(Pocket-lint) - Ah Christmas, the time of scrabbling around under a tree to unplug all those lights, getting jabbed in the head by those rogue needles on that Nordmann fir you were coerced into buying.
Well scrabble no more, because for every Christmas tree light, there's a smart home solution waiting to make your life easier. That might be voice controls to turn them on or it might be a schedule to turn them off.
Here's how to make your Christmas lights smart.
Smart Christmas lights essentials
The starting point is a smart plug. It might be fairly dubious for 11 months of the year, but around Christmas, the smart plug is the best thing in your home (aside from pigs in blankets, but they aren't especially smart).
There are lots of plugs on the market, but you'll need one that's compatible with your system of choice. If you've got Hive, it makes sense to look at the Hive Active plug, if you're an Amazon Echo or Google Home user then the TP-Link Kasa plugs work well. For Apple Homekit the Eve Energy is an option.
After that you'll need something smart to control it. You can use an Android phone with Google Assistant or the Apple iPhone with HomeKit, but using Google Home or Alexa (through the Amazon Echo or other speakers), makes things a lot more fun for the whole family.
The simplest smart Christmas light setup
With so many options, we're going to tackle the most basic of options. Take your smart plug and connect it to an extension lead and plug all your Christmas tree lights or other Christmas lights into that extension lead.
When your smart plug turns on, all your lights will turn on. Simple.
All smart plugs give you a range of options for control, including smartphone control or scheduled control. Thanks to this smart link, you can schedule your lights to come on at a particular time, go off in the evening or you can turn them on without having to physically go and turn anything on or off.
Just follow the instructions that come with the plug and you'll soon be connected. If nothing else, you'll be able to then turn the lights on and off with your phone.
The thing to consider is the platform you're using: Hive Active Plug needs a Hive Hub, TP-Link or Tapo doesn't need a hub, Eve Energy offers more functions with Apple TV.
Something like Hive Active Plug can be set to turn on when motion is detected (turn on the Christmas lights when you get home). Eve Energy can be set to use geolocation (turn on the Christmas lights as you're getting home) and TP-Link is fully IFTTT compatible, so the options are almost endless.
There are plenty more options, like turning on a set time before sunset, to create actions and reactions once you have a smart plug in place.
Voice controlled Christmas lights
Of course, no one is impressed with a scheduled timer any more: voice control is the new cool and the easiest devices to set this up with are Amazon Echo (or other Echo speakers) or Google Home (via Google Assistant), but iPhone and iPad are pretty simple too.
Voice control your plug on Alexa
Starting with the Echo/Alexa option, this is incredibly simple.
- Tell Alexa to scan for devices. Make sure your plug is turned on and Alexa will find it (you might have to enable a new Skill).
- Open the Alexa app and locate your plug in the Devices section. Change the name to "Christmas lights" and save.
- Say "Alexa turn on the Christmas lights".
- Adopt a smug grin and pour yourself some eggnog.
Some smart plugs might need to enable a skill on Alexa to get them working. If you have an Echo Plus and a Zigbee plug, you should be able to all the setup directly on Alexa, no hubs needed. If you buy the TP-Link plug above you'll need to use the Kasa app to set it up, but the best rule of thumb is to get the plug working and then add it to Alexa.
Via Alexa you can also group devices, so you could have your Christmas tree lights turn on with other smart devices in that room.
Voice control your plug on Google Home or Google Assistant
Google Home and Google Assistant on Android devices both offer linked functionality. There's also a Google Assistant app on iPhone that will do the same thing, so there are plenty of options here.
- Open the Home app on your phone.
- Your linked devices will be here, or you can link accounts to get access to those devices.
- Locate your plug, rename it to "Christmas tree lights" and save.
- Say "Ok Google, turn on my Christmas tree lights".
- Adopt a smug grin and start munching mince pies.
Google Assistant is smart, because you can also assign that plug to the room it's in. By doing this you can have it turn on or off with the room lights - for example assign it to the living room and when you say "turn off the living room lights" all the lights will turn off, room and festive.
Voice control your plug with Siri
Siri plays nice with HomeKit which plays nice with Apple devices. You'll get control via Siri on Watch, iPhone, iPad or HomePod.
- Open the Home app on your iOS device and tap on the + symbol top right of the screen.
- Tap on the Add accessory button.
- Find the 8 digit HomeKit code either on the side of your device or on a card in the box and scan it with your phone.
- Rename your plug to "Christmas lights" and save.
- Say "Hey Siri, turn on Christmas Lights".
- Adopt a smug grin and quaff a glass of sherry.
HomeKit has some other advantages, because it will let you cross-control devices within the HomeKit environment. You can, for example, assign a HomeKit plug to a Hue-enabled light switch, so you could control your Christmas lights from Hue Tap, or add other devices to create a Christmas scene, by dimming others lights, closing your blinds, or even lock/unlock your front door.