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Aug292014

Podcast #650: SmartThings Home Automation

We have had a running joke about the year of home automation for a few years now. Judging by how many home automation hubs that have been released in the last few months it's safe to say home automation is now mainstream. There is the Revolv (HT Guys Review Podcast #620) that can speak to Z-Wave, Insteon, and more. It goes for $299. Home Depot got into the game with their $50 Wink Home Automation Hub and connected devices. Staples has a competing $50 product called Staples Connect Home Automation Hub. With all these products you may wonder is there room for anyone else?

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SmartThings Home Automation

We have had a running joke about the year of home automation for a few years now. Judging by how many home automation hubs that have been released in the last few months it's safe to say home automation is now mainstream.  There is the Revolv (HT Guys Review Podcast #620) that can speak to Z-Wave, Insteon, and more. It goes for $299. Home Depot got into the game with their $50 Wink Home Automation Hub and connected devices. Staples has a competing $50 product called Staples Connect Home Automation Hub. With all these products you may wonder is there room for anyone else?

Room or not, SmartThings is taking a run at the market with the SmartThings Hub. Their hub runs $99 and is available at Amazon (Buy Now). There is also a “Control Your Home Kit” that runs $329 and contains, the hub, an IR motion sensor, two presence sensors, two multi sensors, and one lamp module. You control and program the system through an iOS or Android app. We used the Control Your Home Kit for this review.

 

The Components

SmartThings Hub - This is the brains behind the operation. It is connected to your network via hardwire and talks to all your devices through IP, Z-Wave or ZigBee.

SmartSense Multi Sensor - This is one of the coolest devices we got to use. This device senses movement, vibration, orientation, and temperature. In addition to letting you know if your door or window is opened, you can get a notification of something is moved or if the temperature in your wine cellar is too high. You can get very creative with what you can do with the Multi Sensor.

SmartSense Motion Sensor - Nothing new here. This device will trip when it sense motion and you can set off an alarm or simply turn on lights.

SmartSense Presence Sensor -  You can setup your system to notify you when people and pets approach and leave your home. Attach it to you keys and not only will it trip lights on and off for you when you come home but you can activate a beep to help you find them if they are lost.

SmartSense Lamp Module - Control a lamp or other device by plugging them into this unit.

 

Setup

Setup consisted of connecting the hub to your network via an Ethernet cable, installing an app on your tablet or phone, creating an account, and then updating the firmware. That took about fifteen minutes. Once that was completed you had to add devices. This was done by pressing a button on the device you want to add and then asking the app to look for it. Very straight forward but on some devices you had to open them up to get to the pairing button.  

Now that the devices are paired you can start setting up your automation. The app is a little different than what we typically see in an automation system. You have a dashboard that categorizes the “Things” (devices) that are defined. There is Home and Family which uses presence sensors and phones to determine who is and isn’t at home. There are “Lights and Switches”, “Motion”, “Doors and Locks”, and more.

Selecting any of these categories brings up the status for that category. Swiping the display will bring up the history so you can see when your child or significant other got home.  There is is a “text” type of dialog between you and your house. Its kind of cute but we think it may get old after a while.

On the dashboard there is a plus button that you can use to add devices, alerts, actions, and more. The more is kind of cool. Under health and fitness you can receive a reminder if you haven’t opened your medicine cabinet each day or you can have your lights gradually come on in the morning. There are a lot of cool things that you can do and its very easy to configure. But that is where we had some issues.

Being very comfortable with coding we don’t find it difficult to set up macros and then kick them off after some event. You can do the same with the SmartThings system but it takes way too many steps. Its kind of like TurboTax, you answer a bunch of questions and at the end you get an action or an alert. But for most people this is a great way to get started and you can get very sophisticated with what you can do.


Open Platform

One advantage we see with the SmartThings platform is that it is open. That means third parties can create, or adapt existing, devices to work with the hub. The benefit is that there will be rapid development of products that you will be able to use with the system. The drawback is that some of the devices that say they are compatible may not be fully baked. If you buy products that were developed by or certified by SmartThings you can avoid the headaches. But then again where’s the fun in that?

Anticipating that some may have difficulties setting up the system SmartThings has created a bunch of how to videos on their Youtube Channel. Between that and a lively user forum you should be able to get the support you need to fully automate your home.

 

Bottom Line

We don’t think anyone will argue that Home Automation has come of age. Yes you can hire an expert and pay a lot of money to have a custom automation package that will be the envy of all your friends. Or you can spend about $300 and do it yourself and still be the envy of all your friends. The SmartThings Home Automation platform will have you controlling your world from anywhere in the world and you’ll have fun doing it!

 

 

Download Episode #650

Reader Comments (4)

I've been very curious to know how Smart Things compares to Insteon. They both have some positive looking attributes.

August 30, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJeff

I doubt the new movie to Disc thing you talked about will ever happen!

September 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMax

I found your podcasts a few months ago while looking for info on home automation. I really liked your reviews of Revolv, the SmartThings Hub and the Control Your Home Kit. In a couple recent podcasts you mentioned giving away your demo units. I would love to be entered into the hat for the Revolv and the Control Your Home Kit.
Keep up the great work! . . . and I think the name change to "Home Tech Guys" is a good move!

Thanks again.

September 13, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDouglas Larson

Hey, guys! I'm voting against "Home Tech". I do not care about "the year of home automation" and would never have found you if I had been looking for Home Theater podcasts. Likewise, I'm pretty sure most people start out with an interest in home theater and then, when their house becomes more complex, start thinking about automation. Not me, but I'll bet most of your listeners started out this way. I feel you'd be losing additions to your core audience by going "tech", the way my church is losing membership. Not enough new members and the old ones are dying off. This could easily happen to you. We become attracted to you due to your main content, not some generic like "tech". I'd have zipped right by that while searching. I'd hate to see your podcast die out and I think this could be one of those little steps. Heck, I even still miss the twice a week shows!

October 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRick K.

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