Command and control dashboard - Google Home Hub

According to Squarespace’s analytics, one of my most popular posts on S&S has been the command and control dashboard I made about a million years ago that allowed me to casually control my lighting etc. from an always-on android tablet. I started to build a version 2, intending to make something a little more charming and polished, but then something happened.

I bought a Google Home Hub.

Google Home Hub in picture frame mode

Google Home Hub in picture frame mode

This little tablet-screen format Google Home is pretty much exactly what I had wanted in the first place.  

It’s a really attractive piece of physical and digital interface design. It sits merrily in my kitchen informing me of all sorts of things around the house.  It tells me about my calendar, it shows me who is at my front-door (via the nest doorbell) and I can pull up the backyard camera to see what the squirrels are up to instantly. I can ask it to play me YouTube videos or make phone calls. It’s really good and well thought-out and I’m seriously tempted to get a second one for my home office.

Google Home Hub showing rooms and controls

Google Home Hub showing rooms and controls

It has most of the elements I wanted from a custom dashboard - I can pull down screens to show light switches in rooms and toggle them on and off or adjust dimmers and such, and see how things are currently set.  My only real complaint is that I can’t set to be a dashboard-first i.e. show that as the default screen instead of my calendar and the weather.  I also wish I could just install this Google Home Hub software on any small tablet or phone (even if that was restricted to Android models).  I could imagine having mini dashboards in other rooms, that way.

Google Home Hub quick overview home control screen

Google Home Hub quick overview home control screen

Minor requests aside, if you’re googling around for a simple command and control dashboard for your SmartThings or similar Google Assistant-compatible smart home systems, check it out. It’s a lot less faff than installing some custom code I forked on github once, I promise.

Flic button review

Last week, I had a delivery of a set of Flic buttons.  They're simply small, low-energy bluetooth buttons that can be used to control... well... almost anything you like!

The form factor is really nice - they're about the size of a stack of 4 US quarters, come with a sticky back and are covered in nice, soft silicon in a range of colours.  You can also additionally add a clip to the back so you can wear the button on clothing or clipped to a bag.  The production values on them are really good and they feel like quality buttons.  They have a pleasing LED red light inside them that glows through the inset text when they're being configured and the button press feels responsive and "pleasingly pushable", if you know what I mean.

To try them out, I set up a button for my husband.  You see, in our bedroom, I control all the lights via a small remote (the Aeon Minimote), however I often fall asleep first and then my husband grumbles that the remote is "all the way" on my side of the bed and he has to fumble with his phone, find the app, turn everything off, blah blah. 

So, I gave him the first Flic button to do the same things on his side of the bed - the button is stuck to the side of his night stand.  A single press turns off all the lights, a longer press turns the night stand lights on.  It took less than a couple of minutes to set up the whole process, including creating the IFTTT channels to talk to SmartThings.

The buttons took seconds to pair with my phone (Android Marshmallow, Nexus 5x) and the app itself is nicely designed with lots of ready-to-use options, plus having IFTTT and a HTTP channel means that if you're into DIY/coding you've got an even wider set of options.  The app has some cute details including wobbling the buttons in the app as they're pressed in the real world.


The buttons are nicely made, easy to use and convenient for shortcuts.  They take normal coin-cell batteries and should last a good long time.  They do however need to be within 50 metres of the paired phone, so if you want to set them up to work when the connected phone is not in range, you're out of luck. 

The cost is somewhat prohibitive.  They're $34 each!  I bought my on pre-order way back in July - getting a set of 3 + clip for $99 + $10 shipping. They're currently selling packs of 4 for the same price ($99 + $10), so given that I pre-ordered and waited 6 months for them, I'm not exactly over the moon that they didn't give me the option to change my order to a pack of 4.  If you're looking for buttons to control a z-wave system, the Aeon Minimote is less than $30 and has 4 buttons with multiple modes and doesn't requite a permanent phone connection.

If you don't mind the money and you intend to use them as a companion to your phone's presence, the buttons are sound, nice to use and the software so far is good.  I've heard on the grapevine that iOS users are having trouble getting them paired (the Amazon reviews are certainly leaning that way), so you might want to check on that before shelling out, however.