Have you ever wanted to turn off the lights but not get out of bed, so you just slept with the lights on? Do you want your air conditioner to turn itself on as you park your car and have the lights come on as you walk in the door? Those are the kinds of problems and promises that IoT (Internet of Things) companies have been working on for years, and thanks to the Amazon Echo – which released last year and is now available in stores – building a smart home is much easier.
One such solution comes from Pert, a Hyderabad-based startup that offers a wide variety of smart home products: plugs, switches, sensors, locks, and even a curtain system. There's no shortage of IoT brands selling smart home kits, but with Pert, you don't need to swap out all your switchboards or install a hub. That means it works even for those who rent their homes and therefore can't remodel too much.
All of Pert's products work with Alexa, via the Pert skill. You'll need a Pert account – using an email, Facebook, or Google account – which will then link with Alexa. Pert also supports IFTTT, the service that uses conditional statements – if X, then Y – to create triggers between various Web services. This lets you to use Google Assistant to control your lights, link different smart devices such as Philips Hue bulbs with Pert, or even create a Twitter bot that tweets to alert you every time a device is turned on.
The core of Pert's smart home offerings is the 'Node', which has the same functions as a smart switch, but doesn't replace your existing switches. Instead, it needs to be installed inside your switchboard, and hooks in to the wiring for your lights and fans. You'll need about 9x5x2cm space inside every switchboard. Installation takes 10-15 minutes per node, and although Pert offers video tutorials on how to do your own installation, you're much better off hiring an electrician to sort it out. Pert sent its own engineer who took care of installation for our review, but sadly this is not a service that the company offers to all customers. After the installation, we found that one light would sometimes flicker when the fan was turned on or off, and we had to call our own electrician to fix that.
The Pert Node lets you turn your lights on or off using your physical switches, or via the Pert app or Alexa. This means you can turn on a light using the switchboard as usual when you walk into a room, and then ask Alexa to turn it off once you get into bed. The only extra bit of work is that the switch will physically remain on, and you'll need to flip it manually before you can use it to turn the light on again. It works the same the other way around – the app will always show the true state of any device, but the physical switches remain in the positions you last left them in. You can also control the speed of fans, but you'll need to physically disassemble your existing regulators and replace the insides with the circuit board that Pert provides.
The Pert Nodes come in two varieties – four and eight channel – which basically determines the number of lights or fans you can control. If you've got two-way switches, you'll need to install Pert Nodes in both switchboards. If your lights are dimmable, you can also control that from the Pert app, or by telling Alexa to change the brightness. You get one big and one small regulator with each Node, but you can’t buy them individually if you need more.
The Node, app, and Alexa only take care of the convenience aspect of a smart home. To set up automation, you'll need more smart products from Pert's lineup, namely the Multi Sensor, and Door Sensor. The former is justifiably called so – it has an IR transmitter and receiver, plus sensors for temperature, luminosity, and gas. That means you can turn on/ off anything that works via IR in your home, as long as the Multi Sensor has a line-of-sight to it. You might need more than one if, for example, your TV and AC are on opposite sides of a room.
Pert has built a roster of devices that it already knows the remote control schemes of, including popular products from big brands. For everything else that's not in the database, you'll need to train the Multi Sensor by using the device's original remote. Unlike Logitech Harmony remotes, which can learn a remote scheme with a single button press, Pert required us to map every button on the remote one by one, which can be quite taxing if you have multiple IR devices in every room.
By using the temperature sensor, Pert can figure out whether an AC needs to be turned on/ off, which helps save on electricity costs. You can set up triggers for the luminosity sensor as well, while the gas sensor can send you a notification if it detects a gas leak or smoke in the house. The Pert Door Sensor is a two-part device that needs to be installed across the width of a door, and where it meets the wall. It can then detect when a door is opened, as the two parts move away from each other.
In addition to the Door Sensor, Pert also offers a Motion Sensor, which does exactly what its name says. Using the Pert app, you can create routines whereby the lights are turned off if there's no movement in a room for some time, say ten minutes. This can also come in handy if you want the lights to go off after you fall asleep, or as part of a security system that turns the lights on if intruders are detected.
For full automation -- such as the scenario in which your air conditioner comes on as you park your car the lights come on as you walk in the door – you'll need to define a geofence in the Pert app. After the app detects your phone entering your home's surroundings, it'll send a command over the Internet to the Multi Sensor, which will turn on the AC. The Door Sensor will take care of the lights turning on as you enter.
All Pert devices have built-in Wi-Fi and need to be set up individually, which can mean a lot of work. At first, you'll need to connect your smartphone to the device's own Wi-Fi SSID, and then head into the Pert app. It should detect that you're connected to a device for setup. You'll have to select your home Wi-Fi router and enter its password so that the Pert device can connect to it on its own, which then lets it work locally or remotely. There are a few security concerns here. The default password for Pert devices – 12345678 – is anything but secure. Anyone with the app will be able to pair with your devices and change their setup, though for what it's worth, they will need physical access as well. Pert told us that all user data is stored locally, with nothing on its servers; and all communication is encrypted when you're trying to control your Pert devices from outside your home network.
Pert devices react the fastest if you control them via the Pert app, available on Android and iOS. Of course, that's not counting the time you'll need to unlock your phone, find the app, and wait for it to open. The app is responsive and quick, but took about 4-5 seconds to open on an iPhone 6 Plus. You can set up Pert devices to be controllable by anyone on your Wi-Fi network, or secured with a four-digit passcode. You can also control Pert devices from within the Alexa app's Smart Home section, which searches for them at first install, and then categorises them into devices, groups, and scenes accordingly. And then there's the easiest method: "Alexa, turn off the lights".
The Alexa app looks and operates better than the Pert app, but it's marginally slower – about a second, or less sometimes – since your commands are routed via the Pert Alexa skill. Using your voice is slowest control method since Alexa first parses your command, and then talks to the Pert skill, which then sends the command to the Pert device. It takes about 2-3 seconds for the Alexa query, then another 2 seconds before the lights turn on/ off. At the beginning of our review period, we encountered a bug which prevented the Pert app from displaying any of the routines we had created, and the developers had to issue a fix via the App Store.
We also had issues with the Multi Sensor, which we used with a Sony Bravia TV, Sony Blu-ray home theatre, and Daikin AC during the review process. On multiple occasions, the Multi Sensor would turn the AC on even when no command had been given, and we'd walk into the room hours later to find it freezing cold, wasting electricity and money. This stopped happening after Pert fixed the routines bug on the iOS app, but it doesn't inspire confidence. While the Pert app can show you the status of your lights connected via the Node, IR devices can only be triggered by the Multi Sensor and cannot provide such feedback so you can't monitor them remotely.
Another problem with the Multi Sensor is the number of commands supported via the Pert app as opposed to the Alexa skill. From the app, you can control anything that your device's remote has a button for, though there's a perceivable delay in the command being relayed, since the app talks to your router, the router to the Multi Sensor, and then the Multi Sensor to the device. It takes 1-2 seconds for the Multi Sensor to change the volume or channel on a TV, for example. The number of options goes down drastically if you rely on Alexa. The Multi Sensor supports turning an AC on/ off and changing the temperature, and turning a TV on/ off and entering a channel number, but nothing else. You can't, for example, turn up the TV's volume by talking to Alexa, or change the input from HDMI 1 to HDMI 2. With an AC, you can't change the swing setting or fan speed.
Finally, something that annoyed us was the Multi Sensor's bright status LED. It glows red during setup, blue when it's set up but disconnected from Wi-Fi and the app, and bright green when it's functioning normally. While you won't notice it during the day, it can be quite a bother at night when you're trying to sleep. You can quash any idea of putting a black tape over the LED, since it's right next to the multiple sensors that the device needs to work. Clearly, the Multi Sensor is better suited for a living room than a bedroom.
Pert's products are designed to help convert a 'dumb' home into a smart home, what with the Pert Node putting your old switchboard on the Internet, and the Pert Multi Sensor letting you control IR-only products from anywhere. They work well for the most part, giving you the flexibility to turn lights on from wherever you like – switch, Pert app, Alexa or IFTTT – and giving basic commands to your IR devices without having to find their individual remotes.
The big downside is that these products can't be categorised as affordable. Officially, the Pert 4-node costs Rs. 7,743, the 8-node comes in at Rs. 8,849, the Multi Sensor is Rs. 8,295, the Motion Sensor is another Rs. 2,395, and the Door Sensor is Rs. 1,843 (all prices are inclusive of 18 percent GST). Pert usually sells via offline dealers, and you might get a better deal with them. But it's still a sizeable investment, considering you'll need at least one of each per room if you wish to fully automate your home. For a 3BHK, by our calculations, the bill could run to over Rs. 1,00,000, and that's not accounting for additional accessories such as motion/ door sensors, smart plugs, and curtain controls.
When you're looking at that kind of investment, you'd obviously want perfection. Unfortunately, we can't promise you that with Pert. The app doesn't look or feel great, and the Multi Sensor will stand out in your room owing to its looks (and the bright light we mentioned). The best of the lot is the Pert Node, since it's always hidden. The Pert Node is also one of a select few retrofit switchboard accessories that works with Alexa and IFTTT seamlessly, and it's the only product in the lineup we can recommend wholeheartedly. There are better choices in the other categories.
- Switchboards don’t need to be replaced
- No need for a central hub
- Works with Alexa and IFTTT
- Works locally and remotely
- No installation service
Ratings (out of 5)
Value for money: 2.5
- No need for a central hub
- Works with Alexa and IFTTT
- Works locally and remotely
- Annoying status light
- Takes forever to train unknown remotes
- Alexa only supports limited commands
- App bug caused malfunction
Ratings (out of 5)
Value for money: 2.5