Xiaomi’s answer to Smart things has one major flaw

Xiaomi’s Mi home is an inexpensive alternative to Samsung’s Smart Things, The design is slick, the automation is great, but there’s just one unfortunate flaw.

This indepth review of Xiaomi’s Mi home will tell you everything you need to know in typical Paul Hibbert style.

LINKS:
Xiaomi mi home: https://goo.gl/XCYBCR
Samsung smart things starter kit: https://amzn.to/2JITTvW

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A complete guide to connecting the Broadlink RM pro and Broadlink Blackbean to Alexa

This is a fairly complete guide to connecting the RM pro to Alexa and Google Home.

 

To understand this complicated mess you’ll need some History:

Broadlink took so long to create an official skill that a 3rd party developer created their own trick to make it work by using an Android device to advertise the devices to Alexa.  The software that makes this work is called the RM plugin and it still works today if you have an older version of the RM pro (RM2+ and backwards).  In my opinion this is still the most versatile way to control the RM pro as it opens up other opportunities for automation.

Later on Broadlink decided to have their own go at Alexa control and created an official skill, but they only released it in America.¬† They also made it so it could only control Infrared devices such as TV’s and set top boxes, it can’t control RF.

 

I was told of a way of tricking Amazon into thinking I was in America so I could use the official skill, and from there I came up with a way of tricking the Broadlink into controlling RF devices (Light switches, plug sockets etc)

 

There is now even more confusion because Broadlink recently came up with a way to stop my trick and as of today the official skill can only control Infrared again.¬† Their block only works on the more recent RM pros though so now everyone is trying to find an old one and everyone is super confused about what works and what doesn’t.

 

Thanks Broadlink!

To make it even MORE confusing the latest RM pros do not work with the original Android method either because the RM plugin software can’t detect the new devices.

 

If you’re in the UK and your RM pro is a recent model then your only real option is to wait for them to release the official skill in your country (February 2018 they reckon) and hope that they’ve included RF support (no date specified yet)

 

How to tell what version of the RM pro you have
The RM plugin is the only reliable way of knowing what version of the RM pro you have, if it can’t detect it at all then you probably have the RM pro+ and you’re stuck waiting for Broadlink.¬† If it can detect it then it will tell you what model you have and you may have a way forward with the original method at least, though it may require a firmware change on the RM pro to enable the RM plugin to control it.¬† A simple procedure, but choose the wrong firmware and you will brick the device!¬† Check the FAQ section of the RM plugin and it will advise what firmware to install and how to install it.

 

What about Google Home?
If you have Google home then the official Broadlink service for Google home can control RF but not IR, so it has the opposite problem to Alexa!  There is a way to trick it to control IR however, so Google home is actually the best way to control the RM pro at present!
 
See the links below for guides on each aspect of this sordid mess:

 

How to control the RM pro using an Android device (RM pro 2+ and ealier only): https://youtu.be/DJIhEyMQ0TI

 

How to trick Amazon into thinking you live in the US (Not suitable if you use Amazon music or Kindle as it breaks them, but is reversible and causes no lasting damage): https://youtu.be/dO5rExW-7I8

 

How to use the official skill to control RF if you’re in the US (or at least pretending)¬†(RM pro 2+ and earlier only):¬†https://youtu.be/Lg4HQhN5KXo

 

How Broadlink broke everything on purpose: https://youtu.be/FWRrQ-_uwEs

 

How to control RF with Google home: https://youtu.be/RoJHFzh971U

 

Which models are affected and how are they affected?:
MODELS ARE AFFECTED AS FOLLOWS:
RM2 : Unaffected
RM2+ : Does not work with the ‘official skill work around’ but does work with RM plugin method (requires firmware change)
RM03 : does not work with either method
RM PRO+ : does not work with either method
Drawbacks of each method:
Official skill

 

  • If you convince Alexa you live in the states then Amazon music and the Kindle book store won’t work.¬† They are the only two drawbacks and can easily be reversed by simply undoing the trick.
  • The official skill will allow you to control TV’s and that’s about it.¬† In order to control RF devices like plug sockets and light switches you can trick the Broadlink skill by using this video:¬†https://youtu.be/Lg4HQhN5KXo
Android method
  • It requires an always on Android device
Benefits of each method:
Official skill
  • Doesn’t require an Android device
Android method
  • Less of a hack, Amazon music and Kindle still work
  • Allows you to do more with the android device as a remote for people who don’t want to use Alexa:¬†https://youtu.be/GxpG8G21was
  • Allows for more automation such as tasker and IFTTT control

Once you’ve chosen and implemented a method, and started having some fun with it you will want to look at creating custom commands so you can say more than just “on” and “off”, i.e. “Alexa, it’s time to go to sleep” might trigger all the lights off at once.¬† This video will show you how to do that:¬†https://youtu.be/yaxIaPPRXt

Current bugs and the fixes! :
  • When trying to enable the Philips Hue skill in the Alexa app you may be asked to press the button on¬† the bridge before it will enable! If you don’t have a bridge you can’t, but never fear just login with my details below instead and the skill will skip the button press ūüėČ
Username: Testbed@paulhibbert.co.uk
Password: testbed1

 

Where can I buy an older model?

You can’t ūüôĀ¬† You can never be certain that the seller won’t assume you want the latest model.¬† The safest thing you can do is wait for all this to blow over.¬† If you want to try anyway then I suggest you ask the seller directly and explain your motivations.¬† Ask if he has any old stock he’s looking to get rid of.

My video has caused some confusion and people are looking for a red base RM pro.¬† My red base is simply because my RM pro is ancient and came from a very brief time frame before they changed the design to black and repurposed the red base for the RM home which can’t do RF!¬† You will not find a red based RM pro!¬† If you find a red based design it will more likely be the old RM Home, and YOU DO NOT WANT THAT!!!¬† Do not buy a red base RM pro, you will be disappointed.

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Hope that helps.
-P

RM pro versus Harmony hub

Intro

I’ve been asked a few times now by subscribers whether the Harmony hub is really worth it when it comes to voice automation with Alexa, so here’s my two cents.

 

Harmony Hub


Logitech are big players and there’s no denying that there is some security in that. ¬†Your gear is going to be reliable and Amazon are less likely to suddenly put the kybosh on your experience than they might with a¬†little known gadget from China.

The Harmony hub¬†is a nicely packaged product with some beautiful craftsmanship, so the real question is whether or not you can afford the price tag and whether or not you’re happy to live with a device that despite it’s good looks can only really blast Infrared.

Perhaps right now you’re perfectly happy just controlling the TV and your set top box, but if you hang around me for long enough you’ll probably catch the bug and wish you could ask Alexa to trigger “cinema mode” and watch her dim the lights.

RM Pro

So this is where my preferred device comes into play: the RM pro.  

The RM pro can blast both infrared and RF and will currently set you back just £30 on Amazon, which is a 3rd of the price tag of the cheapest Harmony hub.

There is one small snag; the RM pro is not natively controllable via Alexa… ¬†BUT there is a hack that will take just¬†20 minutes of effort and a spare Android device. ¬†It is an amazingly reliable solution and it’s really satisfying to feel like you cheated Logitech out of ¬£70. ¬†You can see my easy to follow tutorial here

Controlling Infrared and RF in one handy package means you can create scenes such as “Cinema mode” which can dim the lights, draw the curtains, turn your TV to the right source, power up your Blu ray player, turn on your popcorn machine. ¬†There is no limit to what you can control and it will honestly leave you feeling like Harry Potter.

The problem with voice control for your TV

For both devices the commands are limited to “on” or “off” which makes for limited use. ¬†I tend to use “turn BBC one on” amongst some other neat shortcuts, but you can’t browse the TV guide or turn the volume up and down for example. ¬†It’s not like it’s impossible, it’s just seriously ugly. ¬†Who wants to say “turn guide on, turn up on, turn up on, turn select on”?

This brings us to the issue with both devices: ¬†Navigating your¬†TV guide with your voice is the dream right?…

I honestly don’t think that it is. ¬†Having used voice control for my Media Centre for years I can tell you that voice control is great for shortcuts like “play the latest available episode of X”, but you can’t beat a remote or an app on your phone for browsing through movies and shows.

For those of you thinking “Logitech won’t let me down, they will make the skill better in time”, I’ve got an opinion you won’t much like; ¬†I am reasonably confident that Logitech have abandoned their Alexa skill and here’s why:

  1. They can’t know what set top box you have
  2. They don’t know who your TV service provider is
  3. They don’t know what country you are in
  4. They know the end user experience will be a frustrating menagerie of miss-heard commands, repeating yourself and calling Alexa names.

Imagine trying to write code that works one way for a Virgin customer, that works differently for a Sky customer, that dials different numbers for different channels depending on what country you are in,  that knows which channels you are subscribed to, and that knows which IR signal to send to fire up your TV  guide.  The combinations are mind boggling and it is precisely the reason that they leave it to you to program the thing up.  The Alexa control is a nice afterthought that was easy to implement.

The big hurdle Alexa developers all face

The biggest hurdle Logitech face is getting Alexa to remain listening as you navigate but stop listening when you’re done choosing. ¬†and also know that “play” ¬†and “pause” ¬†mean the TV and not your Spotify account and volume up means your TV and not Alexa herself.

Perhaps Amazon will help them out by having Alexa remember she’s watching TV so the commands are applicable during that session, but I can’t see it. ¬†I imagine the discussion has already happened and Amazon have offered a compromise command: “Ask Harmony to XYZ” and Logitech have figured it isn’t worth it.

Final thoughts

If I had all the money in the world I would still buy an RM pro, scratch that, I would buy 3 RM pros for 3 different rooms because it’s a 3rd of the price of the Harmony hub.

In summation the RM pro is cheaper, more capable and more malleable.  In my opinion there is absolutely no contest.

That said if Logitech want to send me a hub for review I won’t say no ūüėČ

Happy automating,

-P