As smart hubs take control of more of our home technology, choosing the right controller is essential to best manage your existing and future devices. From smart lighting systems, security monitoring, locks, HVAC thermostats, and garage and garden systems beyond the home, the ability to manage them all from one hub is highly desirable.
Most modern smart hubs are designed to run your home from a central unit, or more recently via your smartphone or tablet. For most users, it is desirable that they can link and manage a range of varied systems in a harmonized manner.
However, even today few vendors offer all the features you will need within one system. That pushes up the budget as you add more services or components, and may lead to some users scrapping some perfectly good smart home items.
Therefore it is essential that you check out the competition and find a product that is right for your budget, your current home technology and fits in with your plans for the future of your smart home.
In this article, I compare the Iris Smart Hub, a super low-cost device against the new SmartThings Hub, both of which focus on letting your smartphone do all the controlling. The head-to-head comparison will see which one comes out on top. In doing so, I evaluate the two devices using the following criteria: key features, software, pros and cons, installation, and price. Let us know in the comments of your experience with these devices.
Contents (Jump to)
- 1 Key Features
- 2 Installation Comparison
- 3 Software
- 4 Pros and Cons
- 5 Updates Since Original Publication
- 6 Comparison – Features at a Glance
- 7 Final Recommendation – SmartThings vs Iris
Iris Smart Hub Key Attributes
The Iris Smart Hub is a Lowes product that is designed to sit at the center of the brand’s own smart home range. You can buy this on its own, or pick up one of Lowes’ kits with a range of smart home devices to get you started.
On its own, you’ll need your own selection of WiFi (but not WiFi cameras), Zigbee or Z-Wave smart home devices to hook up to the Iris Smart Hub. Using a web-based interface or a smartphone app, through the website you can create schedules and simple rule-based guides for your smart home products to trigger. The app is more for monitoring what’s going on.
SmartThings Hub Key Attributes
The SmartThings Hub is also available on its own, or as part of a bundle of smart home gadgets to help get your technologically advanced house going. Rather than focusing on web control, the SmartThings device goes directly for the app approach, and therefore has a very smart and attractive iOS, Windows Mobile or Android app to take control of your devices.
Designed as a platform for the smart home, the SmartThings hub has a modular feel to it, so you can add extra features to the app as your smart home technology grows, and you only need the components you want, all of which can be controlled, customized and monitored from the main app.
You can read my full review of the Iris Hub on it’s own, at this page.
The SmartThings Hub does things that little bit smarter, which gives it the edge when it comes to the essentials. It also supports Windows Mobile, which means Microsoft fans will flock to SmartThings as its one of the few systems with a dedicated Windows app. With Windows 10 on the way, and Microsoft looking to push the smart home concept with it, that could tempt more users.
Iris Smart Hub
The Iris Smart Hub connects to your home router first. You then plug in the power, and it then takes a while to set up, taking all your details. Once set up the free version only gives you basic control of of devices and provides limited alerts.
You get two free months of the pro service, which you really need to manage for advanced control of devices, video streaming from cameras, advanced rules, and voice control. We guess $9.99 isn’t much for all those features, but there are better solutions.
This hub is quicker and easier to set up, but this time its power cable first, then the Ethernet cable to your router. If you bought it from SmartThings, you already have an account set up, if not creating one is straightforward. You can set up the location of your home, so it can perform geo-fencing based tasks.
It is compatible with a wider range of radios including ZigBee and Bluetooth in the latest version, so supports a wider range of home products. It can also access cloud-based smart devices like the ecobee or some security cameras and reroute their information direct to the app.
Iris Smart Hub
Setting up the Iris Smart Hub is a little tricky, as there’s not much in the way of progress indication. However, once up and running the web-based dashboard is smart and easy to set up the rules for your home. The app provides a handy monitoring platform, but it isn’t quite the same as being as able to change settings from distance.
This hubs app is intelligent, useful with a near unified interface for all your smarthome gadgets. With an emphasis on simplicity, breaking your systems into doors and locks, lighting and so on. Each device will come with a set of use cases that you can choose to be notified about. For anyone used to a smartphone, all the settings seem natural and logical.
Pros and Cons
Iris Smart Hub
The Iris can be found at insanely low prices online from around $20 to $40 (see here), making it a complete bargain. That’s possibly because the device is now over 18 months old and is soon likely to be replaced by something a little more modern with additional features. If price is a concern and you have a low-specification smarthome, then this could still be an ideal hub.
A definite con is having to give up your credit card details as part of the set up, and the need to subscribe to Lowes’ service to get the best from your smart home devices. That explains why the Iris Smart Hub is so cheap, but monitoring services should be part of the deal these days.
The SmartThings Hub app software is well designed with clear use cases and clear logic throughout the app. With its wider range of device support (yes, there are lots of SmartThings gadgets you can get, but you don’t have to) you can have a smarter, more modern smart home, all operated through this hub.
SmartApps help SmartThings and other devices work better on the system thanks to a community based approach to developing new use cases for them.
The new Hub will come with Premium Services, rather like the Iris, but these are optional and won’t impact on the current features, so be aware of these upcoming changes when you think about investing in a SmartThings Hub.
Beyond the usual smart home features, the SmartThings Hub will also work with Sonos sound systems for home entertainment and doubtless, other services will be supported soon.
Updates Since Original Publication
Since I originally wrote this comparison, there have a been a few updates worth noting. Both systems are now “2.o”. While the core hubs are the same, there is some new functionality for both devices worth noting.
Updates for the Iris 2.0: The big changes are added Bluetooth compatibility and a streamlined mobile app interface for setup and customization. This means there is no need to touch the web-based interface.
Another somewhat annoying update is that the 2.0 hub comes “packaged” with various starter bundles. This is fine if they all suit your needs, but decreases initial flexibility as you build out your system and figure out what you actually need versus what you think you need.
Updates for the SmartThings Hub 2.o: SmartThings now has some nice advanced integration with certain preferred brands like Amazon Echo and WeMo devices. If you plan on using these devices, the friendly integration with SmartThings might be a tipping point.
Another nice new feature is the addition of a backup battery pack in the event you lose power and or WiFI signal. Included is a local storage functionality for a few essential automations. This solves one of the major critiques of the smart home, namely that it is only as reliable as the grid on which it resides.
Comparison – Features at a Glance
|Specs||Iris Smart Hub||SmartThings Hub|
|Compatible Devices||Iris range, GE switches, RTOA thermostats, Schlage, Kwikset, First Alert, Blue Line, Orbit, Swann, Energizer, Honeywell, PetSafe,||Aeon, Belkin, Cree, Danalock, Dropcam, ecobee, Ecolink, Everspring, Evolve, Fibaro, First FortrezZ, GE, Intermatic, Kwikset, OSRAM, Philips, Sonos, Yale, Echo, WeMo|
|Wi-Fi||WiFi, Z-Wave, Zigbee, Bluetooth (update for 2.o)||WiFi, ZigBee, Bluetooth, Cloud, Z-Wave|
|Price||Usually $99 (but see here for latest)||see here|
Final Recommendation – SmartThings vs Iris
Comparing the two devices, the SmartThings Hub at least has some style and design to it, while the Iris Smart Hub looks dull and functional at best. Both are officially priced at just $99 but the Iris at least is available for a lot less if you shop around.
The SmartThings device also offers a wider range of compatibility and is less engaged in selling you other smart home gadgets or services than Lowes, which counts hugely in its favor.
Also, SmartThings has plenty of help and support, across the web or via support. Whereas Lowes seems more interested in selling you more stuff with more limited advice, beyond a set of YouTube videos. That level of customer support isn’t really sufficient, so very much a cross against the Lowes products.
Put simply, the SmartThings Hub has both more current features/compatibility and the prospect of future growth. Lowe’s seemed to release the Iris as an afterthought, more of a “me too” offering. I’m sticking with my SmartThings hub on this one.