I’m one of the people around the office to really get excited when new home automation products surface, but I’m not blind to their shortcomings. I’ve used a lot of smart home gadgets personally, and it’s impossible to deny they are generally pretty expensive, and often times overly complicated. To some extent it’s understandable, knowing how much research and development go into the production of a startup product. But it is also really off-putting to fork out a heap of cash and take a chance on a seemingly cool new product, only to end up frustrated that it didn’t work as expected.
Garadget is aiming for their solution changes all that, by developing a smart garage door module that allows users to control the garage, get usage updates, and reminders about forgotten open doors remotely. Since their device piggybacks off the system already in place, they claim it is simple to use and far more affordable than other options.
My garage door motor is over 20 years old, and uses the rudimentary DIP switches for remote programming, so I figured my house would be a good test to see if this product could really make the average home smarter.
The connected home
The startup Garadget is backed by both crowdfunding on Indiegogo and Arrow Electronics certification, and their main integration into the home is via Wi-Fi. This is ideal for those that don’t have an automation system in place with another protocol, but for those that do there are actually a wide variety of optional integrations.
For the more veteran home automation users, Garadget works with SmartThings, Alexa Skills, IFTTT, OpenHAB binding, Home assistant cover, Vera, Pebble App, HomeSeer plugin, and Apple HomeKit. While that covers a pretty wide array of applications, it can also connect via REST API OAuth2 to Raspberry Pi, Arduino, or a PC which allows developers to access the open platform and customize it even further.
How the smart garage works
The simplicity of the whole concept is part of its beauty, though I will admit I was a bit skeptical when it showed up in a simple brown cardboard box without much in the way of instructions. That’s bucking the trend of Home Automation companies that use stylish, Apple-esque packaging, but I’m more of a “products speak louder than fancy packaging” guy. Also, for $89 I’m definitely not complaining yet.
The unit works by shooting a laser across the garage, which targets a reflective patch placed on the upper portion of the door. If the laser hits the patch and it bounces back to the photosensor, the garage is registered as closed. If the photosensor cannot get a reading from the laser, the door is registered as open. This can cause issues if the laser isn’t aligned properly to start with.
A ton of advanced development goes into the workings of the system, but the idea is quite simple (and practical). There are other smart garage door openers on the market (some of which I have used) that require sensors to be placed on both the door and the track, all wired back to a control unit that plugs into the opener. Those can be complicated and hard to set up.
Setting up a smart garage
Speaking of the setup, getting the Garadget up and running is extremely simple and takes about 10 minutes or so. Using the included cables and plugs, a power wire goes into the outlet, while wires connect the Garadget to the same contact points the garage door button uses. The new wires just slip right in alongside the old ones, still allowing access via the push-button.
The adhesive-backed reflector is affixed to the upper portion of the garage door, so the laser can make contact when the door is closed. The next steps are to download the app, register, and connect the device via Wi-Fi (the method I used), and it’s all good to go.
One downside to the setup is that the recommended method for attaching the device to the garage motor housing via adhesive pads. Granted in most circumstances with proper surface prep it should work fine, but if the adhesive becomes heated or comes loose the laser will not make contact with the reflector and things get wonky. Since it gets pretty hot in many garages, I would add a Velcro strap for safety.
Cell phone remote
Since the entire utility of this device hangs on having a sound integration with other devices (namely your cell phone via the app), this is a pretty important area for Garadget to prove itself. The app operates on iOS8 + or Android 4 +, and on my Android it worked without glitches or crashing. The simple remote function of opening and closing was snappy, and the door responded instantly when activated.
While not especially advanced in the aesthetics department, the app functioned as well as I would have hoped, and the push notifications were on point. They were useful, without being overly intrusive or sending false positives.
The notifications are triggered when the door is either opened or closed, the door is left open for a period of time, the door is left open past a specific time, or, my favorite, when the door is left open and you leave the premises. These are all useful functions, and help keep the garage protected from negligence, which I find myself guilty of far more than I care to admit.
Shutting the door on the complicated Smart Home
The Garadget has done the exact opposite of what a ton of the Home Automation products out there do. Instead of fancy packing and a stylish interface, they invested heavily into the ease of use and functionality of the product, and left out the fancy packaging or super attractive interface.
My brief initial skepticism was quickly dispatched when I got the unit up and running. I’ve used a few different smart garage devices at this point, and this one fires on all cylinders. It is simple to set up, has all the characteristics of a deep home automation product, and the interface is useful and practical. Add “super affordable” to that list, and I’d say Garadget is an open-and-shut winning case.