SmartThings launched all the way back in 2012 following a successful Kickstarter campaign where they raised $1.2 million with products becoming commercially available in 2013. In late 2014 it was acquired by Samsung for $200-million and at the time it looked like this would be the first home automation product to go mainstream.

While the system has been a success, it never really saw the uptake that we have seen with newer tech such as Alexa.

However, thanks to the boom of interest in home automation thanks to Alexa and Google Assistant, Samsung has launched the third iteration of the SmartThings Hub along with new and updated accessories all of which work with smart AI assistants.

If you are not familiar with this product, then SmartThings is a hub with a range of sensors at smart devices that works over the popular communications protocols such as s ZigBee, Z-Wave, and IP-accessible devices. The hub controls all the devices, and you can get sensors that can detect motion, multi-sensors, moisture sensors as well as buttons to control devices. You can then use these various accessories to carry out functions around your home.

Essentially this is the same as the Devolo Home Control and Ncube Controller I have previously used. However, unlike the previous devices, the Samsung SmartThings Hub costs just £79.99 on Amazon, and many of the sensors are affordable too with both the button and multi-sensor costing just £24.

In comparison with the Devolo system the hub costs £110, the Window/Door contact is £30, the motion sensor £40 and the wall switch £40.

One of the advantages Samsung has over other brands is the ability to integrate it into other consumer platforms, and you will find SmartThings inside Samsung Smart TV’s and the Family Hub refrigeration range.

With this being ZigBee and Z-Wave the SmartThings Hub is compatible with other Z-Wave accessories. It is hard to guarantee universal compatibility, but in general, if you have a Z-Wave sensor, it should work with SmartThings, allowing you to pick and choose devices based on functionality and price.

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The kit I was sent included the new version three Hub and the following accessories:

  • Multipurpose sensor – this is a two-part sensor and at first appears just to be an open/close sensor, but it also has a temperature and vibration sensory built in which can be used to trigger actions based on a variety of conditions.
  • Water leak sensor – as the name suggests, it detects water, there are two electrons on the top of it and when these are bridged with moisture, it will trigger.
  • Motion sensor – self-explanatory, however, this comes with a useful magnetic ball mount and 3MM mounting tape, allowing you to stick it anywhere and alter its position afterwards.
  • Smart Button – similar to the paddle of the Devolo, this small button can be used for multiple actions and with single, double or long presses you can carry out different functions.

2018 SmartThings Hub upgrades

The new 2018 hub has had some useful updates that Samsung has implemented following user feedback.

The overall design of the hub and each sensor has been improved to blend in with the style of your home, and includes a range of new features to make entering the Smart Home market more accessible than ever.

The SmartThings Hub is now working with Wi-Fi and Ethernet, giving you the flexibility to place it anywhere in your home for a tidy installation.  You can then access the hub and all its features via the mobile app, or any compatible Samsung TV or connected fridge.

The new hub uses the latest Zigbee and Z-Wave protocols as well as Bluetooth 4.1, but SmartThings claims that V2 will receive Zigbee 3.0 support later this year.

SmartThings is now fully compatible with all voice assistants, whether you prefer Samsung Bixby, Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant, and I would expect this to be true with the older hubs too.

The hub now allows you to:

  • Receive alerts and notifications from connected devices wherever you are when something unexpected happens in your home. You will know just in an instant if there is a leak or intrusion, and even better you will never have to worry about leaving anything on accidently like your oven, iron or hair straighteners
  • Manage connected devices in your home with SmartThings scenes for Good Morning, Goodbye and Good Night. For example, with a single tap to the Good Night scene on your app, you can arm your security alarm, lock the doors, turn off the TV and lights, activate motion sensors and link them to your security camera to start recording, change the temperature, and have a peaceful sleep knowing SmartThings is protecting your home.
  • Use Automations which can control devices and run scenes whenever certain conditions are met. Automate connected devices in your home and set them to turn on or off when doors are opened, as people come and go, and much more.

The new hub also has a lower RRP than the V2 hub, but there have been some cutbacks here, for example, there is no longer a battery backup, the old hub had limited support for local Samsung cameras, but now it is just cloud. Plus, the overall internals uses lower end components with a 528MHz ARM Cortex-A7 vs 1GHz ARM Cortex-A9. Samsung says there will be no negative effects on performance, and I have experienced no problems during my review process.

Set-up

The SmartThings system comes neatly but basically packaged in lots of blue and white boxes. The overall appearance of the system is quite simple and functional.

One thing that is notable is the sensor sizes, while they may not be the prettiest of things, they are small and relatively discrete, being considerably smaller than the movement and temperature sensors by Devolo.

Set-up is a relatively quick and painless affair, one you plug your hub in you can follow the set-up procedure via the SmartThings app. It uses Bluetooth for the initial connection and using this you can optionally set up your system via Ethernet or Wi-Fi. I prefer ethernet for any device that isn’t moved around a lot, plus this will live in the mess of a room with all my other networking gear.

Once connected you will be asked some basic info about your location, which is then used for geofencing functions for automation.

Using the auto detect function it immediately picked up my Bose SoundTouch soundbar and the Sonos One speaker.

With the other accessories that were included, I added these manually. You do this by pulling the battery tab from the sensor, selecting what you want to add in the app and then scan the QR code. I found with a couple of sensors it took a little while to add, if the screen times out then adding it will fail. This could be due to the Mate 20 having quirky battery management features. Overall it was quite simple though, and I was done within 20 minutes.

Samsung allows connection to a large number of its home appliances, apart from TVs you can link up Wi-Fi hubs, stoves, dishwashers, robotic vacuums, washing machines, and more.

With the none Z-Wave/ Zigbee you will have to go through whatever set-up process that device insists on. With Ring, I just had to log in and authorise the app, with Philips Hue I had to hit the pairing button on the Hue hub.

Once everything is set up, you can place your sensors where you choose. The motion and multi-purpose sensor has 3M tape attached to it, and these will happily stick anywhere you want. I placed the multi-sensor on my front door allowing me to trigger things when people enter or leave the house, and the motion sensor in the main hallway.

3rd Party Functionality

Setting up the Samsung sensors worked straight out of the box, but you will notice during the set-up procedure there are a considerable number of things you can add beyond the Samsung made sensors.

You should technically be able to add any Zigbee or Z-Wave but the app has listings for some specific devices which presumably will make the pairing a little more straightforward.

  • With motions sensors you have options for Fibaro, and NEO Coolcam.
  • Multi-sensors has an Aeotec option
  • Open/Closed has Aeotec, Fibaro, Neo, Nyce, and Sensative
  • Cameras has Netgear Arlo and Ring
  • Doorbell has Ring and Skybell
  • Lightbulb includes options from Belkin WeMo, Hue, LiFi, Osram, and others
  • Locks has Yale and Danalock
  • Outlets has Aurora, Fibaro, Innr, Neo and Osram
  • Smoke detectors has Fibaro and Sprue
  • Thermostats has Danfoss and Honeywell

While there is an extensive level of third party support there are a lot of notable absences, and this is an issue with home automation in general, no platform has every single product under its hood.

For me, I would have loved to add my TP-Link Kasa plugs, they are quite popular in the UK and being able to integrate them into the system would be fantastic. While Belkin WeMo is under the lightbulb options, it is not under the plug options, so if you want to integrate plugs into this system, you are stuck with expensive 3rd party Z-Wave options.

Similarly, while it is excellent there are 3rd party camera integrations, there are a considerable number missing, including Blink, Nest, Netatmo, Hive and more.

Thermostats appear to only work with Z-Wave devices rather than the now ubiquitous smart options from Hive, Nest, Tado and others.

That being said, the other systems I have used from Devolo and Ncube extremely limited integration with systems outside of Z-Wave.

SmartThings works with IFTTT so if there is a device it does not work with natively you can generally find a way to connect them via this service.

Automation and Functionality

Once you have everything within the Smartthings app, you can start the exciting process of automating things.

Samsung simplifies things a little by giving you an option to set up some predefined automation.

One of these is a home security option; you can use the motion sensor, or the multi-sensor on your door as your trigger point. These can then trigger various actions such as a push notification to your phone, lighting up your lights, triggering a siren or sending audio to a speaker.

For me I had all my lights light up, a notification sent to my phone, and a dog barking sent to my Sonos. Once this is set up, you can arm or disarm of the function for when you are away. During my testing, it worked flawlessly and quickly, though thankfully I have had no real-life alerts yet.

The new button has the potential to be the most useful accessory available; you can use this to trigger various actions manually. I kept it simple and have it light up my bedroom and office lights when I press it. I work from home and usually start work immediately after getting out of bed, so having everything lit up in the morning just makes life a little easier. This is where I would have liked the TP-Link Kasa plugs to work, as I power down my office at night, and in the morning, it switches on with a schedule, which then triggers my computer to start, so my office is fully powered up by the time I get in there.

Looking at IFTTT there does not appear to be a trigger for the button, when you add the permissions the button only appears under temperature and not switches. With this being a new device, I am sure it will be added later.

Another pre-defined automation is the door knock, using the multi-sensor it will alert you when there is a knock on the door, and the door is closed. I already have the Ring Doorbell 2, and motion sensing enabled, so I don’t really need this enabled, but it is useful if someone comes to the door and decides to completely ignore my doorbell (which they occasionally do).

You can optionally create your own, and looking at the system it is quite easy to do and you can have a single trigger carry out multiple actions, or multiple conditions producing one or more actions. The set up of custom rules is straightforward and similar to IFTTT with an if this then that rule-based system.

All the automations I set up worked flawlessly with little or no delay, I also found the set-up procedure far more intuitive than the Devolo system I currently use.

However, its simplicity does mean a few things are missing from SmartThings in comparison. The overview page only shows basic information of each device; there are no temperature or battery readings on there, so you need to go into each sensor to see the data. There are also no statistics at all, with the Devolo I can via every trigger that has happened recently, plus things like temperature trends. I think you can also set up more complex rules with Devolo, for example, I have it emailing for several triggers. I doubt anyone would miss these features, especially if you have never had them before, but the user-friendly nature of SmartThings does mean some small sacrifices elsewhere.

Alexa and Google Assistant

I primarily use Alexa, and with this it has control for your connected lights (Hue, LIFX, OSRAM Lightify, Cree, GE, and Leviton), smart plugs, thermostats, and locks. It also supports motion and contact sensors allowing you to ask Alexa if the front door is open.

For me, there was limited functionality here, as Alexa is already connected to Hue and Kasa and the SmartThings sensors I have trigger things independently from Alexa. The main thing I enabled was allowing me to arm the security system within SmartThings at night.

With more complex systems you could unlock the door or control your heating with voice commands.

Home Automation

The biggest issue with SmartThings, and all Z-Wave controllers is the level of investment required to make them useful. If I didn’t have Hue, Ring, and Sonos then the system I have been sent would be limited to notifications to my mobile. Even with my system, the end result is quite a basic home automation experience. If you really want a smart home, you will then need to invest in things like radiator valves, compatible plug sockets, connected smart locks as well as buying dozens of sensors to trigger all these devices. So, while the initial investment is relatively small, to make the most out of it you could be spending a fortune. There is no way around this though, and SmartThings does this in the most affordable and user-friendly way possible so I would suggest it is the best option you have to get into proper home automation.

Conclusion

Overall, I love the SmartThings system, it is the cheapest Z-Wave controller that I know of, and from my limited experience, it is the most user-friendly.

While compatibility with other systems isn’t perfect, it is better than most other Z-Wave options on the market, and the combination of Alexa/Google Assistant plus IFTTT supports means you should be able to find a way to integrate all the connected devices in your home.

Achieving a truly smart home using Z-Wave is a costly affair, but the SmartThings system has the lowest entry point with some excellent and affordable sensors and trigger devices.

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Samsung SmartThings V3 Hub Review

Product Name: Samsung SmartThings V3 Hub

Price: 79

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