The Bottom Line
Last fall, just about every review site ranked SmartThings as the best consumer DIY home automation system.
And, the v2 hub promised less dependence on the cloud and higher speeds.
So why are so many users complaining about the reliability of the SmartThings experience and looking for alternatives?
I thought I’d pick up a SmartThings hub and check it out for myself to give you an update on how well it performs.
What We’ll Cover
Samsung Smarthings Review From 30,000 ft
On paper, the SmartThings hub looks pretty snazzy. Here are some key features:
- Completely DIY with no monthly fee
- A strong community for support and solutions
- An open development SDK to allow custom apps (AKA SmartApps)
- Wide home automation protocol support; Z-Wave, Zigbee, and numerous WiFi integrations
- A decent entry price of $99
- Support for Amazon Echo to enable voice control, IFTTT, and Stringify
- Battery backup
If you haven’t heard of Stringify yet, it’s the rules engine that you wish IFTTT were. You can combine triggers in conditions and string together actions as well. Think IF you’re away from home AND it’s after 8PM AND motion is detected turn on the lights AND send a notification to your phone.
So What’s SmartThings Cost?
Well, we already covered the hub itself at $99. But SmartThings also offers a line of Zigbee accessories as well.
Here’s the rundown:
- Multipurpose sensor ($40) – Entry sensor + temperature and vibration
- Motion sensor ($40)
- Temperature and humidity sensor ($45)
- Water Leak sensor ($40)
- Outlet Switch ($55)
- Arrival sensor ($30)
SmartThings sensors have a reputation for being well-designed. The only warning I would give is that the experience with the arrival sensors can be hit and miss. Generally, you’ll be better off using your phone if you have one.
Setting Up SmartThings Home Automation
Out of the box, the SmartThings experience is pretty good. You are guided through the setup in the app to connect the hub to your network, update its firmware, and then start setting up your devices.
What Devices are SmartThings Compatible?
SmartThings has been out for a while and has an active community to integrate new devices as well. So, most mainstream Z-Wave and Zigbee devices are supported. Just to be sure, I tested a variety of Z-Wave and Zigbee devices to make sure everything played nicely together. I was in the middle of a move, so this list is shorter than normal.
- Ecolink Tilt sensor (Z-Wave)
- Ecolink Entry sensor (Z-Wave)
- Cree Connected bulb (Zigbee)
- SmartThings multisensor (Zigbee)
Overall, I didn’t have any problems. But, I did have to set the tilt sensor up as a generic open/close device instead of it being auto-detected. Overall, it was nothing like the trouble I had with the Wink hub.
My primary disappointment in Wink outside of the device support was the lack of modes. There just wasn’t an easy way to get notifications for things when I was away from the house and not when I was there.
Thankfully, Score one for Samsung in the SmartThings vs. Wink battle, SmartThings takes care of that with modes just like the Staples Connect, insuring that security system type of operation is built into the app. After all, security is one of the primary reasons that people buy home automation systems.
Is the SmartThings App Any Good?
The main dashboard of the SmartThings app will give you a quick status of your home. If you set up security notifications, this is where you can come to acknowledge, dismiss events, and flag them as false alarms. It also lets you see what mode your home is in (Arm Away, Arm Stay, or Disarm) and switch between modes. You can also view past events, which is helpful when reviewing an alert to give you some context. In that sense, it emulates any other DIY security system.
On the My Home screen, you can view your connected devices organized by Rooms, Things (or devices), or Family. The Family view lets you see if your family is at the house and when they came and went if they have the app on their phone or have a presence sensor.
Next, the Routines let you automate actions based on triggers. As you can see in the pictures, triggers could be sensors, time, or arrival based. For instance, “when no motion is sensed for 30 minutes, turn the lights off and set the home to Away.”
Of course, you can always manually trigger a mode as well. And, if you have an Amazon Echo, Tap, or Dot, you can use voice control.
As far as actions, you can integrate a wide array of devices. And, if you can’t find what you need, you can always roll your own device with an Arduino and connect with the Arduino Shield or ThingShield.
Overall, the design is well done and the activities you need the most are never very far away.
But Can I Rely on it to Work?
If you keep up with these sorts of things, you know that SmartThings has had some well-publicized failures in its cloud servers over the past few months.
To their credit, SmartThings is open about what the problems are and what they are doing to correct the problems. It sounds like their growth and some software changes brought down the infrastructure that they had in place at the time. But to users who have had SmartThings since 2013, regular outages like those recently experienced quickly turn devotees into angry farmers with pitchforks. After all, you expect these kinds of growing pains from a Kickstarter project, not a seasoned home automation player with Samsung sending them money.
According to their status page, the problems are now behind them. But, I did endure a day of notifications because my hub was disconnecting and reconnecting to their servers all day. Thankfully, resetting the hub when I got home fixed the issue.
That’s tolerable if a light fails to come on, but when you don’t get a notification that your door has been opened when you’re not home . . . not cool!
SmartThings vs Wink
So what’s the final tally in the Wink vs. SmartThings battle?
Wins for SmartThings:
- Smart use of modes for security monitoring
- Sunrise/sunset with time offsets
- Integration of more hardware devices
- Integration with more 3rd party software (though Wink is making great strides here despite their bankruptcy)
Wins for Wink:
I call that a victory for SmartThings for my needs.
The Final Verdict on the V2 SmartThings Hub Review
All in all, I was impressed with the SmartThings v2 hub performance. It was pretty snappy responding to commands, a common complaint for hubs that rely heavily on cloud connections to operate.
While it doesn’t do as much local processing as a smart hub like the Staples Connect (which isn’t being actively improved any more) or a Vera, the range of built-in features and integration with other popular apps will likely still make SmartThings the hub to beat with people that are OK with a cloud-dependent solution. The fact that the ability to use SmartApps, IFTTT, Stringify, or an Arduino to implement things that you couldn’t otherwise also make this an attractive hub for makers and software-savvy power users.
At $99 as I’m writing, it’s $10 over a Wink hub, which also offers Z-Wave + Zigbee support. But, opportunities for a Wink for $50 are not uncommon. Is it worth the extra coin? I think the new home automation user wanting basic functionality will be fine with the Wink. But, if you want more complex features and options in an average Joe friendly package, then the SmartThings hub will serve you well with many capabilities for tweaking that other hubs like Staples Connect and Wink lack.
Power users will likely continue to prefer a Z-Wave stick and dedicated home automation software like the open-source HomeAssistant and then using that as a bridge to Wink or SmartThings to pick up more integrations.
Note: I initially completed the SmartThings v2 review on App version 2.1.4 (Android), 2.1.3 (iOS) and Firmware version 000.014.00039
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