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Smart Home

The connected Hive system gives your smart home eyes, ears and a voice

The Hive Trio includes a hub and a speaker that can play music and tell you when something is wrong.

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Hive Life

Amid a swarm of smart home products, Hive (Not to be confused with British Gas Hive , an app-controlled thermostat available in the UK) hopes to earn some buzz by centralizing the smart home and giving it a voice. The Hive Trio from Salt Lake City startup Hive Life includes the Hive Sound for voice commands, audible push notifications and streaming music, as well as the Hive Hub to communicate with automation accessories, and the Hive App for remote functionality.

Hive Life hopes to raise funds via their Kickstarter campaign for tooling and manufacturing. Backers can take advantage of early bird pricing -- as low as $149 for the Trio that will normally cost $279 -- and receive a unit as soon as May of this year.

The Hive Sound

The most notable part of the Hive system, the Hive Sound, is a connected speaker first and foremost. You plug it into a wall and control it with an app, and it can stream music to it from a number of compatible services including YouTube, Pandora, Spotify, TuneIn and iHeartRadio .

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Hive Life

Hive says you'll be able to sync up multiple Hive Sound speakers to surround yourself in the music of your selected playlist, or they can each play something different to please family members with different tastes in different parts of the house.

You'll control each Hive Sound with the third part of the Hive Trio -- the app -- via Bluetooth. The Sound includes both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi capability, which allow it to go beyond just being a speaker and let it act as an integral part of your smart home.

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Hive Life

In fact, the Hive Sound will be one of the few devices on the market that can give your smart home a voice. Hive will offer accessories such as cameras, monitors for doors and windows, and motion sensors. Like most smart-home systems, when these devices sense something, you can get alerts sent to your phone. You can also have the Hive Sound tell you something is amiss audibly.

Hive will even offer an optional live monitoring service and you'll be able to use the Hive Sound to speak to a concierge in the event of an alarm. The two-way audio will allow you to control your smart home with voice commands as well.

The Hive Hub

What you're able to command with your voice will depend largely on what else you have hooked into the system. Fortunately, the Hive Hub has the antennas necessary to connect just about any first- or third-party accessory to the Internet. You'll need it to use the camera and sensors mentioned above, but with Zigbee, Z-Wave, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth built-in, Hive's hub will be more than capable of centralizing a home with a variety of products.

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Hive Life

The hub will plug into your router and into your wall and can then send notifications and alerts from anything linked to it via the Hive app. It remains to be seen if Hive can work with third-party apps as well as devices, or if you'll be able to control the advanced functionality, rules, and automation of third-party products with Hive's app.

Hopefully, you can give a customized command to the Hive Sound such as "Lock Up" and have it close the garage door with the MyQ Garage , bolt the August deadbolt , turn off your Philips Hue lights , and adjust your Nest Thermostat .

The Hive system

If it can manage all of this, the Hive system might be as useful as Apple's upcoming HomeKit, which will let Siri control a variety of compatible smart home products. Though, Hive's products might not be able to respond to voice commands spoken to your phone the same way.

Still, giving your smart home a voice is a unique twist to push notifications in home automation. Hive promised plug-and-play simplicity with its system, but I'd like to see more evidence of advanced functionality before I'm convinced this is the unifying hub we need.

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Hive Life

Hive has at least checked all of the boxes in terms of signal compatibility, and both its Hub and Sound include battery backups so your system will run in a power outage. The Hub even has a 3G modem so it can communicate with the cloud via a cellular signal if the Wi-Fi goes down.

I'd expect both 3G and live monitoring to be extra, and it's unclear if Hive's camera will let you store footage locally or if you'll need to pay for cloud recordings. No word on exact pricing on any of this yet, but Hive's website promises to eschew contracts and "earn your business every single month."

Outlook

Both Control4 and Savant have popular and comprehensive smart-home systems, but they require a dealer install. SmartThings and iSmartAlarm offer advanced DIY options with bundled kits of sensors, but don't offer voice control or package entertainment with automation. Hive's system has the look of well-rounded interoperability.

On its own, the Hub might not make much sense until you're ready to purchase a few sensors, or unless you already have a variety of smart-home products you're looking to connect. Without it, the Hive Sound loses its depth of features that makes it intriguing. But the combination of entertainment and connectivity possible with the system makes investing in Hive an intriguing prospect. With Hive, you can talk to your smart home and it can talk back.

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