Category page for all articles related to technological gadgets for information technology as well as around the house

Google Pixel Watch 3 Month Review

Google Pixel Watch

It had been a while since I had given using a wearable device a try. I had not used one since the original Apple Watch all the way back in 2015. I had switched away from Apple many years ago though to Android phones. Since then I had not seen any reason to try a wearable again although I heard the Samsung Android ones had been improving.

I’d been using a Google Pixel phone for the past several generations as I really like the Google out-of-box experience of having all of the native apps be proper Google apps. It was a clean experience that felt a lot more like Apple. Other Android phones I’d used such as Samsung pushed their own suite of apps which usually were not as good as the native Google apps.

As a fan of the clean first-party OS/application experience I was pretty excited to give the Google Pixel Watch a try. I’ve now had it for 3 months so this will be a 3 month usage review. In this review I’ll cover the good, the bad and the ugly about the Google Pixel Watch.

Let’s begin!

DIY Open Source Handheld Battery Powered Thermal Camera

DIY Battery Powered Thermal Camera

I’ve been exploring using Adafruit Stemma QT to create really cool DIY prototypes without any soldering here on the site. It allows you to very quickly throw together prototypes and do testing for various ideas.

I recently ordered a bunch of new Stemma QT devices including the Adafruit ESP32-S3 Reverse TFT Feather and a MLX90640 IR camera module that I wanted to turn into a DIY thermal camera. I wanted it to be small and battery powered.

In this guide I’ll show you the parts I used to build it as well as the code. Let’s get started!

ESP-EYE Cheap Home Assistant ESPHome Camera Guide

ESP-EYE within Home Assistant

I recently covered the extremely cheap and popular ESP32-CAM here on the site. That is still a good choice but I wanted to evaluate some of the other camera options out there.

One of the camera modules I chose to try was the ESP-EYE. This is actually an official product by Espressif (the company who make the ESP modules). It comes as one solid piece unlike the ESP32-CAM. It also has beefier on-board specs than the ESP32-CAM.

In this guide I’ll show you how to set up a completely open-source Home Assistant camera view with the ESP-EYE using ESPHome. Let’s get started!

Cheap ESP32-CAM Home Assistant ESPHome Camera Guide

ESP32-CAM within Home Assistant

I’ve been integrating my entire home into Home Assistant using as much open-source software and hardware as possible. Recently I’ve wanted to add some additional cameras to my home such as a camera to monitor my HVAC / water heater.

Although I already have 6 Unifi cameras integrated into the home those are extremely expensive (and frankly availability is poor on them as well). I don’t need a camera that costs hundreds of dollars to watch my utilities area.

Fortunately there’s an extremely widely available and cheap solution called the ESP32-CAM! These have been around for years and are one of the most popular ESP32 products. Since it uses ESP32 we can use ESPHome and Home Assistant to add a super cheap camera anywhere you’d like.

In this guide I’ll show my ESP32-CAM setup and how to configure it within Home Assistant and ESPHome. Let’s get started!

Adafruit WiFi Action Key for Home Assistant / ESPHome

Adafruit One Key w/ RGB colors set

I’ve covered making a wireless Adafruit IoT button that can run any action within Home Assistant when you press the button using automations. These are great because they also have a RGB LED built in that you can use to show the status of something being controlled by the button.

For example if you used it to control your garage door you could make the button red when your garage door is open and green when it’s shut. This way just by looking at the button you know what the state of the garage door is.

Today I am going to cover something really similar: a single WiFi action key using gear from Adafruit as well as a RISC-V ESP32-C3 module. These also have individual RGB LEDs for each key just like the IoT button giving them the same advantages. Let’s begin!

Home Assistant / ESPHome Air Quality Monitor (No Soldering)

QT Py + Grove SEN54 - Deployment (Closeup)

I’ve previously covered creating a Home Assistant air quality monitor system using a XAIO ESP32-C3 module and ESPHome / Home Assistant to create a 7-in-1 air quality monitor sensor. My previous article though did require a little bit of soldering to get it going.

Today I’m going to show you my latest sensor build which has completely eliminated the soldering. It’s plug and play using ESPHome and Home Assistant. I did this using the Adafruit QT Py module which has a built-in connector for connecting to a I2C (Stemma QT) device like the Grove SEN54 environmental sensor. In addition to eliminating any soldering this also saved me money by not having to buy an expansion board.

Today I’ll show you the updated build for my air quality sensor setup I’ll be using throughout my home. Let’s get started!

Minoston Z-wave Smart Plugs w/ Home Assistant Review

Minoston Z-Wave Smart Plug - Installed

I’ve been covering integrating my entire home into Home Assistant here on the site. I want to have the capability to monitor everything going on in my home and control it with an open-source system such as Home Assistant.

Although I have a strong WiFi network in my home there are some areas where using a wireless technology that is more energy efficient (such as Z-wave and Zigbee) makes a lot more sense. These especially include devices that need to run on a battery or are in awkward areas with poor WiFi coverage.

I decided to try the Minoston Z-wave mini plug to see how it integrated with my Home Assistant setup as it was very commonly recommended online. In this review we’ll take a look at this device and see if it’s worth using. Let’s begin!

Zooz 700 Z-Wave Door/Window Sensors w/ Home Assistant

Zooz 700 series door/window sensor - Review

I’ve been upgrading all of the devices in my home to work with Home Assistant and eliminate subscriptions to proprietary services. One of the last remaining subscription services I have in my home is the Ring door and window sensors. The Ring ones have honestly been fine but the subscription is not free. Since I know these sensors will be installed in my home for 10+ years it will save me money to switch to something else that has no subscription.

That is why I was excited to see that Zooz has released a new series of Z-Wave door and window sensors that are completely self-managed by either a Z-Wave hub or Home Assistant running as a Z-Wave hub. The advantage of Z-Wave and Zigbee devices is they use much less power than WiFi so it’s a much better suited technology for devices that run on battery power (such as wireless door and window sensors).

In this review I’ll cover the Zooz 700 Z-Wave door and window sensors and cover the upsides and downsides of the system. Let’s get started!

Genie Garage Door Opener Aladdin Smart Home Upgrade

Genie Aladdin Connect - Installed

I’ve been investigating ways to make my garage doors on my home “smart”. My overall goal is to implement them into Home Assistant. I’ve been investigating various options to do this including do-it-yourself with ESP modules (which I’ve used for a lot of other parts of my home automation).

My home is only about 3 years old and came preinstalled with a “dumb” Genie garage door system that does not have smart capabilities. I decided to investigate the official upgrade option offered by the company via their Aladdin smart home upgrade kit as it only cost about $60.

In this guide I’ll cover installing the upgrade kit for Genie garage doors and how well it performed. I’ll also cover implementing it within Home Assistant. Let’s get started!

Adafruit Stemma QT Arduino Getting Started Guide

Adafruit 7 Segment Display + Rotary Encoder + QT Py

I’ve been doing a lot of coverage of ESP32-related chips lately on the site. One thing that is a bit painful with them though is that they usually require a lot of soldering. That’s why I find the Adafruit QT Py series of ESP32 chips so exciting. They eliminate the soldering!

Unfortunately once I got all of my parts and tried to get started I ran into several issues that are not covered at all (or very poorly covered) by the official documentation and guides available. None of the things I’m going to cover were particularly difficult once you know what they are and how to address them. I did however lose days or closer to a week of time messing with this as I had to figure it all out from piecing together scraps here and there from forum posts.

In this guide I’ll show you how to get Arduino working with the Adafruit QT Py boards using Stemma and how to avoid all the pitfalls that I lost a lot of time on getting started. Let’s begin!

Home Assistant Tiny WiFi Button Guide ft. Adafruit QT Py

Adafruit Tiny Home Assistant WiFi Button

I’ve been documenting my journey building out my smart home powered by Home Assistant here on the site. Home Assistant is an open-source system designed to let you easily manage and automate everything in your home.

That’s when I saw that Adafruit’s QT Py series of boards had a tiny IoT button available for it I immediately thought of Home Assistant. The button could be used to automate anything in your home you’d like. You could program it to turn off / turn on lights, open/close the garage door for you, turn on and off certain appliances or anything else you could imagine being able to do with a wireless-enabled button.

In this guide I’ll show you how to build and program a wireless button with Home Assistant. Let’s get started!

Home Assistant Grove All-in-one Environmental Sensor Guide

Home Assistant SEN54 via ESPHome

I’ve been building out various sensor arrays for use with Home Assistant in my home using ESP32 modules and ESPHome and it has been working really well. One challenge though is that you have a limited number of connections (even when using expansion boards). This can be dealt with a few different ways but buying a whole bunch of individual sensor boards one at a time and connecting them can get messy to say the least.

Fortunately Seeed Studios has a unit powered by Sensirion that has 7 environmental sensors all in one: the SEN54! This includes measurements for particles of PM1.0/2.5/4/10, temperature and humidity and VOC (volatile organic compounds). All in one unit with a single connection.

In this guide I’ll show what adding a sensor like this to Home Assistant looks like using ESPHome and a ESP32-C3 module. Let’s get started!

Adafruit Re-programmable USB-C PD to Barrel Jack Cable

Adafruit Re-programmable USB-C PD Cable Review

I have been ordering a lot of gear from Adafruit lately to help build my Home Assistant sensor array for my home (as well as other projects I have going here on the site). I was very confused today when something showed up I didn’t recognize (and wasn’t even aware really existed).

It turns out to be a cable that you plug into a USB-C power adapter that supports PD (power delivery) and output a voltage you program in via a DC barrel jack. In other words this cable lets you turn a USB-PD capable power adapter into a programmable DC jack adapter that could theoretically work with almost anything!

This is a $19.50 cable I’m certain that I didn’t buy that I will return to Adafruit if they would like. Not before we review it first though. Let’s get started!

Using Kauf Smart Lights w/ ESPHome and Home Assistant

Kauf Smart Lights Web Interface

I’ve been integrating all of my smart home devices into Home Assistant to have everything managed by an open source system. I have a handful of Philips Hue lights but I had not upgraded the entire house to smart lighting yet. After some research I was delighted to find a set of smart bulbs that are able to be managed by ESPHome (the system that is controlling my smart sensors I’m placing around the house which I’ve covered here).

These are WiFi-based lights described as “made for Home Assistant” running a ESP32 chip. This worked well for my setup as my home has 6 Unifi access points all throughout the house/garage/etc. which is why I didn’t go with a Zigbee or Z-wave solution for the lighting (although I may for my window and door sensors, that’s still a work in progress).

In this guide I’ll show you what it looks like to set up and configure these to work with Home Assistant and ESPHome. Let’s get started!

Elikliv 7″ LCD Digital Microscope Review

Elikliv 7" LCD Digital Microscope Review

Recently on the site I’ve been covering my journey exploring the world of microcontrollers. This has been a fun journey but it has required me to work with technology a lot smaller than what I’m used to working with. The boards I’m routinely working with now are so small I can barely see them and read the features on them.

This has exposed some gaps in my tool set such as my former very poor quality soldering iron which I recently replaced with the Pinecil. That was only about a $40 upgrade from Amazon including shipping.

Just today I received the Elikliv 7″ Digital Microscope. It’s one of the most popular selling digital microscopes on Amazon and it cost me less than $100. This was not something I wanted to spend a ton of money on. I just wanted a basic digital microscope to make it much easier to read and work with the smaller microcontrollers / PCBs.

In this review I’ll cover this digital microscope and tell you the pros / cons and whether it’s worth your money if you have a similar use case. Let’s get started!