Smart Home is one of the key features of Alexa-Powered Echo devices from Amazon. Although I got the Echo Dot for my son so he can ask Alexa about all his regular queries, the craving for trying out Smart Home products was really pushing me to the edge.
When Amazon made their Smart Home product page official for India, I noticed there were very few players in it right now. Philips, Oakter, Dell, and TP-Link are the few who have been certified to work with Alexa in India.
I got in touch with the Oakter team which have the biggest portfolio right now including Smart Hub, Switches (6 amp, 16 amp, 25 amp), Thermostat, Switches for Pump, Lights, and Fans. I picked few of them as per my need, and here is my experience using them with and without Alexa.
Note: As of now, Oakter Products work with Alexa/Amazon Echo, but not with Google Home/Assistant. But yes, they are working on it.
How I shortlisted the smart home products for my requirements?
Actually, it was my wife who made the selection. I just wanted to try out the products, but when discussing with her, the ground reality was different.
Oakter as tons of smart products which includes 6 AMP, 16 AMP, 25 AMP switches. They also have switches for Water Motors, Smart Door Locks, Thermostats and so on. I could have picked for all of them, but then I had to decide which of them truly made sense for my home, especially based on climatic conditions.
There is another factor. Nobody wants a smart switch that can be turned on or off remotely. We need something that can automate on its own. So based on the discussion, we selected two frequently used appliances at home:
Water Purifier: This was used every day and multiple times. My wife needed a solution where the filter can have the water ready during the day, or when she is back to the kitchen at evening to fill in the water bottles. This made sure a lot of time was saved, and frustration of forgetting it in household work was gone.
Water Heater: While our heater has auto switch off and on to ensure hot water all the time, keeping it ON forever didn’t make sense. We use it mostly during early hours of the day, and every member has their own routine. My Son gets up at 6 AM, and goes straight to bath, then followed by my parents around 8 AM and me being the laziest, finish up at 10 AM.
Kids take time to get ready, and we all know how they are in the morning. He always finds an excuse for the water not being ready for those extra minutes of sleep. So we wanted the smart switch to have it ready before he gets up. A schedule of the heater to remain on from 6 to 10 in the morning, and then turn off automatically was our final need.
Fans and Switches in our Living Room: Probably, the most important use-case of all. It wasn’t about turning it on but was to make sure if we forget to turn it off, we can do it from our phone. My mom was smiling when I told her about it, but then she said, this will make me lazier. Well! A schedule wasn’t really needed here.
Products & Features:
We selected One 6 AMP plug for Water Purifier, One 16 AMP for the Water heater, and a Smart Quadra box to control two fans, and two lights in our living room.
The Oakter App and Alexa both support scheduling of each of these products, so it was pretty much one-time setup for us. We did iterate through the schedules later.
Setting up Smart Plugs, Smart Home Hub, and Quadra Box:
Oakter has its own app which allows you to set up all the products.
The first step was setting up the Smart Home Hub which communicates with the rest of the products. You will need to have WiFi at home, and using the App will set up the WiFi Password in the HUB, so everything works smoothly.
Every Smart Hub package includes a temporary user id and password. You will need to login to the app using it, and then later change both of them. During the setup process, the hub will also ask for the Home WIFI network SSID and its password. It’s pretty straightforward.
Once done, you can then add individual plugs by using a unique ID that’s available at the rear. You will have to make sure that they are plugged in, and the light on each of those switches are white. During the setup process, you will need to select the device type and device ID which is in the rear of the switches. Once you add them, they connect with HUB, and then they turn orange.
Note: Orange light has two meanings. One, that they are turned on, and two, they are connected to the HUB. When you switch them off, they stay white.
The Smart Quadra box has similar setup process, except that installation is a little complex. You will need to have an electrician who can connect it to your existing switches. This is how they are connected:
- It has two parts. One that connects with the main source, and second which regulates the switches. Both these units are connected to each other.
- Powerline & Neutral that comes from your main switch box connects one of the units.
- The second unit connects with existing switches. It has four inputs and four outputs. The electrician will have to connect wires to the Oakter Unit and then pass it back to the physical switches.
- This makes sure that you can control them both from the app, and physical switches. The best part of the Quadra Smartbox was even if the physical switches are in off state; they can be turned on.
This is crucial. Not all my family members are geeky enough to use a phone, and after a while, even you might find it silly to use a phone to control a switch. My parents still use it old style, and that was their first condition when installing the switches. There is one major drawback. There is no way to control the speed of the fan right now which is going to be a major annoyance as you will have to get up eventually, and that defeats the point of having a smart switch.
Quadra box component resides behind the switchboard which makes sure that decor doesn’t look ugly. It also has inbuilt protection against surges and outages.
Setting up with Alexa was simple, and really fast
Launch the Alexa App, and switch to ‘Skills’ section. Find Oakter Skill, and link it to your Oakter account. It’s the same user id and password you initially setup when connecting the HUB.
Post this, when I switched to the Smart Home section and then used the “Add Device” option. It discovered all the new switches and added to the smart home. You can turn it on or off, and also use them in your routines.
The company offers support via WhatsApp, Calls, and Video Calls. In setting up its product for Smart Home, I faced few technical issues, and they resolved it over WhatsApp!
While setting up their smart switches is straightforward, products like Quadra Smart Box was little complicated. I had to arrange for a call between my electrician, who did this for the first time with Oakter support guy over WhatsApp video call. The guy was on the move but explained everything with patience to my electrician. This is an important criterion for products like these, especially in India.
Quality of the Products
All of Oakter products have decent build quality. The switches are rock solid, but the hub wasn’t as good as the switch. However, since most of their products are going to stay at fixed places, it really didn’t bother us much. The size of the switches are a lot bigger compared to normal plugs, and you will have to make sure it fits correctly with your existing switches.
How my family is using it on an everyday basis?
While the products worked with Alexa, Oakter does have their in-house solution to control them. It definitely comes in handy, because not everyone wants to shout out to turn something on or off. My wife isn’t very geeky, and she doesn’t use Alexa a lot except for a bit of music. I had to ask her to try out it to see if she can get a feel if it works for her.
Using it with the Oakter App:
It’s the most convenient solution because the phone is always around her, and all she needs to do is launch the app, and manage them. The app does allow scheduling of the switches, so the real need for anything else was technically not there. So even though we have Echo Dot setup in the living room, using voice commands wasn’t compulsory.
You can also share the smart switches with your family member by inviting them to the app. Once they install the app, they will have the same control as you have through the app.
Using it with Amazon Echo Dot / Alexa
Alexa has Routines. This allows you to create a voice-based action or time-based events to turn the switches on or off at a preferred time. In our case, the voice-based action wasn’t needed as we needed things to be ready before we wanted to use them. The time-based events are similar to what Oakter app offers.
Alexa offers one big advantage compared to Oakter App. It allows you to group smart devices. So all your devices in the living room can be grouped into one, and you can turn them off with one voice command. You can club them all together, name it as House, and turn them off together in case you are leaving for vacation.
However, there are two major drawbacks though.
First, Alexa routines cannot be renamed to your likings. They look like “Every Day at 20:00”. This neither tells me which device it is attached to, nor what would be the action. I have ten routines with just two switches, and if I had to edit, I would have to make a logical guess. It also makes it impossible for anybody else to manage it. The same thing is a tad simple in the Oakter App.
Second, Voice commands don’t work accurately with Alexa. Even though it supports Indian English aka Hinglish, I have seen it fail many a time, even with my voice. It’s getting better, but it is still annoying. You cannot expect everyone to have the same patience as yourself.
Performance, Reliability, & Goof-ups
After using it for over a week, the experience was mostly seamless, and without hiccups. Well almost. The schedules were running without any failure, as per feedback from my wife, though the app sometimes wasn’t able to get back the status, even though it did perform the task. That’s a minor bug which I expect to happen with any IoT service.
For once, I had this issue where the fan switch wasn’t working either from the physical button or through the app. When checked, it turned out to be a connection issue which was sorted out later with the help of the electrician.
Here is another thing I noted. After a while, nobody at my home was using the app or Alexa to turn on or off the fans and lights. My parents and wife were more keen to use the physical switches as it was much more convenient. This is interesting, but yes, very subjective.
All Oakter products come with one year warranty. They would replace it without a charge after initial troubleshooting.
Important Things to Know
- Oakter plugs are much bigger in size compared to the regular plugs. You will have to take the space into consideration when selecting one of these plugs or might have to make modifications if you have a tight space.
- Orange light has two meanings. One, they are turned on, and Second, they are connected to the HUB. When you switch them off, they stay white.
- Smart HUB connects to Oakter plugs via RF. The range is about 300 ft in free area and 100 ft with obstructions. This means the switches will not work with Echo Plus in-built HUB. You need to buy Oakter Smart HUB.
- If the internet stops working on your phone, you will not be able to control them using the app on the phone even if you are on the same network. Oakter Support team said that they are working on the offline feature that will come soon.
- There is no overheating protection, but the plugs do protect against surge.
- The app doesn’t offer any wattage calculation, but it’s in the works as per the Oakter support.
Cost of Setting up Smart Home
India’s consumer market has just started with Smart Home. It would be wrong that it had never been there, but it only existed with premium category and Business Class. This changed a bit when Amazon introduced Echo devices in India.
Consumers are now more aware of these smart hub devices as Amazon India now has a dedicated page for all the OEMs, and this has made consumers more oriented about it. That said, the cost hasn’t gone down.
For the setup I had used in my home, the total cost comes out to be approx Rs 12,000. This is as per the MRP of the products which I am listing below:
- Smart Home Hub : Rs 1990
- 16 Amp Smart Plug: Rs 2490
- 6 Amp Smart Plug: Rs. 1990
- Smart Quadra Box (controls 4 switches): Rs. 5490
Oakter is selling their products on Amazon, and here are the combo deals:
- Smart Home Hub + 6 AMP + 16 AMP Switches: Rs 5,128
- Smart Home Hub + 6 AMP: Rs 3,425
- Smart Home Hub + 16 AMP: Rs 3701
- Smart Home Hub + 6 AMP + 16 AMP + 25 Amp Smart Box (AC) + Smart Quadra Box: Rs 11,742
It’s a very small setup, and I had chosen only what I required most. So if you are going ahead to set up a smart home, define your needs, and then select the right products.
Interestingly, Oakter lets you extend the default one year warranty by paying a little extra.
Yes, sure. The current offer for warranty extension is :
10% of MRP for 1 year extension
20% of MRP for 3 years extension
30% of MRP for 5 years extension
You can extend warranty anytime before expiry of default 1 year warranty
— R.IOT Labz (@OyeOakter) December 20, 2017
Do I recommend Oakter Products?
If you read it through, I am sure you already have the answer, but then let’s summarize it. Here are my reasons to recommend the product:
- Brilliant Support.
- Decent build Quality.
- Setting up is simple.
- Works without an Echo device.
Let me know if you have any questions. I would be happy to answer all of them for you.