Which Smart Home Platform is Right for You?
When we first started our experiments at AppMyHome, there were no real DIY smart home platforms out there, just point devices with a single purpose, like the Nest thermostat or sophisticated specialty platforms that required a trained installer to use.
Fast forward to the 2014 holiday shopping season and there are companies large and small getting into the home automation game. Wink has clever advertisements on TV and Home Depot just hired a nationwide home automation director. Samsung recently acquired SmartThings and Lowe’s has its own Iris platform with dozens of compatible devices for sale.
Almost all of these hubs have some kind of special going on for the holidays so no matter which you choose, you shouldn’t have to pay full price for it. You should be able to either get it bundled in a kit or get one when you buy other compatible devices. These deals were not available when we invested in these platforms.
With all these choices, how do you decide? Here at AppMyHome we are currently using four different platforms (Iris, Smartthings, Staples Connect, and Wink). In this article we will discuss our experiences with each.
All the systems we discuss here consist of devices that control something or report status, a hub and an application running on a smart phone or the web. Most devices today can be connected simultaneously to most of the hubs except for Z-wave devices, which can only be bound to one hub at a time.
Please note that this is not an exhaustive comparison. We have not standardized on a single platform so we may or may not be using each to its full potential. For instance, we do not have any cameras connected and we are not using all of the premium services that Lowe’s offers. So your experience may be different.
We cannot realistically recommend one platform yet as all have their pros and cons. We will likely continue to tinker for the next couple of years while the smart home market evolves and consolidates. However, we realize that we are geeks so we will make some suggestions based on what we have learned so far.
The Iris platform is sold and supported by Lowe’s. We bought our Iris hub this summer and are currently using it to manage our Orbit hose faucet water timer that keeps our fountains filled and manage an Iris 120-Degree passive infrared security motion detector to control a GE Z-wave light switch. We also have the Iris smart button, which is currently only used to make a cute noise at the hub, but it could easily be used as a doorbell or as a trigger for another action.
When we installed the Iris, our major concern was that it required us to set up a user account with a credit card. In fact, AppMyHome was so flustered about this that we returned the first device we bought but then gave in to the promised features and bought it again. The service is free to use for simple control but to run the “magic” scripts you need to buy the Premium Service for $9.99 a month. The premium sell-up model was something that turned us off at first, but compared to traditional home security systems, it’s probably a reasonable buy.
Iris has some unique features that we like. You can get a full report of all the devices connected in your house with their status from the web interface. It also has easy to use email service notifications. For instance, the Iris tells you when the power is off in the house – verbally and through notifications – and again when it is restored. Iris also has a battery backup for when the power goes out and if your broadband goes down, Iris has a cell phone back-up option that we don’t presently use.
The Iris system has a nice display and setup at Lowe’s stores with many different types of devices supported. It would be easy to go the store and buy most everything you want in one place and Lowe’s sells many different starter kits. It is a great system if you are looking for home security features with dedicated support, if you like to shop for devices in person, and/or if you already have affinity to Lowe’s.
SmartThings was the first hub that we bought and up to now has been our primary home control app. We are using SmartThings to control various lights and wall switches around the house from GE, WeMo and Hue. We are also using SmartThings to control some lights using the Ecolink Z-wave PIR motion detector.
SmartThings allows us to set up scripts using environmental triggers, such as sunrise and sunset, and it also has a unique presence feature that uses our smartphones to tell if we are home or not. We have had mixed success with this – for instance today it says that one of us is home and the other isn’t – even though both of us (and our phones) are here.
SmartThings is currently only available online with free shipping in the US so if you like to touch and feel your devices before buying, it might not be the best choice for you. However, once you buy your starter kit you can easily add new devices from Best Buy, Home Depot, Lowe’s, etc.
We have the original Staples Connect Hub made by Linksys. We are only using it to control one Z-wave light switch from GE based on motion by a Ecolink Z-Wave PIR motion detector.
The Staples Connect app has a unique feature that allows you to un-pair Z-wave devices from any hub, which is really handy when you want to move devices from one hub to another. Other platforms may also have this feature but none are as easy to use.
Staples has recently switched to a new hub powered by D-Link. AppMyHome has not yet purchased or tested this new hub which includes additional device support.
Staples Connect and its compatible devices are available online with some available at Staples stores. If you are buying your Staples Connect Hub online, be careful not to buy the older Linksys version, as it will likely be obsolete soon.
Our first Wink product was the Wink Spotter, a simple sensor made by Quirky with a companion app. It provided alerts based on physical motion, temperature changes, etc. We had it by our front door and it freaked us out the first few times that it detected motion when we weren’t home. After a few times it told us there was motion outside when we were home and there clearly wasn’t, we unplugged it.
Since our first experience, Wink has added to and improved its platform substantially. The Wink hub and app is the only platform that we have tested that can control our Nest Thermostat, our Nest Protect smoke detectors and the Chamberlain MyQ garage door opener. It works with our GE Z-Wave light switches and wall outlets as well as the Hue lights, but presently does not support our WeMo switches or outlets nor our current infrared motion detectors.
A recent addition is the Wink Relay, which allows us to control all the same devices as the Wink app, but without a smartphone or tablet, using a touchscreen panel mounted to the wall. The Wink Relay also includes two physical buttons to allow us to control lights directly or use Wink shortcuts. We installed our Wink Relay in the kitchen – one of the buttons controls a shortcut that turns on all of our kitchen lights – and the other one physically turns on our ceiling fan.
The Wink Relay would be a great choice as a gift for someone who does not have a smartphone and/or does not want to use a phone every time they want to turn on the lights. It is possible to have multiple Wink Relays throughout the house to control from different areas.
The Wink is sold online and in Home Depot. We have had mixed experience so far with Wink at Home Depot – the store displays are inconsistent and the staff are not knowledgeable about the product or any special promotions, but this may improve in the future.