iOS-based home automation accessories are becoming more and more popular as open standards like Bluetooth LE and Wi-Fi gradually supplant the more closed X.10 and Z-Wave systems of yesteryear. OORT is the latest startup to toss its hat into the ring with SmartFinder ($30), SmartLED ($40), and SmartSocket ($50). All of OORT’s devices work over Bluetooth LE, so you can communicate directly with your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch without needing to worry about intermediate hardware, and the company also provides a $180 SmartHub which we did not receive to review.
OORT’s hardware is well designed, although the SmartLED bulb is a little on the large side as compared to most LED bulbs we’ve seen, and it’s definitely larger than a typical incandescent bulb. Potential users may want to keep this in mind in terms of the light fixture they might be using the bulb in, but the problem isn’t a new one — compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) already long ago pushed the limits of where traditional light bulbs would fit. For our testing, we put the SmartLED into a nightstand table lamp without any problems.
SmartSocket is typical of many other plug adapters we’ve seen, neither the largest nor the smallest. It plugs into any standard North American power outlet without any problems (a European version is also available from the company), and provides a switched outlet for connecting a lamp or other appliance drawing up to 1800W of power. A button above the power outlet provides the ability to switch the outlet on and off manually and incorporates a blue status LED.
The OORT SmartFinder is the more unusual device in the collection, and is basically a Bluetooth ‘tag’ that you can attach to something like a set of keys. In its direct Bluetooth mode, this allows you to locate it using the OORT iOS app, and make it play a sound so you can find where it is — and by extension find whatever is attached to it. When using an OORT SmartHub, the SmartFinder also doubles as a proximity sensor, allowing actions to be triggered when you enter or leave the house. As we didn’t have the SmartHub, we were only able to consider SmartFinder in its role as a keychain locator, which is fairly straightforward — you pair it with OORT’s iOS app, and push a button when you want to make it beep.
All of OORT’s devices are controlled using the company’s free iOS app, which provides a number of interesting features, albeit it saddled with a poor UI design that felt a bit cumbersome at times. For the SmartLED, the bulb can be adjusted to a huge variety of colors — the company claims 16 million but, like most humans, we don’t really have the eyesight to verify that — and can adjust brightness, saturation, or simply set “white light” mode for times that you’re feeling less colorful. The app also supports the ability to set alarms, as well as a variety of different lighting “modes” ranging from the utilitarian “sleep” mode to the allegedly romantic “love” mode. The UI for adjusting lighting is creative, although we found it a little bit cumbersome, and felt that simple vertical or horizontal sliders would have been preferable to the circular controls used, particularly with the color and brightness controls being positioned so closely. Even on an iPhone 6 Plus it was difficult to hit the right control sometimes without paying closer attention.
The SmartSocket sports fewer control options — like most plug sockets the only control is the ability to toggle it on or off. The app does provide some useful information on the connected appliance, however, akin to Belkin’s WeMo Insight Switch. Voltage, current, wattage and power consumption in kilowatt hours are all provided. You can also enter your energy cost per kWh and the app will keep track of how much the connected device is costing you based on how often it’s on. A line graph at the bottom of the screen also provides a chart of power usage history over time. Advanced settings allow you to set timers to turn the connected device on or off on a daily or weekly schedule, as well as set thresholds for overload protection and low-power standby modes, allowing the power to be cut off when these thresholds are reached.
Unfortunately, OORT’s collection of accessories demonstrates quite well how an app-enabled accessory is only as good as the app that’s used to control it, and we found that OORT’s app was more than a little rough around the edges. The UI design leaves much to be desired simply in terms of layout, requiring more navigation between screens than should really be required, and leaving unused white space while requiring users to scroll to access their complete list of devices. However, even leaving aside the poor UI design choices, the app was generally unstable in its ability to consistently communicate with the SmartLED or SmartSocket. Devices would go “offline” for no discernible reason, even when we were sitting right beside them, creating a frustrating experience when all you’re trying to do is turn a light on or off.
One can justifiably argue the merits of going to an app rather than flicking a switch to control lighting, but when the app has about a 50/50 chance of being able to do its job, it’s going to be hard to convince even the most rabid smart home enthusiast that it’s worth the additional effort. It’s certainly possible that the addition of a SmartHub would improve this process, but that’s also a $180 investment on top of the cost of the other accessories, making the entire package even more costly. With more focus on improving and polishing the iOS app, OORT might have something more worth considering, but it’s important to also keep in mind that with accessories supporting Apple’s HomeKit looming on the near horizon and promising to unify multi-vendor solutions under a single umbrella, it’s hard to justify investing in any one company’s solution.
Company and Price
Compatible: All iOS Devices