Virgin Media Smart Home review: Convenience is the clincher

The company offers three packages and cost can be spread across 12 monthly payments

Virgin will send out one of its engineers to install the entire thing and ensure it works properly.

Product name: Virgin Media Smart Home Complete pack

Price: €660.0

Where to buy: https://www.virginmedia.ie/smart-home/

Website: www.virginmedia.ie/smart-home/

Thu, Jan 9, 2020, 05:39

   

Virgin Media Complete Smart Home

€55 a month over 12 months (€660)

There is no getting away from it: our homes are getting smarter, whether we like it or not. From heating controls that you can activate – and, more importantly, deactivate – over wifi to video doorbells that allow you to keep a watchful eye on your home, or wifi enabled light bulbs and remotely activated plugs, the internet of things is becoming an increasingly common presence in our homes.

That’s fine if you are tech savvy enough to set them up in the first place, but what if you are not? And even if you can get everything set up, how do you know that you are getting the most out of it?

This is where the tech companies step in. Businesses such as Smartzone in Cork already offer a smart-home installation service that includes a monitored alarm, video doorbell and wifi plugs, with add ons such as flood monitors or smart door locks.

If that’s more than you need at the moment, Virgin Media Ireland now offers several smart-home packages to its customers. You choose which one suits you and then pay off the cost over 12 months. Virgin Media will send out one of its engineers to install the entire thing, make sure it works properly and then let you get on with things.

So what are the options? Virgin offers three packages:

  • The entry level is the entertainment package, which costs €15 a month over the 12 months and includes the Chromecast, Nest Mini and Google Home;
  • The home automation pack comes in at €45 a month and includes the Nest Hello doorbell, two TP Link plugs and the Nest Mini speaker;
  • The final package, the Complete, comes with the Nest Hello, two plugs, Chromecast and the Google Nest Mini and Hub display to control it all. That package is €55 a month over the 12 months.

Once the year is up, the equipment is yours.

If you are planning on making the leap and want the full smart-home experience, the Complete package is the one to go for, mainly down to the Nest Hub. It acts as a screen for the Nest Hello doorbell (which we reviewed previously) as well as playing random YouTube videos to talk you through difficult recipes while you work in the kitchen.

It’s also good for a few cat videos too. You issue your voice commands to the hub and Google Assistant carries it out.

What you can’t do is use it as a screen for watching Netflix. You can control Netflix on another TV, however. It’s not quite the Echo Show but it’s compact and useful.

What about the rest of the package? The TP Link wifi plugs can be used on your appliances so you can turn everything off at the touch of a button – or a voice command. It’s handy for lamps, coffee makers, TVs . . . in fact anything that can be left with the switch set to “on”.

It’s particularly handy around Christmas, where a wifi plug can be the difference between simply telling Google to turn off the tree lights or crawling around and getting poked in the eye by branches and pine needles.

The Nest Mini is Google’s smaller smart speaker, so you can put that elsewhere in the house to control your smart home, play music or generally torment with useless questions. It’s surprisingly loud given its size, and you can wall mount it to clear up some counter space. (See our previous review on Irishtimes.com).

The last bit of the puzzle is the Chromecast. It’s the standard Chromecast rather than the 4K version, but you won’t miss the extra functionality unless you have a 4K TV. What you can do is stream the doorbell feed to your TV (“Hey Google, show me the front door on my living room TV”) or stream services such as Netflix and Spotify directly to the connected TV. It’s a small thing that just makes life a little easier.

The main reason for going with the smart-home package though is convenience. Because the system is installed by Virgin’s engineers, you don’t have to lift a finger – except to give them the wifi password and sign in to your Google account. The engineer sorts out the plugs, connecting up the Chromecast and even installing the Nest Doorbell, which can take some time depending on your home set up.

Google recommends the Nest Hello is installed by a professional, so having it included as part of the Virgin package is a definite advantage.

Once it’s all installed though, you can add to it yourself – extra Google Nest speakers, wifi plugs or some of the third-party systems that work with Google Assistant, such as Tile for locating your lost items, alarm systems that you can disarm with a pin code and so on. As long as it is supported on Google Home, you can add it.

The good
If you want a hands off, hassle free smart-home set-up, the Virgin Media bundle is the way to go. Plus you might save a bit of money on the equipment here; the Nest doorbell alone is €279, before you get into installation charges, while the hub isn’t widely available in Ireland. You can’t buy it directly from the Google Store, unless you go through the UK.

The not so good
If you want Alexa controlling your smart home, you are out of luck. Virgin has done a deal with Google to provide the equipment, so it’s Google Assistant or do it yourself.

The rest
It may seem expensive when you see it laid out in one lump sum, but spread over 12 months it doesn’t feel as burdensome. Although the base system is installed by Virgin, you can add to it yourself as you feel necessary.

If you add up the cost of the initial products plus the install of certain elements, you could actually save money over doing it yourself.

The verdict
Convenience is a big draw and this smart-home package is certainly convenient.