The Insteon Hub is marketed as the quintessential home automation control kit for all your smart devices. It uses the Insteon protocol to communicate with your various devices, simplifying the control process with apps and online (on-the-go) home management.
With home automation increasing in popularity and usability, I was interested to test out a different protocol system to control my home network. There are actually a wide array of wireless signals that can be used to control your home “smart” devices. Previously, I had just used the Z-Wave protocol (using a VeraLite controller: see here for my review). Insteon is another up and coming protocol that has gained a significant enough following to allow for a variety of smart home accessories to take root.
While “Insteon” refers to the wireless protocol, the parent company also offers a “hub” or controller to configure, manage, and manipulate your smart switches, thermostats, lighting, security, etc.. It was the Insteon Hub that I decided to test out as a way to evaluate both the protocol and the default hub management device that most people would purchase.
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Core Features of the Insteon Hub
- Uses Insteon Network: Insteon is one of a handful of protocols used to communicate between smart devices. Insteon is one of the leading networks currently on the market and the main alternative to the “Z-Wave” system used by the VeraLite and Smartthings Hub (among others). Insteon was inented and patented by SmartLabs as a communication protocol for the “internet of things”. As far as protocols go, there is not a whole lot of difference for most practical uses, other than the fact that you’ll have to find compatible third party devices.
X-10 Protocol Compatible: X-10 is a protocol to that uses the hard-wired power lines within your house to communicate between devices. It’s generally a less reliable solution, but is often the easiest protocol for older homes with network broadcasting restraints. It’s also a nice “early stage” solution for smart home automation. You probably will want to transition to a wireless protocol eventually, but it’s a starting point. The idea is that you will eventually move to a “superior” network and Insteon is the logical (and only) choice for this smart hub.
Mobile App Integration: Like most smart hubs, Insteon relies on a mobile app (also available as web-based) to monitor and control your smart home network remotely and on the fly. You can use this functionality to check thermostats, arrange schedules (heating, lighting, switches, security automation, etc…), and monitor sensors and general activity.
Automatic Email/Text Alerts: Every good smart hub has a text/email alert feature. This allows you to be notified ASAP when certain conditions are triggered. You can be notified when people arrive/leave, when devices are in uses, or when systems need servicing/repair.
Video Overview: What to Expect
You can save 10% off starter kits at SmartHome.com by clicking here and using coupon code “SMRTHM10”
Pros and Cons of the Insteon Hub
No system is perfect, so I always look to evaluate all the possible pros and cons of a particular device. With smart home technology, there are usually a few general “cons” and “pros” that stay the same regardless of the device you are using, but there are also device specific positives and negatives that should be considered. The following is a list of the top “pros” of the Insteon Hub, followed by a list of “cons”.
Pros of the Insteon Hub
- No Monthly Fees: I was a little annoyed when I had to register to pay a monthly fee for the Nexia that I tested out (full review here). Some home automation hub providers are moving to this model. While there are certainly pros and cons to consider, most people don’t like monthly fees. In short, why would I want to pay a monthly service charge for something that another company provides for free? Thankfully, Insteon hasn’t gone down this path and actively markets their hub as having zero monthly fees.
- Best Support for Non-Local Network Set-Up: This is a bit specific, but nonetheless a nice bonus. Almost every smart hub suffers from the same problem of being very reliable on a local network, but difficult to control outside of it. There is a VERY helpful step by step guide that walks non-techie types through the ropes of setting up remote (non-local) access. They also have tech support agents on call at this juncture for you to call if you have any problems (and they are very good at determining router brand specific issues).
- X-10 Protocol Is Nice: It’s nice to have a smart hub that’s built for X-10 compatibility. It still makes the most sense to use the Insteon protocol, but I really like having the option. Depending on the layout and schematics of your building, X-10 could be critical to the success of your home network.
- Excellent Starter Kit Bundle: For essentially the same price, you can purchase the Insteon Starter Kit which comes with the hub and a variety of other basic sensors and switches to help get you set up initially. You can find the starter kit here for the best price. You can also check out SmartHome.com and save 10% with coupon code “SMRTHM10”. A lot of times half of the difficulty is finding out what third party products are compatible with a smart hub. Even “compatible” devices sometimes have issues. With the starter kit, you know that everything in the box is specifically designed for the Insteon protocol and hub specific hub configuration.
Cons of the Insteon Hub
- Finicky Controls: Everything worked for me for about a week and then a few things started to fail. One of the common complaints is the “microswitch” issue where the wall switch works via remote control but not when you actually switch in in person. I experienced this problem in short bursts. Sometimes it would work fine and other times it would maddeningly not work when I manually tried to adjust a light switch. I think it has something to do with the a communication issue. I’m not sure if it’s because the signal isn’t strong enough in my house or if it’s a more systemic problem. Either way, it was somewhat less polished than other smart hubs that I’ve tried out.
- App Needs Improvement: For a device that is almost entirely based on the premise of remote management, Insteon could use some work on their app. It has most of the bells and whistles of other systems, but is a bit “beta” in terms of reliability at this stage. For example, while they have a “scheduling” feature present on the app, you can only schedule it to turn on and one to turn it off during the day. This can be fairly limiting if you have a household with different schedules. Adding new devices is a “clunky” process that requires more finagling than other products I’ve tested. Is it functional? Yes. Is it on par with the competition? Not quite.
- Not Many Third Party Devices: Unlike Z-Wave smart hubs, the Insteon Hub compatible devices mainly consist of products also created by Insteon. This isn’t a “negative” in and of itself, however having a wide array of other brands (like Honeywell, GE, etc…) involved will generally lead to more reliable and innovative products over the long term. As it is, Insteon does a pretty could job of providing a wide array of devices for pretty much every possible need. There are a few partner brands out their, but I got the feeling that Insteon was looking to dominate the field.
- Requires Time Investment: While smart hubs are often marketed as “plug and play”, almost all of them require a learning investment to fully understand and configure your smart home system. The Insteon Hub seems to be especially time intensive, at lest more so than the other hubs I’ve tested. It’s still a very functional system, there are just a fair amount of nuances and concepts that are almost required to know. If you just want to set up a few lights or switches, then this isn’t necessary. But if you want to take full advantage of the system – as most people eventually do – it will take some getting used to.
The Most Popular Insteon Compatible Smart Devices
It can be difficult to get a full read on a home controller without knowing what the best third party devices are for the respective unit. By virtue of the protocol or “network”, some have more devices available than others. But “more” isn’t always better, so I’ve tried to evaluate what the best (most popular and highest rated) smart accessories are. The goal is to provide you with a better sense of what the Insteon Hub could be used for.
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Final Thoughts Is it Worth it?
The short answer: yes, but depending on what you are using it for. There are still glitches and imperfections in the technology. This is across the industry and not specific to the Insteon Hub. So be prepared to roll your sleeves up on occasion.
Overall, I had a better overall experience with the VeraLite. Compared to the Nexia, the lack of a monthly fee helped even the scales a bit when comparing the Insteon vs Nexia hub. It’s important to note, that none of these systems are perfect. Each has a few key advantages.
I really liked that the Insteon Hub was able to operate through my existing power-lines (X-10 protocol) if I needed it. This helped eliminate some of the spotty wireless signals I have in some areas of my house (particularly my basement). The starter kit bundle was also a great way to quickly build out my home network.If you are looking to purchase the Insteon Hub, I’d recommend going through this listing here for the best prices and bundled savings (additional accessories).