In the past few years I've been fascinated to discover how much home automation can change your life. I enjoy the convenience of tinkering through my phone to adjust lights, turning on my coffee maker before I roll out of bed and using my voice to play any song I want through my Amazon Echo. I am frugal in most areas so justifying the cost of these conveniences can be challenging, but I manage by accepting my own inherent laziness.
Xfinity has noticed that this is not an uncommon trait and is introducing Houston consumers to emerging smart home technologies with a pretty, peace-of-mind bow on it. Welcome to the new Xfinity Home. The company set up a high-tech home in Oak Forest, so earlier this month I took a tour to see what Xfinity Home has to offer customers, setting out to separate the hype from the genuinely useful services and features. Like you'd expect, there was a bit of both.
The Good: The power to place your home in your hands
For someone into aesthetics, Xfinity Home’s wireless control pad is a sleek black and white touchscreen that enables you to power, monitor and manage all your home automation into one central source. It has the ability to quickly shuffle through your video monitoring cameras, and then with a quick swipe you can be dimming your lights or powering on your wifi-enabled outlet. Although you are not limited to just using this central source as your command center, it’s a nice addition for those who like to have everything all in one place.
The Better: Plays well with others
I’m not especially proud of this, but I am a consumer that is highly sensitive to brand recognition and reputation. So I was happy to see Xfinity has begun integrating products into their home automation sector that are well respected, recognizable, and widely available. That means you can shop around before dropping $250 on a particular thermostat or $199 on a Philips Hue starter pack.
Currently Xfinity is partnering with Nest, Honeywell, Lutron, August, Kwikset, Zigbee, Zen and Chamberlin to give customers options on how high-tech they want their homes to be and to personalize their equipment to their needs. Xfinity also has their own in-house branded products that are designed specifically for their Xfinity Home packages, such as water sensors, self-testing smoke alarms and LED light bulbs.
The Best: True peace of mind
Wandering through the home, the amount of motion sensors peeking through the hallways and rooms was quite noticeable. I found myself thinking about how the feeling of being watched is truly hair-raising—lucky for me I’m not a teenager trying to sneak in a houseguest without permission, because there is no getting past these sensors.
Xfinity Home uses all these motion-sensing devices and security cameras to give homeowners the ability monitor any movement within the home and it’s conveniently accessible through your TV, iPad, Xfinity Wireless Keypad and smartphone—it's even accessible from your phone while you're away or traveling. Finally you can know what your pets do while you're away, or catch the gnomes that steal your socks.
The security systems' ability to provide real-time text and email alerts and to remotely arm and disarm your system from your phone is a real highlight, too. Recorded video is accessible for up to seven days and the 24/7 security and professional monitoring is from a UL-certified central security station.
A cool addition to the Xfinity Home package is that it comes with five motion-sensing pieces that can tell you when doors and windows are opened. I must admit that this gives me the urge to attach them to my cabinets so I know when my husband is stealing my beloved Thin Mints. I doubt this was the company's intention for a high-security device, but most people know that Girl Scout cookies are precious commodities worth protecting at all costs.
Some downsides worth noting
Light Bulbs: One area where consumers might be frustrated with their options is in Xfinity's integrated lighting choices. One option is Zigbee bulbs, but they are somewhat difficult to find in major retailers, and most consumers would rather not cough up $69 for Philips' pricey single pack of bulbs. I expect that customers will find their lack of options in lighting problematic unless more sizes, colors and brands become available.
Alexa and Xfinity are not friends: Xfinity Home integrates a voice-operated remote into their cable packages, but their technology is in need of improvements. It hardly recognizes your voice, rarely makes proper selections and takes a lot of time to “think.” The Amazon Echo, a home automation powerhouse, has perfected the art of voice recognition to control lights, order you pizza and play any song on command. Xfinity has opportunity to grow and should focus some effort to integrating with the Echo or at least doing their best to create a comparable alternative.
As I left the Xfinity Home model, I contemplated whether what I'd seen was worth adding an extra $40-$50 to my Xfinity bill every month. I found that for those who find security in cameras the Xfinity Home exceeds expectations for home surveillance. In other areas, there’s room to grow, but as technology continues to fundamentally alter how we live, Xfinity will do well just by bundling all the options together in a convenient monthly package.