One of the first Android-powered Smart Home systems, Archos Smart Home is cheap but has a number of issues
Smart Home systems used to be reserved for the mega-rich, but as the technology has filtered down into the mainstream you can now pick up an entry level kit like the Archos Smart Home package for less than £200. Essentially an Android tablet with a collection of bundled accessories, the kit includes the basics you’ll need for keeping an eye on your valuables when you aren’t around, monitoring the temperature and generally automating your home.
The tablet acts as the base station, which all the other accessories connect to. It’s a 7in device with a bulging base, so it can stand freely on a shelf or sideboard, but there’s no way to adjust the angle for placing it on a particularly high or low surface. It doesn’t help that the screen has distinctly average viewing angles, and the 1,024×600 resolution LCD panel isn’t going to rival Apple’s Retina iPad Mini in terms of clarity. It’s not particularly responsive, either – we frequently had to tap multiple times before it would register our inputs.
The odd shape makes it impractical to use as a standard tablet, but it works well as a dedicated music controller; the 3.5mm audio output can hook up to a speaker system and play tracks directly from the microSD card slot or 4GB of on-board memory, over a network using DLNA or from the web with Google Play Music or any other streaming music service installed from the Play Store.
The hardware inside isn’t going to give your existing tablet a run for its money, either. A RK3168 dual-core processor runs at 1.2GHz and is paired with 1GB of RAM, which is enough to run Android 4.2 Jelly Bean fairly smoothly – as long as you stick to basic apps. Anything that needs a little more oomph is going to stutter, and 3D games run at a choppy frame rate.There is an internal battery, but it’s only good for around five hours forty minutes away from the mains; it is really designed to be left, plugged in, in one location rather than carried around the house.
Instead, the tablet is best used solely for controlling the Smart Home system. Archos includes two weather tags, two Movement tags and two MiniCam webcams in the box, which all pair to the tablet using Bluetooth Smart. That means you can only place the accessories so far away from the base unit before they go out of range, limiting the system’s usefulness in a larger house, or even a smaller home with thick walls – we tested the system in a large two bedroom flat with thick brick walls and couldn’t connect between the two farthest rooms. Archos says it has doubled the range of Bluetooth Smart for official accessories from 10m to 20m, but because Bluetooth Smart isn’t built into Android 4.2 you won’t be able to use other smart devices.
There are also motion sensors and smart plugs available separately, and the system can play nicely with selected 433MHz smart devices too – although not gadgets using different Internet-of-Things (IoT) protocols like the Ziggbee-powered Philips Hue lightbulbs. Unfortunately at the time of writing the UK smart plugs weren’t yet available, which meant we were limited in terms of what we could actually do with the system.
Each of the supplied accessories uses several watch batteries, meaning there’s no need to worry about charging or wiring them in. They can last for up to a year without having to switch the batteries, at least according to Archos. Each accessory is small enough to fit just about anywhere without being obtrusive, and each has a double-sided adhesive base that lets you fix it to a wall or ceiling if you prefer to keep them out of reach. The MiniCams are also waterproof, meaning you can place them outside.
Setting up the system requires the Archos Smart Home app, which has easy to follow on-screen instructions for pairing each device. We had a few issues pairing one of the motion sensors, but a reboot and a firmware update fixed things eventually. During setup you assign accessories to specific rooms, and once you’re finished you can swipe between pages on the main screen to check up on each room in the house. That could mean seeing a temperature display, whether the doors or windows are open, whether the lights are on or what the last photo taken by the webcam was of – it all depends on which accessories you install in which rooms.
The webcam image quality is reasonably good given its size and VGA resolution; we could make out faces clearly when the camera was placed in the direct line of sight of a door or window, but you have to be wary of direct sunlight obscuring the image. The 5-megapixel front-facing camera built into the tablet takes better quality photos than the MiniCam, and appears in the Smart Home interface just like the paired camera accessories, but depending on where you place the tablet it may not be particularly useful for security monitoring.
By itself there’s little you can do with details like temperature or whether a door is open, but with a little configuration you can assign automatic programs to make your life a little easier. Using the simple interface, you can set the webcams to take a photo automatically if the front door opens when you’re at work, or move your alarm forward to give you time to de-ice the car if the weather tag reports freezing temperatures. It also supports the third party Tasker automation app, but unfortunately not the more user-friendly IFTTT. With no way to tie in with existing smart thermostats like Nest or Tado, however, the temperature sensors are only marginally useful – we would prefer an open system that could work with your existing gadgets, or ones you buy in the future.
You can access the Smart Home system when away from the house by installing the Smart Home app to your smartphone or tablet. When at home, the two devices automatically discover each other and ask to pair, but for external connections you’ll need a 16-digit access code which is generated by the base unit. Once connected, you’ll get the exact same interface and an identical set of features.
With few other complete systems to compare it to, at least at such a low price, the Archos Smart Home certainly has potential. However, with several accessories still unavailable here in the UK, a base station that tries unsuccessfully to double as a tablet and limited support for third party smart devices, it’s a compromised platform. Until there’s an accepted standard for smart home devices the latter is going to be a recurring problem. We also wish Archos had some kind of signal booster that would let you extend the range of the system around the home, as currently it’s only suitable for smaller houses or apartments with thin walls.
|Processor||1.2GHz dual-core RK3168|
|Operating system||Android 4.2 Jelly Bean|