of the unit.  In the 3 weeks I’ve used it both of my cameras have too low of a battery to be used, and half the tags are in the same situation.

Now remember this is a review device and there’s no telling how many people used this before I did.  Case in point the tablet has quite a few scratches on the screen, telling me it’s been heavily used by others before it made its way to my desk.  Archos offers a number of other accessories too, but since those weren’t in the box I wasn’t able to test them.  There’s sirens, movable cameras and even smart power outlets to buy.

Software

Archos-Smart-Home-Homescreen

OS wise Android 4.2 Jelly Bean isn’t the newest around the block, but this is nearly pure stock Android (AOSP) we’re talking about, so it runs super smooth regardless of the hardware.  There’s almost no bloatware on the device, and it basically just comes packed with the standard fare of Google apps as well as a few from Archos related to Smart Home and the other functions the tablet can perform.  On the home screen you’ll find the Archos Smart Home main app, along with a Media Server app that lets you use the tablet as a media storage server for music, video and more.  The main draw here is the Smart Home software, and it’s incredibly well designed and laid out.  Following most of the newest Android design language guidelines, it’s not a Material Design app but it’s definitely using a mature Holo design language, and it almost feels like there are Material Design elements going on here too.

In terms of functionality I was impressed with just how easy everything was to set up.  Every action in the app is followed by a tutorial the first time you click it, and they are all very visual and easy to follow.  The app is designed to help you visualize your house when you access it, so you set up rooms and then place devices in those rooms.  Say for instance you have the front door in your living room and you want to monitor when it opens.  You’d create a room called living room in the app and then drag and drop any devices you have added to the system into that room.  You’re then given a great visual diagram that’s very reminisce of Live Tiles in Windows 8 and Windows Phone, and these tiles have a lot of information on them too.  That gives you quick, glaceable information that you can see without having to poke around in the app to find what you want, and that’s a very beautiful thing.  Tiles even tell you when a device is connected or not, as well as the battery life.

There’s also a phone app which looks identical to the tablet app, and they link up no matter where you are.  Once you have the app installed on your phone simply navigate to the pairing section on the tablet app and follow the instructions to get it connected.  I found it fastest to link the devices when on the same network, but it’ll work if you’re away from home all the same.  I even had an issue with my router where the ports that Archos Smart Home needed to use were being blocked, and the app was smart enough to tell me that was the problem.  Unblocking these ports allowed me to view the Smart Home tablet and the status of all the tags and cameras in my home no matter where I was, so long as I had an Internet connection of course.  This kind of remote connectivity is a huge plus for such a system, and the fact that it was ultra-easy to set up nets it double bonus points from me.

Programs and Notifications

Archos-Smart-Home-Programs

Setting up programs is a snap, and again like everything else in the software everything is super easy, step-by-step with instructions, and it’s super powerful too.  I hooked up one of the movement tags on my front door and positioned one of the mini cameras to view the door, and then proceeded to set up an alert to take a picture and send me a push notification using the app on the phone.  You can set programs and alerts for literally anything you can think of too, and have them email you, text you, send a push notification or just make a noise on the tablet if you wish so.  You can even schedule these types of alerts, so if you only want to receive an alert for an open door during the day when you’re at work, you can do that.  You can also set up weather alerts too, so let’s say it’s a particularly cold day outside you can signal a threshold to alert you to a temperature drop, which would come in handy in the winter when it freezes over.

Other accessories would likely offer some pretty amazing alert possibilities, but since I don’t have those included with the kit I can’t review them.  However I can talk about the possibilities of them, particularly the Smart Outlets that you can literally plug into any device in your home and control them from the Smart Home software.  This gives you the ability to turn on and off appliances, lamps and other devices in your house remotely, and even schedule these things to come on and off whenever you’d like.  Want to have the lamp next to the door turn on and the camera take a picture if the front door opens at night?  You can do that with these alerts, and quite simply it’s this sort of amazing integration with everything that gets a huge thumbs up from me.

Archos-Smart-Home-Notifications

There’s also a notifications section that will give you a historical chronology of all the events that happened in regards to the Smart Home, and you can even click on individual hooked up devices and Smart Home will break down events related to those devices in a chronological order, separating them by day and time.  It’s an incredibly intuitive interface that’s super easy to navigate, super fast, and gives you tons of well-organized information.  This software was well thought out, and it feels really good to use because of it.

Media

Archos-Smart-Home-Media-server

One of the other big uses for the Smart Home tablet is as a media center for your home.  Since it’s running Android it can do everything your phone or other tablets can, which means things like Pandora, Google Play Music, and anything else that you want to stream throughout the house.  Leaving the tablet in a prominent place, like the living room, will give everyone access to it, which can be great if you’re having company and would like to let people choose their own music or just take part in whatever else you’ve got going on with the tablet.  Archos Media Streaming app that’s built in lets you use the tablet as a media streamer, which means you can drop movies, music and other media on a microSD card, put it in the tablet and host the content for your whole network to access.  This is great added value and it’s just as easy to set up as everything else.

Conclusion

Think of this as a TL:DR section in case the above is too much for you.  For $250 the Archos Smart Home will give you a 7″ Android tablet running stock Android 4.2 Jelly Bean, as well as the Smart Home software and Media Streaming software.  You’ll also find cameras, movement and weather stations inside, allowing you to set up security around your house and send you alerts based on doors opening or other kind of movement, as well as take pictures of the event happening.  The software included is incredibly intuitive and well thought out, and every step gives you a great tutorial to follow to set it up easily and quickly.  You can even connect your phone to it via the Smart Home app so you can remotely access your Smart Home tablet and see what’s going on in your house at all times.  Additional accessories like movable cameras, sirens and others give you even more security options to connect, and since all the accessories are wireless Bluetooth you don’t have to worry about running wires or anything like that.  Battery life in my tests was a few weeks, but since this is a review unit and has been used by others, there’s no telling if it would ever reach the 1 year advertised battery life or not.  Regardless lithium cell batteries are generally dirt cheap and probably don’t cost any more to replace than having these things plugged into an outlet would, and the wireless convenience likely overpowers battery inconvenience.

Overall the Archos Smart Home is a fantastic value for $250 since you’re still getting a full-featured Android tablet that can stream movies, music and other entertainment, in addition to the excellent software included and all the accessories available.  If you’re looking for a great home automation and security system in one, you can’t beat Archos Smart Home, especially for the price.  Being able to remotely turn on and off anything in your home, so long as you buy the smart outlet plugs of course, is enough to make this entire system worth it alone if you ask me.  Huge props to Archos for designing such a great system, this one gets a big recommendation from us!