If you're looking to make your home the smartest on the block, look no further than SmartThings.
The center of the connected home relies on mainly one big piece of hardware — the smart hub. There is none better, or more open, than SmartThings. The SmartThings hub takes control over all of the smart devices in your home — from door locks, to motion sensors, to device switches, Sonos, Hue, Dropcam and much more. Unlike many other "smart" systems, SmartThings' open platform leaves plenty of room for third-party devices as well as plenty of tinkering from developers, all looking to make it the best smart home platform on the planet.
SmartThings — first launched as a Kickstarter project and now owned by Samsung — revolves around the centralized SmartThings Hub. The Hub can connect to SmartThings own devices as well as third-party Z-Wave and Zigbee devices. Supported products include motion sensors, presence sensors, moisture sensors, locks, device switches, garage door openers, speakers, lights, and much more. We're talking a whole bunch of supported devices.
The $99 SmartThings Hub can be purchased on its own or as part of a bigger starter kit that includes additional devices like motion sensors. The home starter kit includes the hub, presence sensor, motion sensor, and open/close sensor for example. The Hub connects to the SmartThings app using a compatible Windows Phone, Android or iOS device, where all of the intricacies are performed (there's no real web interface, so you'll need a mobile device to get anything done with SmartThings).
The other great thing about SmartThings is that there are no fees outside of device purchases. While some other systems charge monthly fees for use, SmartThings leaves you free and clear after your initial investment.
Setting up the SmartThings hub takes just a few minutes and very little effort. Plug it into your router via ethernet, then plug in the included power adapter. Fire up the app on your mobile device, enter the code and you're up and running. Now, the real fun starts. Here is where you start adding all of your smart devices (and hopefully you have a lot).
If you opt to buy just the hub, you'll need to pick up some devices a-la-carte. Motion sensors, switches, water sensors, open/close sensors — they're all in abundance and many work with SmartThings, so you can choose which ones are best for your setup. You aren't tied down to proprietary devices as with many other systems, leaving the door wide open for expandability. You can find the full list of products that work with SmartThings here.
Once you have your devices ready, it's just a matter of adding them via the SmartThings app. There's a big + button on the dashboard — simply tap it, choose you device, and follow the on-screen instructions. Adding things like motion sensors or switches take just a few steps, while others may take a bit longer. You'll also be given the option to add actions to devices here as well (like receiving notifications for things like motion or open doors).
After adding a device, the app even tells you how to finish setting it up. You'll also have the option to add actions — like turning on lights when motion is sensed, or unlocking a door when you come home — but we'll get into that more later. You can give each device a custom name, and it will show up in your Things panel, where all of the added devices are housed.
Within the SmartThings app you'll also find a few settings for your own profile. Namely the Geofence options for time and area, and also a place to add users or edit your own settings.
Modes within SmartThings are essentially filters for your actions and automations (more on those later). The default names are Home, Night, and Away but these can be changed to whatever you want. There's nothing set in stone for any modes, rather they leave things open for you to tweak your system as you see fit.
Home, for example, can be your standard daily setup which won't alert you for motion or entries, and leaves things as-is while you're in the house. Change this to Away, and lights turn off, doors lock, and motion sensors are set to send alerts when motion is detected. Night mode could be for turning on lights when motion is detected, or sounding an alarm when a door is open.
There's really no set way to use these modes. You can change between them manually, or even have them set to change automatically when you come and go from home, or based on certain times of day. They are useful for things like using SmartThings as your security system, or having the doors lock and lights turn off when you leave the house — really anything you can think of that you want to filter for different scenarios.
At the heart of SmartThings are actions -- scenarios and automations you can setup between devices. This is where the real fun starts, and your inner geek can unleash. I've had "smart" systems in the past that allowed for automations like turning on lights at a certain time, or recording on a camera if there was motion. SmartThings doesn't just have simple settings here though, you can really dive deep and get things setup just the way you need them to be.
Tapping into each device, you can see a whole list of actions that apply to a specific item. Customizing lights for example, you have the option to choose from things like turn on when there is motion, turn off after a period of time, turn on when people arrive, or turn on when a door or window is opened.
This is where SmartThings really shines — you can take nearly any device on the system, and have it interact with any other device. So motion sensors talk to light switches, door sensors talk to lights, presence sensors talk to locks — there's really nothing SmartThings can't do if you use your imagination.
Here's a quick list of some things you can make SmartThings do:
- Turn on your lights when you get home
- Unlock the doors when you get home
- Lock up the house when everyone leaves
- Turn on lights if there is motion
- Sound an audible alarm when motion is detected
- Alert you if a door is open for a certain amount of time
- Turn your heat down at night and up in the morning
- Lock up doors after they've been closed for a certain amount of time
The list goes on and on. Once you have enough pieces in your system, you can truly go nuts making everything work together.
As if that wasn't enough, there is also a huge SmartThings developer community creating SmartApps — apps that extend SmartThings beyond just what is offered directly. These apps include things like a smart alarm for turning out system into a full-blown alarm system, dashboards for viewing your SmartThings from the web, light controls, Sonos integration, Hue actions, garage door controllers — the list goes on and on.
SmartApps add a ton of value to SmartThings devices, but beware because you can end up totally geeking out if you're not careful.
I actually got sucked into SmartApps for hours when I first setup my system, but it was well worth it. Using these third-party apps allowed me to integrate my ecobee3 thermostat, create actions for my Sonos, create a web interface for my Mac, and much more. There are even custom device types for devices that may not necessarily be fully supported by SmartThings. One such device was my Linear garage door controller, which I had to tweak a bit to get working with my system. The seemingly endless supply of apps and developers is sure to help guide you should you run into issues achieving your dream setup as well.
SmartThings also features deep integration with IFTTT, giving users the ability to create extensive scenarios for triggering switches, turning on alarms, turning in lights, unlocking doors, and much more.
A free IFTTT account is required, and you can then go about adding all types of integrations through the IFTTT dashboard. You'll just need to grant access to each of your SmartThings devices and you will then be able to add them to recipes within IFTTT. You can use these recipes to interact with other IFTTT supports devices like Philips Hue, WeMo, Nest and more.
There's real power in using IFTTT with SmartThings (and any other smart devices in your home). You can setup all kinds of triggers based on time, date, actions, etc. that will integrate with your SmartThings setup. This extends the usability far beyond just what a system can offer on its own. While the actions & automations within SmartThings are extremely full-featured, there is even more fun to be had when adding IFTTT to the mix.
It's Really Smart
All in all I really do love my SmartThings system. I've tried numerous other smart home setups in the past, but none were as smart, easy or open as SmartThings. I've struggled for years to find one system that fits my needs and incorporates all the ways I want to use it.
My one gripe is that there is no really support for cameras right now, aside from beta support for Dropcam. This isn't a deal breaker as I use a bunch of simplicams around the house and the app and notifications there are more than adequate, but I'd still like to see everything all in one place.
The amount of devices and features of SmartThings is amazing, and only getting better. Keep in mind too that there is so much to SmartThings that this is only the start. If you really want to go hardcore, you can do just that. There are so many ways to customize a SmartThings setup if you are looking to do so.
A newer, improved Hub is on the way soon too, and I don't see things slowing down anytime in the near future. Between the supported devices, developer community, customer support, and growing list of SmartApps, SmartThings is really a no-brainer if you're looking for the best way to get into the connected home space.