Thursday, January 16, 2014

SmartThings Mini-Review

My wife and I are building a new house, and one of my plans for it is to include a home automation system.  This is an area I’ve been looking into for a while now, but have never really delved into with any depth.  After some research, I settled on SmartThings’ platform as my starting point.  I received my first order yesterday, and while it’s not ready to be installed (we don’t have a roof yet), I couldn’t resist unboxing the kit and setting it up.

The system so far has been a breeze to set up.  Simply download the app, plug the SmartThings hub into internet and power, and then use the code included in the packaging to connect the app to the hub.  To connect each device, Simply click “Add Thing” in the app and pull the battery tab out of the device.  I was able to set up 4 sensors and the hub in about 15 minutes.  My only complaint is that a few of them took a little bit longer than expected to join up.  The “presence sensor” especially took a while.  The app generally handles that gracefully, but at times you wonder if it’s hung.

Once my sensors were set up, I set up a few “Apps”.  Apps are the brains of the SmartThing system.  They let you do things like turn off and on lights based on presence, schedule, or even weather. Unfortunately, since the switches I bought need to be installed in the wall, I can’t do much actual automation yet. They do offer a “wall-wart” style device, but I’m not a fan of those, since devices can _only_ be controlled through the system set up (ie a lamp plugged in to one can not be turned on remotely if it was turned off manually).  But I was able to fairly easily send myself push notifications based on a various sensors by simply choosing my devices and a few options in the app.

The multi-sensor was especially interesting to me.  This little device looks like a standard window or door mag sensor you would see with an alarm system.  However, it also packs in a temperature sensor and 3-axis accelerometer.  This means it can be stuck on doors, windows, and even mailboxes (if in range), to notify you or do things when they open or close or move.  But you can also use them as feedback into your HVAC system, or as simple thermostat for plugin heaters and the like.

So far, my main complaint with the system is that, while user friendly, it’s almost _too_ helpful.  Videos stepping you through pulling the battery tab out of a sensor are probably handy for some, but just felt “in the way” for me.  Large picture buttons for some of the app menus also were a bit distracting.  That said, for them to really make prime time they need to be dead easy to use even for non-nerds, and I think they’re getting close to that.

Setup is currently only done through the app, which is only iOS and Android.  Meaning if you don’t have one of those, you’re pretty much out of luck.  A full-on web interface would be nice so that the system can be monitored both on a mobile device and on a larger screen.  The developer site has a start of just such a thing, so hopefully that’s in the works.

I’ll do another review once I’ve had the system for a bit, and installed it in the house.  I’ll be especially curious to see how the battery life is for these sensors, and how well some 3rd party devices like thermostats and door locks work. 


Erick said...

Hi Daniel,

What made you decide on this solution for home automation? What others did you consider?


Daniel Root said...

Excellent question, Erick. The short answer is I decided on it because it seemed a good balance between "hackable" and "just works". I decided to do a full post on this question, so hopefully that will shed some more light:


Unknown said...

can you please tell me whats the difference in between Veralite, Revolv and Smart things? I'm ready to dive into one of these systems in my new house.


Daniel Root said...

I looked at each of these some, but haven't tried them all, so can't speak too much about them beyond the "Why I Chose SmartThings" post I link to above.

They all do similar things. I just felt like SmartThings did more of what I wanted out-of-the-box, had a better user interface, and seemed like it would be around for a while. When I was evaluating them, it looked like Revolv was a little less developed. Veralite's app didn't seem quite as nice.