How difficult should home automation be? Not very, if the new Staples Connect performs as promised.
The retailer known by many people mostly for back-to-school supplies and inkjet cartridges is launching a line of home automation products called Staples Connect. The system will allow users to control their lights, window shades, door locks and more with an integrated smartphone or tablet app, and it’s all user-installable (help is available if you need it).
Staples Connect uses a platform designed by Zonoff (read more about Zonoff here), which also designed the platform for Somfy’s TaHoma system.
The system begins with a hub, built by Linksys that connects directly to the user’s router via an Ethernet port. The hub then uses three different wireless protocols, Wi-Fi, Z-Wave and Lutron’s Clear Connect, to talk to devices around the house.
Staples Connect will be compatible with a large variety of products, including home surveillance cameras, DoorBot Wi-Fi camera doorbell, Yale smart door locks, Honeywell thermostats, Lutron Sivoia window shades, even Philips Hue color-changing LED light bulbs. In fact, Lutron will be introducing a new line of wireless dimmers and switches using the Clear Connect technology which will be available for the Staples system.
READ: Review of Philips Hue LED Light Control
Voice control of the system will be available via the ivee voice-activated assistant.
So far, this sounds like a number of other app-focused, DIY and ISP/cable company home automation systems, including those offered by Verizon, Xfinity, AT&T and the Lowes Iris. There are a couple intriguing differences here though.
First, Staples Connect requires no monthly fee, so there’s no security monitoring, though security cameras can be viewed remotely and many of the control features can also be operated remotely. Premium services may be launched down the road.
More impressive though is the ease of programming. The app (for iOS or Android devices) includes built-in tutorials for most devices and activities. Most devices will include a UPC code that, when scanned by the Staples Connect app, takes the user to the setup menu. When a new devices (such as a Z-Wave wireless lock or light dimmer) is detected, the app walks the user through the setup and recommends programs or activities to associate with the new device. For example, if you add a wireless door lock, the app will ask if you want to set up alerts for when the door is opened (so you know someone has come home). You can link up multiple devices to create scenes, operate your system by individual device, by room or by lifestyle activities. An “away” scene might trigger the doors to lock, the exterior lights to turn on and the temperature to be reset.
Even more interesting, the app will also suggest additional devices you might want to add, such as contact sensors or light switches, and jump the user directly to the Staples Connect web site to purchase them. This way users know that the devices have been vetted by the system and everything will work together.
The Linksys hub itself costs $99, and the app is free. Mike Harris of Zonoff said that Staples Connect starter kits will start around $129. An environmental kit may include a hub and a thermostat while a lighting kit will include a hub and a couple switches or dimmers.
Harris said that because the programming is resident in the Linksys hub itself, the system will still work if your internet goes down. In addition, your settings are all saved in the cloud, so if lightning should strike your hub, a new one can be set to your original programming very easily.
The system is aimed primarily at DIY buyers, but Staples can also hook you up with one of its Easy Tech installers if you’re not comfortable going it alone.
The demo I was shown included several Lutron lighting modules and shades, Yale door locks, an outdoor awning, security cameras, a Honeywell thermostat and even some audio/video gear—an HDTV and a Yamaha receiver. The A/V products, controlled via Wi-Fi, are not part of the initial Staples launch, but the potential exists for the system to be expanded into A/V products. If it eventually goes there, this will become a very compelling option for low-cost integrated systems.
The system goes on sale in November in Staples stores or online. At launch there will be about 20 devices in stores and a few hundred compatible products at the Staples’ online store. That list is expected to grow to thousands. You’ll be able to get your hands on the system at in-store kiosks to get an idea of how it all works.
Below Mike Harris of Zonoff offers a demo of what Staples Connect can do:
More about easy home automation:
Inside an AT&T Digital Life Home
Revolv to Launch DIY Home Control System
Control4 Launches Wireless Media Streamer and New Lighting Solutions.
Bachelor Pad Outfitted with Control4 and A/V
Review: Sony STA-DA2800ES Receiver with Control4
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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. He's also the author of the book The Trouble with Rivers
. Follow him on Twitter @geclauser.