Smart Home devices and all the new cutting-edge features like voice command, geolocation, app control, and advanced device interconnectivity are at the bleeding edge of modern development, but Home Automation in itself is not quite as new of a concept as one might think.
The premise of Home Automation is to, quite simply, automate devices and processes around the home. Early beginnings of Home Automation have roots in the 1900s with the advent of electric power distribution opening the door to washing machines, sewing machines, dishwashers, and eventually electric garage door openers. Fast forward to today and most of the Smart Home devices are basically implementations of new technology automating older systems, with voice controllers being the truly brand new Home Automation systems.
One such new technology impacting older systems in a big way is the smart garage door opener. Genie, the company behind decades of traditional garage door motors and openers now has an Aladdin Connect Smart Garage Door Opener series of smart garage door openers that add some modern technology to one of the more conventional (and often overlooked) areas of the home.
The Genie of the Garage
When we got the Aladdin Connect Smart Garage Door Opener from Genie I had concerns that my 20-year-old-plus garage door opener would not be compatible with the new technology. While it is a Genie, since it uses the DIP (dual in-line package) switches in lieu of a “Learn” button, I cannot even program the buttons in my truck to operate the door. This has always been a pain for me, since I have the buttons available and would like to use them. Sure, I could keep a clicker in my vehicle but I like to keep a clean operation and reduce the clutter as much as possible.
I expressed this concern and they ironically told me one of their taglines was actually “Make your 20-year-old garage door opener, SMART”. It couldn’t have been more perfect on paper, and that was enough to pique my curiosity and get me keen on testing out their new device.
What is a Smart Garage Door Opener?
A smart garage door opener is a module that controls the motor on the garage door for opening or closing remotely via app, over a Wi-Fi network. These Wi-Fi garage door openers also send mobile notifications to the users when the door is opened or closed, and often have a reminder alert for when the door is left open for extended periods of time. Additionally, smart garage door openers allow users to see logs of when the door was opened or closed.
Also, many Wi-Fi garage door openers have Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant voice controller compatibility, so users can open or close the garage door with a simple voice command.
There are two types of smart garage door openers on the market today, both of which have different forms, applications, and levels of complexity to install but have the same end results at the end of the day.
These devices are what make up most of the smart garage door openers on the market, including the Aladdin Connect. While all a bit unique in their own right, all jack into the current garage door motor unit and take over command of the unit for remote access and all the smart functionalities.
The benefit to the add-on modules is that they are less expensive than new motorized units with the intelligent features built-in, and they require less installation or replacement of functioning devices.
Full motorized units
The complete smart garage door motorized unit replaces older traditional units, and come with the Wi-Fi garage opener module included. These are good for new additions entirely but also for those who are looking to replace older units that are either incompatible or no longer operational.
Genie has their Aladdin Connect line of fully motorized smart garage door openers in a variety of applications for complete overhauls to the system. These can either be belt drive, chain drive, or screw drive units, and the one key to keep in mind when shopping for these units is that if there is a current garage door motor in place, users will need to match the current type of lift mechanism (screw, chain, or belt) tucked up in the track with the new model if it is not included with the motor unit. Otherwise, they will need to replace the inner mechanical parts of the track as well.
These are more expensive obviously, and add a level of complication when replacing the whole unit.
Building a Smart Garage
Genie’s $75 Aladdin Connect offers the standard features every smart garage door controller brings to the table, and then a serving of extras that are refreshingly unique in a rather inexpensive Smart Home upgrade.
As one would expect from a connected home device today, users have the ability to open or close the garage door from anywhere via the app, which also delivers instant notifications for open and close activity and offers spot-checking the status ad-hoc. The app, available for Android 4.4 and higher as well as iOS 8 and higher, keeps a door access log with open and close activities timestamped for the last 100 events, which gives plenty of transparency for several weeks at a time or more, depending on the frequency of operation of course.
Where the Genie Aladdin Connect starts to pull away from the pack is with a collection of practical features for a smart garage door opener that pull from Genie’s experience over the past 65 years of making the systems.
The Aladdin Connect allows users to receive alerts when the garage door is used even when disengaged from the motor, by using an independently-powered monitoring system that mounts on the garage door panel itself. Similar to most smart locks on the market today, the app allows users to provide temporary or permanent access to friends or relatives and set the lifespan as they see fit. Additionally, Genie’s smart garage opener can be programmed to automatically close at a specific time of day on a schedule or operate on a time delay system after a specific length of time being left open. With one Aladdin Connect module, users can control up to three garage doors, however each door must have its own motor and DPS (Door Positioning Sensor).
How to install the Genie Aladdin Connect Smart Garage Door Opener
Even though Genie is a manufacturer of garage door motors, the Aladdin Connect is compatible with other leading brands like LiftMaster, Chamberlain, Craftsman and others. Users can check their compatibility list to be sure their model works, but the list is pretty expansive. Installing the Wi-Fi garage door opener is simple enough, although there are several steps to complete and a couple options along the way.
- Remove the back bracket from the Aladdin Connect DCM (Door Control Module). This is the main unit that powers the entire system. Plug it into an outlet with the AC adapter.
- Download the Aladdin Connect app from the Google Play store or App Store, and follow on-screen instructions.
- In the garage, choose a location for the DCM to mount that is within five feet of an outlet. The Wi-Fi signal indication LED on the unit should illuminate green: if it lights up red there is a weak or nonexistent signal. Once this is established, unplug the unit. Make sure the garage door opener motor is unplugged.
- There are two options to wire up the Aladdin Connect device; one to the garage motor itself and the other to the push button wall control. The choice is up to users, depending on their setup and preference.
- Using the included dual strand wire spool, separate the two wires and strip away the sheath. Insert these into the two connection points for “Door 1” on the back of the DCM.
- Run the other end of the dual strand wire to either the back of the garage door motor (inserting them into terminals three and four along with the existing push button wires) or run them to the back of the push button unit itself and connect them to the two terminals.
- Mount the DCM mounting bracket to the wall where it is within reach of an outlet, plug in the unit and snap the DCM onto the bracket.
- In order for the Aladdin Connect to know exactly what the position of the door is, there is a DPS (Door Position Sensor) that mounts to the garage door itself. This can be installed by screwing in the mounting bracket to a reinforced section of the top panel door end tile, taking care not to mount to the thin door panel.
- Plug in the garage door motor, test, and set preferences in the app
For adding second and third doors to the system, users need to buy another Aladdin Connect Door Position Sensor for $37 to place on each door. This (unsurprisingly) gives the unit the position of the door so it can determine which status to report in the app.
Awakening the Genie — A Day in the Life with a Wi-Fi Garage Door Controller
Navigating the Aladdin Connect app in daily use is quite straightforward, from opening and closing to receiving notifications. Response time from giving the command in the app to action was completed with only about a 10-second delay, and the notifications came through immediately when action was initiated from my remote or keypad. When the request comes through via app, the Aladdin Connect has a few seconds of beeping and flashing white light to notify anyone in the garage that the door is closing, to avoid getting caught in the path of the door unexpectedly.
Testing out the time scheduling function proved to be effective, however I personally prefer the time delay feature for normal use. Since there are times when I leave the house each morning earlier or later than normal, it seemed like the regular schedule for closing the garage wouldn’t be able to account for these instances. However, with the time delay feature as long as I would leave the garage within the same amount of time each day I would be covered, regardless of the time of day.
It is nice though, to be able to set the scheduled time closure as a “catch-all” in the evening or on the weekend at specific times, so if there is in-and-out activity in the garage the door isn’t left open longer than what is safe to protect the home and belongings. At the end of the day, just having the flexibility to choose the specific program methodology is really a useful feature I’m glad Genie thought to include.
My garage is not accessible from inside the house, so to avoid getting locked out I installed a failsafe key that can disengage the carriage assembly from the track in the event of a power outage. This system is rather basic, and for a motivated thief with some skill would likely not take much effort to pick the lock. However, in this case I would still receive a notification that the door had been opened manually, without the command being entered from a keypad or app. That extra piece of mind and detail shows a level of expertise and refinement that I very much appreciate and in all honesty wouldn’t have thought of until coming across the Aladdin Connect.
What I like about the Aladdin Connect opener over some other styles of smart garage door systems (like the Garadget Wi-Fi garage controller we tested) is that it doesn’t use any sort of external visual system like a laser to determine the door position. Lasers that rely on visually making contact with an area and bouncing back to the sensor on the unit are inherently at risk of faulty readings if the laser device, reflector, or both are knocked off alignment.
Nexx Garage has a similar model that is based off the connection to the garage door motor, but uses two proximity sensors (one on the garage door itself and another on the garage door frame) to detect the door position. While this one is a pretty slick device and also has IFTTT (read our experience with it here) Genie’s solution uses Bluetooth for the (DPS) door positioning sensor to communicate to the door control module (DCM), which is a more advanced method for determining door position. The only caveat to this is that there is a CR2032 battery in the door sensor that has the possibility of dying — but Genie thought of this. They added the DPS battery level to the app home screen as well as included the ability for the app to notify users when the battery level is low so with regular use there should always be early warning to any dead battery on the door sensor.
Are Smart Garage Door Openers Safe?
Like anything connected to the internet, there are ways around security. Scratch that, any security measure can be broken, be it digital or a standard lock. The level of “security” really just depends on the skill and motivation of the would-be crook. That being said, having a secure Wi-Fi network in place for those building a Smart Home is very important, since the more devices you add to the network the more potential opportunities there are for a hacker to find a weakness.
The vast majority of hackers aren’t necessarily looking to hack into the average person’s home via connected devices however, so the fears of rampant open doors into your home have largely subsided from the general population. Companies are investing in the technology of more secure devices and encrypted data however, which is something that we should be very keen on checking. It should be noted that many Home Automation devices come from the brands with standard login codes or master codes, which should be changed upon setup.
For older garage door openers that utilize DIP switches, there are ways to hack the system fairly easily, exploited on ITS Tactical, so newer models with Rolling Codes, Hopping Codes, Intellicode or Security Plus that reset each time the garage remote is activated are more secure.
This however, is a problem with the original garage door opener as that threat is present before connecting anything to the internet. If your older system uses the DIP switches, it is recommended to upgrade to something more secure and the new Genie garage door opener motors have the Aladdin Connect smart controller system built-in for an all-in-one package.
My main security concern with the progression of connected devices for access control (like smart locks and smart garage door openers) from reputable companies isn’t about the potential for hacking though, provided they are using proper encryption and security measures. The major trepidation I have with this segment of the market is the inclusion with other devices and processes that have the possibility of introducing danger into the system, like with the Amazon Key.
Without going off on a tangent, opening up access to my home, car, or garage to strangers simply to drop off a package seems like sacrificing a rather minor potential security breach for a much greater one.
Unlike the tale of “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves”, using voice commands to open doors with a phrase is an actual possibility thanks to Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant voice controllers.
Currently, the only smart garage openers that work with Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant that we know of are Genie Aladdin Connect, Nexx Garage, Garageio, GoGogate, Senclo Fi, and Chamberlain/LiftMaster MYQ (only works with Google Assistant as of time of writing, although to access the voice controller feature users need to purchase an additional $49 adapter and a $1/month fee).
The Genie Aladdin Connect is now integrated (as of their May update) with Google Assistant, IFTTT, and Amazon Alexa, which allows all their smart garage door openers to be compatible with both voice controllers with firmware updates. This is pretty big, and what was previously a rock-solid platform just got the extra bump it needed to be world-class in my eyes.
Home Automation with a Smart Garage
All said and done, my experience with the Genie Aladdin Connect smart garage door opener was great, and it blended seamlessly with my daily use. One of the big caveats with connected devices is that sometimes the innovative features they come with are not all that practical in organic use of the device itself — not so with this one.
I’m intrigued by the growing smart garage and smart outdoor ecosystems, since the majority of the focus thus far has been on Home Automation within the four walls of the home itself there is a vast opportunity for injecting connected technology to these often-overlooked areas. And, as it turns out when it comes to Wi-Fi garage openers, you can teach an old door new tricks.
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Note, all prices and products are accurate at the time of article publication, although some may have changed or are no longer available.