As Apple continues its foray into the smart home market with its HomeKit platform, more and more smart device manufacturers and developers are looking for ways to join the party. In addition to all the great devices that now offer HomeKit support, there are also new options in the way of starter kits.
Ever so slowly, Apple has been developing a system for smart home devices which it refers to as HomeKit. The purpose of HomeKit is to standardize your smart home devices so that they all work together, with your smartphone, with Siri, and with one another.
So what is a smart home starter kit? Really it’s just a contained kit to help you get started with home automation. There are kits for lights, heating and cooling, and a myriad of other devices. Most kits only support their own components, however, there are a few that can go cross-platform. For the purposes of this review, we’ll visit some of the best Apple compatible smart home starter kits.
So without further ado, let’s get started.
Philips Hue Starter Kit
While Philips’ Hue smart light bulb kit has been on the market for a while now, it is only recently that the company started supporting Apple’s HomeKit platform. With a starter pack that includes light bulbs and a hub, you’re sure to stay one step ahead of the other smart light starter kits.
Similar to other smart lighting devices, Philips’ bulbs do not have the ability to directly connect to your home wifi network. They connect through a bridge, which is included in the starter kit. The bridge plugs into your router via an ethernet cable, giving your starter kit the access to the internet that it needs. It would be nice if there were a wifi option for the bridge, but unfortunately, there is not at this time.
The Philips bridge (or hub) is about the same size as a hockey puck, which is nice because it makes the device easy to place out of sight. On top of the hub are three status lights which indicate if the device is powered up, connected to the router, and connect to your network.
Once you have everything plugged in, including your bulbs, you will then use the Philips Hue mobile application to pair everything. If you have some bulbs that are a good distance away from the hub, you might run into some trouble. Fortunately, Philips lets you input the bulb’s serial number into the app, which helps the hub find the bulb.
With your Philips Hue starter kit you now get four bulbs, which is handy. Now you can set up an entire room or two with smart lights. Or you can pick the four bulbs throughout your home that you wish could be turned off and on remotely and replace those. Either way, four bulbs provide more options for your smart home setup.
Since it was one of the initial makers of smart-LED bulbs, Philips has had plenty of time to fine-tune its smartphone application. It’s intuitive and easy to use, which is nice for those that aren’t completely comfortable with the newer capabilities of smart home technology.
The Home screen offers users a top-level view of each room throughout your home, and whether your Philips Hue lights are on or off in each room. Control of these lights depends on your preference. You can either control the lights individually or set them up so that an entire room turns on and off at the touch of a button.
You’ll find a menu labeled Routines that gives you the option to schedule specific times when the lights will turn off or on in selected rooms. Of note is an “only after sunset” feature which is especially nice to have during the summer when it’s still bright outside and you don’t want the lights to come on. There’s also a mode for when you’re on vacation which will turn your lights off and on at random intervals so it gives the appearance that you’re at home.
The Philips Hue mobile application also includes geofencing capabilities, which triggers your Leaving Home or Coming Home routine based on the location of your phone. At this time there’s no method with which you can dictate how close you need to be for your lights to turn on, however, if you’re comfortable using IFTTT (If This Then That), then there is an applet which will let you fine-tune it.
Philips is the most extensive of the smart light bulbs available on the market, with the capability to integrate with Alexa, Google, SmartThings, IFTTT, and Apple HomeKit. Additionally, Philips sells other smart LEDs and fixtures that integrate with HomeKit as well, and which you can control via your Philips Hue application.
- Dimmable lights.
- Integrates with many smart home systems, including HomeKit.
- Thorough, easy-to-use mobile application.
- Unable to tune the light color.
- Cannot set distance for geofencing.
- Needs a hub.
Philips continues to show why it’s among the leaders in smart bulb technology as it expands and grows its ecosystem and mobile application. With its starter pack, you’re getting four smart bulbs, a hub, and the ability to connect with almost any smart home platform available, including Apple’s HomeKit.
Insteon Hub Pro Starter Kit
The recently launched Insteon Hub Pro was among the first devices with HomeKit compatibility to be available on the market. For all intents and purposes, it’s the same as its already existing smart home hub, which Insteon uses to connect all your smart home devices. Plug the Insteon Hub Pro into your router and it will create a network on which all your gadgets, along with your smartphone, can communicate.
With HomeKit compatibility, you’ll have the ability to put all your Insteon devices under the control of Siri, or you can use them along with other HomeKit devices that are already on the market from other manufacturers. If you’re considering making your home HomeKit oriented, Insteon’s Hub Pro starter kit is a candidate you must consider.
There are a few tradeoffs to consider though. Most importantly is the fact that the Hub Pro does not yet support every Insteon device available. You can integrate switches, dimmers, and smart bulbs into your HomeKit platform, however, there are some that aren’t compatible yet. These include motion sensors, cameras, and leak detectors.
With its HomeKit integration, the Insteon Hub Pro adds in a security-minded feature that meets Apple’s specifications. It also makes some software adjustments that allow it to control devices much the same way HomeKit does, which brings Siri into the fold. Request that she turn off a light bulb and watch as it happens.
The Hub Pro can be used to integrate and control additional HomeKit devices while still maintaining control of our Insteon components. Of course, these devices are only compatible with iOS, so Android users are out of luck.
From a hardware perspective, the Hub Pro is a rectangular box made of white plastic. The design is simple enough that you can just plug it into your router and hide it out of sight. If you do decide to go with Insteon’s Hub Pro, you should also keep in mind that there are a few limitations with the device.
It has taken Apple some time to begin HomeKit support for devices like leak detectors and motion sensors, although support has arrived with iOS 9. Unfortunately, Insteon has not updated the firmware on its end yet, so in the meantime, you do not have the ability to connect Insteon sensors to the Hub Pro.
Until Insteon updates its system or launches new HomeKit integrated hardware, you’ll be limited to using dimers, light bulbs, and switches. If you have additional Insteon gear in your home, this might be a deal breaker, but if you’re just getting started, it might be a great way to get your feet wet.
This is especially true since it’s more than likely that Apple and Insteon both will continue to focus on HomeKit compatible hardware. Not if, but when these devices arrive, you should have no problem integrating them with your Insteon Hub Pro.
One other limitation you’ll experience is the inability to access any of your devices remotely. The workaround is to have an Apple TV which acts as a gatekeeper, however, one of HomeKit’s initial security features is to prevent remote access to limit system-wide hacks. The newest version of iOS lifts this limitation, however, Insteon has yet to update its firmware.
Once you connect your devices to your hub and get them added to the mobile application, you can customize and control them. Part of the customization process is the name you’ll use for each device so Siri can recognize while one you’re referring to. You’ll also assign an icon to every component, which lets you tailor the system to fit your style and needs.
One nice feature you’ll like about the Insteon Pro Hub is its ability to remember the level at which you set the dimmer. Turn the lights off and back on and they’ll still be where they were when you turned them off. The status button for the device lets you set a pre-dim level, which is a nice bonus within the app.
Additionally, within the app, you can create schedules which tell your devices when to turn off and on. Soon, you’ll be able to use geolocation with your phone to tell your lights when you’re leaving or arriving at your home. This is another one of those features which iOS 9 has addressed, yet Insteon has yet to update its mobile application.
Of course, the focus of the whole thing is Siri. If you tell her to turn on a specific device, she’ll get right on it. If you want to control several devices in one room, you can have Siri turn them all on or off with one command. Additionally, you can establish zones in your home with saved settings so you can create the ideal environment for things like movie night.
Siri isn’t perfect, but of course, no assistant is, however, there are a few instances when Siri just can’t or won’t do what is requested. For example, she may tell you that she is unable to see specific devices, or tells you that she turned on a device when she didn’t.
The good news is that these issues don’t arrive often and for the most part everything works exactly as it should. Siri can dim the lights in your home to a given percentage, which is a nice feature to have. However, to create schedules you’ll still have to open the mobile application.
Even if you have a larger home and have to spread your devices through it, the Insteon Hub Pro will have no problem connecting to and talking to them. Insteon does a great job of using its mesh network approach to ensure that devices work well no matter how much space comes between them.
- Straightforward and easy to use.
- Natural fit with Siri.
- Supports HomeKit compatible devices.
- Will get better as HomeKit makes improvements.
- Not Android friendly.
- Doesn’t support as many gadgets as already existing Insteon Hub.
- Performance could be more reliable.
There is plenty of promise and potential with the Insteon Hub Pro, but it also has its share of flaws. Right now there isn’t much competition for this HomeKit compatible hub, but even so, it is the best choice available on the market for controlling Apple-friendly smart home devices. Unfortunately, Insteon has yet to take advantage of the latest HomeKit capabilities, automation triggers, remote access, and sensor support, all of which are essential to a successful smart home.
For now, when it comes to the Insteon Hub Pro, you might want to consider residing in the wait and see camp. As HomeKit improves, so too will the Hub Pro, especially given how well-known Insteon is for its reliability. However, at this time, the experience might be too limited for those with an already existing smart home ecosystem.
Tado Smart Thermostat Starter Kit
Since smart heating and cooling first come onto the scene with the Nest learning thermostat, there have been companies that have come along to take these capabilities and functionalities to the next level. For instance, instead of using only one thermostat for your entire home, the Tado thermostat kit makes use of several network-connected radiator valves to adjust the settings of your heater.
This feature-packed starter kit is a must-have for anyone considering HomeKit integration. With Tado, you don’t have to wait for your system to turn on because the thermostat resides in the warmest place in your home. Nor do you have to heat empty rooms and waste money on high energy bills.
Thanks to its efficiency, Tabo’s heating system helps to reduce energy usage by nearly 15% during the winter. While the energy savings features of the Tado system are excellent, the user interface is lacking, which makes it more complicated and confusing than it needs to be.
However, if you don’t mind taking a little extra time to learn how to use the Tado system, you’ll discover that the investment is well worth it. It does require an additional cost to equip your entire home with the hardware, but you’ll be glad you did when you see the cost savings on your energy bill.
Setup and Installation
Tado boasts that it’s simple and easy to install its system on your own. The most time-consuming portion of the installation is connecting the individual radiator thermostats to the Tado system. It’s not difficult, it just takes time to establish each connection and assign them each to a room throughout your home. However, the whole process takes less than a few hours without too much difficulty.
Once the hardware is installed and you’re ready to go, you’ll want to set up your heating schedule, which is where things begin to get confusing. If you’ve ever used a Nest, then you know it doesn’t require much user education. You just install it, set the temperature, and let it learn your behaviors and preferences.
The Tado, on the other hand, lacks this capability, so you’ll have to set your schedules up on your own. One thing to note is that fortunately you only have to perform the setup once, and then make small adjustments as needed over time. Unfortunately, this means you have to enter the same information repeatedly, which would be much easier to do if you could simply copy the data across all pertinent rooms and days.
When compared with the sleek and sophisticated design of the Nest, the Tado thermostat doesn’t really compare. It’s nondescript and simple. The Tado is a white square featuring a small button in the lower right corner. You use this button to wake up the device and display the current temperature in your home.
To the left of the button is a touchpad you can use to raise and lower the temperature, which is a little confusing when you see it in person. The combination of touch-sensitive and physical controls makes for a challenging user experience when really there is no need for one.
The individual radiator valves, however, are much more promising. These devices are a great improvement upon the dumb valves previously used. They are small white cylinders which reveal an LCD screen when used. On the LCD screen, you’ll see the current status of the Tado thermostat.
Click the crown on the valve and watch the LCD as it changes to the temperature setting you want. It’s a slick little device and does not involve any complex or convoluted methods with which to change the temperature.
It has already been pointed out that setting up the thermostat schedule within the app is challenging, however, there are also additional features within the application that offer just as much difficulty.
For instance, if you want to change the temperature in a specific room, you go into the application, go to the room, then tap on the part of the screen that shows the desired temperature. It’s clunky and unintuitive and feels redundant. You shouldn’t have to manually turn on the heat when you set it to a temperature higher than the current setting.
One item to make note of is that if you don’t turn the temperature back down when you no longer need the heat, the device defaults to using a feature called “Until Ended by User.” You might want to go into the settings and change it to “Until Next Automatic Change” to avoid mistakenly leaving the heat on all night long.
While the app does have its fair share of problems, these are all things you can learn to deal with. Just be sure to give yourself plenty of time to poke around within the application so you can become acclimated with just how everything behaves. This way, you won’t have to deal with any ongoing issues in the future.
While the Tado smart thermostat works well with Google Home and Amazon Alexa, it performs excellently with Apple’s HomeKit. One example of the ease with which it works is the device’s ability to turn on both a smart light and the Tado thermostat when you enter a room. It’s a great feature to have, especially since it means you can set up specific rooms to heat on demand.
As with the Insteon Hub Pro, the Tado does have some integration limitations with HomeKit enabled devices. For instance, there are times when button-presses do not register with the system. It’s not quite as reliable as a manual light switch, but improvements are still being made.
Overall, the Tado system works well, especially when integrating with external systems like Apple’s HomeKit. This means you’ll have no problem getting your thermostat to interact smoothly with other smart home devices. It would be nice if the Tado had motion-detection capabilities, but otherwise, the thermostat is an effective and efficient gadget.
Playing with all the fun features available with your smart device is fun, however, the main reason we purchase smart devices is to help us save in some area of our life. A smart thermostat, for instances, helps to save energy.
Using the Tado smart thermostat system helps to save quite a bit off your typical energy usage in the winter months. Of course, there are caveats, and everyone will have a different experience based on the size and layout of their homes, but overall you’ll have a great experience with how well the Tado saves on your energy bill.
You may not save as much as you would when compared with a Nest thermostat, however, you also wouldn’t get the granular room-by-room control provided with the Tado. Using this smart thermostat, you can create a more evenly heated home instead of fluctuating temperatures as you move from room to room.
- Works with HomeKit.
- Geofencing means you’re not heating your home while you’re away.
- Individual radiator valves give you room-to-room control.
- Does not offer motion detection.
- No self-learning abilities.
- Unintuitive interface.
While there is no perfect smart thermostat currently available on the market, most users flock to Nest as their go-to heating and cooling option. The drawback with Nest though is that it does no support zonal heating like the Tado does. Other smart thermostats support individual device control, however, they can’t provide the system integration that Tado does, especially when it comes to Apple’s HomeKit ecosystem.
The Tado checks off a lot of the boxes, however, it’s just not as intuitive as you might like it to be, especially during initial installation and setup. The good news is that these issues can easily be addressed with a few software updates. If you don’t mind putting in the time with this starter kit, you’ll be rewarded with nice energy savings, a wonderfully warm home, and a system that supports Apple’s HomeKit.
iDevice Home Essentials Starter Kit
If you are considering turning your current home appliances into smart home appliances, you might think about taking a look at the iDevice Home Essentials starter kit. It comes with everything you need. Included in the kit are seven wifi enabled plug in switches and three light sockets all of which can be controlled with your smartphone without the need for a hub.
Each gadget can be controlled either in a group of individually, and the best part is that they all work with Apple’s HomeKit platform and respond to Siri’s voice commands. Currently, installation is a challenge with the iDevice Home Essentials kit, and the price is quite a bit more than you’ll shell out for similar smart home kits.
As mentioned, the Essentials kit includes two outdoor switches, five wall switches, and three sockets. Every component supports 802.11 b/g/n wifi as well as WPA and WPA2.
The sockets will work with CFL, halogen, or LED bulbs, however, if you want to make use of dimming capabilities, the bulbs themselves need to be dimmable. Located on the top of each socket you’ll find an LED ring that changes colors as you go about installing it.
This LED ring also works as a nightlight, but if you don’t want it on, there is a manual button located on the side of the socket that lets you turn it off. Press and hold the same button until it blinks red and you’ll reset the socket.
The tan and white indoor wall switch will pug into any three-prong outlet. It comes with a three-pronged outlet on the left side, an LED strip on the front, and an off/on button on the right. The button on the right is what you use to reset the switch. Just like with the socket, you just wait until the LED blinks red. Additionally, the iDevices smart switch has a power meter built into it that measures how much power you’re consuming, along with its average time of use.
The switch for outdoor use is black and kept in a weather-resistant case. This switch has an LED strip on its front, two three-prong outlets on its bottom, and a seven and a half inch power cord on top. Just like with the socket and indoor switch, the outdoor switch has a button used for manually turning on and off the switch, as well as for resetting it. Also like the indoor wall switch, the outdoor switch monitors your energy cost and usage.
The mobile application for iDevices is free and lets you use photo icons which make it easier to navigate. On the home screen, you find a list of rooms along with each connected device in those rooms. Next to the device is a photo icon along with an off/on button. If the device you’re viewing is a socket, you’ll also notice a brightness indicator.
Selecting a specific gadget opens up a detailed page with additional information and controls. If you’re viewing a socket, you’ll see the off/on button for the light itself, the off/on button for the nightlight, and a slider which lets you adjust the brightness. On this page, you can also choose what color you want for your nightlight.
The outdoor and indoor switches are almost the same. Both provide off/on buttons and offer energy consumption information. However, the indoor wall switch has nightlight settings whereas the outdoor switch does not.
You’ll also notice that each device offers a Schedules/Scenes option which lets you set up your off/on times and include each device in a Scene if you want to control several devices at the same time. For instance, you can create a Scene for movie night which will tell your living room lights to dim to a predetermined brightness.
Located in the upper right corner of this menu are three bars. If you tap them, you can assign Rooms or Zones to each device. A zone is made up of one or more Room which you want to manage at the same time. For instance, maybe you want to control all the rooms upstairs or all the rooms downstairs.
If you want to, you can assign your devices to a specific Room in your home. For example, you can assign a device to the kitchen or to the living room. You can also control every device at once by tapping the Products icon.
While on the topic of the mobile app, you can also use Siri voice commands to control your iDevices gadgets. Voice commands will allow you to turn your devices off and on, which means you can enable your Scenes by just saying a few words. So something like, “Siri, it’s movie night,” will trigger your system to dim the lights in the living room.
A significant drawback to the iDevice starter kit is that it doesn’t support IFTTT recipes. Many other systems and devices support this type of functionality, and it’s unfortunate that the iDevices kit does not.
You might run into a few problems when it comes to installing your devices. When you begin the installation process, you can choose between self-guided or concierge guided setup method. If you decide to go with the concierge-guided option, you’ll set up a call with a technician who will guide you through the process over the phone.
The self-guided option will offer a printed installation guide along with in-app instructions. It will walk you through setting up the system and your devices. However, if you run into trouble you can always reach out to tech support.
Once you have everything up and running, you should have no trouble with the system. The switches and sockets will respond quickly to commands made via the mobile application and will adhere to any schedules you set up.
- HomeKit Enabled.
- Comes with plenty of wifi capable devices.
- Control devices individually or in zones.
- Can be a challenge to install and setup.
- Much more expensive than other starter kits.
- No IFTTT integration.
The iDevices Smart Home Essentials starter kit is a great choice if you’re looking for a way to get started with a smart home and make use of Apple’s HomeKit. You won’t need a hub to control your switches and sockets, and once you get everything set up, you will discover that every component works just as it should whether controlled via the mobile application or with Siri voice commands.
These four starter kits are just a small sampling of the devices available for Apple’s HomeKit platform. The kits listed are a good place to get your feet wet in the smart home arena, especially if Apple is your ecosystem of choice. As with any smart home platform, there is room for growth with each of these kits as well as with HomeKit, but it’s still a solid option for anyone wanting to get started with smart home devices.
So whether you want to get started with a lighting kit, a smart home thermostat, or a kit with smart switches and sockets, now you know there are some solid options available out there that work well with Apple’s HomeKit.
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