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Ecobee Switch+ review

I have been holding of on this review for a while – I wanted to get a true feel of what is it to use Ecobee Switch+ every day for a period of time. So here are my thoughts about this interesting device.

Concept

In the “Internet of Things” era, when a fridge has internet access, nothing surprises us anymore. But to think of it, the idea is just brilliant: why would you have a separate device taking space on your table, cluttering your room, adding wires and power adapters to your home, when you can have perfectly invisible, always-on, unobtrusive Alexa device in your switch? The concept is perfect. Echo dot looks redundant now – this is how it should be done, and how I think it will be done in the future: unnoticeable and unobtrusive.

Design

I’m a web and graphic designer, so design is important to me. US/Canada electrical code severely limits what can be done – as there is a certain very tight form factor that it’s limited to and other limits. European version can be much more designer-friendly.
However, considering that, the design is superb. White with blue LED stripe, familiar enough shape to be instantly recognized as a switch, and cool enough look to be pleasing to the eye. Nice.

Installation

The only downside is that you have to install it, but for me it’s a no-brainer. I know my way around wiring and technology, so installing a light switch it easy. Just make sure you disconnect the power for the room in question. And don’t trust your eyes – always test with your old switch that you actually disconnected the right circuit (don’t ask me how I know). When you are sure there is no power at the desired switch location – take it out and check that it has all the wires necessary – not all switch locations have all the right wires, and there is no easy way around that, unless you’re willing to break the building code, which I don’t recommend. Actually – check that before you buy the switch, to avoid disappointments. This is true for any smart switch that I know of. They all need line, neutral and ground wires in order to work and be installed according to the building and electrical codes. Otherwise, installation is easy, if a bit tight at some electrical boxes. Just put wires at the right locations and stuff it into the box, then snap the cover. Done in 5 minutes, including checking the manual.

Alexa

It can do most if not all that Alexa Echo Dot can do. In the beginning it won’t play music (as if you really need your music to be played by the light switch, of all things!) and do some other things, but looks like silent firmware updates and Alexa skill updates took care of this, as now it plays music just fine! A cheapskate like me that doesn’t have a music service subscription but is willing to do some adventurous configuration attempts can actually configure Alexa to play music from home media server running Plex. So when I say to my light switch (!) something like “Alexa, ask Plex to play music by Porcupine Tree” – that’s what it does. The only thing that I found that is not supported on this device than an Echo Dot can do is calling to a regular phone numbers or dropping in to another Alexa device (of from another device to Switch+). I don’t miss calling feature, but the “drop in” feature can be nice. Well, maybe Ecobee will add it in a firmware, this is no hardware-related.

Sound Quality

Come on, what sound quality? What do you expect from such a tiny speaker that fits into US/Canada tiny standard switch body? Actually it’s surprisingly decent for the size. I wouldn’t really listen to music from it, unless you really don’t care about quality. Then again, my PC speakers are 1.5m tall 200W 4-way monsters (plus a sub), so I’m not a typical person when we are talking about audio quality demands. But the speaker is perfectly good for voice. Volume is good for quiet rooms. A larger office or a loud room might be a problem, unless you are close, but it’s not where you want Alexa-enabled device anyway. For a typical home room it’s fine. To compare, Echo Dot speaker isa tad better, but I won’t consider listening music on it as well – I connected mine to a decent stereo for that reason. Even full-blown Echo device has very bad dull high end and muffled low end for my taste. So for a switch, Ecobee Switch+ it does just fine, unless you are somewhat hearing-impaired, so older people might want louder volume.

Microphone quality

Well, it’s decent, but not as good as Echo Dot, which has an array of 7 microphones arranged in a circle. I think the form factor was a limiting factor in this case, so it’s not as sensitive and its ability to hear keyword “Alexa” among background noise suffers as a result. I find that even in a small-ish room I have to speak loudly to activate it. While Echo Dot is usually able to get it when speaking softer. However Echo Dot also misses it occasionally, so it’s not perfect. Having said that, it’s still adequate, just not as good as Echo Dot.

Night Light

It has cool little LED light to illuminate itself (and a room just a bit) at night. It’s just enough to be useful but not too much to make it unpleasant at night. It can be turned on and off at will.

Auto activation and occupancy sensor

You can enable the light to activate when you are in the room, and turn off after a set period of room being unoccupied, in order to save energy. It works, however in my home office, when I’m sitting with mostly my back to the switch, which is maybe 40 degrees off my back, 3 meters behind me, the switch occasionally things that Elvis has left the building and turns off the light. I have to wave my hand for it to change its mind. So how useful is this feature depends on how exposed people are to the switch’s sensors. It doesn’t work perfectly for me (but not bad enough to disable – I still use it, as it’s cool that light turns on when you walk in), but it might work well for you.

Smart Switch

Funny to have this one as the last item, but I think this switch is much more valuable as Alexa-enabled device integrated to your Smart Home than just a smart switch. But it is a smart switch, so yes, you can control it with your app and do all kind of fun things you usually do with a smart switch. And it works great in that capacity.

Ecobee Android App

It’s the same app that controls my Ecobee smart thermostat. Easy to use, works fine, has easy setup walk-throughs. It has “thermostats” and “switches” sections and you go on from there. Easy.

Verdict

It’s a very good and useful device. It even helps productivity in home office or small office, as it’s faster to ask it “Alexa, what’s 3 feet in meters?” or “How much is 1920 times 2?” or “What’s the definition of  ‘malarkey’?” than type and sort out results in google. So it’s a good word-activated assistant that doubles as a smart switch. A win-win.

10 things you should know about any website before buying or giving your personal information away. How to tell a shady website from a reputable one.

Here are a few tips about how to tell if the website you are visiting is a reputable one or a shady one that you should not trust your personal information and credit card data.

  1. Design, look and feel
    For a company that sells product online and makes a profit, designing a good-looking website is not very expensive. If a business skimped on a decent-looking website, what else did it decided to save money on? Data security? Personal information? Ecommerce? Customer relations? As a rule of thumb – if the website looks outdated and neglected – stay away.
  2. Mobile compatibility
    All modern websites should be mobile compatible – designers and business owners know that. So if you load a website on your phone and it looks like a tiny scaled version of desktop website impossible to navigate without pinching to zoom in – it means the website is old and not being taken care of properly.
  3. Excessive advertising
    A reputable business won’t shove many ads in your face. So if you see more than one pop-up, many ads on the homepage, and especially ads of other businesses and products not related to the website – it means the website owner is not serious about providing information or selling products and is trying to squeeze every cent on renting advertising, or alternatively is hosting the website on free hosting demanding running ads as a form of payment.
  4. Policies and Terms of use
    Nobody reads Terms and Conditions pages on the websites. I don’t urge you to start now, but you should definitely check if any online store has a link to its policies and terms. Most payment gateways demand that websites have it and most clients may want to check what the return policy is for example. So if those pages are not present – the owner is not serious about his business.
  5. Clear contact information, phone and address
    Any reputable business should have a clear and detailed contact information listed on its website. That includes a phone (1-800 number indicates a larger business, while regular number is typical of a small business), email address (preferably) or a contact form, and physical address of business. Not listing address is shady and is not a good sign.
  6. Writing Style
    Poor spelling and bad grammar are indicate that the site may not be credible: as website is a public face of the business, all contents should be carefully written, sometimes by professional copywriters, verified and spell-checked and carefully designed to convey the professional message to targeted audience. If it’s sloppy, incoherent and has grammar and spelling mistakes – you can be sure that this indicates how the whole business is managed and run. Stay away.
  7. No Secure SSL connection or certificate mismatch
    If you are paying online the website has to have a secure SSL connection (usually marked by a green lock symbol next to the URL), and by clicking on the lock symbol you can verify what certificate it is using – it has to match with the URL. Never by anything from an unsecured website.
  8. Browser security warnings.
    This one is simple: Make sure your browser is up to date (I recommend Chrome). If you see a browser warning about the website possibly containing a malicious code – run away. The site has been hacked or initially created with malicious intent in mind.
  9. Weird URL
    Look for misspellings or strange-looking URLs. Those can indicate “typo squatting”.
  10. Flash Player or other unwanted downloads
    If a website prompts you to download Flash Player or “additional codec” to play videos, or anything else you are not familiar with – run away. In the best case – it’s a very outdated website that still runs Flash, so it’s not to be trusted.

Roman Bershadsky

ROMAN DESIGN is an Award-winning web design studio based in Oakville and serving Toronto and GTA region, providing state of the art web design and development, graphic design, video production and photography services to corporate and small business clients.

Web: http://www.romandesign.ca
Email: [email protected]

Creating and Managing Small Business Website

In the Creating and Managing Small Business Website seminar in Oakville we have outlined major goals and ways to reach them for small business owners in order to create, promote and manage a company website. The topic proved to be very relevant and popular, with many questions and a positive reaction. More seminars will follow, to educate Oakville business community about basic web design and management knowledge. No matter if you do it yourself or hire a web design and SEO professionals – you need to know how to define and set goals and how to judge the effectiveness of what you are doing.

CloudFlare CDN cache test

Romandesign.ca speed before engaging CloudFlare CDN:

Tested from New York City, New York, USA on January 6 at 12:54:36
Page size – 6.9MB
Load time – 2.45s
Requests – 113
Perf. grade – 79/100
Your website is faster than 63% of all tested websites

Google PageSpeed (with minify disabled in W3 Total Cache) is 65/100 for mobile and 73/100 for desktop. With minify enabled it was 74/100 for desktop. The best result before video was added to homepage was 87/100 for desktop and 72/100 for mobile.

We’ll see how it improves after nameservers update for CloudFlare CDN. It looks promising, because they have servers in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver!

CloudFlare CDN test – after two weeks

Pingdom ranking did not improve, however Google PageSpeed score significantly improved after two weeks of testing: 86/100 for desktop and 72/100 for mobile. Before CDN it was 74 for desktop, so the improvement is significant. CloudFlare improves content delivery in specific areas – for example in Canada they have servers in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, and it hardens security. It will also keep website’s cached version online if hosting goes down temporarily. So it’s a keeper.

Why you should not ever use Comic Sans

Comic Sans font has gained notoriety as the most hated font ever. It’s so dreadful and misused that there are many websites dedicated to banning and hating this font. No self-respecting web designer should ever use this font. It even appears in Weird Al Yankovic video “Tacky” (see around 1:15 minute mark):

Is your website mobile-friendly? Upgrading your website for mobile compatibility

On April 21, 2015 Google has introduced a new update of its mobile ranking algorithm that made mobile-friendly usability factors of your website much more important. Making your website mobile-friendly does not just makes it easier for your visitors on iPhones and Android devices, but mobile-friendly websites rank higher while others can be dropped in mobile search results.

Roman Design now offers Mobile Compatibility Upgrade service that will check your website and make sure that it is fully mobile-friendly and passes a new Google Test.