The futuristic smart home is exciting to think about, but making it a reality is an expensive commitment. In some cases, you might be replacing thermostats, smoke detectors, light bulbs and other devices that work perfectly fine, just to hook up newer, connected devices.
And not to mention, some smart-home solutions can still seem sort of dumb at this point in their evolution.
For the past month, I’ve been testing a relatively inexpensive product that made my home a little smarter by working with my existing devices. It also made me aware of the fact that one of my smoke detectors was dangerously outdated.
I’ve been using the Leeo Smart Alert Nightlight, which costs $99. This 3.4-inch circular plastic gadget works by plugging directly into a wall outlet and listening for alarms from your existing smoke or carbon monoxide detectors.
If either of these alarm sounds is heard, you get notified and can immediately call your local fire department — even if you’re on vacation in Hawaii.
Leeo is made by a Palo Alto-based company of the same name. Its CEO and co-founder, Adam Gettings, previously co-founded RoboteX, where he designed and engineered first-responder robots. This gave him the idea that the sensors used in these robots could also be used in the home.
The company conservatively estimates that one Leeo device can cover about 75 feet, and encourages one unit per floor. My home isn’t very large, and the Leeo had no trouble detecting my three smoke detectors. It could also work well for people who rent homes or apartments, since they can’t or won’t want to replace all of their smoke and CO detectors.
Leeo first sends a push notification to your phone via its free app, which works on iOS and is also available for Android starting this week. If you don’t reply to this notification within 45 seconds, Leeo calls you. If you don’t pick up, it calls down a list of emergency contacts that you set up, until someone answers and responds, either dismissing the call or following its prompts to call emergency services.
To set up Leeo, you download the app and walk through a few simple steps like creating a Leeo account (full name, email, password and home address) and connecting Leeo to your home Wi-Fi network. The app encourages you to test your smoke and CO detectors to get started, so you’re sure that they are in working condition.
While testing my smoke detectors, I discovered one that should have been replaced in 2012. Oops. Luckily, I had two more in rooms just a dozen feet away from the old one.
I didn’t want to create a fire in my home just for testing purposes, and the Leeo device won’t send alerts if you’re just testing your smoke and CO detectors, outside of the initial device setup.
But some smoke- or CO detectors, including mine, let you hold down the test button to create a series of beeps, imitating a real incident, so I did this on several different occasions to test Leeo. (Smoke and CO alarms were standardized to three and four beeps, respectively, about 10 years ago. Since you’re supposed to replace these every 10 years, Leeo should work with most people’s devices.)
When I got a Leeo push notification and opened it, a screen in the app showed that I had a smoke alert emergency in my home, giving me a chance to tap one of three options: Listen Now, Call 911 or False Alarm. Tapping Listen Now played the five-second clip of the alarm going off.
In another test, when I didn’t reply to my Leeo app notification within 45 seconds, my phone rang. When I answered, an automated message told me that something that sounded like a smoke alarm was detected in my home, then it played the sound. I was asked to press “1” if it sounded like an alarm, or “2” if I thought it was a false alarm.
When I pressed 1, Leeo sent me a text with the number for my home’s local fire department, so I could open the text and call for help. The automated phone message also offered to read the number for local emergency service aloud to me over the phone. This means that if I’m out in Seattle, I’ll get the emergency number that’s localized to my house in D.C. — not my actual, current location of Seattle. The same thing happens if my emergency contacts receive this phone call.
When I first heard about how Leeo works, I was creeped out by the prospect of a device continuously listening in on my life. I kept Leeo plugged in in the guest bathroom, where my husband or I give our toddler a bath every other night. Was someone sitting at Leeo headquarters laughing at our renditions of “Rubber Duckie”?
A spokesperson for Leeo said that though the device is always on and passively listening, the only time any information leaves your house is when Leeo recognizes the specific alarms for smoke or CO. In that case, a five-second clip is recorded and sent to a secure server; Leeo then sends the clip to the app for you to access when you get the text or phone call alert. I think this means that my bath-time tunes are safe.
If you do nothing to your Leeo other than plugging it into the wall, it operates as a fancy nightlight. This light can be raised or dimmed by manually turning its circular front, like a dial.
When you connect Leeo to your iOS or Android app via Wi-Fi, its nightlight feature becomes more advanced. Settings in the app activate an ambient sensor for the nightlight, which turns its light on only when the room is dark.
You can also use the app to change the color of the nightlight to one of 16 million hues. I tried a few different colors, including a turquoise tone and a cranberry color, before settling on a clean white-blue hue. Another setting lets you turn the light’s ambient sensor on or off, so it could stay on at all times, if that’s what you wanted.
Along with its smoke and CO alarm detecting functions, the Leeo app also lets you set parameters for temperature and humidity in a room, alerting you if the room falls below an ideal range. For example, if you leave your dog home alone all day, you can use Leeo to detect temperatures in your house so you know if it’s too hot or cold. If you use it in a nursery, you can adjust temperatures accordingly to make the baby more comfortable.
Some people are even using Leeo in their wine cellars, so they can be alerted before the temperature soars or dips to levels that might spoil a pricy bottle of Chateauneuf-du-Pape.
The company behind Leeo is testing a future feature that will alert people when it hears loud, anomalous sounds, like a window breaking, so it could also function as a sort of digital watchdog.
Though the $99 cost of one Leeo unit isn’t an insignificant amount of money, it’s less than a lot of smart-home products. And not-so-handy homeowners may be relieved that Leeo saves them from climbing up on a stepladder to replace existing smoke and CO detectors.
I can recommend Leeo for people who want to dip their toe in the smart-home waters without drowning in stupidly high prices or complicated setups.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.