Bottom Line Up Front: If you have a house with just Z-Wave devices, go with the VeraLite, otherwise the SmartThings Hub has wider compatability and is the closest to unifying the entire IoT ecosystem.
Continue reading for the full analysis…
While there may still be a few stalwarts who still prefer the cellular flip phone or even rotary landline for that matter, most people have made the jump to a Smart Phone. The next step in that evolution is taking “Smart” to the next level which for many consumers is home automation. Once you’ve jumped to a Smart phone or Wi-Fi connection the world of technology and automation really opens up, especially when it comes to controlling your house.
Home automation is more than just a gadget, it’s a safety tool in addition to a system that increases energy efficiency. It’s easy to think of home technology in reference to the movies where the suave playboy uses one remote control to dim the lights, pull the blinds, turn on some soft music and have a bookcase flip down and convert into a red velvet bed. In real life though home automation is much less glamorous as tasks include making sure you turned the lights off when you left and setting the temperature down 6° at night.
Two of the leaders in home automation are Smartthings and VeraLite and their respective products the Hub and the Home Controller. Dim the lights, pull the blinds, and hit the Barry Manilow as these two home automation systems are put to the test against each other:
Contents (Jump to)
The SmartThings Hub
The Hub, as the name implies, serves as the central processing unit of your fully automated home. Users will need a Smart Phone and then a download of the SmartThings app. From there any number of electronics and appliances can be added to the Hub, enabling for monitoring from a Smart phone anywhere in the world. The Hub is the connected middle man so to speak, serving as the proxy between you and your home.
How It Works
The Hub itself is actually pretty easy to set up. Most users new to the home automation game elect to purchase the starter kit that features the control cube, a motion sensor, 2 open/closed sensors, a presence sensor, and an outlet. There is the bare bones available for much less but the kit is designed to give people a feel for creating their true Smart home and for full integration more sensors and appliances can be added to virtually every door / room / light / etc. in the house.
- The Cube – serves as the brains of the operation and can plug directly into your router. A Wi-Fi or broadband connection is needed so that each sensor can communicate with the hub which in turn contacts your Smart Phone.
- Open / Closed Sensors – each sensor is battery operated and Internet compatible. The open/closed sensors can be placed on doors and windows but also jewelery drawers or even the snack cabinet. If the user chooses to do so they will get a push button notification every time the attached sensors are moved (opened or closed).
- Presence Sensor – another nice feature attached with the SmartThings Hub is the presence sensor which also sends a notification whenever somebody is detected in a room. This can be useful to be alerted when kids are home or a delivery or service person has arrived.
- Outlet – The SmartThings Hub outlet allows monitoring and control of any device plugged into it. The outlets are great for turning on lamps at night but also to be in charge of TV access for kids or even to start a slow roaster at a certain time of the day.
Of course with most home automation devices the biggest bonus of the Hub is its inter-connectivity. For example, when a presence sensor detects a person in a room it can be programmed to trigger the outlet to turn on the TV to warn a stranger or the radio to scare the dog. Each program is very user-friendly to program through the phone app and the limits of connectivity are only set by a person’s creativity range (or budget). In fact SmartThings has announced advances in their product to include moisture detectors, security cameras, and more. The company is definitely moving upwards from what started as a Kickstarter project.
Possible Downfalls & Drawbacks
One thing that many reviewers don’t like about the SmartThings Hub is that if their Internet is down, the system is offline. Of course that could be more of a complaint on their Internet provider than the Hub but still SmartThings took the ideas into consideration and plans on releasing a battery backup with future releases. Others note that at this point home automation is more of a hobby and not something that is viable for security or energy efficiency.
April 2016 Update: After testing out the SmartThings 2.0 Hub, this “drawback” has been mitigated with a battery backup. You get a battery backup with 4 AA batteries that can store the more important home automations (think Security). While you are still reliant on power/internet for the full system, this solution is a huge step in the right direction.
The VeraLite Home Controller
One thing that the VeraLite Home Controller markets itself in a different way from the SmartThings Hub is that it portrays to make your life easier like a virtual assistant whereas the Hub bills itself as more of a central brain of your home for security. The VeraLite product still claims to increase home security and save on energy bills though, they state $100’s of dollars per year of savings for instance.
VeraLite definitely offers versatility as their processor can handle up to 70 different devices. They bill themselves as the comfort product enabling users to control temperature, lighting, alarms, and locks from one central location – the Smart Phone. Similarly to the SmartThings Hub and most home automation products, devices are connected and controlled via an app. The VeraLite app has a large user interface that is virtually self-explanatory. The VeraLite product even features different pre-programmed modes so you can shift your home into “home”, “away”, “night”, “weekend”, or “vacation” settings among others.
In the Box
One thing the VeraLite differs from in regards to the SmartThings Hub is that it’s a very bare bones product out of the box. Granted the system costs much less at $99 but only includes the controller, power supply, and cable. This means that to many people fully integrating the home or even seeing if it’s a product that would be appealing to you requires a large number of add-ons purchased upfront, essentially negating the positives of the low $99-$129 list price.
How They Stack Against Each Other: Vera Lite vs SmartThings
For a better comparison of the two products head to head, check out the specs sheet on both:
|Specs||VeraLite Home Controller||SmartThings Hub|
|Size||4.6” X 1.7” X 3.7”||12” X 6.4” X 5.2”|
|Communication||Z-Wave||Zigbee, Z-Wave, IP, Bluetooth|
|Weight||12.8 ounces||1.2 pounds|
|Operating Systems||IOS, Android||IOS, Android, Windows Phone|
|Amazon List Price||see here for latest||see here for latest|
As you can see, the two products are very similar in function, cost, and accessibility. The main differences are that the VeraLite operates only with Z-Wave programmed Smart devices whereas the SmartThings Hub is compatible with multiple platforms. Even so, the number of devices available to program with doesn’t range much and they are of many of the same types (Phillips bulbs, Kwikset locks, etc.).
Both of the interfaces are very similarly user-friendly and in this copycat industry features that one product has (vacation settings for instance), will be quickly adapted by competitors especially since apps can be upgraded and released rather quickly.
The real test of which home security automation product is better than comes down to inter-connectivity and future expectations. One of the major advantages that SmartThings has in this category is the fact that the company was bought up by Samsung for $200 million in August of 2014. Not only does SmartThings have the backing and technological access of one of the globe’s biggest electronics manufacturers, consumers can enjoy the correlation between Samsung’s products and SmartThings integration of those items. It’s not hard to envision controlling and monitoring a wide array of smart Samsung household items such as TV’s, refrigerators, dishwashers, ranges, microwaves, washers, etc. beyond just turning them on and off.
The argument from VeraLite of course comes in the form of, “that’s a useless service.” As in, how much time is really saved if you can turn on a dishwasher from your office compared to pushing a button when you get home or before you leave and do you really not trust your family enough that you have to always be in the know when a refrigerator door opens? VeraLite is taking the approach of : we’re not going to expand our products, we’re going to perfect the services we offer now.
There are pros and cons to both items. For instance the SmartThings starter pack is nice but it also involves putting obtrusive sensors all over the house. Also the VeraLite is very user-friendly, but it is somewhat limited to the types of devices it can control (mostly just thermostats, locks, and bulbs as of now.)
UPDATE#1: There’s a new “Vera” on the horizon. No details yet, but I’ll keep you posted as soon as I get the details. For now, the VeraLite has been reduced in price to less than $100. This effectively negates the price difference between the SmartThings vs VeraLite.
UPDATE #2: The Samsung SmartThings Hub, 2nd GenerationSmartThings 2.0 Hub has been released with a few notable improvements. Namely, Bluetooth is now a compatible communications protocol. SmartThings now has some easy out of box integration with popular WeMo products and Amazon Echo, just to name a few. As always, SmartThings leverages IFTTT automation so as the popularity and number of “recipes” increases, SmartThings use case expands accordingly.