How to Automate Tasks with Google Home in 2019

Kasa by TP-Link smart automation.
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I'm live in an Android ecosystem. I go through my day-to-day with a Google Pixel 2 smartphone. I home's heater is controlled by a Nest Thermostat. All four TV in my house have a Google Chromecast. In my home office is a Google Home Mini, to voice control any one of the smart devices. Doors and windows are secured with Nest Secure. To add to the mix, I have a handful of TP-Link smart outlets and light switches. As much as I support the Google ecosystem, I also have to admit that they are painfully slow at releasing new features. Here are my biggest complains with automating tasks with Google Home.

  1. Google Home is mostly controlled via verbal commands
  2. Some verbal commands are "smart", but others have to be said exactly word for word.
  3. Verbal commands are obvious, but not very convenient on a day to day.
  4. Google Routines are very static

Tasks are automated in Google with Routines and TP-Link calls them Scenes. I did look into Samsung SmartThings, but while researching found that there were range issues in larger homes and hubs may need to be swapped out every couple of years. Additionally, SmartThings require all devices to be Samsung hardware, which results in higher price setups.

Verbal Commands

Since the beginning, I was never a fan of triggering tasks with "Ok Google". I find it not only tedious, but difficult to get commands exactly right. For example, I often get "Set Nest Secure to Home and Guarding" mixed up and the command doesn't execute. In addition, verbal commands mean verbally saying the same command over and over everyday. And in my opinion, the most ironic verbal command of turning on/off lights takes longer than just hitting a switch. I know there are other cases where a light switch might not be available, but how much "smarter" would it be if the light could turn on automatically once you enter a room, and if the room is dark?

I was originally hoping to install open source software for smart home integration such as OpenHAB or Home Assistant. Both are well designed, popular, and have smartphone features. There are other options, but those are the two most popular. But even being semi-technical and already running a home server, the time it takes to keep the system running was more trouble than it solved. Often times, these systems don't have bindings for every time of smart device which would force me to purchase expensive hardware and not one's that were routinely on sale. The upside to running my own home server is that major companies would have less ability to "monitor" and "track" commands.

Note that I did try Amazon Echo device, but found them to be much slower and responding when compared to Google Home. Despite the trouble of Google being accused of hording personal information, I feel my information is safer with Google than with Amazon.

Google Routines

This was Google first attempt at automation, and it is extremely limited. For starts, a routine can only be triggered by either a custom voice command, or a time. Custom voice commands are a plus, as you choose one that fits your needs and use it as a shortcut for longer more confusing commands. Time based routines make sense, but in reality, its rare for tasks to execute at the same time everyday.

Google Routines is desperate for a way to dynamic start tasks. A smarter way would be via other triggers such as information from the internet (such as sunrise or sunset) or separate sensors that detect light, temperature, noise, or motion. Other ways to identify people in the house is the existence of a smartphone on the Wifi network. Register that MAC address!

Kasa by TP-Link (solution)

The upside to unifying smart devices (such as smart outlets and smart switches) to Tp-Link is I only need one Android app to register and control. Kasa may not have any sensors, but they do have the ability to turn devices on/off based on the sunset/sunrise. So for my needs, I schedule my Kasa Scenes (same as Google Routines) to turn on porch lights and sunset. I then have Google Home turn the lights off at a scheduled time every night. No more having to worry about change in daylight hours due to daylight savings. So until Google has a better solution, I'm going to continue purchasing Tp-Link devices that can be "smartly" automated.

  • TP-Link Smart Plug - I wait for a sale when they're on sale for $10 each (often times I have to buy 2 or 4 at a time). But these can be stacked and individually programmed. They each also have an on/off switch, but the plugs are often in difficult to reach places making the physical switch useless. I often times hook a dumb power strip to a single plug that can be controlled all or none.
  • TP-Link Smart Light Switch - I only have one of these, but it works well to seamlessly replacing an existing switch. It is a bit challenging to hook up, so my suggestion is to purchase enough and hire an electrician once. It's more convenient than a smart bulb, which can't be controlled once the power to the light is off. I currently only have two that I DIY installed, but plan on purchasing more.
  • TP-Link Smart Power Strip - I don't have one of these yet, as they're more pricey. It allows control over each power plug in the power strip, but I rarely have that need. Instead, I usually just purchase a large pack of Smart Plugs.
  • TP-Link Smart Outlet - I don't have one either, but this works best if you own your home and can replace old outlets. If you're renting, I'd suggest purchasing a Smart Plug instead.
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