Tech for less: It's a trend

RS728189_Ooma Home Monitoring Image (002)
Ooma’s new flood, motion. and door/window sensors ($25-$35) let users of its low cost, $10 a month internet phone service add home monitoring features with no additional service charges.

More affordable home security, car stereos, and health tech options were celebrated at the recent 10th annual CE Week.

The summer consumer electronics show produced by the Philadelphia-based North American Publishing Co. is staged in New York because, you know, it’s “cooler by 90 miles” in Manhattan this time of year.

Oh, oh, Ooma!: Offering free, excellent-quality phone calls in the United States, and low-cost overseas calling, Ooma has long been the best deal going in a VoIP (voice over internet protocol) phone service. Users pay just $99 for internet-connected Ooma Telo hardware, then $5 to $6 a month for taxes.

Now, Ooma is also packing quite the deal for home-security seekers — by adding home monitoring features at no additional cost for phone customers who have upgraded to the still mind-bogglingly cheap $10 a month, plus taxes, Ooma Premier service.

From the git-go, Premier offers two phone lines/numbers instead of one per customer, adds answering phone features, and automatic call forwarding to another number.

Ooma Premier will also ring or text your mobile phone whenever the system senses a disturbance on the home front, as signaled by a user-installed Ooma door or window sensor ($25 each), motion detector ($35), or water-leak detector ($30).

Ooma adds more security features through wireless linkups with Nest devices. It calls your cellphone, and also a designated second number, when a Nest Protect smoke and CO alarm is triggered. And sends the happy news that the kids have returned home, alerted by occupancy sensors built into Nests.

So how does the company get by, offering all that good stuff for free?

No “operators are standing by” to spot and respond to trouble.

Instead, it’s up to you, or your backup alert respondent, to summon the authorities.

But as Ooma vice president for marketing James Gustke explained, “You’re probably going to respond even faster than a security company would to a break-in alert because they normally call the homeowner first before calling the police, to make sure you didn’t set off the alarm accidentally.”

And this is really clever — because you’re then making the 911 call through the Ooma alert/response system, “it knows to channel the call to your local area code 911 service, even if you’re calling from another town.”

At the moment, Ooma security can’t trigger a loud local alarm in the house, chasing bad guys, and rousing the neighbors. Nor will home-security camera images pop up in the app. Fixing both shortcomings looms “high on our to-do list,” Gustke said.

Power players: “Women are responsible for 80 percent of tech purchase decisions,” asserted Switchmate Home founder Dean Finnegan, and they “really get our products.”

A serial inventor who made his first fortune with Pandigital digital picture frames and early e-readers, Finnegan has been going gangbusters of late with smart light switches and smart power outlets that take “a minute or less” to install. Big sellers at Costco, in discounted multipacks, and a better local control solution than “The Clapper¸” low cost ($20 to $45) Switchmates are good for turning lights and fans on and off from upward of 200 feet away via wireless Bluetooth LE signaling.

The devices are instantly overlaid (with magnets or plugs) on top of your current wall switch or socket, then can be remotely triggered with a tap of an app button or with a voice command uttered into your smartphone, Google Home smart speaker, and soon an Amazon Alexa-equipped device.

Switchmates also can be programmed to turn lights on or off at specific times of day, or whenever you walk into or out of range with your smartphone. But you can’t, at present, control Switchmate light switches away from home, as is possible with smarter, WiFi networked alternatives such as Lutron Caseta Wireless light switches.

Be forewarned, the Switchmate motor that mechanically toggles the light switch makes a whirring noise and runs on AA batteries. More preferred — and now doing far better at retail, said Finnegan — is the newer Switchmate Power, an outlet box for use with table and floor lamps. It runs silently, doesn’t need batteries, offers separate control of both smart plugs, sports a USB power port, and a subtle night light and is controllable via both Bluetooth and WiFi.

Finnegan also showed the new, narrower Switchmate Bright light switch ($45) and forthcoming “Simply Smart Cube” — an easily installed indoor/outdoor HD security camera ($150) that promises “the longest battery life in the industry: two years at five minutes per day.” It will connect to your home network by WiFi and transmit images to your phone whenever it senses motion, voice, or the sound of a nearby doorbell going off. No hard wiring is required, even to the bell button!

Car smarts: Pioneer used CE Week to launch its “upgrade your car” marketing campaign with a new lineup of digital media car stereo receivers. While significantly cheaper than predecessors, models such as the $400 MVH-2300NEX boast features such as Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and streaming-music apps from Pandora, Spotify, and I Heart Radio, formerly found only in high-end aftermarket and OEM rigs. What’s missing? CD players have been dropped, to shave $100 off the price tag and because consumers are now “bringing their own music on their phones,” said Pioneer’s Ted Cardenas.

EyeQue: For folks with ongoing vision issues and a medical plan that limits eye doctor visits, the EyeQue Personal Vision Tracker offers an inexpensive between-exams testing mechanism. The DIY eye scope also is useful in determining the best “readers.” With the scope strapped to a smartphone screen, users look through its special viewfinder, adjust what they see, then get a report. The device accurately calculated my astigmatism and magnification needs; online reviews vary from “terrific” to “don’t bother.” Costs $30 at eyeque.com and amazon.com.