As one of the first smart-home products to take advantage of Apple's HomeKit, I wish the Elgato Eve Room was a better communicator. In concept, it's cool, and I noted when I saw it at CES that it can give Siri a sense of smell. In practice, it's a little white box that has one unique trick among its otherwise mundane skill set.
If you want an air quality sensor that can determine the number of volatile organic compounds in the air, while also measuring temperature and humidity, the Elgato Eve Room will do it, chart the numbers for all three criteria, and send the data to your Bluetooth enabled iOS device. Because it's accurate, I can see this device being useful for allergy sufferers, or those painting or doing construction to their home, trying to figure out if the room they've aired out is now safe to inhabit.
You'll pay $80 for this device to get those readings, but that actually isn't exorbitant for a VOC meter. Amongst the three criteria it measures, air quality is the one that helps the Eve Room stand out, but because the device doesn't have push notifications and because it only works with Bluetooth, none of its readings are as useful as they could be. Some of the Elgato Eve Room's limitations might work themselves out as HomeKit gains maturity as a platform. In the meantime, don't let me stop you if you have a specific use in mind for the Elgato Eve Room, but don't waste your money if you're just looking for a broadly applicable HomeKit sensor.
Setting up Apple's smart home
The name Elgato Eve encompasses a family of newly released sensors. Eve Room is the indoor module that measures temp, humidity, and air quality based on its measurements of volatile organic compounds (VOC) in particles per million (ppm). Room costs $80 and is available now from Elgato Eve's website, Amazon, Best Buy and other online electronics dealers.
It's available overseas as well, and priced at €80 in Europe and £70 in the UK specifically. Readers in the UK can purchase the Elgato Eve Room from either the company's site or Amazon.co.uk. For Australia, the price is given in Euros, and converts to roughly AU$118.
The Eve sensors hit the market this summer and were one of the first products available to be specifically designed for Apple's HomeKit -- a smart-home platform built in to iOS 8 and designed to unify the functionality of a variety of third-party sensors under a single rule system. We've already tested the Lutron Lighting Kit , but the rest of Siri's smart-home friends are rolling out slowly.
Once you get the Eve Room set up, you can use Siri to check on the temperature and humidity readings, though unfortunately not the air quality readings. The other members of the Eve family -- the Eve Weather, the Eve Door and Window and the Eve Energy -- also respond to Siri, though each function and device is sold separately. Elgato's goal was to allow customers to pick the smarts they needed without forcing them into paying for a package of devices. It's a nice thought, but I'm guessing more than a few customers would have appreciated a discount bundle in addition to the a la carte offerings.
A closer look at the sensor
If it weren't for Siri functionality, Elgato's system would be mostly mundane, as you can find almost the exact same functionality as its fleet of devices in a dozen other smart home products. The only ability that stands above the crowd on its own merits is that VOC sensor in the Elgato Eve Room.
The Eve Room itself is a small white box, measuring about 3 inches by 3 inches on its front squared face with an inch of depth. It's white save for a green Eve logo on the bottom side of the front, and the Elgato name on the back panel that slides away to reveal the battery compartment. The Eve Room takes three AA batteries.
The Eve Weather has a slot on the back so you can stick it on a nail in the wall. It's a small add on and the only way to tell the two sensors apart. Aside from visual clarity, I'm not sure why Elgato left that hook off of the Eve Room, as it would have added to your placement options. As it stands, you'll need to find a solid surface for it.
You'll also find stickers with an eight-digit numerical code, both on the back panel, and the bottom of the device. You'll use that code for the simple setup process. You can download the Eve app on your iPhone or iPad. Make sure Bluetooth is turned on on your Apple device, then open the app and it'll start to look for Eve devices in range.
For me, the app found my device within moments. I entered the code, then picked the room where I wanted to place my sensor. This is part of HomeKit's organizational system. You can set up multiple homes, so you'll specify a name for your home as a whole, then pick a room as a separate bucket within your home. I placed the Eve Room in the Media Room (you have to select from a list) in the Land of Geb (as in Gebhart, since I got to name that one myself).
At that point, the Eve Room starts collecting data. You'll see info on temperature and humidity right away. Air Quality takes a few minutes before you'll get your first reading, and according to a company representative, it takes a few days to properly calibrate to a specific location for the reading to be accurate.
It's a bit of a disappointment that it's so slow, but I found it had a pretty good idea of the air quality within a few minutes -- the readings matched our expectations as we moved it from open air environments to smoke filled areas. So if you set the Eve Room down in a newly painted room, it might not know the exact ppm right away, but its estimate of whether or not the air quality is generally Excellent, Fair or Poor will be trustworthy.
More of a disappointment is the lack of options as far as actually doing something with the info it gives you. Right now, you can see the data when your device is in Bluetooth range. You can expand any of the three criteria to see the info charted over the course of hours, days, weeks or months.
Yet, you can't set warning thresholds to receive alerts or trigger any kind of push notification. The Elgato Eve Room certainly cannot be used as an emergency device. It can't even really be used as a hands-free way to automate your home based on the environment, since you can only get up-to-date readings when standing next to the device with the app open. It'll only run in the foreground.
By contrast, the Netatmo Urban Weather Station has an IFTTT channel with 14 triggers for each of its measured criteria. The $180 package includes an outdoor and indoor sensor. The indoor module measures temp and humidity, like Elgato. It also measures the ppm of carbon dioxide, though not all VOCs. In addition to all that, Netatmo packed a noise sensor into the module as well.
Thanks to IFTTT, you can set up all manner of automation and notifications with Netatmo. If you want the thermostat to turn on when your kid's room gets too cold or a smart light bulb to flash red if the air quality gets past a warning threshold, you can set that up with Netatmo and IFTTT. Netatmo's also on the list of upcoming HomeKit compatible products, though Elgato has an advantage here since Netatmo's HomeKit specific model isn't available yet.
You can't even view the Eve Room's data remotely unless you have an Apple TV . Without it, you need to be within Bluetooth range of your device to do anything. The Eve Room can store data for up to two weeks when you're not near it, then will update your readings and graphs when you get close again. Without an Apple TV, you'll need to pull up the Elgato app and let it refresh its reading for Siri to be helpful.
Again, you can ask Siri for temp and humidity readings, and by specifying the room name you picked when setting up your sensor, your iOS device will know to check those readings instead of looking up the local weather. For example, I asked, "What's the temperature in the Media Room?" If I'd updated my info recently by having the app open when close to the device, I'd get an answer specified to the tenth of a degree. If I hadn't updated the data recently, Siri would tell me she wasn't getting a response from my device.
With an Apple TV, your range of access extends exponentially, but the setup can be a pain and for now, you might not be able to use your existing iCloud account. I tried to use my personal iCloud account attached to my personal gmail and it didn't work. According to an Elgato representative, this is a known and common issue. Once we created a brand-new iCloud account linked to an iCloud.com email, we started to make progress. Even then, it took some troubleshooting and could require that you tinker with your iCloud Keychain and privacy settings.
With all the hoops you have to jump through -- buying an Apple TV if you don't have one, getting a new iCloud account, changing your settings -- accessing Elgato Eve remotely barely felt worth it, since you still can't do anything with the info. That said, it's a nice perk if you already have the necessary extras.
The data Elgato Eve collects is actually linked to your iCloud account, and that means Apple's team is helping to keep it secure and properly encrypted. It's a big benefit Elgato gains from jumping on board with HomeKit, but it also means more than one person won't be able to access the readings from your Eve Room, even if you want them to.
You won't be able to sync up the same data with Eve Room to multiple users and multiple devices. Even when we switched iCloud accounts on the same device to get remote access, we had to fully reset the Eve Room to get it to connect and lost the historical data.
Supposedly, a lot of the Elgato Eve's limitations could be fixed as HomeKit grows and expands in functionality. iOS 9 will supposedly add both notifications and triggers as options for devices in its ecosystem. It should also allow easier remote access to HomeKit requiring only the iCloud. Elgato has even promised to enable guest access to your devices. The future holds a lot of promise for the Eve Room. Without all these upgrades, the present situation for the Elgato Eve Room is pretty disappointing.
As it stands, this smart device isn't very smart since it can't do anything with the info it gathers, but at least the info it gathers is accurate. The Elgato Eve Room is a capable multimeter even if I hesitate to call it a capable smart device.
To test the temperature and humidity readings of the Elgato Eve Room, we let it sit on a table in our office for a couple of days, so it could properly calibrate to the environment. Then, we took three readings a day for two weeks and compared them to readings from a calibrated Hanna Conductivity Meter for temperature, and a multimeter for humidity.
As you can see in the graph above, the ebbs and flows of Elgato Eve's temperature readings match those of the Hanna Meter. The numbers sit between 1 and 3 degrees apart, but that's within an acceptable margin of error, allowing for a small deviation in both devices.
The humidity readings look largely the same.
Again, the ebbs and flows match and the devices stayed within an acceptable range of deviation. You can trust the readings of the Elgato Eve Room.
I have a few nitpicks when it comes to navigating the charts themselves. The main page of the app shows all three current readings together. Press a stat, and a small chart drops down. To get to the full page chart for any given parameter, you'll need to double tap this small chart or press the ellipsis in its lower right corner. I thought it was a little counterintuitive. I would have liked a clearer way to get to this full chart, as I guessed a few different options before I found the right answer.
At the top left corner of the main app, you'll find a button taking you to a menu with your room and a list of the three parameters. Hitting "Humidity" from this menu should take you to the chart itself, but it's again just the single-line stat that drops down to the mini chart, leaving a lot of wasted screen room until you double-tap to unveil the full thing.
The full-size chart works well once you find it. Buttons at the bottom let you select hour, day, week or month to squeeze or expand your data as you see fit. You can scroll left to view older data on any chart, assuming your device has been running long enough to have this historical info. You can't pinch to zoom as you can on the Netatmo app, but I didn't miss that functionality often.
On the week and month views, Elgato makes the data a little confusing by splitting the readings into red and green lines, neither of which are labeled. I assume those lines are highs and lows over the compacted periods of time but some sort of key would have been nice.
The only significant knock I have on the performance -- on two occasions the data simply refused to update. Both times, I spent more than an hour trying to get a current reading. The app will tell you when the device is unreachable, and this wasn't the case. It just wouldn't refresh, and the Elgato app lacks a means for a manual refresh. Most of the time, going to the home screen and reopening the app, or closing it all the way and reopening it would force it to collect new data. On those two occasions, nothing I tried worked.
When I came back the next morning, both times, the Eve Room got right back on track as though nothing had happened. The update blips are probably another sign of a young app that hasn't reached its full potential yet, but it's something to be aware of if you do want to purchase this as a multimeter.
One of these freezes happened when we were putting the device through a bit of torture for the sake of testing the air quality sensor, but we kept it within the specified operational ranges at all times.
We built a box for the Elgato Eve Room so we could fill it with smoke and paint fumes and not cause our own lungs any harm. The Eve Room showed itself decently nimble at picking up the approximate air quality of a new location, right away. Again, according to the company, you'll want to leave it in one spot for a few days for super-accurate readings.
But when we put it in a box and lit a smoke candle, the ppm count on the Eve app climbed quite high, as you would expect, even without letting it sit in the box for days before we started. Elgato noted poor air quality during each smoke test and showed VOC readings with multiple thousands of ppm. For reference, the usual office environment had excellent air quality readings of 450 ppm, so these were appropriately way above the norm.
Interestingly, it didn't store these extremes in the long-term charts. The smoke cleared quickly and the Eve Room kept right up with it, showing excellent air again after just a few minutes. On the charts, Eve averaged the time around the smoke as the permanently stored data point. So even though I saw the air quality reach poor status and 2,000+ ppm, the history in the charts only shows it getting as bad as moderate air quality at 1,698 ppm.
It's odd that the Eve Room smooths the data like that. Again, don't use this as an emergency alert device. Not only will you not get any push notifications, but if you're not looking at the readings while the event is happening, you probably will never see how bad the air quality was at its peak. For longer term readings like determining the paint fumes in a room under construction, this data smoothing shouldn't be an issue.
My idea of a smart home is one that acts on your behalf. It should automate processes based on your preferences to make your life more convenient. In this sense, the Elgato Eve Room doesn't qualify as a smart home device. It doesn't automate anything on its own, and without push notifications or triggers enabled, it doesn't contribute its sensory data to automating anything else. It takes environmental readings accurately, but so do most standard multimeters.
$80 isn't a bad price for a multimeter, so if you have need of a VOC sensor that packs in temp and humidity readings and like the idea of it transmitting data to your iPad, go ahead and purchase the Elgato Eve Room. It works, and it should get significantly smarter over time as the Homekit smart home platform gets upgraded by Apple. For everyone else, I'd wait for those improvements to make sure they're implemented properly before making the investment in the Elgato Eve smart home ecosystem. The Elgato Eve Room will understand your environment, but lacks any means to apply that knowledge.