This time last year I looked back at my tech highlights of 2016 and now it’s time to look back at 2017. Last year my highlights included the Dell XPS 15 (something I am still using for Windows Mixed Reality), Surface Pro 4 and how I migrated from Microsoft consumer tech (Lumia 950, Microsoft Band) to Google Android.

In 2017 my main highlights where two technologies areas: Windows Mixed Reality and the integration of Amazon Alexa.

Smart Home

At the start of 2017 I was just getting start with Amazon Alexa with just a couple of smart plugs setup, but during the year bit by bit I added a lot of capabilities.

First off the D-Link added Amazon Alexa support to their smart plugs so I put them to use by having my garden lights controlled by a smart plug. All the garden lights are controlled by either Alexa or by using IFTTT they turn on exactly at sunset each day. See my how to article. I also used a similar setup to control my Christmas lights.


I replaced my very old thermostat with a new Hive system which turned out to be one of be one our favourite upgrades. Out with the old timer and in with an advanced scheduler, out of home control and best of all Amazon Alexa control. If I am feeling a bit chilly I can check Alexa what the temperature is and ask her to boost it if I want. I can also check and the control the heating from my phone outside of the home. Plus there is geo-location control and IFTTT support. You can also get reports on your temperature and it includes frost protection. Hive also do motion sensors, security cameras, smart plugs and lighting.

Smart Lighting

I also added Philips Hue lights to my house. I have including light strips and traditional bulb replacements. I love being able to have vibrant while lights in the morning and warm glows in the evening. I can set any combination of colours. Again we use Alexa to control the lights or we use the Philips app. Philips have many automation routines that you can setup and you can use 3rd party services like IFTTT and Stringify, I automated my lights slowly come on 30 minutes before sunset so you don’t even notice them coming on.

Alexa gets smarter

Many of the improvement to my smart home in 2017 came from updates to Amazon’s Alexa or services adding links to Alexa. Sonos added support for Alexa so I can now ask Alexa to play Pink Floyd in the kitchen, a podcast in the living room or have them all zoned together. Another change was the introduction of Routines in to Alexa. Routines enable you to combine multiple actions with once command. I say to my Alexa “good night” and it turns off the lights, turns on the music playback and gives me the weather forecast for the following day. I say good morning and it turns on the lights in morning mode, gives me the traffic for my commute and reads out the day’s headlines.

Now any smart devices I get I make sure they work with Amazon’s system. I have routers that I can turn on and off guest access via Alexa, I can find my keys via Alexa and even lock my car. My next thing will be to install Harmony Hub to control my entertainment systems.

The interesting thing about Alexa is how well the rest of the family interact with it. We all shout out commands to turn the lights on and off, boost the heating and control music.

I also reviewed the new Amazon Echo Show which includes a 7 inch touch screen. I am still yet to be convinced by the need for a screen but that could change as more services get added to it.

Windows Mixed Reality

My other tech highlight of 2017 was Windows Mixed Reality which is Microsoft’s take on virtual reality and augmented reality. The MR headsets launched with the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update and I was really impressed how quickly you can get up and running.

You can see my review of the Lenovo Explorer Windows Mixed Reality headset and the Acer headset (plus both side by side). They are a great immersive experiences and there are some great games and experiences available for Windows Mixed Reality. You can also use SteamVR (Google Earth is great), watch 360 videos, play Xbox One games and even interact with the desktop. I also loved vTime a social network app for Windows Mixed Reality which takes you and the friends around the world without leaving your seat.

It’s early day for Windows Mixed Reality and I can’t wait to see how it progress in 2018.

What next?

I think I will be adding more smart home controlled devices this year and developing some of my own. I made my own conservatory heating system using a Raspberry Pi and D-Link smart plug last year and I plan to work on some projects in 2018. We may see mixed reality headsets from Magic Leap and hope we see more services come to Windows Mixed Reality. There is a lot to look forward to in 2018, let me know what you are looking forward to.

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