Hands On: SmartThings Smart Home Control and Automation System
Great for true gadget lovers
August 14, 2014 by Grant Clauser

SmartThings Review page 2

Home security is one of the main areas of interest for devices like this, and SmartThings can be set up for basic security features. You can add notifications for when various sensors are triggered, add an ear-piercing alarm and configure a camera to snap a picture of an intruder.  I set up a motion sensor in the garage and programmed it to send alerts when it detected motion. For a while this was useful in letting me know that my wife had come home (I often have headphones on and can’t hear the garage door). Then for three nights in a row I’d get motion alerts around 3AM. Having seen all the Paranormal movies I instantly assumed I had ghosts. Setting up an wireless camera in the garage revealed that the ghost was just a curtain being blown by wind because I had left a window open (maybe I should have put a contact sensor on that window).

Anyway, all the devices I connected worked as planned. The real trick of a system like this is in the app, specifically in how easy it is to set up activies and activate devices.  The main screen, called the Dashboard, gives you an at-a-glance view of everything in your system. It will tell you if the doors are locked, the windows open, the lights on, or ghosts (or curtains) moving in your garage. The Things view shows you all the devices. Depending on the device, some can be activated (like a light switch) or configured (like a motion sensor) by pressing the button of that particular device.

The app is comprehensive, in that it allows a wide variety of activities to be configured. If this is your first experience with a smart home system, navigating the interface will take some getting used to. The system doesn’t come with particularly thorough printed instructions, so it’s pretty easy to forget how you set up an action or mode if you want to go back and change it. On the other hand, there’s actually a support feature built into the app that includes very good instructions (you get to this section from the Dashboard). Within the Support section you’ll find several “How to” entries and even a live text chat area to connect with a support person.

So how does SmartThings compare with similar devices? Pretty well. The large variety of “Smart Apps” makes it possible to deeply personalize your system. The large variety can also seem a little overwhelming if you’re new to the whole process. The Lowe’s Iris system, for example, makes programming (or personalizing) a little easier; however some of the Iris’ programming options require a monthly fee of $10. With SmartThings you only pay for the devices. There’s no service charge. In fact, it’s the depth that these Smart Apps go that really gives SmartThings its strength. There’s a wealth of creativity in these options, and they’ll most likely give you ideas on how to use your system you would never have thought of on your own.

The library of devices SmartThings works with also makes it attractive. As of this writing SmartThings maintains a list (you can see it here) of about 100 compatible products from 3rd-party manufactures in addition to SmartThing’s own devices. There are door locks, thermostats, leak detectors, a variety of light switches (including WeMo) and lights (including Hue) and even the Sonos wireless music system.

So back to my challenge—how long did it take me to set up SmartThings? Not counting my errors, the entire hardware setup for the hub and 7 devices was about 25 minutes. Setting up the activities likewise is a process of a couple minutes each, but realistically it may take you several days or longer as you learn the potential of the system and modify it to fit your lifestyle. Someone who is into tweaking gadgets may never finish this process.

As with any DIY home control system, there will be some trial and error involved in the process, but if you’re a curious and tech-savvy person, SmartThings can not only add a high level of functionality to your home, it can also be a lot of fun. We expect that with the help of Samsung’s deep pockets, this platform will continue to expand.

Hub alone $99
Starter Kits $199 - $499

More on home automation:
Timers and Schedules Put the Auto in Home Automation
What’s the Best Home Control System?
Wireless Audio System Basics

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Grant Clauser - Technology and Web Editor, Electronic House
Grant Clauser has been covering home electronics for more than 10 years with editorial roles in several consumer and trade magazines. He's done ISF-level damage to hundreds of reviewed products and has had training from THX, the Home Acoustics Alliance, Control4 and Sencore. His latest book is Necessary Myths. Follow him on Twitter @geclauser.

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