Our Journey with SmartThings
Update December 13, 2021: Samsung no longer builds the SmartThings Hub, but the app is still up to date and working well. Aeotec now sells the current version of the SmartThings Hub.
Over the years we have used many smart home hubs to automate different aspects of our home. We love the additional control and security we get using Z-Wave switches, outlets and sensors and having one primary app we can use to orchestrate it all.
We began our SmartThings journey not too long after their first products were released in 2013. At the time we had been buying Philips Hue light bulbs and WeMo smart plugs, and SmartThings let us build automations so we could easily schedule timers and group different scenes together. We could also do that with the individual apps or external services with IFTTT (IfThisThenThat), but we liked having one app that would connect to multiple brands of devices.
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Over the years, we experimented with many different hubs – Staples Connect, Lowe’s by Iris and Wink. In those early years, the main drawback to SmartThings and these first generation hubs was their reliance on the cloud. For the devices to communicate with each other and run automations, the command would go up to the cloud and come back down again to trigger an action. By the time we opened up our phone, opened an app and clicked a button, we could have easily got up off the couch to turn on or off a switch, and worse, sometimes it wouldn’t work at all and we would never know what happened.
Moving to Local Control
We quickly realized that we wanted a smart home hub with local control, so our lights and sensors would respond faster and work if the Internet went down. For a while, we used the very quick and powerful Zipato Zipabox as our primary home automation platform. Eventually, SmartThings, as well as competitors Wink and Lowe’s Iris, all moved to more local control with their second generation products.
Voice Control changes everything
Everything changed in our smart home when Alexa came on the scene. Alexa supported the Wink platform for smart home control from the beginning, so all we had to do was say “Alexa, discover devices” and we could immediately start turning on and off all our connected switches and lights with our voice. All of a sudden Wink ran much faster, and we switched back from Zipato since they were too slow to jump on the Alexa bandwagon.
In the meantime, Staples Connect and Lowe’s Iris went out of business and we found replacements for the couple of things we still had running on those platforms. We always kept our SmartThings hub connected, but we switched to Wink to manage most of our home devices for many years.
In 2014, Samsung made a big move into the smart home with their acquisition of SmartThings, promising control and compatibility for their smart TVs and other home appliances. We’ve always loved our Samsung TVs but remain loyal Apple users for all our other home entertainment and we have a mix of other, mostly still dumb or unconnected but perfectly functional home appliances. While Samsung has added SmartThings to refrigerators and higher end Q Series televisions, we have not yet had an opportunity to upgrade.
For a couple of years, Samsung seemed to want to push people over to their own voice assistant, Bixby, but most recently, they seem to have become more vocal on their support of Alexa and Google instead. They still show demos every year at CES using Bixby in innovative ways, but they seem to have accepted that most people are going to use their iOS or Android phones to control their smart homes.
Enabling our security system with Konnected and SmartThings
We started using SmartThings regularly again when we installed our Konnected alarm panels to allow us to access our pre-wired door and window sensors that came with our house. We were still mostly using Wink, but Konnected didn’t support it so we set it up with SmartThings.
We were thrilled to finally be able to access all those wired sensors that hadn’t ever been connected to anything, and SmartThings made it easy to automatically “arm” and “disarm” our home by sensing our presence with our phones, something that they have been doing since their very first release.
Moving our whole home back to SmartThings
Last October, we had two extended power outages in our area and after things returned to normal, we couldn’t bring our Wink smart home hub back to life. We had been thinking about switching our house back to SmartThings for a while and decided that it was finally the right time.
Z-Wave enables our smart home longevity
We should mention that we would not be able to keep changing smart home platforms all the time without the Z-Wave ecosystem. Z-Wave is a home networking technology designed specifically for home automation, with more than 2400 products on the market and more than 100 million products already installed.
Z-Wave devices use mesh networking, which means that the more devices you have in your home, the stronger your network becomes, unlike your Wi-Fi network where devices are sharing the same bandwidth. Z-Wave devices also use much less power, so battery-powered sensors last much longer – so you can install them in hard-to-reach (and see) areas and not have to worry about changing batteries all the time.
Z-Wave devices need a smart home hub (such as SmartThings) to connect to your Wi-Fi and therefore the Internet, so you can automate and control your home. Z-Wave interoperability allows us to use devices from many different manufacturers so we can choose the best products for what we need, without having to always install a new app.
Since we got started with our smart home, there have been lots of innovations in home connectivity technology – Bluetooth has added low-energy and mesh networking, Wi-Fi mesh routers that expand coverage are more widely available, and new protocols like Thread promise to make devices from all manufacturers work better together. But Z-Wave still remains one of the most reliable and ubiquitous home networking standards and we expect to keep using it for the foreseeable future.
Compatibility Beyond Z-Wave
Since SmartThings has been on the market so long, they have a wide range of compatible connected devices in virtually every category you can imagine. In addition to our Z-Wave devices, SmartThings also supports ZigBee, another common low-power smart home standard used by companies like Phillips and Ikea, as well as what they call connected services – cloud support for popular devices like the Ring Doorbell and Ecobee thermostats.
As of today, SmartThings supports almost 400 devices, from bulbs, cameras, sensors and plugs to locks, thermostats, speakers and window coverings from a range of manufacturers.
When we talk to other companies in the smart home industry, they tell us that SmartThings has made it a lot easier to add new devices to their ecosystem because they allow communities to do a lot of the work themselves and add their devices through the custom device handler. We have used this with many products such as the great switches and outlets from Zooz and it works fine, though we’re not sure we’d recommend it for beginners.
SmartThings v2 versus v3
While we were writing this, we realized that we are actually still using the SmartThings second generation hub, even though the third generation hub was released in 2018.
We generally recommend you always buy the newest version of smart home products but in our case we will probably stick to the v2 since it includes battery back-up and our area is prone to power outages.
The newer version 3 hub removes the battery back-up but adds Wi-Fi connectivity, which makes it easier to place in the house since you don’t have to connect it to your Internet router.
After almost seven years with SmartThings it’s one of our longest lasting smart home products and a platform that has continued to grow while others have struggled and gone out of business. We are likely to continue to experiment with smart home platforms but we expect SmartThings to stay in our home for years to come.