This week is the week we’ve all been waiting for and by “we’ve all” I actually just mean me. This week is the week I cracked open a box and found my very own SmartThings kit. That means that I’m no longer obligated to walk across the room and turn on a light nor wonder who is home and who is not because SmartThings is my new home assistant. We’ve reviewed SmartThings using our traditional DIY rating system and it has remained a top candidate throughout 2014 so we decided it was time to spend some time with SmartThings to make sure it was worthy of the #1 spot for our 2014 awards that will be announced in December.
Was it really THAT easy to set up?
The SmartThings hub was no harder to set up than Dropcam or any other device marketed as easy setup. It did take longer but that’s only because we were having fun and being creative as we came up with possible scenarios for our kit. In the end we decided to keep things very basic for testing. To add a new item to your SmartThings network you simply hold the device you want to connect close to the hub, pull out the activation tab, and add it using the + sign on the SmartThing’s app. The SmartThing’s app has built-in use case scenarios to help you create. For example, the presence sensors can be set to alert you when someone comes or goes or they can be set to alert you if any of the devices in your network are running low on battery.
What’s in the SmartThings kit?
The Motion Sensor
We first tested the motion sensor in a front window. We really wanted it to monitor for any movement on our porch but the motion sensor did not work through our window. Moving the sensor was easy. I simply picked up the motion sensor from the window and carried it to the garage. Then I opened up the SmartThings app and changed the name of the sensor from “Front Porch” to “Garage”. The sensor works great in the garage. We’ve been testing it in the garage for 3 months and we receive alerts when we pull into the garage and out to both our Android and iOS devices. We have an ecobee tilt sensor on the way that will be replacing the motion sensor but I know it will be just as easy to re-purpose the sensor as it was before. My plan is to use the motion sensor to create a fun IFTTT recipe and I’m open to suggestions.
Geofencing and Presence Sensors
Essentially we had four presence sensors with the Know and Control Your Home Kit available on Amazon. The Kit comes with two presence sensors but both of our phones also worked as “mobile presence devices”. We were able to setup my iPhone and an Android in addition to the two included presence sensors to track and also to automatically change our SmartThing’s mode when we left the house phones in hand. The system knows you are home or away based upon the included geofence feature. You can set the location of your home on the SmartThing’s app and create a circular virtual fence around your home. The smallest you can make the fence is 500 feet. If any of your sensors or phones leave the designated fenced area, the person tied to that Thing is considered away. Things can be setup with rules based upon who is home and who is away.
Open/Close Sensor or Multi Sensor
My favorite item included with the kit is the simple open/close or Multi sensor. The SmartThings Multi sensor is a two piece sensor that can do a lot of things. It can detect if your door is opened or closed, monitor cabinets, monitor for extreme temperatures, and more. With all the possibilities to be creative, we decided to use the sensors to monitor our front and back door. If you can put a sticker on a wall, you can install the Multi Sensor. In my home I have a decorative wood frame around the doors that makes it impossible for us to use a sensor that has to touch to read as closed. When I installed the Multi Sensor I had to install the two pieces about a half inch apart. I was happy to find that the Multi Sensors worked even though the two parts were separated.
Like the motion sensor, we’ve been testing the Multi sensors for months now and they are reliable. I’ve never lost connection with the devices, they still have about 76% of their battery life remaining, and the alerts are instant for both doors. In the video above I demo the sensors to show how fast the notifications are received on my phone. A few months after the video launched I received an awesome comment calling me out for demoing the sensors in my own home. The commenters concern was that the alert would not be as instant if I wasn’t on the same wireless connection as my hub. In response to his concern I performed a series of tests and even taped the results. I can tell you that the alerts are fast when I’m home and when I am away. You can watch my video response here.
My tip for placing the sensors on a door? Place the sensors on the top of the door as shown in the picture above. If you place the sensors on the side of the door you risk impact upon opening the door. This could potentially knock the sensor off or worse.
The SmartThings Hub is the only required component and it is truly plug and play. The hub requires power and an Ethernet connection. You can plug the hub into your router or into any existing Cat 5 outlet. From a home security standpoint the hub is very discreet. Any would-be bad guy would probably not think to smash this hub. It looks more like an everyday router than a powerful device controlling everything from sensors to video surveillance.
You can purchase the SmartThings hub on Amazon for $99 all by itself.
Over the past several months we’ve only lost power in our home once. I did receive a notification that power was down but it did take thirty minutes to send the alert. I’m not sure why, I’m thankful I received it, but it should have been faster. The alert telling me the power was back on was instant. The loss of power didn’t impact any of my settings and all my “things” fell right back inline when power was restored.
Smart Power Outlet
Finally we tested the smart power outlet. We simply, plugged the module into the wall, held down the button on the module, and it connected to our hub. There are a million things you could do with the smart power outlet. For example, you could set it up to turn on lights when someone gets home or perhaps turn on lights at 7am every morning. The possibilities are limitless. We decided to plug a lamp into it…seriously that is all we could come up with. From a security perspective we felt like this would be a good solution to give light to IP cameras without night vision. In theory you could place an IP camera next to the lamp and turn on the light whenever you need a clear view of your home.
What didn’t we like?
My biggest complaint is navigating the SmartThings app. I’ve been testing products that have oversimplified things to the point that I could hand my phone to my grandma and feel confident she could take over. The SmartThings app is easy to use but hard to navigate because it is disorganized. For example, from the dashboard it would be nice to be able to quickly see what mode you are in and to change the mode but you can’t. In order to see the mode and change it you have to flip to the left menu and then select the drop down mode menu. Another example of disorganization comes from the “Things Screen”. When you drill down on a specific Thing from the Things screen there is a settings/preferences button. You would assume that this would allow you to change how a Thing behaves but it only lets you change the Things name. To adjust what a Thing does you will need to go to the Things Menu, click under the sub-category like “doors & locks”, then click the gear icon at the top, select the “Thing”, and then you can adjust how the “Thing” behaves.
A Few Extra Thoughts
We recommend you read our complete review of SmartThings if you’re looking for more information.
You can also purchase the 2nd Gen SmartThings Hub on Amazon all on its own for a low cost of $99 or you can purchase your own SmartThings Kit on Amazon as well if you’re looking for an all-in-one solution.
In the end playing with SmartThings only made me love it more. Hands down this is a viable option for those that wish to take home security into their own hands. The device works equally well with an iPhone and an Android and keeping with their “open platform” promise they recently released an app for Windows phone users. If you use it as a self-monitored home security system, I have a couple things for you to chew on….
- You can setup severe weather alerts to be sent via push notification or text to multiple phones
- You can setup security alerts to be sent to multiple users via push notifications on one or more smart devices.
- For the simple tasks, we found that it was only possible to send text notifications to one phone.
- Your phones can act as a presence sensor so you really only need to buy presence sensors if you want to track people without phones or items like a car.
- 500 feet is the smallest geofence you can make.
- The app can take some time to learn. It is pretty but not easy to navigate once things are setup. Take a deep breath or use IFTTT.
- You need to add a siren or a Sonos, also available through Amazon, to make some noise.