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Review: BlueBOLT BB-ZB1 Gateway, SP-1000 SmartPlug, and Panamax MD2-ZB SmartPlug

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My dad embraces technology in a way that few 71-year-olds do. He has a home theater system with advanced universal control capabilities, he runs a pretty sophisticated home network, and when a new iOS device comes out, it’s usually a safe bet that he’ll own one long before I do. But bless his heart, for all his enthusiasm when it comes to technology, he doesn’t have a clue how to troubleshoot any of it. If only he had a BlueBOLT BB-ZB1 Gateway and SP-1000 SmartPlug, and a couple of Panamax MD2-ZB SmartPlugs, my life would be so much easier.

Pop and I have a regular ongoing conversation that always goes a little something like this: “My phone/laptop/whatever won’t connect to the internet,” he says. “Have you rebooted your router?” I ask. “Crud, forgot that. Hang on. Yep, that fixed it.” If he had BlueBOLT SmartPlugs installed in his house, I wouldn’t have to have that conversation ever again. The BlueBOLT system could periodically check for an internet connection, and reboot his router and cable modem if no connection is found.

Of course, that’s just scratching the surface. The BlueBOLT SmartPlug platform is capable of so much more. If you’re familiar with the BlueBOLT name at all, it’s probably from products like Panamax’s M4320-PRO Power Management System and Furman’s F1500-UPS Battery Backup/Power Conditioner, both of which allow you to remotely reboot attached devices, power equipment on and off, and monitor energy statistics from anywhere in the world.

The new $99.95 BlueBOLT BB-ZB1 Gateway and SmartPlugs deliver a modular approach to the same concept, allowing you to extend BlueBOLT control and monitoring capabilities to any electrical outlet in the home. And you have your choice of two different models of SmartPlug to use with the system. The $119.95 Panamax-branded MD2-ZB SmartPlug turns one dumb outlet into two smart ones, adding noise filtration, surge protection, and individual control for each of the two attached devices.

The $49.95 SP-1000 SmartPlug, by contrast, is designed as a more affordable, less fully featured option, in that it doesn’t deliver filtration and surge protection, nor can you control each of its two outlets individually, but I’ve found it really handy for solving problems like my dad’s inability to reboot first and ask questions later.

Here at home, for example, I have the SP-1000 attached to my network router and cable modem. The BlueBOLT BB-ZB1 Gateway (which, by the way, attaches to your network router and allows you to access your SmartPlugs from anywhere in the world as long as you have a network connection) regularly pings a couple of IP addresses, and if it doesn’t find them, it performs a quick reboot of the router and modem.

I’ve also taken a preemptive approach with my networking system and now use the SP-1000 to automatically reboot my network devices every morning at 3am, just in case. And since doing so, I’ve found that I haven’t had to power cycle either device once, which is pretty amazing.

The Panamax MD2-ZB SmartPlugs, on the other hand, is being put to use in a more energy-saving capacity in my home. I’m using each of its two independently addressable (and controllable) outlets for my energy-vampire toaster and my Keurig coffee machine, neither of which ever gets any use except in the mornings. So I have them set to turn on at my wife’s regular wakeup time, and turn off again later in the morning (with the times shifted forward a bit on weekend mornings, since we both like to sleep in). And if, for some reason, we ever need to use either device outside their regular windows of operation, it merely takes a press of a button on top of the smart plug (or a poke in the BlueBOLT Mobile web app) to turn them on or off again.

It sounds like the sort of thing that would be ridiculously difficult to set up, but after unboxing BB-ZB1 Gateway and SmartPlugs, I had the system up and running in no time at all. The Gateway, as I said, attaches with an Ethernet cable to your router, and after registering the device with at mybluebolt.com, it only takes a few minutes more to add each of the SmartPlugs to the BlueBOLT ZigBee mesh network.

From there, it’s a snap to use the dedicated mybluebolt.com portal to create timed events with simple drop-down menus, create email alerts when specific devices are turned on, off, or power cycled, or set up pings to occasionally and automatically test your network connection. You can also take a look at energy analytics for all of your connected devices, set energy usage budgets, and see what percentage of that budget each of your devices is eating up.

All in all, the BlueBOLT SmartPlug platform has proven to be simplicity incarnate for me, and in the few short weeks that I’ve spent with the system, I’ve already started to take it for granted. It enhances the way I interact with my home, it’s taken a good bit of frustration out of my interactions with my networking equipment, and in the kitchen especially it’s saving me money by ensuring that power-hungry devices are only on when I need them.

If I had but one complaint about the BlueBOLT SmartPlug platform, it’s that it isn’t compatible with my Control4 system. At least not yet. A number of BlueBOLT devices do support Control4, URC, Savant, and other smart home systems, which is a good sign, but as for now the BlueBOLT SmartPlugs exist only within their own control and automation ecosystem.

That said, it’s a handy little ecosystem that’s rich, robust, and powerful on its own. And quite affordable, at that.

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