Local Smart Home Control with Zipato
Over the last couple of years, we have tested several of the leading smart home hubs available in the US, including Iris, Smart Things, Staples Connect, and Wink (and compared them in November 2014).
While all of these systems work fairly well, the issue we quickly identified was reliance on the cloud, especially for control inside your own home network. When we want to turn on a light, we want to turn it on now, not wait for the command to go from our phones to the cloud and back again. Worst of all, reliance on the cloud can mean some devices don’t turn on at all if there are service issues. While we have frankly had the most trouble with Wink, all four of these services have similar latency issues and most are trying to upgrade their hubs to do something about it.
Earlier this year, our friends at Home Controls suggested we try Zipato. Zipato is a Croatian company that has been around for several years in the home automation space. Until recently their products have been used primarily by professionals but this year they have started a line of DIY products available in the US through Home Controls as well as from Amazon.
The Zipato system is modular. We started with the Zipabox that supports Z-Wave devices. If you want to add other radios, you simply snap on the module you need. We have a lot of Zigbee devices so we added that module as well.
The Zipabox required a hard-wired connection to our home router. After plugging it in, devices are added and configured via the web interface, rather than the control applications on the phone or tablet. The HTML5 web interface takes a long time to load, since it is connecting to a server overseas, but once you get connected it is fast and easy to use.
Zipato supports an extensive list of devices of all types. We were able to control most everything in our home, including some sensors from Quirky and Pella. Setting up most devices for basic use (on and off) is really easy.
Zipato’s rules engine is very powerful and takes some time to learn. You can turn on or off a group of things with triggers, for instance sunrise and sunset. These rules can be very sophisticated, controlling many things via many methods.
Local control means that commands are instantaneous. When you use a command turn the house off at night everything goes off almost immediately, unlike other hubs which can take up to 30 seconds, and sometimes don’t turn everything off on the first try. And if we lose our internet connection we can still control our house within the house.
One of our favorite features of Zipato is the ability to execute commands over the internet through virtual devices. This is very handy to use to link other platforms to Zipato, for instance we can turn on our living room lights through Roomie Remote or use IFTTT to toggle power on our nightstand light.
One of the only things we have been unable to connect to our Zipato is our unsupported Samsung camera. Zipato support has been really helpful trying to get it to work with us, but to date we still cannot see the video through the Zipato app. Zipato appears to plan to support Nest for an additional cost, but we have not connected that since they have not yet finalized the interface.
The biggest drawback to Zipato is the user interface for the control applications. The original interface was just plain ugly but at least it was fast and easy to use. The new iOS application looks more attractive, but in reality it is more difficult to navigate as it takes two or more clicks to get to what we want to control.
The other problem with Zipato is that it is expensive. The main unit, the Zipabox, retails for about $190, the Zigbee module is an extra $55, the security module is $130, etc. While we believe the local control makes it worthwhile, once cheaper hubs like SmartThings are available it will be difficult for them to compete.
We had basically switched over most of our primary home control to Zipato and were trying to figure out what to do with devices we still had connected to our Wink Relay and Tapt switches when Wink announced support for Amazon Echo. Now we are enamored with Echo’s simple voice control of those devices and for some reason, the latency problem we had with Wink is gone. The Echo turns the Wink-controlled lights on faster than the Wink app and switches. We hope that Zipato will add Amazon Echo and/or Apple Home Kit support soon, as voice control will make the platform much more compelling.
In general, we are pleased with Zipato, especially with their support, local control, modularity, and powerful rules engine and we are looking forward to their official production firmware release. However, it seems that we still have not found the ultimate smart home platform for us so we will continue to mix and match as the market evolves.