First there was Siri, now there's Iris. While Siri can find a burger joint or hotel for iPhone users, Iris can help anyone with a smart phone, computer or tablet monitor their home from afar. Iris, a cloud-based home management system launched by Lowe's, can alert you when your child arrives home from school or enable you to remotely control your thermostat, lights and other home electronics.
Positioned by Lowe's as a low-cost alternative to other smart home systems, Iris will be available at 500 stores by the end of August in three different starter kits. Iris Safe & Secure, $179, uses motion and contact sensors to monitor home security. Iris Comfort & Control, also $179, uses a smart thermostat and smart plugs to allow homeowners to remotely control their home heating and cooling systems. The Iris Smart Kit, $299, combines both and can also accommodate other add-ons sold at Lowe's, natch.
As explained by Lowe's, the Iris Hub, which is connected to a home's broadband router, captures signals put out by smart devices. It's also compatible with WiFi devices. The hub relays the signals to the cloud from which they can be accessed and controlled via a smart phone or web-connected tablet or computer. While the basic service is free, for $9.99 a month Lowe's will provide more functionality including enhanced security monitoring, streaming video of your home and more energy-saving modes.
Lowe's claims that Iris is easy to install, but if all you're looking for is a way to control your energy use, you might want to consider a programmable thermostat instead. Consumer Reports just tested 30 thermostats and can recommend 10 of them. At $70, the Lux TX9600TS is a CR Best Buy. Similar models from Lux are sold at Lowe's and Ace hardware. Other top picks range in price from an $80 Honeywell to models from Ecobee and Aprilaire that both sell for $300.
—Mary H.J. Farrell