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Google Assistant Should Be Ashamed of Its Smart Home Routines

For years I’ve said that automation is the key to great smart homes. Voice controls are nice, but a system that anticipates your needs is better. Despite preferring Google smart home devices, I can’t switch to them entirely. Why? Because Google Assistant routines are trash. Google should be ashamed.

Automation comes in several forms in the smart home world. Traditionally to get great automation, you’d want a smart home hub like Hubitat or Home Assistant. And while it’s true, Hubitat’s automation capabilities outstrip Google or Alexa by far; the truth is most average people don’t need a traditional smart home hub anymore.

Both Alexa and Google can serve as the “modern hub” and tie together smart home devices. In the past few years, I’ve noticed a trend towards Wi-Fi-powered smart home devices and away from ZigBee and Z-Wave (Philips Hue being the major holdout). That turn makes the idea of relying on traditional smart home hubs more difficult in the first place.

Both Alexa and Google offer smart home automation through routines—commands that run on their own based on a trigger your choose. It doesn’t have to be a voice; it could be controlled by schedules like at sunset or sunrise—or more.

What Routines Can Do

Smart blinds lower in a living room.Shade Shop

So why is automation essential, and what can routines do anyway? If you have a smart home now, think about how you primarily interact with it. Chances are, it’s probably by voice or through an app. If you need to turn a light on, you ask a smart speaker or pull out your phone. Some would argue that’s not much more convenient than flipping the light switch.

The same goes for smart plugs, blinds, locks, and more. Realistically speaking, with just voice or app control, the convenience level isn’t much better than the old-fashioned way of doing things. Automations, on the other hand, change the game. Instead of your home reacting to your commands, it can anticipate your needs.

In my home, I have scheduled automations that fire every day. In the morning, my coffee maker outlet turns on, the blinds in our two home offices rise to let in light. As evening approaches, the blinds lower automatically, and doors lock themselves. And the coffee outlet that turned on in the morning? That powered down before lunch.

The Alexa app showing many routines.I have at least two dozen routines with various triggers.

Speaking of the doors, we sometimes forget to lock them when we leave home. So four minutes after we unlock a door, it locks itself—no more forgetting. But we don’t just have automations on a schedule. When the sun sets, the lights in the dining room, kitchen, and elsewhere automatically turn themselves on when we enter a room. When we leave, they turn back off. My family doesn’t have to ask; it just happens based on our presence.

That’s thanks to motion sensors in each room and a routine that fires on some basic logic. If the sensor detects motion, it triggers a routine that turns on the lights in that room. When the sensor stops seeing motion, it triggers a second routine to turn the lights back off. Other routines occur when I leave home, or when I come back thanks to a location trigger.

When someone opens our mailbox, a sensor just inside triggers yet another routine to announce in the home that “the mail is here.” In my home, routines trigger due to schedules, voice commands, smart device functions, camera notifications, and more. We still use voice commands, but often we don’t have to because my smart home already did what I needed before I asked.

But that’s no thanks to Google.

Except Google Can’t Do Most Of That

Two lists, the one of the left much longer.Alexa’s Triggers on the left, Google’s Starters on the right.

When I’d advise most people exploring smart homes for the first time, I tell them to pick an ecosystem and stick with it. Choose Alexa or Google Assistant; most people don’t need both. I prefer Google Assistant for voice commands and Nest Hub displays for their fantastic photo capabilities. Despite that, I’m breaking my own advice and have Alexa and Echo smart speakers in my home.

Part of that is because of my job—I write about smart homes, so having a little of everything on hand is helpful. But the other part is because while I prefer Google’s smart home devices, its routines are astoundingly awful. I keep Alexa around for the routines.

The problem is, Google doesn’t approach routines the same way Amazon does with Alexa. Over on Alexa, routines are treated as a total smart home solution. But on Google Assistant, routines look more like a “voice command replacement.” You can create routines that fire off several functions from a single voice command, for instance. That can be handy if you want to turn off multiple lights throughout the home with a simple “good night” command.

But beyond that, your “starter” (Google’s equivalent to Alexa’s “trigger”) choices are limited. You can choose voice command, time, sunrise/sunset, and “dismiss an alarm.” That’s it. Compare that to Alexa, where you can select voice command, schedule, smart home devices, location, alarms, echo button, sound detection, and guard. All those extra choices add up quickly.

On Alexa, I can create routines that trigger from the smart sensors in my home. Confusingly those same sensors show in the Google Home app, but I can’t make routines for them or in the Google Assistant app. If converted over to a Google-powered smart home entirely, my smart lights would no longer turn on and off as I move through my home. My mailbox would stop telling me when the mail arrives. My smart locks wouldn’t even lock themselves anymore—unless I turned to another app.

Why Doesn’t Google Fix The Problem?

An illustration of the Google Home app and Nest devices.Google

If Google really wanted to, it could easily make its routines more powerful. This is a company that leads in voice assistant capabilities. The same company that turned photo storage on the side of its head and created a new A.I. that makes its smart displays the best smart displays. Google designed camera software that kicked off a new revolution in night photos. And at the same time, Google created a system that gave Pixel’s phone capabilities superpowers. It’s no stranger to advanced concepts in A.I., smart home, or advanced coding concepts.

Yet while Amazon continually adds to its routine options, like a recent new feature that triggers routines from the sound of a dog barking or a baby crying, while Google occasionally adds new features. Google only recently added basic scheduling and delay options, things Amazon added to Alexa years ago. Alexa will even act on “hunches” and turn off lights or other devices when the system notices you accidentally left things on overnight or when you aren’t home. Google doesn’t have anything like that.

In comparison, Google’s routines and automations are a joke. And it’s frustrating because it leaves me maintaining two smart home systems in my home: one for voice commands and the other for automation. In smart homes, that’s the opposite of what you want. And Google, through its drive with the Matter smart home initiative, talks a big game about a universal system where it won’t “matter” what devices you won.


Until Google’s smart home routines catch up to at least Amazon’s progress, it’s hard to see the truth in that at all. Right now, if you want the best smart home voice commands and the best accessible automations, then you need a home full of Google smart speakers and displays and one Amazon Echo. The Echo will get you the routines, and Google’s hardware can do the rest.

But that’s not the dream of the smart home. No one wants to maintain two systems and hop back and forth between apps. And frankly, that’s Google’s fault. It’s an unforced error that’s preventing Google from truly dominating in the smart home realm. And we’re worse off for it. Google should be ashamed. And the first step is admitting the problem. Google routines are inferior compared to the competition. The second step? Fix it. Sooner than later.

Source: https://www.reviewgeek.com/101223/google-assistant-should-be-ashamed-of-its-smart-home-routines/
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The Article Was Written/Published By: Josh Hendrickson

‘Meat peripherals’: brain interfaces are coming, says Steam president Gabe Newell

Interviewed by New Zealand’s 1 News, Gabe Newell (of Valve and Steam fame) says “meat peripherals” are coming. You will enjoy them.

Newell admits some of the ideas may seem incredible, and said some of the discussions he’s having around BCIs are “indistinguishable from science fiction” — but according to him, game developers would be making a mistake by not investigating BCIs within the short-term future.

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Source: https://boingboing.net/2021/01/25/meat-peripherals-brain-interfaces-are-coming-says-steam-president-gabe-newell.html
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The Article Was Written/Published By: Rob Beschizza

Why I’m Finally Getting Rid of All My HDDs Forever

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There are a handful of gadget-related sounds that fill my heart with dread, but few are more fear-inducing than the repeated tick-tick-tick of a dying hard disk drive. I’ve been hurt by that sound more than a few times in my life. So this year I finally tasked myself with a quest to get rid of all my HDDs and really…

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Source: https://gizmodo.com/why-im-finally-getting-rid-of-all-my-hdds-forever-1845711147
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The Article Was Written/Published By: Sam Rutherford

Are Smart Homes Worth the Investment?

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Converting to a smart home might seem expensive and complicated at first, but do the benefits outweigh the cost and hassle? Let’s check out why setting up a smart home is a good investment of your time and money.

Read This Article on How-To Geek ›

Source: https://www.howtogeek.com/446854/yes-smarthomes-are-worth-the-investment/
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The Article Was Written/Published By: Josh Hendrickson

Blockchain, the amazing solution for almost nothing

Blockchains are less buzzworthy than they were a couple of years ago, and for good reason — the price you pay for a blockchain’s immutability compared to the price of a database plus human oversight isn’t worth it. Jesse Frederik wrote about the decline of blockchains for The Correspondent:

Out of over 86,000 blockchain projects that had been launched, 92% had been abandoned by the end of 2017, according to consultancy firm Deloitte. 

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Source: https://boingboing.net/2020/10/09/blockchain-the-amazing-solution-for-almost-nothing.html
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The Article Was Written/Published By: Mark Frauenfelder

The Hole Punch Camera Is the Best Front Camera

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We talk a lot about phone cameras, but those conversations generally revolve around the rear camera. I want to flip things and talk about the humble front facing camera today—more specifically, the hole punch camera (sometimes also called a hole punch display). Of all the different types of selfie cameras on the market today, I think this one is the best. Here’s why.

Read This Article on Review Geek ›

Source: https://www.reviewgeek.com/53613/the-hole-punch-camera-is-the-best-front-camera/
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The Article Was Written/Published By: Cameron Summerson

Windows Me, 20 Years Later: Was It Really That Bad?

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Twenty years ago, the turn of the millenium saw some serious software bugs. No, we’re not talking about Y2K here: We’re talking about Windows Me. Dubbed “Windows Mistake Edition” by PCWorld, Windows Me is not remembered fondly by many.

Read This Article on How-To Geek ›

Source: https://www.howtogeek.com/688861/windows-me-20-years-later-was-it-really-that-bad/
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The Article Was Written/Published By: Chris Hoffman

External PC Drive Bays Are Dying, And That Sucks

Two 5.25-inch drive bays: one a standard DVD drive, the other a 3.5-inch card reader in an adapter.bump Michael Crider

Even now that PC gaming is a bigger market than ever, those who build their own desktops are niche customers. So when I talk about desktop PC cases, I do so knowing my position represents a niche of a niche, and one that might fairly be criticized as old-fashioned. That said: Let’s talk about external drive bays!

Even more specifically, about the 5.25-inch external drive bay—the one that holds a CD DVD Blu-ray removable disc-based media drive. Please don’t kill it, PC case makers. I’m begging you.

Hard to Find

A couple of months ago, deep in the work-from-home malaise of the pandemic, I decided to upgrade my desktop PC’s case. I’d been using the Fractal Design R4 for my desktop for almost eight years, carrying it across three major system rebuilds and more individual parts than I can remember. I wanted something with a more modern internal layout for better cable routing, maybe easier-to-access bays for my hard drive and SSD, and—the real draw—a fancy USB-C port on the front panel.

So, I got to looking. In order to keep all of my current hardware, I’d need to find a case with two external drive bays, because I use a standard 5.25-inch DVD drive (the oldest dustiest piece in my case, which has been pulling sterling service since my very first PC build 12 years ago) and a camera card reader, which is technically a 3.5-inch drive in a 5.25-inch adapter. A 3.5-inch bay is the one you might remember as the “floppy drive.”

So, I plugged my needs into Newegg’s handy search filters: full-sized ATX motherboard case, at least one USB-C port on the front, two 5.25-inch drive bays. Here’s what I got:

Newegg screenshot

“Alright,” I thought, “External drive bays have kind of gone out of fashion now that everyone’s streaming movies and downloading games from Steam. I’ll have to settle for just one, and pick between my DVD drive and my card reader. Let’s drop the 5.25-inch bay requirements down to one.”

Oh dear.

Newegg screenshot

As it turned out, I could find precisely one modern ATX case with both a front USB-C port and one (and only one) 5.25-inch bay: the Fractal Design Define 7, the spiritual descendant of my own Define R4. So, I ordered it … and found out that, while my 1.5-year-old motherboard can handle the USB 3.0 connector necessary for some USB-C ports, it doesn’t have the 3.1 gen 2 connector that the R7 case uses.

So, in order to use this very fancy very expensive case, I’d need to ditch either my trusty dusty DVD drive or the camera card reader that I use on a regular basis, and I’d have to go without access to the USB-C port I wanted in the first place. Alternately, I could replace my motherboard, for something approaching a full PC rebuild—for another $300 or so.

Fractal Design Define 7There’s a 5.25-inch bay in there somewhere. If you look. Really hard.

I sent the Define 7 back, and shoved all my parts back into my old R4. I could find a similar case to the one I’m using now, but it wouldn’t have access to USB-C, and my current case isn’t so useless that I’m ready to ditch it. I’ll upgrade my PC case eventually, but it looks like this one’s going to make it to double digits in years.

Discs Aren’t Dead

As someone who hasn’t bought a physical game in years, I’m an odd champion for the physical disc drive, if not the disc itself. But it’s worth pointing out that physical media, while absolutely on the decline, still has some utility left.

The most obvious application here is movies. Cinemaphiles still demand Blu-ray for their gigantic uncompressed video files, especially now that more and more are coming in 4K: That’s why you shouldn’t watch a movie like Into the Spider-verse on a streaming platform (if you can help it). To say nothing of the arbitrary and somewhat random nature of actually buying movies on streaming—if a movie I want isn’t available on a platform I’m currently paying for, it’s often much cheaper to buy the DVD or Blu-ray than to buy it (or even rent it!) on a streaming platform.

Blu-ray discsOngala/Shutterstock.com

Which brings up another point: for some people, getting shipped physical media is the best option! When I was living in rural Texas, streaming a movie for two hours was less than a given on an unlimited LTE connection. Getting a 50GB Steam game might take a week or more. Going to the store or ordering something off of Amazon made more sense on a regular basis. Even Microsoft acknowledged this, offering the massive Flight Simulator 2020 in an admittedly unwieldy 10-DVD physical edition.

And that ignores the vast libraries of music and movies that many people already own in disc format. Plenty of people like to digitize that—bloated Plex libraries are an indication—and need a disc drive to do so. Sure, it’s possible to do that with an external disc drive, but then what’s the point of having a gigantic ultra-customizable desktop PC in the first place?

More Options Are Better

I’ve already said that my situation—needing or at least wanting a weird combination of the latest ports and compatibility with older equipment—is niche. But catering to niches via flexibility is what building your own PC is all about!

Multi-card readerStarTech

Take that card reader, sitting in the second 5.25-inch bay via a 3.5-inch adapter. I have to take photos for reviews on a regular basis—my photos need to be higher-quality than my phone can handle, and my camera’s old enough that Wi-Fi transfers are achingly slow. So a dedicated gadget inside my PC is great, both for the standard SD card and the occasional microSD transfer for fooling around with phones.

But that’s hardly the only use for a full-sized drive bay. Another common alternative for this space is a hot-swap hard drive bay, which allows users to insert and remove massive amounts of storage for high-speed transfers instantly. Gamers and enthusiasts like to use this space as a dedicated fan or light controller. If nothing else works, you can add just tons and tons of USB ports, connected directly to your motherboard.

A full-sized hard drive bay.Kingwin

More creative uses for the space include an unobtrusive reservoir for liquid cooling, or a handy little hidey-hole for your screws and tools, secondary status screens, or even a cup holder. (Okay, maybe not that last one.)

Admittedly, some of these uses for the 5.25-inch drive bay are more practical than others. But in a product category that includes pyramids and cruise ships and whatever the hell this thing is, I think a modern case with modern ports and the option for some old-school expansion isn’t too much to ask for.

Source: https://www.reviewgeek.com/53190/i-dont-want-desktop-pc-external-drives-or-drive-bays-to-die/
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The Article Was Written/Published By: Michael Crider