Positives: the easiest way to control a socket almost anywhere on the planet.
Negatives: numeric control codes can be fairly cryptic.
Home automation is big business in the United States but it's a concept that has never really taken off this side of the Atlantic. Despite the potential benefits of being able to control every mains-powered gadget in your home from your sofa, the cost and complexity of setting up such a system puts most people off.
The ThermoTxt intelligent socket from Tekview provides a simpler method of remote power control, using mobile phone networks to bypass the need for wiring or configuration. To set it up you insert a pay-as-you-go mobile phone SIM card, plug the gadget into a mains socket and send it a text message from the phone you'd like to control it from. Within seconds the ThermoTxt pings back a confirmation message and set-up is complete.
You then use a series of text commands to control the power. Plug the device you'd like to control into the back of the ThermoTxt and it instantly becomes remote-controllable.
The socket recognises which mobile number sent the request and only pre-authorised numbers (up to five) can switch the socket on or off.
While the ThermoTxt is undoubtedly a clever gadget, it's a stretch to work out where it might be genuinely useful to have global remote control over a single power socket. IT managers could avoid late-night call-outs by using a ThermoTxt socket to reboot servers or other faulty equipment.
Using the included temperature sensor, gardeners might use a ThermoTxt to turn on a fan when their greenhouse gets too hot in summer or to control a heater to keep frost at bay over the winter.
The gadget could also provide some extra peace of mind for anyone looking after elderly relatives. The socket can be queried by text message at any time to check the room temperature and automatic alerts can be sent when temperatures fall too low or climb too high.
The socket also automatically sends a text warning if there is a power cut, which is potentially useful for shopkeepers or restaurants with a lot of money tied up in chilled or frozen produce.
In The Herald office, with its centrally managed climate and IT services, we didn't have any great practical need for the ThermoTxt, so my tests predictably turned to pranks. Plugged into a colleague's desk fan, with the socket hidden from view under the table, we had great (if slightly juvenile) fun turning his fan on and off at random intervals.
An initial suspicion that I was responsible for the faulty fan was discounted when it turned on while I was at a meeting on the other side of Glasgow – the beauty of remote control.