Home Automation

My SmartThings Hub Review – Is the Smartthings Hub the Best Home Controller?

(Last Updated On: March 1, 2015)

The “Internet of Things” has quickly become the latest tech buzzword. It’s a brave, new, interconnected world and smart hubs are here to help. I’ve been in the process of creating the ultimate automated home for the past 3 months. In so doing, I’ve been testing, sometimes breaking, and then publishing my reviews of the various “smart hub” controller devices currently on the market. This is the fourth device I’ve tested out on my network.

I’d been hearing a lot of “good things” about the SmartThings Hub for a while. While is was still struggling away with my Nexia and Insteon, my somewhat geeky friends were gloating about their seamless smart network built on the SmartThings Hub. I wasn’t too attached to any of the hubs I’d tested to date, so I was eager to take this Kickstarter success story out for a spin.

The following is my in depth analysis and review of the SmartThings Hub after configuring it and letting it run for a couple of weeks. I was actually quite pleasantly surprised by this little controller, so be sure to check out the results below.

Main Features of the SmartThings Hub

  • Compatible With Multiple Protocols: A lot of times smart hubs are limited to a specific protocol (think network). They are only compatible with smart devices that speak the same language. Thankfully, the SmartThings hub uses the popular Z-Wave protocol AND can use the ZigBee protocol as well. While I’ve personally become more enamored with the Z-Wave technology, the compatibility with ZigBee vastly increases the number of available devices. This is where the SmartThings really stands out from most of the competition.
  • App Integration: Like any good smart hub, this hub comes standard with a cleanly designed app to control all of your home settings and devices remotely. The app itself is quite powerful, allowing you to monitor and control pretty much everything you need. Despite the power under the hood, the app has a nice clean interface. You can navigate from “Things” to “Apps” to a general “Dashboard” to monitor the status of your devices. “Things” and “Apps” appear as little buttons that are either grayed out – when not in use – or highlighted in green and displaying “on/off” or “closed/open”, etc… when connected. All in all, I really enjoyed the ease of use and customization options here.
  • Remote Notifications: Another important feature is the notifications and alerts that you can receive directly to your phone. You can configure your Smart Hub to notify you when windows/doors are open, when the temperature drops below a certain point, or when critical home systems break or need repair. No more nasty surprises when you get home!
  • Supports IFTTT Community: This might not be a concern for some folks, but for the geeky coders out there, the SmartThings hub allows for “if then than that” programming or “recipes” to enable the common man to create sequenced actions with third party integration. This is pretty darn cool. If you are interested (or don’t have a clue), check out the IFTT community. Even if you aren’t into coding, you can still take advantage of what the community creates by copying the “recipes” on your own device.

Video Overview (Basic Functionality)

The following video is an excellent overview of the functionality and types of programming you can do with the SmartThings Hub:

Pros and Cons of the SmartThings Hub

In each of my smart home controller reviews, I like to take a look at the pros and cons. It helps me to organize my thoughts and compare the various controllers to each other objectively. Below I’ve highlighted the top things that I like about this hub, as well as some of the drawbacks to consider.

Pros to Consider

  • ZigBee and Z-Wave is Great: I’ve already gone into some depth in the “features” section on this, but I really, really, like that I can swap different protocols as needed. This really turns the SmartThings Hub into a true smart home controller, in my opinion.
  • Easy to Install: Dare I say it, but the SmartThings Hub has “apple-like” user friendliness. Even my technically stunted uncle could figure out how to do the basic set up and configuration. While it’s fairly simple, technically savvy – or at least “familiar” – people will have an easier time. Worst case scenario, call up the geekiest friend/family member that you know to help out.
  • No Monthly Fees or Service Charges: Phew. It was nice to know that I didn’t have to sign up for any monthly service plans. These are quickly becoming the norm as smart hubs grow from the start-up phase into maturity. Thankfully, SmartThings has no fees and doesn’t appear to have any plans for them.
  • Rapidly Growing Compatibility List: Because of the successful IFTTT community surrounding the SmartThings Hub, new “recipes” are constantly coming out. In fact, SmartThings has embraced this kind of “open sourced” approach to product expansion. Literally, in the last few months, dozens of new devices (like Sonos speakers, etc..) have been added to the list of devices that can be tethered to the Hub. This is arguably SmartThings greatest single advantage setting it apart from the competition.
  • Excellent Starter Package (optional): This is an entirely optional path, but I’d highly recommend investing in the starter kit for this hub. It comes with two of the following: presence sensors, open/close devices, a smart power outlet, temp sensors and motion sensors. It’s more expensive up front, but less expensive than if you purchased them individually. Plus, they are practically guaranteed to work as they come in a compatibility friendly kit. If you want to instantly “smartify” your home, check out the SmartThings starter kit here.
  • Pricing, Pricing, Pricing: SmartThings is – well – smart. They’ve realized that in order to gain significant market share, they need to make the up front cost affordable for the average home owner. By pricing at $99 (see here for listing), they have undercut some of their competition while still not forcing users into monthly fee systems.

Cons to Consider

  • No Insteon or ClearConnect Support: This might sound a bit petty, but giving me ZigBee and Z-Wave compatibility left me wishing for a smart controller that did it all. This isn’t entirely fair to SmartThings, because the have chartered new ground already. Think of this “con” as more of a dream wishlist item.
  • Troubleshooting Could be Easier: The app is beautiful and I love it, but sometimes its hard to pinpoint the failure point if something is wrong. SmartThings often works seamlessly, but when it doesn’t, its frustrating. Hopefully they work to address this in future updates and iterations. Overall, it’s not really a deal-breaker for me. It just takes a bit more time than it should.
  • Still Not Dummy Proof: The smart home universe is still not evolved enough to be dummy proof. You will need a little bit of technical savvy – or at least know someone who is technically inclined – to figure out some of the invariably kinks that arise. Keep in mind that each home is different and will have it’s own inherent challenges.

Best Compatible Smart Devices

It really helps to see a list of the compatible devices. For me, this provides a clear picture of how I could implement the respective system in my home. Because the SmartThings Hub is compatible with ZigBee and Z-Wave protocol, the number of products is greatly expanded. I’ve listed the most popular (highest sold volume + highest customer rated) Z-Wave devices below:

Z-Wave ProductUsageBrandPrice Range
GE On/Off SwitchGE$$
Smart Energy SwitchAeon Labs$
Programmable Thermostat2gig$$
Programmable ThermostatHoneywell$$$
Deadbolt LockSchlage$$$
Touch Screen DeadboltYale Security$$$$
Motion DetectorEcolink$
Outlet ControlGE$

Final Thoughts: Is it Worth it?

The short answer? Absolutely. The longer answer? Yes. Absolutely! I wasn’t really expecting to be blown away, but I was. This is hands down, easily one of the best – if not THE best – smart hub currently on the market. I’m usually a pretty tough critic, too. There’s some room for improvement here and there, but it appears that the team at SmartThings has come very close to cracking the smart home code with their hub.

If you are going to invest in the SmartThings Hub, I’d recommend checking out this listing first to get a good price benchmark. I haven’t found it for less anywhere else. You can also view the real-time price for the listing below:

About the author

Patrick Sinclair

Patrick Sinclair is a geek; make no mistake about that. He runs All Home Robotics in his spare time so he doesn't have to think about his depressing cubicle and it gives him an excuse to buy expensive gadgets to review!

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