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Archos Smart Home Starter Pack review: This Android security and automation kit lacks focus

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The Good The Archos Smart Home Starter Pack includes an Android tablet, two Mini-Cams, two Weather Tags, and two Movement Tags -- all for $250 (£200).

The Bad Archos' awkward "tablet" hub operates like an Android tablet without any of the mobility, making the interface largely unusable and its role in the kit questionable.

The Bottom Line While you may be tempted by the promise of value, Archos' sloppy Smart Home Starter Pack fails at a fundamental level.

4.8 Overall
  • Features 6
  • Usability 4
  • Design 4
  • Performance 5

The $250 (£200 in the UK, Australian availability not yet announced) Archos Smart Home Starter Pack is a security and automation system that comes with an Android tablet, two cameras, two motion sensors, and two temperature and humidity sensors. Pair the accessories to the tablet using Bluetooth and set up rules like, "If the door opens, take a photo/video," or "If the indoor temperature drops below 65 degrees Fahrenheit, send me a push notification." That's a fair number of features for an entry-level DIY kit.

Unfortunately, the system's core design doesn't make a lot of sense. The included Android "tablet" has the ergonomics of an alarm clock and the screen quality of same. And since it functions as the linking hub for the various accessories in the kit, it's mostly designed to stay in one place. Hobbled by the tablet, and laden with cheap-feeling accessories, this kit feels more like an attempt to cash-in on the hype surrounding the smart home. Look to SmartThings and other kits for more robust alternatives in the same price range.

Design and features

Archos' Smart Home Starter Pack looks pretty nice at-a-glance. The tablet and related accessories have a white finish that's subtle enough to blend into most rooms. There's also a distinct plasticky feel to these components, causing me to question their long-term durability.

The tablet has a low-resolution 7-inch display and runs Jelly Bean (Android 4.2.2). Like other standard Android tablets, you can use it to access the internet, email, music, the Google Play App Store and so on. It also has a webcam, a light sensor, a microphone, a speaker, a temperature sensor, a microSD card slot, a Micro-USB port, a headphone jack, a reset button, and, confusingly, a built-in stand.

A profile shot of the Archos tablet. Colin West McDonald/CNET

The build-in stand hump makes this tablet much more of a stationary home-automation hub than an easily-transportable mobile device. That means it has the functionality of a tablet without any of the ease-of-use. And even if it didn't have that awkward stand, the other accessories pair to it via Bluetooth. In other words, if you move the tablet out of range or power it down, the related accessories won't work at all. That solidifies this "tablet" as a relatively permanent fixture on your coffee table or other centrally-located spot.

The kit also comes with two Mini-Cams. These round cameras measure roughly 1.5 inches and run on three CR2450 coin cell batteries each. They have a 110-degree viewing angle, a 640x480 resolution, and come with magnetic bases for easy angle positioning. Regrettably, they can't be used for live monitoring or long-term recording. Instead, you can set up rules for the cameras to take photos or video clips after a motion alert or other triggering event.

The two accelerometer-equipped Movement Tags and two temperature and humidity-sensing Weather Tags run on one CR2430 coin cell battery each. They measure roughly 1.5 inches long by 1.5 inches wide by 0.5 inches deep and have adhesive backs for fast installation. The Movement Tags come with magnetic contacts that detect opening doors and windows. All of the accessories are waterproof and have a roughly 65-foot Bluetooth range.

Usability and performance

The setup was fairly straightforward. I powered on the tablet and logged in using a Gmail account. Then, I was able to access the already-downloaded Archos Smart Home app and start pairing the accessories. The app lets you create a mirror of your accessory setup so you can monitor your house in a more systematic way. So, if you have one Weather Tag in your bedroom and the other in your living room, you can track the current temperature and humidity by room in the app, too.

Pairing the cameras, motion sensors, and weather sensors was painless. Go to the "accessories" section in the app, hit the plus button on the top right corner, select the product you want to add, and follow the instructions. It will tell you to push the pairing button on the accessory until the red pairing light starts to flash. Then, hit "start" and the app will take care of the rest.

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