After the Amazon Echo started to get its owners hooked on smart home gadgets, Amazon went ahead and added Zigbee — a low-power smart home protocol — to the new Echo Plus, letting owners go even further.
Google still hasn’t tried that with the Google Home, but another company has come along and offered what’s essentially a bizarro version of the Echo Plus: it runs Google Assistant instead of Alexa, and it includes support for Z-Wave, a smart home protocol that competes with Zigbee.
Milo is the first consumer-oriented product from the smart home company Hogar Controls. It’s reminiscent of a Google Home — short and squat and wrapped in fabric. It has a little less polish than Google’s device, but it does have a couple nice additions and advantages. A simple but helpful touch is the inclusion of three programmable buttons on the top of the device, allowing owners to controls smart home gadgets without using their voice, since there are plenty of times when it’s faster and easier to just press a button.
The big benefit is supposed to be the addition of Z-Wave, which opens up a huge ecosystem of smart home devices that only connect over that protocol. The downside is that you have to control all of these gadgets through Hogar Controls’ app — which in a quick demo, didn’t look quite as easy to use as other smart home apps — but it offers a lot more options than the Bluetooth and Wi-Fi products that the Google Assistant can currently control.
And while Z-Wave is the feature Hogar is touting, it’s also including support for Zigbee, so there’s the potential for a lot of flexibility here.
That all said, it’s worth waiting to see how well the product can actually tie these systems together in practice. And more importantly, how well it functions as a smart speaker, period. At a press event ahead of CES, two units of the Milo speaker had stopped responding and seemed to be close to overheating. Company reps said the issue was the unusually noisy environment — and the fact that we were looking at prototypes — but it still isn’t the most encouraging sign.
Hogar plans to start shipping Milo just two months from now, in March, selling it for $149. It’ll also be selling a little controller, called the Pebble, for $49. The Pebble is a disc that can be programmed to include up to 10 different actions, depending on which direction you swipe it and how many times you tap it. It works over Z-Wave, so technically you can pair it with other companies’ Z-Wave hubs. Unfortunately, a lot of the gestures are based on direction, and it’s really hard to tell which direction is up.