Wi-Fi

How to Put Together Your First Smarthome (Without Getting Overwhelmed)

If you want to make your home a little smarter, but aren’t sure where exactly to start, we’ve got you covered. Here are the best starter smarthome gadgets, and how to find ones that will work well together in your house (or apartment).

Smarthome is more accessible than ever. Once upon a time, you either needed to install a complex X10 system, or you needed an expensive, dealer-installed whole-house system like Savant or URC. And while all of those are still options, most people are opting for a more user-friendly, wallet-friendly piecemeal approach: buying individual smarthome gadgets from tech companies like Amazon, Google, and Samsung, and integrating them together. That’s what we’ll be talking about today.

Ask Yourself: What Do You Want to Do?

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Before you start completely decking out your house with all sorts of smarthome gear, it’s important to establish why you want a smart home in the first place. Is it for convenience? Then you might want devices that support voice control through something like the Amazon Echo or Google Home. Do you wish everything was automated? Then you’ll probably narrow down products with good automation features or IFTTT support. Do you want good home security? Then you’ll want a line of products with sensors and sirens. Maybe you want a bit of everything.

Once you’ve answered those questions, you’ll have a better idea of what kind of things to look for as you shop. Not every smarthome product works with other smarthome products, so as you build your home, you’ll want to pick ones that support the devices and services you want.

For example, if you want voice control for everything, then the Amazon Echo is the “glue” that holds your entire smarthome together, and you’ll want to only pick products that work with the Echo. Or, if you’re an automation nut, search for products that support IFTTT. If everyone in your house is an iPhone user, and you want to control all of your devices with Siri (or through the Home app), you’ll want to make sure as many products as possible are compatible with HomeKit.

Luckily, it’s easy to narrow down products by which standard they support. Not only can you look for the proper badge on the packaging, or look at its website for compatibility, but many devices and services have pages with official lists of products they support, which can instantly narrow down your search:

Once you decide which services will be central to your smarthome experience, it’ll be a lot easier to decide which products to buy.

The Best Products to Start You Off

When you begin to finally buy your first products, things can feel overwhelming—where do you even start? Here are some of our favorite smarthome products perfect for beginners:

How to Set Up the Netgear Arlo Pro Camera System

If you like the idea of a security camera that’s completely wireless in every way, Netgear’s Arlo Pro system is one to consider. Here’s how to set it up and begin keeping tabs on your home while you’re away.

Wi-Fi cameras have their issues—at least when compared to wired cameras—but they certainly offer easier installation. One thing that separates the Arlo Pro from other Wi-Fi cameras is that it’s battery-powered, meaning you don’t need to plug it into an outlet to stream and record video. Most other Wi-Fi cams need to be connected to some kind of power source, even though they connect via Wi-Fi to transmit the data.

Arlo Pro also uses its own central hub (called the Base Station), to which all of your Arlo cameras connect. This is because the cameras use Z-Wave to communicate wirelessly, rather than Wi-Fi like most other consumer-based security cameras (such as the Nest Cam). Because of that, Arlo cameras need to connect to the Base Station, which in turn communicates with your home’s Wi-Fi network.

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Step One: Download and Set Up the Arlo App

Even though you have to use the Base Station, the setup process is pretty painless and only takes about 10 minutes. To start off, download the Arlo app to your smartphone. It’s a free app that’s available for iPhone and Android devices.

Next, open up the app and tap the “New to Arlo” button.

On the next screen, select which Arlo product you’re setting up. In this case, it’s the “Arlo Wire-Free.”

The app then tells you to install the Arlo Base Station hub. To do this, plug one end of the included Ethernet cable into the Base Station and the other end into a free Ethernet port on your router. Plug in the power cord, and then press the “On-Off button next to the power connector on the back of the hub.

Once you’ve got the Base Station set up, hit “Continue” in the app.

Wait for the hub to power up. The app automatically searches for the hub on your network.

How to Make Android Auto More Reliable on Weak Wi-Fi (Like In Your Driveway)

Weak Wi-Fi connections are incredibly frustrating when using Android Auto. Because of its voice-driven interface, it can’t process commands when the connection is weak—especially if the connection is just strong enough to connect, but too weak to actually use. Fortunately, with one toggle your life with Android Auto will get significantly better.

Here’s my scenario: I hop in the car, fire up Android Auto, drop the hotword, and tell Auto to play a song or send a text. I wait while Assistant spins around, trying to figure out what I want it to do—then get the “This internet connection isn’t strong enough…” error. Awesome.

It’s because I’m still in the driveway and connected to my home Wi-Fi. Now, Android is supposed to be smart enough at this point to…

Google published, and then pulled, an I/O action for Google Home

Google appears to have launched a voice app to talk to you about its annual I/O developer conference, set to take place May 17-19 at the Shoreline Ampitheatre in Mountain View, California. Unfortunately, the conversation action made by Google for its assistant on the Google Home smart speaker didn’t work.

Repeated attempts by VentureBeat to speak with the Google I/O 17 action about the I/O keynote speech, the date, and location — questions the action tells you to ask it on Google Home app — were met with silence.

Around 2 p.m. PT Monday the action was pulled from the Google Home app and could no longer be called upon when speaking with the Google Assistant on Google Home.

Based on news and activity in recent months, a broad range of potential announcements could be made at Google I/O as it relates to the Assistant and the Google Home smart speaker, both of which made their debut at I/O last year.

Perhaps Google could release its own smart speaker with computer vision to compete with Alexa’s new Echo Look.

Or, instead of going for fashion and computer vision, the next-gen Google Home could go for utility and quality. Last month The Information…

How to Adjust the Brightness of Google Wifi’s LED Lights

If you’ve jumped on the Google Wifi train (or at least been considering it), then you know there are a lot of reasons to love Google’s mesh network setup. And as helpful as the indicator lights are to let you know everything is powered up and running smoothly, they can also be a distraction. Here’s how to turn them off.

That’s right, no need for electrical tape here—Google Wifi actually has a feature that lets you turn the lights off from the app. If you have multiple Wifi units in your home, you can control each one individually, which is a nice touch on Google’s part. That way, you can completely disable the light on the unit in sensitive areas like…

How to Prioritize a Certain Device on Your Google Wi-Fi Network

When you have a large handful of devices connected to your network, it can be difficult to get the speeds you need to play online games or download media. However, with Google Wi-Fi, you can prioritize a device to get the best speeds possible on an otherwise crowded network.

Granted, you can do this on most traditional routers as well, but it’s certainly not as simple and easy as it is using Google Wi-Fi.

Start by opening up the Google Wi-Fi app on your phone and tap on the tab with the settings gear icon and three other circles.

Tap…

Disable WPAD in Windows to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

Web Proxy Auto-Discovery (WPAD) gives organizations a way to automatically configure a proxy server on your system. Windows enables this setting by default. Here’s why that’s a problem.

WPAD is really useful when an organization like your company or school needs to configure a proxy server for your connection to their network. It saves you from having to set things up yourself. However, WPAD can cause problems should you connect to a malicious public Wi-FI network. With WPAD enabled, that Wi-Fi network can automatically configure a proxy server in Windows. All your web browsing traffic would be routed through the proxy server while you’re connected to the Wi-Fi network—potentially exposing sensitive data. Most operating systems support WPAD. The problem is that in Windows, WPAD is enabled by default. It’s a potentially dangerous setting, and it should not be enabled unless you really need it.

WPAD, Explained

Proxy servers—not to be confused with virtual private networks (VPNs)—are sometimes required to browse the web on some business or school networks. When you configure a proxy server on your system, your system will send your browsing traffic through the proxy server rather than directly to the websites you visit. This allows organizations to perform web filtering and caching, and may be necessary to bypass the firewalls on some networks.

The WPAD protocol is designed to allow organizations to easily provide proxy settings to all devices that connect to the network. The organization can place a WPAD configuration file in a standard place, and when WPAD is enabled, your computer or other device checks to see if there’s WPAD proxy information provided by the network. Your device then automatically uses whatever settings the proxy auto-configuration (PAC) file provides, sending all traffic on the current network through the proxy server.

Windows vs. Other Operating Systems

While WPAD might be a useful feature on some business and school networks, it can cause big problems on public Wi-Fi networks. You don’t want your computer to automatically configure a proxy…

How to Pause Internet Access on Google Wi-Fi

Whether you need your kids to get their homework done or if it’s just dinner time, Google Wi-Fi has a feature that lets you “pause” the internet on their devices. Here’s how to set it up.

This feature doesn’t pause internet access for your Google Wi-Fi network, just certain devices that you specify. You can even create groups of devices and pause all of them at once with a single tap, as well as create automatic resume times.

Start by opening up the Google Wi-Fi app on your phone and tap on the tab with the settings gear icon and three other circles.

Tap on “Family Wi-Fi”.

Tap on “Setup” at the bottom on the next screen.

From here, you can either tap “Next” to create a group of devices to pause all at once, or hit “Skip” to skip over the group-creating process and pause devices one-by-one.

Hitting “Skip”…

How to Configure a Proxy Server on Android

Android allows you to configure proxy settings for each Wi-Fi network. This is sometimes required to access the Internet on a business or school network, for example. Your browser traffic will be sent through the proxy you configure.

The proxy you configure will be used by Chrome and other web browsers, but may not be used by other apps. Each app developer can choose whether it uses Android’s proxy or not. That’s another good reason why you should use a VPN instead of a proxy. WIth a VPN, you can force all app’s network traffic through the VPN connection. It’s a better way to hide your IP address or access geoblocked websites that aren’t available in your country.

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This process is the same for all modern versions of Android, from Android 4.0 through 7.1. Some device manufacturers change the way Android’s Settings screen looks and functions, so you may find your Wi-Fi or proxy settings in a slightly different location.

Open Android’s Settings app and tap “Wi-Fi” to view a list of Wi-Fi networks.

Long-press the name of the Wi-Fi network you want to change the proxy settings for. Tap “Modify Network” when a menu appears.

If you haven’t already connected to the Wi-Fi network, you’ll need to connect to the Wi-Fi network and enter its passphrase before…