TESTED: Smart Home Automation – Comparing Apple HomeKit vs Samsung SmartThings Hub vs Wink Connected Home Hub vs INSTEON Hub Pro vs Amazon Echo vs Belkin WeMo

Shopping for smart home automation products can feel a bit like having lunch at a buffet.  You can be easily overwhelmed by too many options to pick from, feeling unsure about what will taste good together.  But unlike a fixed-price all-you-can-eat buffet, these smart home devices can get really expensive, really fast, so choosing the right ones is quite important.  In this article we’ve taken on the task of taste-testing all these delicious pieces of technology for you, to provide you a curated review of what works, and what doesn’t.  Check out the BEST HOME AUTOMATION PLATFORMS as we compare Apple HomeKit vs Samsung SmartThings, vs Wink Connected Home Hub vs Insteon Hub Pro vs Amazon Echo vs Belkin WeMo, and much, much more!

Educated shoppers will be quick to point out some of these devices aren’t touted as a smart home hub by their manufacturer. And while that is indeed the case, they still have the ability to serve as some sort of central nervous system to your smart home.  We suggest building your home automation to work around these critical devices, platforms, or networks as the best way to ensure smooth future scalability.  Our testing includes hardware as well as software, and touches down on how to make them all work together not just now, but also as you move into adding more devices down the road.

Check out the opening segment of my recent blog post about smart lighting options where I talk about future proofing your home.  That post also includes some great thoughts about Apple’s HomeKit integration, as well as some background on Works with Nest (Nest Weave) protocols, and others.  Elsewhere on my site you can find older articles comparing smart home hubs, such as this fairly old one, or this slightly more recent entry.  However, since the landscape of home automation is ever-changing, it is once again time to provide a more up-to-date review of product options as we head into the 2015 holiday shopping season.

As my family, friends, and I found out while testing, some of these devices you’ll fall in love with instantly, and some will leave a bit of a bad taste in your mouth.  We also found that some platforms have a broad spectrum of integration with other devices, where some felt very closed-off feeling.  All of this may change in the future, so you’ll want to stay tuned to this blog, and the manufacturer’s web site, as things unfold and enhancements are made.

While you read this post please keep in mind that your specific needs and desires might vary from ours, making your choices and opinions differ as well.  With this in mind we’ve done our best to list each platform below separately, breaking down the strong points and weaknesses of each, giving you raw data plus some of our opinion.  We have tried to provide a snapshot to help you make an educated purchase, but some of the sections get more verbose because of all the wonderful things these devices/platforms can do!

This review also focuses on home automation, and making things “smarter” at your dwelling.  Another aspect is home safety & security, which is a subject we plan to dig into deeper after the New Year. Stay tuned for a comparison in Q1 2016, where we look more closely at security specifically.

There is no clear winning platform here, but there are definitely a few that stand out from the rest.  Which one are you going to choose, and why?  Let us know!  We’d love to hear your feedback.


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Editor’s Note: When I started assembling this blog post I realized that a LOT of my friends and family members ask me “what is Apple HomeKit” — or “why do I need a smart hub” — and I wanted to tackle those questions at the same time that I reviewed and compared this hardware.  I’ve structured this blog post to be both a comparison, but also a bit of a smart-home education piece.  For those of you who already possess this knowledge, I apologize that you have to weed through the background.  But hopefully we’ll also capture some newcomers, who will benefit from this added enlightenment.  Enjoy! 


Apple HomeKit

Pros: Cons:
  • Voice control using Apple products
  • Safe & Secure encryption practices
  • No central hardware hub required
  • Simplicity via Bluetooth and WiFi only
  • Easy to share your “Home” with other
  • Creates a simple, single eco-system
  • Limited by slow-to-market options
  • No real benefits for non-Apple users
  • Currently offers limited functionality
  • Requires bridge for legacy hardware
  • Unreliable remote access with ATV3
  • Local iOS device requirements

Understanding Apple HomeKit

If you’ve researched home automation in the last year you’ve probably heard of Apple HomeKit.  But what is it, exactly?  Unlike most of the other platforms listed here, Apple is not offering a physical central hub device that you need to run out and buy.  Instead what you’re buying into is an eco-system being built around your existing Apple products (iOS).  Here Apple is creating ways in which devices will communicate with each other, and HomeKit is the thread that will tie all of these devices together.

Competitors to HomeKit typically require a hub, though a few options we’ve tested here are software-only.  These hubs that do exist usually comes in the form of a small box, which inside of it exist a myriad of different radios, transmitting on specific frequencies, and using various protocols.  Chances are you’ve heard of at least some of these “protocols” before.  They include but are not limited to: Zigbee, Z-wave, Bluetooth, WiFi, and many others.  Using a conventional smart home hub you can aggregate various devices to work together.  However, Apple felt there were just too many chefs spoiling the soup, and created their own criteria for how home automation should work together.

In their attempts to create a consolidated communication standard, Apple is requiring HomeKit devices work exclusively on either Bluetooth or Wifi, ditching the other protocols many competitor’s hubs utilize.  They also have very demanding encryption requirements to provide for a secure environment, and specific hardware (“chipset”) requirements to achieve their certification.  Additionally, HomeKit is designed with most of your communication transmitting locally to the specific devices in question when you are at home.  This differs from the other hubs on the market where in most cases commands typically will pass through their cloud first, and then go down to you home hub, and then finally out to the specific devices.  This also means if their cloud goes down, so does your ability to control or access your devices, which is not the case with HomeKit.

Sidebar: There is a HomeKit “Cloud” that Apple is offering, but during our testing we didn’t come across any devices using this.  In these instances WiFi devices could avoid your phone needing to be present, as we’ll talk about later.

When we talk about HomeKit, we’re actually talking about how Apple has created standards for communication in your home with a goal to unify your devices, using the phone you already have in your pocket, and the LAN connection that already exists in your home.  So unlike the other examples, you have no need for any physical central “brain” type box that you have to connect at home.  But don’t be fooled, there is still a central point to the system, and that is your phone.  In truth then you can consider this: your iOS device becomes the central hub for HomeKit.  (And as we said in the sidebar above, the cloud has potential to also become a central point, if develops choose to embrace it).

Your iCloud account already saves things like your contacts, your saved Pages documents, or other data.  The same thing occurs with iCloud and your Apple iOS device you are using, maintaining a database locally which holds all your HomeKit data.  As you change this data it synchronizes to iCloud, so that at any given moment all your devices have the same HomeKit data as each other.  Think of this the same way you think of how Dropbox works, or even iTunes Match for Music.  Except in this case instead of data files, or music, it is your home’s smart device data that is in-sync with the cloud.  By using your iCloud account on other devices, such as your iPad or that second iPhone you own, you’ll see the same HomeKit data, and have the same ability to control the same devices.

Sidebar: Note that you also need to have iCloud Keychain on for sake of sharing some of the secure hand-shakes that exist between these devices.  Essentially, as you add HomeKit devices to your home, you are creating a “relationship” with that device.  And the details of that relationship sync across iCloud to all of your iOS devices, seamlessly.

As for communicating with those devices, again they start off being either Bluetooth, or Ethernet/WiFi.  For HomeKit devices that work strictly on Bluetooth you’ll need to be nearby to them physically, roughly 40-feet or less due to the limitations of Bluetooth.  For those that work on WiFi, you simply need to be connected to your local network to reach them.  And in the case of all of these HomeKit devices, if you want to control them when you’re not home using your voice (Apple’s Siri), you can do so by means of an Apple TV that is placed in your home to communicate on your behalf.  This allows you to ask Siri if your left the door locked at home, even when you’re not physically there to communicate.  In those instances your request goes to Apple’s cloud, beams down to your Apple TV at home, and it is the Apple TV that interfaces with your HomeKit devices.

However, it is worth noting that during our testing we never did manage to get our 3rd generation Apple TV to function properly for remote HomeKit use.  We found this was the case in many other reviews/blog sites we came across, too.  During our testing we purchased our new 4th generation ATV, and immediately after setting it up found that our remote access issues were resolved.  So if you want remote access to your HomeKit devices, an Apple TV 4 has proven the most reliable option.  Also remember to keep in mind that the physical distance between your Apple TV and these Bluetooth devices is still limited to the range of the Bluetooth frequency.

It is important to note that you only need the Apple TV if you want REMOTE Siri access (voice control).  Most of the time we found we used Siri and our voice when we we’re AT HOME on our local network.  In those cases you can always use Siri to control your HomeKit devices without the need for the ATV.  Additionally, if the only remote access you want is the ability to open up the app that controls that device, you won’t need the Apple TV, either.  For example, my Ecobee3 thermostat was still able to be controlled remotely in their iOS app, even without the Apple TV.

Hence the only reason you will actually need the Apple TV is if you want to use Siri (voice control) when you’re not home to control those devices.  Don’t rush out to get an Apple TV for your HomeKit if you don’t plan to use your voice to control these devices when you’re not home.  We rarely turned on/off the lights remotely with voice, but we did occasionally enjoy being able to use Siri remotely to set our thermostat.

Examples of Bluetooth-only HomeKit device include the Elgato Eve Door & Window, and the Schlage Sense Smart Deadbolt system.  These devices use Bluetooth exclusively, so even when you’re at home it requires your phone to connect to them within a 40-50 feet range.  If you want them to work remotely, make sure you have that Apple TV we talked about, and that black box must also within roughly 40 feet of the Bluetooth devices.

Beyond those Bluetooth based devices, many HomeKit devices are using WiFi to reach your home network, such as the Ecobee3 Smart Thermostat.  When you control these devices locally (at home) your phone uses the local area network.  This gives you a bit more flexibility as to where in your house you need to be to control them, and they worked more reliability too.

Finally, there are HomeKit devices which work to bridge hardware that is neither Bluetooth, nor WiFi, such as those protocols I talked about before.  Prime examples of these are the Philips Hue lighting system, and the Insteon Hub Pro.  In both cases you start with a main hub, which plugs into your network with an Ethernet cable.  In the case of the Hue hub, it communicates with bulbs using Zigbee.  As for the Insteon system, they use their own proprietary frequency for communication.  And in both cases their hubs both work with your phone via WiFi, thanks to the box you get with it that bridges the gap via your local network.

When you buy a device with the Works with Apple HomeKit sticker on the outside, it comes with both the hardware and software baked right in that Apple has authorized to allow the device to communicate on the secure HomeKit platform.  To see what devices have been certified thus far from Apple click here.  If you’re wondering what setting up a HomeKit device looks like, check out this article which talks about getting started.

Bottom line is this: if you buy a device that says it “Works with Apple HomeKit” you’ll be able to control it using Siri (voice) when you’re at home.  If you want to control it remotely, you’ll need an Apple TV.  And in all the cases we tested, there is usually a companion app that works too (locally, and sometimes remotely, depending on the specific device).

Now that you have a basic understanding of HomeKit, let’s test some devices.

Picking the Apple HomeKit Devices

For our review purposes we’ve acquired more than 80% of the items that were offered at the time of this blog post.  There are other items we know of coming up around the corner, so expect us to have follow-up articles as needed.  We think competition is good, so we’re excited to see options such as the multiple smart outlets, and multiple door locks, all with HomeKit compatibility.

Right now we are testing typically just one “type” of product, to see how the platform works, more than the products themselves.  In the coming months we may compare one HomeKit device against another, but in this review our focus is more on the platform, than the specific device.

In total our test includes a plethora of HomeKit compatible tech, including:

Testing of all the above items were conducted on the same network, at my home, except for the Insteon hardware.  For purposes of comparison I setup the Insteon Hub Pro at my office and tested it, along with their bulbs and switches, at that location.

You may also care to know that the HomeKit testing that was done at my home was done along side various non-HomeKit devices.  These include units such as a Nest Protect, two Nest Cam cameras, and a Rachio IRO Smart Irrigation Controller.  Because the Nest hardware doesn’t yet have HomeKit compatibility, they aren’t included in this section of testing- but will be reconsidered in the future if they add HomeKit support.  And you will see later how they do integrate with other platforms that we tested.

It is interesting to note that most of the HomeKit hardware we tested is very singular in purpose, be it a door lock device, or a thermostat.  Even the Lutron Caseta Smart Bridge focuses on simply lighting, and window blinds.  But there is one device that has the potential to handle more than just one task, which is why I wanted to test it at my second location (office).  That device is the Insteon Hub Pro, which is a HomeKit bridge connecting via Ethernet cable, and then communicating with proprietary Insteon devices on their own radio frequency.

At the moment, due to limitations set forth by Apple, Insteon’s web site shows that it can only control lighting and power/outlet type devices.  This limited us to testing their hub with just a few items, such as the INSTEON 2477S SwitchLinc On/Off Switches, some INSTEON 2674-222 PAR38 12LED Smart Bulbs, and some INSTEON 2672-222 A19 LED Smart Bulbs.  Sadly we came to find that our office lacks neutral wires, so we had to return the switches and were unable to test those fully.

Down the road we know that Apple will open up more options, and at that time Insteon will be able to integrate with their own garage door openers, door locks, and other hardware.  However since the Insteon hub only works with their proprietary hardware, this limits you to what you can add that will work with their hub.  Sure, you can use the Insteon app to control any of your HomeKit hardware, but for many people they might be considering Insteon because of all their offerings.  So beware, not only are their devices proprietary in connection, many of them won’t work with the HomeKit hub.  Worse yet, we found the setup was very flaky and difficult.  We’d look at other products primarily if you want HomeKit, and not Insteon.

So obviously there are a lot of cool options that work with HomeKit, and we have our hands on most of them.  But as a platform, is it worth considering?  How did it perform, and how does it compare to other options on the market today?

HomeKit Testing Results

We wanted this article’s testing to focus more on how HomeKit works as it compares to other platforms.  But we know people are going to ask what hardware we liked most, so for sake of appeasing those readers, here is a quick snap-shot, for those of you who already plan to go with a HomeKit system.

Our favorite in-wall light switches and plug-in outlets are the Lutron Caseta kit.  We particularly liked the 2-wire (no neutral required) setup, which gave it more versatility than the Insteon hardware.  We also had much better luck with reliability turning on and off the Lutron hardware compared to the Insteon stuff.  For additional lighting options, if you want colorful light bulbs, right now the only HomeKit option is Philips Hue.

There are a few HomeKit thermostat options announced, and we’re quite smitten with our ecobee3 for the multiple sensors, and great interface.  We’re curious about the Honeywell Lyric WiFi Thermostat which is coming soon, and may test that and other HomeKit thermostats  that are trickling into the market down the road.  For now we’ve tested just the ecobee3, as per my blog post HERE.

Lastly, we’re big fans of the Schlage Sense door locks that we installed, since they have a built-in touch-pad; plus we’re just a huge supporter of the brand.  At time of publishing this article the new August Smart Lock with HomeKit Enabled has been announced as coming soon.  And they are offering an optional August Smart Keypad plus their new August Doorbell Cam, making that a pretty sweet HomeKit compatible setup!  We reckon we’ll have to test that soon!  (Check out my quick-look at the Schlage Sense post, too!)  Door locks are sure to become a crowded HomeKit segment.

With that out of the way, this is where I’d really love to tell you that HomeKit works perfect, and is the best platform option on the market right now.  In truth that may be the case for a select group of readers, but I’ll be the first Apple fan-boy to admit that HomeKit is definitely still a work in progress.  Unlike typical Apple products that work perfect right out of the box, there is definitely a general feeling that HomeKit is half-baked, or just not “there” yet — but it is close!  One of our testers had a snag setting up their Philips Hue hub, though we’re not sure if that was due to migrating from the old hub or just a single-case incident.  Either way 95% or more of our HomeKit setups went smoothly, except for that one Hue setup.

In most cases you set up your devices the same way you would their non-HomeKit counterparts.  If you’re familiar with setting up a smart home device, like the Philips Hue Starter Kit for example, this setup is equally as simple.  After you go through the iOS app to link your device to your WiFi there is a simple added step of linking the hub to your HomeKit database, by scanning a code, and voila!  Other WiFi devices like the ecobee3 thermostat or Lutron Caseta Smart Bridge have similar easy setup.

There was a slight variation in setup for those devices that utilize Bluetooth, such as the Elgato Eve as well as Schlage Sense Smart Deadbolts.  These devices have unique apps for their specific HomeKit hardware, too.  But overall, setup was equally a breeze for even the most novice of smart home hardware tinkerers, with only the normal headaches one might expect from these types of products.  Some devices prompt you during setup for more than others, but all of them did a great job holding your hand, and making sure you were ready to go when the process was over.

Testing HomeKit means using Siri voice to control devices, which is the pinnacle of the whole platform.  We have found that when you’re at home on your local WiFi these voice commands tend to work 99% of the time, though we did have the occasional snafu.  You need to remember to use the correct wording, in the right order, otherwise Siri will get easily confused.  In most cases Siri wouldn’t work if you used the wrong verbiage, but occasionally it resulted in ALL of the lights turning on or off, when we only wanted a specific light, or group of lights.

Once you master the commands, which are relatively natural though certain phrases are missing from her understanding, you should find using voice control a real pleasure with Siri.  And the local access using your iPhone and the corresponding app was always solid, especially the WiFi devices.  We did note that controlling the Bluetooth devices also work great, though with a greater latency than the WiFi devices, and again those range limitations.

Where things start to fall apart is with remote access to those Bluetooth devices when you’re away from home.  In those cases our older Apple TV 3 worked 0% of the time, and our Apple TV 4 works only about 40% of the time for Bluetooth hardware.  This pales in comparison to the successful remote access of our WiFi HomeKit devices, which work 95% of the time when we are away from home.  Again this reflects our specific findings, but based on Internet forums we frequent, it seems most folks had poor ATV3 results, solid ATV4 results. And regretfully the overall poor remote Bluetooth access seems to mimic others with whom we’ve interacted.

What do we mean by not working remotely?  For example, we’d ask Siri on our phone if the Schlage Sense front door was locked, or what temperature my Elgato Eve Room was reading in my living room.  Using the same wording that had met with success while at home, Siri would start off saying “Ok, asking around…” only to come back with a “Sorry, I wasn’t able to do that” response.  Again this was only the case away from home, and typically the end result on Bluetooth devices.  We had great experiences with controlling our Philips Hue and Lutron Caseta systems remotely, since they are WiFi/Ethernet based products.  Your results may vary, of course.  Just be wary of remote access to Bluetooth devices, even with an Apple TV.

Beyond improvements with how the Apple TV & Bluetooth devices communicate (adding more reliability), another big fault with HomeKit right now lies in the structure of the system.  Although developers have the option of propagating commands through Apple’s Cloud, most of them are still relying on your iOS device. In my case that is my iPhone 6S, which as I said prior works a bit like the “central hub” to my HomeKit system.  Let me explain further…

Using the Home app that I talked about in this recent blog post, I setup a geofence trigger that would turn on certain lights when I arrive, but only after sunset.  It has been working perfectly for me, turning on both Lutron & Hue hardware upon my arrival.  However this geofence is specific to my phone, and does nothing to help my wife, whom I’ve shared my HomeKit system with through Apple.

But perhaps a better example is the Philips Hue Lightstrip Plus we have in our master bedroom.  Using HomeKit to bridge my various devices together, I was able to create a trigger that when my Lutron master bedroom light is turned on (wall switch), the light strip is set to also turn on to a certain color/brightness.  This also works quite nicely (effective over 95% of the time), but only when my iPhone 6S is present.  If my iPhone is not local (on the wifi), it will not work.  We tested this by placing my phone into LTE mode by turning off WiFi, and observing that the function then fails to work.  In other words, my phone had to be on & local, for the Lutron based triggers to work.  When away from home, and my wife turns on the bedroom lights, the Hue strip fails to turn on.  From what I have been told a firmware update to the Lutron bridge could resolve this, perhaps, though others claim the hardware can’t handle it.  Which is it? And can this be fixed by Apple or Lutron in the future?

To take this testing one step further I created some time-based triggers.  Again, you use your iOS device to setup the scenes and triggers, which can be done in whatever app you choose.  Right now though only the $15 the Home app allows triggers. Elgato claims their Eve app will add this functionality soon, which is great since their app is free.  During my testing of time-based triggers I found that they relied on my iPhone, which meant that if they occur when you’re not at home, you’ll need remote access via Apple TV.  One suggested work-around I’ve seen people discuss is having an older iPod Touch running iOS 9 somewhere in your house as a central hub, but this adds a hassle and added cost that most users won’t want to deal with.

Even with these faults, there is lots to love about HomeKit, with plenty of features that are better than others on the market today.  We loved how, as you build out your home layout, you can define various rooms, and zones, within HomeKit.  For me this works great as I have specific rooms such as my Living Room, or Kitchen, that I want to control room-by-room.  And in some of those rooms I have multiple devices, not just multiple wall switches/lights but items plugged in, or a temperature sensor in that area.  And my home is a split level (actually tri-level), which meant I could designate a group of rooms as being the top, middle, or bottom floor.  That made it easy to turn lights or devices on/off with Siri, by specifying that specific floor (“zone”).  This is actually a feature I use quite often, as I head downstairs in the morning for example.

Scenes are also nice in HomeKit, as they can collaborate between devices.  This means that you can tell Siri “good night” and it will set your ecobee3 thermostat into night mode, turn off your Philips and Lutron lights, close your Lutron shades, and even lock the Schlage Sense Smart Deadbolts, all with a single voice command.  And with any of the HomeKit compatible apps, you can also call up these scenes on command using your phone, if you aren’t feeling very vocal.  You can also setup devices that have a similar purpose as “service groups” so that you can easily tell Siri to turn on all of the “table lamps” regardless of where they are located — if that is something you want.

At the end of the day I really loved the ability to walk into my living room and simply babble into my Apple Watch, which would then turn on the lights to a certain percentage, or set my Hue bulbs to a specific color.  Voice control, especially when local, is awesome!  And unlike the Amazon Echo we test later, there was a simpler experience adding new devices, putting them into rooms, and then controlling them.  Seeing up new Echo devices for voice typically took more steps, more effort.

But there are those aforementioned limitations within HomeKit, which have prompted me to leave the Lutron Caseta hub to maintain its own schedules, and the Philips Hue to have its own, too.  I’ve found myself with a bit splintered, fragmented of a home automation layout for now.  It really comes down to my iPhone’s presence being the requirement the causes the greatest issues for me.  I’d like to use a single app to centrally setup my schedules, and have those work without any iOS device being required to be at home to work.

Perhaps in the future this will work, thanks to Apple’s HomeKit Cloud, and some firmware updates pushed to these various devices.  For right now the system works, but it feels like it is still coming into its own, with some power perhaps on-par with what you get in the Wink system, but without as many hardware options.

So why buy into Apple HomeKit?  For many, the primary/first reason is if you want Siri voice control, and you’re already an Apple iPhone owner/user.  That alone is enough to get many folks interested and on-board, and the best part is that the voice control follows you around the home, or even outside the house.  Typical iOS users have their phone on their person all the time, or wear an Apple Watch.  This gives you voice control all the time, no matter where you are!

Second reason to consider HomeKit is the belief that it is more secure.  Many folks have stated that HomeKit is a more safe & secure option compared to other platforms.  Though this is something that could be argued and will truly need to be proven over time, it is a point that Apple is using to sell their platform.

And finally, with Apple being such a huge company, one can assume that there will be an increase in products available for HomeKit, making it a wise platform to choose simply knowing it will continue to grow thanks to the typical “Apple effect” as they say.  Right now some big players are on-board, but devices from Nest and other companies are still not, making HomeKit a curiosity for the moment.

But right now HomeKit isn’t the best option for everyone.  Plenty of the devices we’ll talk about later can gain voice control using the Amazon Echo.  And HomeKit isn’t the right answer for Android or Microsoft phone users.  If you like the idea of Apple integration, voice control, and hopeful future growth, HomeKit is worth considering.  My personal home is setup for HomeKit, with a few other odd devices around which aren’t.

Be sure to keep reading to see how the competition stacks up!


IFTTT

Pros: Cons:
  • Unlimited & free for all users
  • Expansive list of integrations
  • Easy to use/simple interface
  • Slow polling causes delays
  • Requires Internet (WAN) to work
  • Mainly for cause-and-effect

There exists a free web service called IFTTT (If This Then That).  Rather than using a hardware hub they instead offer their cloud services, which can work as your “central hub” to keep your things connected to each other.  They even have quick action buttons (they call them DO Buttons) that can make some fun things happen on demand.

We’ll talk about IFTTT throughout this article as a viable way to interconnect things where having a hardware hub at home doesn’t always make as much sense. We like IFTTT, but for most people it can’t be the final end-all answer due to limitations we’ll address in a moment.  One great thing about IFTTT is that it works above and beyond whatever home setup you already have.  This means you can be a user of the Samsung SmartThings hub, or a Wink Connected Home hub, or even an Apple HomeKit user, and still add IFTTT to your repertoire if you desire.

To get started understanding IFTTT check out their About page.  Their IF Recipes are cause-and-effect scenarios for your automation.  These are not limited to smart homes, though.  Their platform is great for all sorts of automating, whether it be copying the photos you put on Facebook over to a Dropbox folder, or letting you know about new products added to Best Buy’s web site.  Those are just a few examples of the power IFTTT contains.  As it pertains to this blog post, however, we’ll talk about using IFTTT for home automation.

Without a doubt IFTTT has one of the largest lists of integrations around, as can be seen on their Channels page.  Some of our favorites in their Connected Home section include but are not limited to: Amazon Alexa (Echo), ecobee3, LIFX, Lutron Caseta, Nest Protect & Thermostat, Philips Hue, SmartThings, Belkin WeMo, and Wink.  Those are just a few of the dozens of integrations they offer!

Although using IFTTT is great for making “magic” happen, one of the biggest pitfalls is the latency.  Most of their integrations have a polling frequency that is rather low, and in many cases takes as long as 15 minutes.  This makes IFTTT less than ideal for things such as turning off a light when you set your thermostat to away, due to these delays.  Still, having the ability to make all your lights turn off and lock the front door when you put your wearable step-tracker into sleep mode, for example, is a way-cool feature even if it might take a few minutes to occur.

Another short coming with IFTTT is that it started off as this if-this-then-that mentality, and revolves around that premise.  Sure, they’ve added some DO Recipes to the software, allowing you to simply tap to trigger events, but you’re still limited to really just one layer at a time.  For example, you can’t have it only run a trigger during secondary conditions, such as time, location, etc.  And again, we’re talking just about triggers-and-events, done for the most part by automation, or button-tapping.  If you want to add voice control you can, but we’ll talk more about that in the Amazon Echo section later.

WE wish there was a control of “scenes” (Multiple events from a single trigger).  Technically you could create different events that all happen from the same trigger.  But doing that can get to be a fairly messy process, because your list of saved recipes will grow exponentially longer.  So when you compare IFTTT to a more conventional smart home hub, you’ll quickly see that IFTTT is meant more for those unique, singular activities you want to automate, rather than large groupings.

Another problem we encountered is that triggers and actions are often limited in function, depending on the integration level allowed by the hardware manufacturer.  Our first encounter of this was during our recent bulb testing, playing around with some of the cool features in the Philips Hue and IFTTT integration.  Lacking there was any way to make the Hue bulbs slowly fade in/out over a set period of time.  This came as a contrast to their competitor’s hardware: the LIFX Bulbs.  They also integrate with IFTTT, but with their bulbs you have the ability to set a fade in/out duration, allowing for a more subtle appearance of the lights as they come on, or go out.  Little details like this make IFTTT a great platform for some devices, but less powerful for others.

Perhaps one of the best examples of an IFTTT integration that was under-powered in one case, and perfect in another case, is when you compare how IFTTT works with the Nest Thermostat in contrast to the ecobee3 Thermostat.  When using IFTTT you can set your ecobee3 into ANY of the comfort settings (even custom ones), and even specify how long to hold that command, or set it to cancel when the next scheduled change occurs.  In contrast, sadly, the Nest thermostat does NOT allow the user to set the device to be Home or Away via IFTTT.  As a matter of fact, the only commands which you can send to your Nest from IFTTT are to set a desired target temperature (or temp range), or set the fan to run for 15 minutes.  The ecobee can do more than a half dozen things via IFTTT, including telling it to resume your schedule!  Once again, these limitations have more to do with what the device manufacturer is allowing, and less to do with IFTTT themselves.

Still as you are developing out your smart home, you’re going to have needs, and wants.  Perhaps you want your thermostat to automatically switch to “Home” when you leave work, to prepare for your return.  That works great if you have an ecobee3, but you won’t be able do do that with your Nest.  If you want your wearable to become part of your smart home, the Misfit Shine has double and triple tap and options for both with IFTTT.  This allows the Shine to operate way beyond what a Fitbit Charge is going to offer.  You can find these details on the specific Channel pages on the IFTTT website, so be sure to check that out!

In conclusion, we actually really LOVE what IFTTT can do.  During our testing found that both at my house (HomeKit devices) and at Holly’s place (Wink, SmartThings, etc) we both had a bunch of IFTTT recipes we continue to have running.  This is the case because we’ve found that no one system is ever really the ultimate winner here, and in that regard IFTTT can help fill in some of those holes.

Thanks to a rather simple user interface, IFTTT is a great way to get started with home automation, especially for new users.  It probably can’t do everything you want, but works as a great starting point.  Once you own two smart devices in your home, IFTTT is a fun way to make them interface.  We imagine most users will consider starting here, and eventually getting a smart hub like Wink or SmartThings.


Belkin WeMo

Pros: Cons:
  • Affordable hardware options
  • Can expand using SmartThings hub
  • Can expand using IFTTT
  • No color bulbs, no dimmer switches
  • Setup and interface are often flaky
  • Experienced some latency issues

One of the very first automated devices I added to my personal home was a Belkin WeMo Plug-in Switch (outlet).  This was before they even began to offer their newer WeMo Insight Switch which provides more feedback and details on energy consumption.  These days the Belkin WeMo lineup has grown quite a bit, and includes everything from their hard-wired (installed in the wall) WeMo Light Switch to control lights, their Belkin NetCam HD+ for video monitoring, smart bulb options such as their WeMo Smart LED Lighting Starter Set, and even a WiFi-Enabled Smart Crock-Pot Slow Cooker!

In my recent blog post about smart light bulbs we put the WeMo light strips and bulbs to the test, and found them a reasonable option for many potential users.  If your goal revolves mainly around lighting, using switches and bulbs, then the WeMo lineup is worth keeping on your radar.  All of the products they offer are built solid, and thanks to a very nice app interface, are equally easy to use on your smart phone.

WeMo devices rely on WiFi to communicate, so setup involves connecting them to your existing home network.  Belkin has developed a cloud service (for free), which then allows you to control those devices using their app even when you’re away from home.  Want to check if you remembered to turn off a light?  Need to push back the crock-pot to start later because you’re working late?  All of these functions work superbly with the Belkin WeMo app.  We did find some lag controlling devices at home, which we suspect has to do with the ping-back time from phone, to cloud, back to home.  Our only complaint remains the lack of privacy, such that anyone on your home WiFi network has access to those local devices.  They need to add some sort of user name & password security layer to their hardware.

What you won’t find in the WeMo app are things like “Scenes” that would allow you to control multiple devices easily, on-demand.  You can setup time-based triggers that control many devices, or pick up a WeMo motion sensor to control your devices from there.  But if you want to turn on a bunch of lights at once, you’ll want to look to scale-up from there.

One option to “scale up” from your WeMo setup would be working with IFTTT, which I’ll come back to in a few paragraphs.  That is a good option, but truly the best option would be to purchase the Samsung SmartThings hub.  Sadly we had really bad luck getting WeMo to integrate via the Labs plug-in with the SmartThings hub, which ultimately left us not being huge WeMo fans.  Had that worked it would have given the WeMo a huge scale option making it a contender for sure.

When you start off with just a few WeMo devices you’ll find you can do quite a bit already, from within their app.  You can set lights to automatically turn off after a designated period of time (in case you left it on, or after motion triggers it in the first place).  Evening lights coming on/off based at set times (such as sunset) can also work nicely, all setup and controlled from the app. And since this data is stored in the cloud, you don’t need a special hub or have to be at home for these to work.  As such I praise the WiFi enabled WeMo devices for all being fairly nice and self-contained, compared to others on the market.

Their home security hardware options are limited, with no door/window sensor, and only one motion sensor option.  If you upgrade to the Samsung SmartThings hub you can do a lot more, but as a stand-alone ecosystem, the WeMo offerings are limited in that realm.  Primarily I think of WeMo as being a good lighting/switch offering, and to expand, you really need to get a smart-hub.  Since the SmartThings hub is the only one it works with, and our testing was negative, it’s hard to recommend the WeMo.

Setting up new WeMo devices tends to be a slow process.  In all cases we hit a few snags for all of the various WeMo devices.  In most cases there is a firmware upgrade needed, which can take a dozen minutes to complete.  But in our lighting blog we talked a bit about the headaches requiring resetting, and it taking over 30 minutes to add bulbs!  Once done, setup, and going, the WeMo Light Switch my friend Matt tested has been great for his home.  And at Holly’s place we have a slew of WeMo devices (WeMo Smart LED lights and more!), and they work great both stand-alone, and with her SmartThings hub.  Generally speaking we like the WeMo app for its simplicity and ease-of-use, even if the setup process is a pain, and the latency can be up to 30-seconds response time.

Later in this article we’ll talk about the Amazon Echo voice assistant and how that works with devices, like the WeMo.  We like how you can grow your WeMo home thanks to the IFTTT app we talked about in the prior section.  Suddenly your lights become both triggers, and actionable items.  Did you set your ecobee3 thermostat to sleep mode?  Your lights can start to fade down automatically, using IFTTT.  And that WeMo Motion Sensor suddenly works to trigger devices that are outside the WeMo brand, too!  Though you do have the latency issues with IFTTT, this does make your lighting, sensors, and other WeMo devices that much smart, and for free, too.

Thanks to an abundance of sizable displays at your local big box stores, Belkin is doing a good job getting into the homes of many.  If your home has neutral wires in the wall boxes, the WeMo Light Switch is a good on/off option, but it lacks dimming capabilities.  In comparison, the Lutron Caseta hardware includes dimmers, and none of their switches require a neutral wire. Though I’m personally a huge fan of the Lutron hardware, with over 25 switches/outlets in my home, it isn’t for everyone.  First off, the Caseta switches are considerably more expensive, and secondly, Lutron has an even more limited set of integrations than Belkin WeMo.

This same trend continues when you look at the  WeMo Smart LED Lighting Starter Set.  Included in that kit is an affordable set of white-only bulbs.  Although they are priced right, many will want to spend extra money for color bulbs, such as the Philips Hue hardware.  Again see our recent lighting blog post, but overall we tend to find that the WeMo lineup is good, often not as versatile as others, but remains a great starting point.   We like that you can scale it relatively easily, too.

As you shop try to be careful to consider what hardware you might add in the future, since the WeMo devices limit you to IFTTT, or perhaps SmartThings if you have better luck getting it to work than we did.  For future growth WeMo is good, but not “great” as tested.


Samsung SmartThings Hub

Pros: Cons:
  • Modest list of 3rd party integrations
  • Offer own proprietary hardware
  • Great web community for help
  • Deep customization for power users
  • Least user-friendly app we tested
  • Complex to configure simple tasks
  • Missing some “key” integrations

Let’s say you started your smart home off with a set of TCP light bulbs.  Their starter kit came with a hub, which they call a gateway.  That gateway uses a wireless communication standard called Zigbee to talk between the bulbs and the hub.  Your phone cannot communicate Zigbee, hence the need for the hub in the first place.  And that hub plugs into your router (Ethernet) which connects it to the Internet.  When you send a command over the Internet using the TCP app, you can turn lights on/off.

SIDEBAR: It is important to note that, regardless of whether you are on your home wifi, or a remote wifi location, or LTE/3G data, in almost all cases you’re still using the TCP cloud in my example above.  So when you send a command to turn on/off lights you’re sending that up to the TCP cloud, which uses the Internet to beam that request to your hub/gateway, when then sends the Zigbee signal to the bulbs.  All of this creates a delay (“latency”) which is why it may take a few seconds, even when you’re at home, for lights to turn on/off.  Some hubs circumvent this by having your commands go more direct when it senses you are at home, but most of them do not do this and hence even the best home automation can have delays using the app.  We found these delays with TCP, WeMo, and many other platforms.

One day you decide to expand your home automation hardware.  Perhaps you want to add a motion sensor to turn those TCP lights on.  Or maybe have the bulbs illuminate when a certain door opens using a door/window open/close sensor.  To make this work you’ll need not just the motion sensor itself, but also some sort of central hub to connect them together.  This is because the TCP gateway controls your lights exclusively, with no capability to add motion sensors.  And so begins the downward spiral that beckons this blog post.  Which hub do you get?  Will the sensors, bulbs, and other hardware you want connect them all together?  What if your home also includes a Belkin WeMo Light Switch?

In this section we’re looking at the Samsung SmartThings hub, which is one of two central hubs we think you should consider.  The other is the Wink Connected Home Hub, which we’ll talk about in the next section.  We’ve purposely left out other hubs on the market today, such as the Staples Connect, the Iris Smart Hub, and the Logitech Harmony Home.  While these are definitely viable options, we feel the SmartThings and Wink offer the best interface, and/or maximum flexibility & customization, when compared with the others.  We did some personal testing of the other hubs, but opted to omit them from our suggestions here.  What you will find in this blog post then are just the “Best of the best” devices.

Testing of the SmartThings & Wink hubs were performed at Holly’s house, where even prior to this blog post we already had a huge collection of hardware.  This includes but is not limited to:

For the purposes of testing the latest and greatest, we also went ahead and picked up a bunch of new hardware Samsung recently released.  The list is below, all which are z-wave Zigbee devices that are branded by Samsung for their new version hub:

For users who are new to home automation the SmartThings hub is going to be a LOT to take in!  Right away users will find it the least intuitive of all the devices we have tested in this blog post.  Yet it has the most powerful customization options of all, too.  This might go hand-in-hand, but it still seems like they could have done a better job making the software a bit easier to understand.

Once you do get a hang of the clunky interface you can do more with SmartThings than just about any of the other devices/platforms here, combined.  One of my favorite examples of this would be using a motion sensor to turn on a light.  Sure, almost ALL of the platforms we tested here can do that, but in SmartThings it adds the extra layer that you can set how many minutes after the motion stops that the light automatically turns off.  This is a feature not found in any other platform we tested, which can be mimicked but never quite replicated by the competitors.

Features like that elevate the SmartThings hub to a level beyond the others, and make for a remarkable piece of software.  But we constantly had issues finding the right “SmartApps” to achieve our goals.  Like all the apps and devices we tested, you can create simple tasks (routines) that can occur with a touch of a button, or at a set time.  You’re able to use triggers such as motion sensors, presence sensors, and much more, too.  As a matter of fact, one of the coolest and more powerful features of SmartThings are modes, which allows you to set whether you are home, away, or sleeping.  By having these modes you can actually create another tier of automation, so that certain devices react uniquely based on whether or not you’re home versus away, awake versus asleep.  Perhaps when asleep you want push notifications of a door opening that, when you’re home/awake doesn’t matter.  It is that kind of granular adjustment that makes us love SmartThings.  There is a learning curve, and setting it all up can be a painstaking process, but once in place it is quite smooth running.

During our testing & review Holly made a comment that really stuck for me.  In the case of the SmartThings system, you really have a “Know & Control” sense of your home.  You can easily setup a room to quickly show you if there is motion, for example (see photos in gallery).  You really can design each part of your smart home to work for you, and with relatively quick taps of your screen check on, and secure your dwelling.

Though the SmartThings hub isn’t a true home security system, it is really just a small degree away, lacking only third-party monitoring.  In the near future we plan to pick up a Scout Alarm Wireless Home Security System and see how that integrates with and/or compares to the the SmartThings.  For now we will say that the Samsung system gave us the most sense of security of all the systems we tested, and seems to truly focus on that type of integrations.  The other platforms we tested were all solid, but seemed more about making things happen (triggers, schedules, events, automation) and less about alarms, security, and so forth.  Of this bunch if you’re trying to build your own home alarm/security system, the SmartThings gets our gold-star, but stay tuned to our blog for more thoughts on that in a few months.

Based on the powerfulness alone we could conclude the SmartThings section by telling you it is better than the Wink hub in the next section.  But for a few key reasons it isn’t. For starters, while it has a great, broad spectrum of integrations, it is still lacking ones we think really matter.  For example, the amazing Nest Protect smoke detector, the award-winning Nest Cam cameras, and the captivating Nest Learning Thermostat family are excluded.  Additionally our test-home has a Ring Video Doorbell, and as you’ll see in the next section, the motion sensor there was useful for Wink robots, and is lacking here from SmartThings.  We also had some issues pairing our Kwikset Deadbolt to the new v2 SmartThings hub (it worked fine with our old SmartThings hub), but it linked up immediately, flawlessly, to the Wink hub.  These omissions and flaws, plus the overly complex interface, make it not quite as plug-and-play as the others around.

But don’t exclude the Samsung SmartThings hub from your consideration.  It is indeed the most powerful one here, and now that it is owned/financially backed by Samsung, it is sure to be around for a while.  If you’re a timid new users, the interface will not be your friend.  But if you’re the kind of person who enjoys spending a lot of time digging deep, learning, and educating yourself, the by all means, go for it!  The SmartThings is the device for the “Advanced” user.

If you’re looking for a quick-and-painless experience, make sure you read the next section.  Because the next hub we talk about here is for the general public, and is very fun!


Wink Connected Home Hub

Pros: Cons:
  • Simple, gorgeous, intuitive interface
  • Broad spectrum of device integrations
  • Includes all our “favorite” devices
  • Very basic and limited functionality
  • Wink Relay often needs to be reset
  • No “room” view or layout option

This section will be a bit smaller than the prior.  This is due to the fact that the Wink Hub was tested at the same location as the SmartThings hub, so we started off with that same huge list of devices you saw in the prior section.  And by now you’ve probably got a pretty good idea of how this all works.

In the case of the Wink Hub we took all those other devices, most of which worked with the Wink, and added:

Last year I tested a bunch of hubs, and back then praised the Wink Hub for the intuitive, attractive interface.  Luckily Wink has not made any changes to diminish that, so what remains is one of the prettiest smart home apps we’ve ever seen.  For the most part navigating around is pretty straight-forward, though we do wish there was the ability to setup your home by rooms.  If you want to jump between dissimilar devices that are in the same physical space, there are a lot of button-presses involved, but at least it all makes sense.

Where Samsung recently acquired SmartThings, a recent sale by Quirky of the Wink company also has changed ownership.  Ownership and financial control of Wink Hub now belongs to Flextronics, a huge contract manufacturer and a very large company.  At this point nobody knows what this means for the future of Wink, but we hope it brings new integrations, better hardware, and perhaps stronger cloud services to the Wink service.

As noted earlier, there is no way to create scenes in IFTTT, or WeMo.  But HomeKit and SmartThings do have this ability, and so does the Wink Hub.  These scenes are called “Shortcuts” in the Wink app, and with a single tap you can set the stage for your evening guests, movie night, or any other type of mass-controlled function you want.  Additionally, Wink integrates with IFTTT.  This means your Wink hub can react to IFTTT triggers, though we found the IFTTT integration most critical when dealing with the Amazon Echo.  See the next blog section for details on that.

Although the Wink Hub doesn’t have the granular control for automation that the SmartThings hub does, we did find their “Robots” section extremely easy to use.  This is where you can have lights turn on from a motion sensor, or an alert when your front door remains unlocked for more than a few minutes.  We liked that the “state” of something could wait to alert you (or trigger) for a certain number of minutes, but missing was the automatic function of turning a light off after the motion went away.

When I asked random family members, and friends, how they would configure their smart home, almost all of them gave me examples that fell within the threshold of what the Wink Hub can already do.  One of them gave examples of wanting a camera at their front door, and essentially described having a smart doorbell like the Ring Wi-Fi Enabled Video Doorbell which we had tested.  They talked about having the front house lights turn on automatically when the front door camera noticed someone approaching after dark.Sure enough this type of integration works right within the Wink app!

One of the most visually stunning aspects of the Wink app is the Wink Relay wall switch.  It provides you a central command center, avoiding having to reach for your phone.  We love how it shows you the weather, recent smart home activity, and other features all within the Android-powered little smart touch-screen display.  Our only real complaints were that the device would be a little laggy at times, and that it seemed to need rebooted once a week.  If you’re thinking about picking a Wink Relay up, keep that in mind.

Without a doubt our favorite smart home platform in this review is the Wink Hub, thanks to the colorful, intuitive interface.  And it has a huge list of integrations including most of our favorite devices (even some we didn’t have a chance to test this time around).  Check out their product integration listing HERE.

But both the Wink Hub and SmartThings hub are missing one key element that the HomeKit platform offers: voice control.  So, let’s talk about how to fix that!


Amazon Echo

Pros: Cons:
  • High quality voice recognition
  • Integrations with all of the “key players”
  • Works for all users, regardless of phone brand
  • Door locks requires “work-around”
  • Local only, must be within ear-shot
  • High cost of entry for some buyers

One of the most amazing pieces of tech released in 2015 is the Amazon Echo.  Though voice recognition has been around for a while now, like Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana, the Amazon Echo brings a unique approach.  Rather than baking in these features to your smart phone, this black tower is placed somewhere centrally in your home.  This allows anyone in the house to use it anytime they are within ear-shot.

Although having to be local to the device is one short-coming, the fact that the device is powered and always-on makes it far superior in microphone and speaker quality.  Hence it also doubles is a great speaker for listening to music.  During our testing we’ve found we can be pretty far away from “Alexa” and still get a response.  There are differences as to what non-smart-home commands Siri vs Alexa can handle, but again for our testing here, we’re going to focus on the home automation aspects.

We’ve included some photos above of the app, and specifically the Connected Home section.  But sadly the Amazon Echo doesn’t lend itself great to photos, and would be better for video.  If you are interested in seeing what it can do we’d be happy to create some videos for our readers.  Please use the comment section below and let us know what you want to see, and we’ll try to fill those requests immediately.

With the Echo you can control devices a smattering of ways.  Our favorite integrations here relate to our two favorite smart-home hubs: both the Wink Hub and SmartThings hub.  Once you connect the Echo to your existing Wink or SmartThings, most of your devices are ported over.  We did find that the front door z-wave lock was not there, a limitation that Amazon said will be rectified in a future software update.  We’ve also noticed that it seems Amazon updates the Echo weekly, and we expect that very soon after publishing this article changes will make some of our data “old news” 🙂

One great example of recent updates is one that just came out days prior to this blog post.  Thanks to a new update from Amazon, they’ve updated their IFTTT integration.  You can now call up a trigger more easily, and you can name it custom to whatever you desire.  With this new update we were able to control door locks, by using a small work-around.  We created a scene on the Wink Hub that locks the front door, and turns off various lights around the house.  Then using IFTTT and the Amazon Echo, we created a trigger called “nighty night” — so now when we say “Alexa, trigger nighty night” — the event occurs!  And it does so quite fast, with very minimal latency since this is a “push” event rather than a pull event on IFTTT.

Even if you don’t have a SmartThings or Wink hub, the Echo is still able to control devices from Belkin’s WeMo lineup directly.  We expect other WiFi devices will add direct Echo support in the future, too.  We hope LIFX will be one of those companies, since we LOVE our LIFX Color 1000 & LIFX White 800 Bulbs, and would love a direct link from Alexa to those.

From a home automation standpoint, we’d recommend the Wink Hub as your central point, and then the Amazon Echo as the voice component.  These two work really great together, since any “Shortcuts” you have created in Wink become accessible in IFTTT.  Additionally, you can create groups in the Echo app, by room for example, to make turning lights on or off together more easy.  In our testing we would use Echo’s group control to link lights, but then tested using Shortcuts to create “scenes” that we could control.  We had the ability to make these shortcuts occur with voice on the Echo, using the Wink app, or walking over to the Wink Relay.

Right now there is no way to directly change temperates on the Nest thermostat with the Echo, but that is another integration/relationship we expect is “coming soon” from Amazon.  Adding a new device to your Wink hub does require a refresh on the Echo, and a bit of tinkering to get it integrated.  In comparison to HomeKit this made working within the Echo ecosystem a bit more tedious, but the payoff was worth it.

When you’re looking at why you’d add the Echo it really is all about voice control. And for the most part we were able to mimic what HomeKit can do with the Amazon Echo, even if it does take a little bit more effort.  For non-Apple users, or people who want the benefits that the Wink or SmartThings offers, the Echo is a great way to blend voice commands with your smart home needs.  We found Echo a great, at-home alternative to HomeKit.


Conclusion

Are you thoroughly confused now?  If you haven’t walked out of our technology buffet here, and you’re still reading (we hope you are!), let’s take a quick moment to summarize.

Our favorite smart home hub is the Wink Hub, especially when coupled with the Amazon Echo for added voice support.  If you’re an Apple user, we do love HomeKit, and would say that you should try to get hardware that also supports HomeKit.  Note that there are some cases where you can span two platforms at once.  An example of this: the new Philips Hue Starter Kit.  With the Hue system you get direct IFTTT integration, and you can connect that to your Wink Hub.  But it also comes with HomeKit so you can still control those lights with Siri.  Just remember that if you add devices to the Wink hub, those devices won’t be controllable by Siri unless advertised as such by the manufacturer, since the Wink hub itself is not HomeKit.

When it comes to light switches, our favorite bulbs are the Hue bulbs I just mentioned, and the LIFX Color 1000 & LIFX White 800 Bulbs.  Our favorite in-wall switches are those pricey-but-powerful Lutron Caseta units, which are also now for sale in-store at most Best Buy locations. The Caseta switches work directly with the Wink hub, and not the SmartThings hub, which is another reason we like the Wink more.  And as for smart thermostats, well, go read this post we made not long ago.

Power-users should look to Samsung and their complex SmartThings hub, which can do more than most users really need.  Belkin’s WeMo lineup is nice, but doesn’t really win any awards here other than low prices, and limited expansion.  Though the fact that the WeMo stuff links direct to Echo makes it a nice option for the “budget” user.

In truth you can’t go wrong with most of the hardware we tested.  Some of it works better than others, so shop around for devices you’ll possible buy down the road.  It is imperative that you look at what works within the eco-system you choose, so that you don’t paint yourself in a corner.  Nothing is worse than having a splintered home, having to use multiple apps, and having difficulty making things work together.

Think of it like planning your meal at that buffet we talked about.  Even though you might not want something on your first trip to the buffet counter, there are things you might go back for later.  And making sure the hardware you get today is compatible with the hardware you might want tomorrow is going to help you from having an upset stomach down the road!  Ciao!

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Published by

Ari Jay Comet

Sharing my life experiences. Interacting with technology. Digital self-expression. Binary is black, white, and many shades of grey.

100 thoughts on “TESTED: Smart Home Automation – Comparing Apple HomeKit vs Samsung SmartThings Hub vs Wink Connected Home Hub vs INSTEON Hub Pro vs Amazon Echo vs Belkin WeMo”

  1. I have been reading every word on your three large home automation bogs now and trying to narrow in on the hardware I want. The information has been great, but I found a bit of a contradiction now after this third post.
    In the beginning you mentioned the lag from the Wink hub being enough to deter you from using it and instead praised the Staples connect system. In the second post (comments section) you mentioned recommending the smart things hub over the Wink hub any day. Now, it seems you are favoring the. Wink hub.
    I am in a similar situation to you as far as environment goes; I have an older home with no neutral wires. I have some hue bulbs, a single I devices switched outlet I picked up yesterday (which seems good so far) but really think I need to getting smart in-wall light switches and outlets instead.
    I have a home full of Apple devices and would like to build or take advantage of HomeKit as much as possible. I am basically sold on the lutron switches and, I noticed that Leviton has in-wall outlets that use zigbee if I remember correctly. Both packages are plastered with the Wink hub compatibility logo but I know I won’t be happy if the control is not consistent or requires delay from depending on Wink cloud services.

    With these things in mind, what is your recommendation? Is the wink hub no longer full of delays or dependent on an Internet connection even when interacting with it on my local network? Is there a single Hub or aggregator that is HomeKit compatible or will I be forced to look for individual components and systems that are HomeKit commit leg and have my phone handle the grouping, scenes, etc?

    Thanks!

    1. Bryan, at various stages during my testing I definitely liked different devices for different reasons. I’ve also started to include additional friends and family members who have provided me added perspective. What works for me might not work for you, or my friend, or my cousin, or your parents. And so forth.

      But you did provide ample data for me to offer you a curated option list. In the case of two wire only smart switches the Lutron Caseta is best. If you want to control switches using Siri the only option you have using two wire would be the Caseta. So there ya go! That being said the Wink hub has gotten better. But it still requires Internet to work. When I praised the Staples they were backing it. It seems they have abandoned it now. And SmartThings is still the best for power but not as many important integrations as Wink. So for some people that is okay.

      But since you indicated you want apple support and no WAN worries, get yourself a Lutron smart hub v2 with apple HomeKit support. This also means you’re locking yourself into HomeKit to make things work together. The first section of this thread should answer all your questions.

      There is no single hub for HomeKit. The hub is your phone. If you indeed read every word of this latest post you’re aware the adoption is slow. There is no compatible garage door system yet. Your door locks cannot be triggers yet. The function of HomeKit is still very much impaired. Meaning if you want a more powerful hub, you can’t do so with HomeKit, and inherently, Siri. If you want power, wink is better and great integrations, but smart things even more.

      So what do you value more? This is very much a personal decision I cannot make for you. I have chosen Apple for my house. Hence I’m lacking certain features I would like to have from my testing, but I can use my phone/voice to control my devices. Truth is I could replicate that by having all my switches go into a Wink hub, and using an Amazon Echo. But then I have to be near my echo (or its remote) to use voice, rendering my apple voice control useless in this setting.

      Hope this clarifies. If you need more data let me know. Happy to talk your ear off at all lengths and provide whatever data you want! I love this stuff!! What other pros or cons do you want to know? Here to help!!

      1. Any thoughts about using Wink and Smartthings side by side in the same home? You’d get the best of both worlds at the expense of some convenience?

      2. My friend and co-blogger here, Holly, is doing just that! She has both hubs running, plus an Amazon Echo, and even HomeKit with her Philips hue. It works but it provides a rather splintered experience. For example her Lutron switches only work with the Wink. And z-wave items can only be linked to a single hub at a time. So there are short comings. But there are ways to work around with IFTTT, tho there can be delays. I don’t suggest this option for the timid user.

  2. Ari, great work. I’m 3hrs deep in your site and lovin’ it!

    I’d like you advice. I’m buying a Christmas gift for my son and his new home. I want to buy him a simple app based security lighting system where an IFTTT geo turns on lights (outlets).

    This simple idea quickly got un-simple when I knew he’d love it and want to go all in. You introduced me to eco system thinking and future-proofing.

    So now, I’m looking for a system that works with Android/IOS, app based, no voice needed, phillips hue/LIFX-friendly, that can start out as a simple app based security lighting system where an IFTTT geo turns on lights (outlets).

    Your thoughts?
    Joe

    1. Joe, sorry for the delay in my reply. I think you’re going to find the Wink Hub is your best option, and in that case you’ll need to go Hue instead of LIFX, for now. Down the road LIFX support may be added, but it isn’t there yet.

      You should be able to do all the features you’d want, using IFTTT, and Wink. You’d simply create a trigger for the geo-fence on IFTTT, and then have it set that Shortcut to run via the Wink. This should provide you a solid eco system that works with both Android and iOS, and Hue, and IFTTT.

  3. Did you pair up the group of SmartThings sensors and outlet with the Wink Hub also or just the SmartThings hub? I ask because it still is very difficult to find temperature and water sensors that work with my Wink Hub. Most seem to have some sort of proprietary add on to Zigbee that Wink can’t handle.

    1. We didn’t try that. Typically any z wave works with any hub, but the z wave controller needs to be able to handle that type of sensor. If you order using my Amazon links you’ll have their stellar return policy to lean on, should it not work. But sorry I don’t have a direct answer as we didn’t test that.

      1. I think those Samsung sensors are actually ZigBee and not Z-wave. If you go to the Samsung SmartThings web site they all say protocol is ZigBee so you might want to update your post:

        https://shop.smartthings.com/#!/products/samsung-smartthings-motion-sensor

        Based on my past experience with other ZigBee devices not explicitly supported by Wink I would guess they will not work due to poor support of ZigBee by Wink. Probably not worth ordering at this point just to have to return again.

  4. Great, GREAT review. However, I think I am just as confused as ever after reading it all! I purchased a SmartThings system for my office. I have Cree Connect bulbs, the Smartthings sensors, motion sensor, and receptacle. One of the best things about my current system is that when I open the door to my personal office and walk in, the motion sensor turns on my lights to 50%, which is where they stay. However, if there is no motion for 10 minutes, the lights turn off. This seems VERY important to me and after having it, I am not sure how I would go without it. What do other people do when they want the motion sensor lighting to work? What would be the purpose of ever having a motion sensor if it did not do something like this?

    Before purchasing the SmartThings system, I read several reviews on the Wink hub and many people said they were having problems with it and even read some that the company was not making anything new and possibly closing down for good. I agree the SmartThings app is a bit cumbersome and took awhile to learn. I still open the wrong tabs from time to time. I love the thought of more options as far as supported equipment like we could get with the Wink Hub. I am also a huge Apple user and wish HomeKit was working a little stronger with more options. Please convince me somehow not to purchase another SmartThings system for my home.

    1. If you’re already using ST at work, you’ll probably enjoy ST at home. If it is a platform you’re familiar with, sticking with that at both locations will offer you some continuity. In that regard alone you may be best served to stick with a singular eco system.

      Your concerns about Wink are not fully founded, since Wink did end up selling to Flex/Flextronics. They were the primary manufacturer for the Wink line of hardware, and they plan to inject more money to grow the brand. In other words, the Wink hub isn’t going anywhere, and if you’re interest in one is there, check it out. It is far easier to use than the SmartThings software.

      However, as you noted, there are limitations. You can have Wink turn on a light from a motion sensor, just like the SmartThings can– but you can’t have it turn back off after no motion from a certain period of time. This was one of our favorite features of the ST hub, and one we were sad didn’t carry over to Wink. Actually no other hub I’ve tested (not even Apple’s coveted HomeKit) features such a cool option. So keep that in mind.

      Still there are ways to recreate this, through IFTTT recipes or similar programming. It doesn’t come out as easy to do as a simple option on the ST hub, but it is there. I think Wink has its merits simply because my target audience here tends to be first time home automation users, many who aren’t willing to learn a platform as steep as the Samsung box.

      Still, the TOP picks are Wink vs SmartThings, with really the integrations being the key difference for most users. Or the usability. If you’re already versed in using ST, then I’d probably suggest you go that route at home then too. Hope this helps! – Ari

    2. I too struggled to choose between the Wink and Smart Things hub. One feature that sold me on the Smart Things hub is that it connects directly via Ethernet which is inherently faster and more reliable. By not including a power hungry WiFi radio, the ST hub affords built-in battery backup. The sensors themselves are Zigbee which uses very little power and allows battery operated devices to run for years. The ST system is better suited for security applications where you want your system to work even if power is lost. Smart Things is an open platform which bodes well for the future. I expect most readers could be happy with either one so it’s mostly about deciding which features you value most.

  5. Ari, it’s been a long time since we’ve been in touch, but our paths cross again. This time, you’re the expert, and I need your help…
    Have you found any dimming wall switches that can be controlled, including the dimming feature, with the Amazon Echo voice control through the Wink or SmartThings hubs?

    1. Dale, great to hear from you! Indeed I’ve come across at least one specific example but imagine a few others would exist. As a huge fan of the Lutron Caseta switches, I’ve used those with a Wink hub, which can then be controlled by the Amazon Echo. I would expect the same results would work with any z-wave in-wall switch (as wink works with z-wave). But I only have a on-off z-wave linked to wink. Same for smart things. Most of the dimming I’ve tested was bulbs thus far. Hope this helps- Ari

    2. Oops I may have mis spoken. The Amazon hardware testing is at my friends house. She will be getting back to me but I think you may be onto something here. Dimming may indeed only work with Hue bulbs but not yet Wink hardware. So though Alexa can control wink switches or bulbs, not dimming functions yet. I am not sure if a software update has resolved this yet. Once my friend reports back to me I’ll post final findings here for your enjoyment. Be back soon!!

    3. Dale– the final answer as tested by my cohort is that YES! You CAN dim with Alexa. Now the performance we found is variable, depending on the switch you have and the brand of bulbs. For example, some bulbs dim better than others, and some switches work better than others. But she tested and found that indeed her Wink smart switches, though with dimmer features, are indeed able to do on, off AND dimmer settings all via voice, through Echo to Wink support. Hope this helps!!

      1. It does help greatly. I purchased a Wink hub and a basket of Lutron Caseta dimming switches based on your information. The bulbs we are dimming are Philips dimmable LED dumb bulbs with the small candleabra(sp?) base. Thanks again, and for the record, as far as I can tell, you two are the only people in the world to have tested the capability and then confirmed it in writing…

  6. I’m so glad to see that I’m not the only one that finds the SmartThings app confusing and awkward to deal with. I don’t understand why it sometimes takes 10-20 taps to do simple things and sometimes it’s really hard to find the right menu. Try finding the Z-Wave controls, as they’re hidden so far into the menu system that you would simply not know that they’re there in the first place.

  7. Hi Ari –

    Wow, thanks for the wealth of information on home automation options! At our primary home, like you, we have delved into Homekit; we have Phillips Hue lights, just purchased the Lutron Caseta in-wall dimmers and we have a 3rd generation Apple TV (which, incidentally, is working to allow us to use Siri voice controls to control our lights outside of our home network). We also have a Ring Doorbell, which as you know is not Homekit compatible, so we might ultimately end up swapping it out for the August Doorbell Cam.

    My question for you lies with the set-up at our vacation home. After waiting out a 3-year contract with Xfinity for home security, we cancelled the service, but we are left with numerous devices that we own: door/window sensors, motion detectors, glass break devices, video cameras and a CT30 Radio Thermostat. I would love to commandeer these devices to use on our own for a local security system. For the Radio Thermostat, I ordered a compatible Z-Wave USNAP Module, so I believe we will at least be able to remotely control the thermostat through the Radio Thermostat app. I have read that the other Xfinity security hardware operates on Zigbee. If I purchase a SmartThings hub, will it pick up these different items so that I can control them through the SmartThings app?

    Finally, we have Sonos systems at both houses, and I would love to be able to set triggers for Sonos actions. As you know, IFTTT does not have a Sonos channel. It sounds like SmartThings is compatible with Sonos, but on the SmartThings website, Sonos is listed in the “Labs” as “may be compatible.” Have you had success with Sonos/SmartThings integration? Have you heard whether Apple and Sonos might make Sonos Homekit compatible?

    Thanks for any advice you might be able to provide!!

    -Another Holly obsessed with home automation

    1. Holly, glad to hear you found the blog and have enjoyed the data. Check back often, as new posts come out regularly.

      It sounds like you already found the compatibility page for SmartThings, which does a fairly good job telling you what should work. In truth just about any Z-wave or Zigbee device would work, however since the data it sends, and how it sends that data, can vary from one manufacturer to the next, it is best if the specific device is listed. So to answer your question about the Zigbee hardware from xfinity working with SmartThings, would say it might work, and hopefully should, but equally chances it might not. If it isn’t listed on the SmartThings web site, then it is hard to say for sure and I have no specific experience with those items, sorry.

      As for Sonos, we have tested that a bit at one of our test-sites (contributing editor Holly here at the blog has a Sonos at her home). Via SmartThings we have accessed control to it, which also then can be controlled with Amazon Echo. However, in Holly’s own words: “Admittedly, it’s never been very reliable for me though.  In fact, it’s rarely reliable.”

      I’ve not heard anything about Sonos and HomeKit. Frankly I’ve not heard much about any new HomeKit devices, save for the very few that made CES announcements. Hopefully next week Apple might talk about it more, at their financial reporting announcement. But don’t hold your breathe, as later this year seems more likely.

      Again thanks for visiting– if you have any further questions do let me know! – Ari

      1. Thank you, Ari, for the quick reply! I just purchased a SmartThings Hub through your amazon link, so I will have fun testing the Sonos integrations. Hopefully ST will also detect the Xfinity home security devices.

        Thanks again for the very helpful website. I look forward to checking back frequently!

      2. Do report back with your XFinity findings. Others may find this page and enjoy the data. If you have any specific smart things questions too let us know. Holly here can help you along if needed!

    1. http://august.com/august-works-with/

      The answer is none. Unlike many locks which use Z-wave or similar protocols, the August unit uses WiFi and is otherwise proprietary.

      See the link at the top of my reply here, above. Basically if you want a smart home hub with a smart lock, don’t get the August. If you want HomeKit, make sure you get the new August system, but no hub is needed.

      Enjoy!

  8. I as well have spent about the last 3 hours reading your posts on Home Automation. It’s has helped a ton (Thank you) but does leave me in a slight predicament on which Hub to buy.

    Here’s what I currently have:
    – Nest Thermostat, Nest Protect, Nest Cam
    – TP-Link Smart Plugs
    – Amazon Echo
    – FrontPoint Wireless Alarm System (Without Ultimate Smart Home Plan)

    Here’s what I’m definitely purchasing:
    – Ring Video Doorbell
    – Schlage Connect or Yale Linus Deadbolt

    I want to go with the Wink Hub since I have Nest products, but prefer the Lifx over the Hue bulbs due to your review. So this is where the hub debate comes in.

    The other issue I have is, I want some smart switches but the Lutron Caseta is over kill in a few situations as I don’t need the dimmer as my Smart Bulbs of choice should be able to handle that. The other smartswitch would be for ceiling fans. Generally already set at my speed of choice.

    Thoughts?

    1. Go with the Hue bulbs. They don’t perform as nicely as the LIFX, but they integrate with more items. For example the Hue hub works directly with Nest to provide lights when there is smoke/fire detected. You’ll appreciate the integrations the Hue setup has with Nest, and Echo. As much as we prefer LIFX bulbs for brightness and color accuracy, they are lagging behind with third party integrations that I fear they are hard to suggest in situations where folks like you have so much other smart home hardware.

      With that in mind, make sure you pick locks that work with your hub. The Schlage and Yale units are nice and z-wave. Which also means ANY Z-wave wall switch works too. If the Lutron is overkill just pick any on/off or dimmer switch that works on z-wave. They will assure it works with the wink hub. That should work nicely!

      1. Definitely agree. It is a bummer because all that LIFX really needs to do right now is add more integrations and they’d be a more clear winner. But without Nest or Wink, they are too “Stand alone” for most folks. There is otherwise no easy way to make it work as seamlessly as you want for the moment.

    1. You’re right they did add Nest recently. Forgot about that as they are currently at my contributing editor Holly’s house. But the IFTTT integration isn’t as good as a hub as you said. Hmm. Good luck whatever you do!

      1. I just hope they didn’t sign an exclusive deal with ST as we may never see it Wink integrated. I did read where people got Nest to work with ST through a workaround but unfortunately it breaks the Nest’s TOS.

        Thanks for all your help and input.

  9. Nice reviews. I know that you can’t cover all hubs, but I think that most blogs and online comparisons of hubs miss out on including the Vera Edge hub. In my humble opinion, it is the most flexible and capable hub. Although it only natively has Z-Wave connectivity to devices, the custom plug-ins written by the user community extend it and allow it to control Wemo, Philips Hue, Wink, and Lutron devices and hubs. And most importantly, it has the ability to create complex scenes that take in multiple conditions to trigger an event.

    Check out my blog:
    http://cankev.blogspot.ca

    1. Thank you for the feedback Kevin. While I would be inclined to agree, I have found people tend to prefer and purchase item they often see in a store first. Even if shopping online, people like to see a product on a shelf.the vera edge of is not readily available in most stores, and I also feel the user interface is a bit more intense for my target demographic. However, for a power user who is Considering the smart things hub from Samsung, vera makes a good, competitive product.

  10. I just purchased a Aeon Labs Minimote Zwave remote control, that I purchased to be able to control my smart led bulbs connected to my Samsung SmartThings. However, after receiving it, I have realized that all of the smart bulbs I have are Zigbee and will not work. #1 – Are there any Zwave light bulbs out there that will work with SmartThings? #2 – Are there any Zigbee remotes that you are aware of? #3 – If not any bulbs for SmartThings – is there another kit you would recommend?

    Also – my Smart Lighting Smart App’s keep failing, is there a reason you can think of? Some days they will work (correct lights turn on and off as planned), but more often they have not.

    1. D.Smith – sorry to hear you are having some issues. Let me offer what advice I can here, based on your data.

      First off, to determine compatibility with SmartThings, look here:
      https://www.smartthings.com/compatible-products

      From there, when I choose Z-wave and Lighting, I see a HUGE list of compatible products listed. So the answer to your second question is that YES! There are many you can choose from. However, to answer your FIRST question— very few BULBS are Z-wave, but rather Zigbee. Most of the “controllers” might be Z-wave, but not the bulbs.

      What I’d probably suggest you actually consider here is to get a TCP Connect system, and then you can bridge that over to the SmartThings system. So essentially what you do is you connect your Zigbee BULBS to your TCP system, and then connect the TCP hub to your SmartThings. That SHOULD let you control the bulbs you already have (assuming they are zigbee), with your ST hub, which should allow the z-wave control device you bought to work, too.

      TCP calls their hub a “gateway” and it can be found here:
      http://amzn.to/241rhmE

      As for why you have some days things don’t work, zigbee can be flaky sometimes. I’ve found the most reliable would be using Lutron’s Clear Connect, but they only make smart switches, and SmartThings hubs do NOT support LCC. You’d be forced to go with the Wink hub, or Lutron’s own Smart Bridge, in those instances. WiFi is also reliable, too. And Philips Hue, who also uses Zigbee for their bulbs, seems to have better reliability than some other systems.

      If you want to clarify your “end goal” I can perhaps offer a better amount of details or answers here. But again, zigbee bulbs usually connect to a SmartThings using a controller. Either a TCP Gateway, or a Philips Hue hub. That is what I’ve tested in the past– and those work GREAT with the SmartThings hub then after. Cheers!

      1. Wow, thank you so much for such a quick, detailed response.

        Right now, I am using Cree Connect bulbs and GE Link bulbs connected directly to SmartThings and they seem to work great, when they work. They always work as expected with the motion sensor, just not with the scheduled lighting. So you are saying if I use a TCP Gateway, that will help with the errors, and be able to use a Zwave remote?

        End goal is this: I want to have Phillips Hue (or similar) color changing bulbs in my living room downstairs, and hallway and bedroom upstairs. I want to have Cree Connected or GE smart LED bulbs throughout the rest of the home. I have Sonos, Logitech Harmony, an Aeon Siren, SmartThings motion sensors, door sensors, and electrical outlets. I also have Nest thermostats and cameras (don’t talk to SmartThings). I want to have a motion sensor turn on the lights as I go up the stairs and in the hallway. I want to be able to adjust the color in the bedroom and living room lights. I want lights to turn on and off at a certain time. I want the lights to turn off automatically in the hallway after no motion for 10 minutes. I want to use my remote control (not phone) to turn the bedside pendant lights on and off without leaving the bed or picking up the iPhone. I want my bedroom lights to flash, and the siren to go off when a door is opened after a certain time at night.

        Am I expecting too much? I think the Wink Hub could do all of that except the auto turn off from motion sensor after no motion is present. But, I hate to completely switch systems. I also think switching to Wink would not change anything regarding the Zigbee bulbs and Zwave remote. I am guessing I would have to trade that light switch out for a Zwave switch?

      2. You are correct about your assessment. I think that changing hubs does not necessarily make sense, since you would lose the auto off feature. But otherwise it does sound like most of the features you want could still work with the wink hub if you wanted to give that a try. Just keep in mind once a device is hooked up to a controller under Z wave protocol it cannot be under a second controller at the same time. Also, if you want to do use the wink hub you could purchase other controllers such as the Lutron pico, but the Z wave controller you already have would work with the wink hub.

        Overall, I do not think you are expecting too much, however I cannot speak to the reliability of the system. Frankly, the only zig be hardware I use at home is the Phillips hue bulbs system. I do not expect that using TCP or otherwise would greatly change your results. But I could be wrong, there may be something inherent with the smart thing controller, though I highly doubt that.

        Another thing to consider would be using Amazon echo. That would give you voice control, and avoid using a remote. But regardless, automatically turning the lights off after 10 minutes without motion would be a feature relatively exclusive to the smart thing hub. Best of luck! Home automation is definitely getting better, but still not perfect all the time.

  11. Just wanted to post an update. While at Home Depot this weekend, on the end cap, I found a Lutron Connected Bulb Remote Control, http://www.lutron.com/en-US/Products/Pages/Components/ConnectedBulbRemoteControl/Overview.aspx controls Zigbee bulbs. It was $30 and I figured I would give it a try. It actually works perfectly. It was a little difficult pairing with the SmartThings, but if you pair it with the bulbs first then it shows up when “connecting new device”. So now, we have a bedside remote, which could also be wall mounted.

  12. I have a smarthings v1 hub and was happy for some time. Then started to have problems. Mode changes stopped working, some devices would just stop working through the application. I contacted support and have been working with them for some time without resolution.

    1. You should see if they will give you (or sell you discounted) a v2 Hub, and see if that resolves your issue. Or perhaps consider migrating to the Wink hub, as that is a more user friendly product in many ways. It does lack some features and customization options, in a more tidy, easier to use, basic package. I’m a fan of Wink over SmartThings for most use-cases.

  13. BryanC…
    Wink just updated its hub this past week and has moved lighting controls from the cloud to the hub IF your app enabled device is on the same WiFi network as your hub.
    I will tell you that lighting control is much faster now. The other added feature of this update is that lighting controls will now work in the event of a internet service outage (so that is a “nice to have” feature as well for the couple of times a year I deal with it.

    1. Thanks for the feedback. I had seen this earlier in the day, too, but didn’t post about it here. This is great news! Should prove to make the platform both faster, and more reliable. Thanks for sharing!

  14. Well I’ve spent the last 2 days reading through your site. It is such a wonderful treasure trove of information.

    I’m a huge apple user and have all their products including the watch but for some reason, I’ve been hesitant to jump on the HomeKit bandwagon. I’ve never been comfortable using my phone to interact with Siri and not everyone in my family wants to be tied to a iPhone. I also find myself using my watch to interact with Siri.

    I absolutely love the Amazon Echo.

    So much so that I will be investing in several to make sure my entire house is covered. In my experience it has been more reliable and seems to understand me better than Siri. My wife also likes it. It’s just so invisible and seems to just “work”

    Any system I was looking at would have to incorporate the Echo.

    Your article is the only one I’ve found that does a through job of comparing the three players HomeKit, Smartthings and Wink.

    In the end I decided to invest in the Wink ecosystem. It’s integration with the echo was the deciding factor but I also like that most of the products will also work with Smartthings. It gives me a safety net in case something happens and Wink is not fully supported.

    Again. Great article. Great site

    1. Thank you for your kind words. I do this as a hobby, and though it has proven to be quite lucrative thanks to the Amazon kickbacks, I’m still doing this is a bit of a “second job” which takes time away from my wife/kid. So it is nice to know it has been a useful resource to someone.

      Out of curiosity, what hardware will you be using via the Wink system? Of the various hubs, I’ve come to love the Wink because of the Amazon Echo integration, and beautiful iOS app. I think you’ll find that, while you cannot use Siri, the Echo will more than suffice. As you said, the “wife/kid” friendliness of the platform, and lack of a phone/watch needed, is also great.

      It would be really slick if Apple did more to bridge the gap between hubs (Wink, SmartThings, etc) with Siri. But I know how they are, and stand alone works for them. Still, sharing Wink is easier, and the Echo should make it totally seamless for you. And that will be worth more than having the Apple logo on it, anyhow. Best of luck!

  15. So far I have a couple of lutron caseta switches, Phillips hue and ge link bulbs. I’m going to systematically replace most of my switches. I like have the manual control of a switch. I also dont like leaving the switch on if I’m using just a bulb. This is a area I’m still struggling with trying to get a good mix.

    I’m still looking at locks, cameras and garage door stuff. No clear idea yet. I really like the August but it doesn’t work with Wink.

  16. Hey, nice review of the products. I’ve had TCP lights for several years now, but only have about 10 bulbs. I love the macro interface where you can click once and boom have your nighttime environment setup. I then started buying WeMo Wall switches and WeMo Insight switches. I love these too, but as you noted, they seem a bit laggy at times… even from the light-switch itself. I love the power tracking feature of the Insight switches and I use that at Christmas to fine tune my outdoor light usage to a point where it wouldn’t break me financially. I added the WeMo Light kit to my daughter’s room so she could adjust her lighting at night, but it seems a bit flaky. I recently moved the hub closer to the wifi connection and I’m hoping that fixes it’s unreliability and long connection times for the bulbs. Still, I love the ability to adjust the brightness, hue, etc. I love all of these devices for different reasons and am considering adding intelligent locks, garage door opener, and thermostats/sensors, but I’m holding back so I can see who becomes the standard. From your review, it sounds like Wink has the best cross product compatibility and user-friendly interface, but that the Samsung is more powerful. I don’t like that Samsung has excluded NEST because I was looking at their firealarm/CO2 sensors and thermostat. It sounds like both hubs support IFTTT, so could you have both and have them work together or has someone built a bot that lets the hubs interact? I’m thinking something like the NEST thermostat hits 70 degrees, so the smart shades controlled by the Smartthings hub close to block the sun. Would that be possible? The thing I don’t like is going into a different interface every time I want to set the TCP bulbs to nighttime mode and jumping to the WeMo app to turn off the bathroom light that my daughter leaves on all the time. Now I added a LiFX bulb to my front porch light so I can do seasonal color lighting, so yet another interface. 😦 After reading your review, I think I’m going to get the Samsung hub and hope that they add the nest products into it. Most Samsung products are rock solid, and I have to imagine with them having the app stuff built into their phones, that it will only get more features and better cross-platform support. I’ll post what I find once I’ve had a chance to play with it.

    1. You’ve answered your own questions here but I’ll reply anyhow. Wink is going to have the most breadth of options for devices. Samsung might prove more customizable but I’m not sure I would say it is really better. Lately they’ve done little to add new hardware compatibility whereas Wink has, and winks recently being acquired for Flex should give them a huge financial backing.

      That being said which one is better might depend both on the hardware you already have, as well as the stuff you plan to buy. Check out compatibility matrix data on both. I personally favor wink if you can make it work for your needs. Replacing a few items to ensure that it works may prove better in the long run. Wink recently performed a big update that does more local handling of commands which improves speed and reliability FYI.

      Lastly, IFTTT could do what you want. But that would have horrid delays. And wink doesn’t play super nice as far as IFTTT and limits to what it can or will react to. But just the mere fact things would have two or three cloud jumps, I suspect you wouldn’t like the 2+ minutes you might see in delays on things that method.

      Hope this helps. For as cheap as the hubs are and seeing as my Amazon links here would give you a 30 day return window, you could always buy both and return the lesser enjoyed unit 🙂

  17. Excellent stuff here. Looking to get into the world of home automation & wanted to bounce some things off of you. I am an apple person but love what the echo is doing with home automation as of now. I intend for the echo to be the staple device & place a few amazon dots around for extended coverage. My first project is to place our outdoor lights on WEMO switches (as I have no instances of 3-way switches for any of these) so that I can have them on a sunrise/sunset schedule. I know WEMO integrates with echo, but don’t plan to ever touch these lights after they are set. My next item to tackle is whether to do smart switches or smart bulbs in other areas of our home. I haven’t seen any comments around Insteon switches, but wanted to bring them up. I know the Insteon devices are closed and run on their own hub, but as of now, this hasn’t turned me off from them as they are echo compatible. My wife really wants the ability to dim lights. The insteon dimmer switches seem to handle 3-way lights seamlessly. One question I have is if I install Insteon dimmer’s in our living room what bulbs would work with these? I also am considering putting WEMO switches in place of all “dumb” switches where 3-way is not present. This leads to my next question. If I have a WEMO smart switch that just does on/off, could I also install a LIFX bulb with it? My thought is I could use echo to control both seamlessly. If the light was on I could ask alexa to dim to the light to 30% or ask her to change to color to red. If the light was off via the WEMO switch being manually turned off, I could ask Alexa to turn on by virtue of the WEMO switch being echo compatible. My question is, will this work? Have you had any experience with trying to link a smart switch with a smart bulb? I am hoping I can use the smart on/off WEMO switch paired with a LIFX bulb. Thoughts?

    1. Seth, these are some GREAT questions. Let me try to answer them in the order that seems most organic to me in response to your many questions, and multiple hardware scenarios. I’ll start first with commenting on INSTEON.

      If you peruse my website here you should see that I have done some testing with the INSTEON brand, but overall, was not happy with it. Their smart bulbs were flaky for me during my testing. Worse yet, their switches require wiring that my home and office do not have (Neutral wiring). There is a two-wire INSTEON switch out there, non-dimming, but it doesn’t work with anything but incandescent bulbs. It will not work with CFL or LED bulbs, which is what you should be running for green energy savings. That being said, then, the INSTEON hub isn’t horrible, but my testing found it was unreliable (commands don’t work, bulbs fail to turn on/off when you tell them to), and the hardware compatibility was poor.

      Instead, I really love the hardware from Lutron. Their Caseta Wireless options are far superior in every way. First off, it can handle 3 way switching if you need. Secondly, they are compatible with all types of bulbs — I’ve tested & confirmed this with amazingly great success. And thirdly, they do not require a neutral wire and are a true auto-sensing two-wire hookup. Installation is a cinch! Lastly, though, they are reliable. Actually of all the home automation i’ve tested, Lutron’s Clear Connect remains the most reliable of all the protocols I’ve ever seen!

      WEMO is a good option for your outdoor lights, if you never plan to turn them on/off and just plan to let them run automated. However, I’d probably suggest trying to stick more eggs in a single basket, and you’ll find this works better. Why have WEMO switches for outdoors, and INSTEON switches for indoors? In other words, no matter what options you choose, trying to keep within a single brand makes it easier to negotiate these items in the future. Granted I’d suggest Lutron Caseta for all your switches, dimming or on/off– the Lutron system can do the same features that WEMO does, and then even more! The only caveat there might be Amazon Echo (Lutron does support Apple HomeKit and Siri, however, as an alternative). There is a work-around here, however, which is that you could actually link the Lutron lights to a smart hub that works with Echo, such as the Wink hub. This would allow you to use the Wink app to control the Lutron lights (and your LIFX smart bulbs), but then Echo can control Wink, so by proxy, it would give you the control you want and need. That would be my suggestion in your situation, using Amazon Echo as your “top” level, and then using a Wink hub to control the Lutron, so that you can also use the Echo to control other Wink Z-wave or similar devices, as your smart home grows.

      Lastly, the concept of using a smart switch to control a smart bulb is one that sounds good in theory, but doesn’t equate to working in practice. The only instance I’ve seen this work is with the Quirky TAPT switches (again, compatible with the Wink hub, so might be your best option there). The problem is that smart bulbs require being 100% ALWAYS “on” — they need 110v constant power so that they are already listening. And there is a delay when they get power, before they reconnect to their respective hub. LEt’s say you had a dining room light fixture with 3 smart bulbs, and a smart switch on the wall. To actually turn them on, the first command you’d have to do is tell your smart switch to come on (i.e.: Alexa, turn on the Dining Room Wall Switch). Then, you’d have to wait a few seconds for the bulb to come on (they would default typically to 100% brightness). At which point, after 3-5 seconds they would now be back “online” and reconnected to their hub, so you could set them to a dim level you want (i.e.: Alex, set the Dining Room Bulbs to 50%). This works, but it would take 10-seconds total probably, and require two commands.

      Simpler solution would be to just get a Lutron Caseta switch that does both dimming and is smart. Just install much cheaper LED or CFL bulbs in the fixture, and be done. The downside here is you don’t get color/warmth options. Personally I think smart bulbs are overpriced gimmicks, and a true home automation just requires smart switches which makes far more sense. However, if you really are dead set on getting smart bulbs that change color/warmth, then I’d say look more into the TAPT switch (and get the Wink hub that it works with). This gives you a smart switch, which allows the bulb to always get 110v constant, and the switch can be custom programmed to send those same “commands” for you– the power is constant, the switch is just two buttons that you can program to be whatever you want. Of course the downside there is that I do not believe LIFX is wink compatible, in which case Hue bulbs might be the only option for you.

      Here are some shopping links, to help you on your journey:

      LIFX Bulbs
      http://amzn.to/1RpYzmF

      TAPT switch (works with wink)
      http://amzn.to/1RpYwqU

      Wink Hub
      http://amzn.to/1UQs7hR

      Lutron Caseta Dimmer Switch
      http://amzn.to/1UQsb0Y

      Lutron Caseta On/Off Switch
      http://amzn.to/21Kxfo9

      Lutron Caseta Starter Kit
      http://amzn.to/1RDnhW0

  18. Thanks for the quick reply. My Insteon infatuation stems from seeing a few youtube videos that show someone liking them with ease & I like the way they look. I don’t know much about them other than that. I have looked into the Lutron Caseta option but didn’t see many tutorials on 3-way switches. (their website seemed more “commercial” to me than “residential” & I didn’t look around in it to hard.) I also really like how the WEMO switches look. (Just wish they dimmed) I do like the idea of using the same switches throughout the house & will look into seeing if I can make that work. The TAPT option seems intriguing. Let me see if I understand this correctly. If I install a TAPT switch (paired with the wink hub) in my dinning room that controls 4 flood lights. I replace my current bulbs with LIFX color bulbs. With having the TAPT switch installed, power is constantly being pushed to the 4 bulbs even if the switch is set to “off”. Does this mean I can ask Alexa to turn on my dinning room lights (being that it is linked through the wink hub) and even though the TAPT switch was manually set to “off” they will come on? Does the TAPT switch then switch to “on” by virtue of my Alexa command? I would also like to mention I am not well versed with the TAPT switch at all. So if my above idea is not possible, please forgive my ignorance. Also, I do like the idea of having “colored” lights, but my main want with a smart light is being able to adjust the warmth of the white light. Just an FYI if this changes things in terms of using smart bulbs.

    1. You are 95% correct with your understanding of the TAPT switch. I’m going to simply rephrase it in my own words, as I think that might help you slightly to understand the concept. The way most smart bulbs work is that technically they always have “power” (110v going to them)– but the bulb itself turns on/off at your command. So when you use your smart phone (or your tell the Echo) you are telling the bulb, which already has power, to simply turn on/off the LEDs inside of it. But even when the bulb is “off” — it is still on = has power = listening for commands. The only part that is off is the light filament or LED.

      Sidebar: the TAPT switch would have no issues controller a 3-way switch– you would simply cover up the other location. I think you would have to just twist the wires together at the second spot– so you’d have to cover up that wall panel at that spot. That might be the only shortcoming there.

      Make sure for Lutron you visit this site:
      http://www.casetawireless.com
      and for learning how a 3-way installs, go here:
      http://www.casetawireless.com/Pages/Support.aspx
      and then click on the “Installing a Caséta Wireless in a 3-way switch application” on the right side of your screen for a video that shows just how easy 3-way install is on their system. That first link I sent you above, with the switch that comes with the Pico, is what you’ll need/want to make that work flawlessly.

      SO…. that being said… this is how it would work to do what you want…

      1- you replace the bulbs in your dining room with 4 flood LIFX bulbs
      2- you install he TAPT switch, and setup a Wink Hub in your home
      3- you can custom program the TAPT buttons (2x) to do whatever you want**
      4- since the bulbs are now “always on” you can use LIFX app or Echo to turn on the bulbs

      In this case, the only caveat that I see is that the LIFX bulbs aren’t currently supported by Wink. So that means the two buttons on the TAPT would NOT be able to turn on/off those bulbs. the only way to turn them on would be your Echo, or your LIFX app on your smart device. You don’t want to ever cut power to smart bulbs, hence why you need/want the TAPT in the first place.

      ** You setup the TAPT and tell it that it controls smart bulbs, but typically you want the smart bulbs you are using to work with the hub, in this case the Wink hub. Which is why the bulbs you’d want would be Hue. If you are set on using the LIFX bulbs, then TAPT might not make you quite as happy. In this case I’d still urge against smart bulbs, but if you are totally set on smart bulbs, there is yet another option. One that I don’t think works with Echo is the only downside, but that gives you the ability to have warmth bulbs and a switch for your spouse who might not want to use voice/smart apps… check out links below….

      These bulbs:
      http://amzn.to/1pBDgXW
      work with this switch:
      http://amzn.to/1pLW3R9
      but I don’t think work with Echo? Not sure.

      This can get REALLY complex… as you can see. If you want to discuss further I’d also be happy to give you my work number and talk voice, to aid along the way. Let me know if you feel that might help you out– always happy to help a techie out. My email also is: arijaycomet (at) gmail (dot) com — cheers!

      1. Thanks again for your reply. You really know how to put things in a easy to understand way. I honestly just started looking into this earlier this week. The only smart devices I have are 2 nest thermostats. My initial thought was to just start with the outdoor lights & worry about the rest later. I now see that I might want to do a little more planning to ensure that what I choose first wont come back to bit me later. Once again, I really appreciate your assistance. I might take you up on the voice/email assistance once I get a little farther along in researching the many options available. As a side note, I look forward to seeing what you publish on the blog next.

        Take Care!

      2. Anytime! Thanks for visiting. And yes, try to plan ahead. There is nothing worse than feeling painted in a corner due to what does or doesn’t work with a system you already have in place. A little time and research now will help ensure a happier smart home down the road. If you do have more questions, you know where to find me– and as this is my passion, I could spend all day talking about it 🙂

      3. Just wanted to add some of my experiences… I personally prefer the Cree Smart Bulbs. They give off a soft warm white diffused light most people don’t believe are LED bulbs. The Cree’s are omnidirectional where as the similarly priced (both about $15 each) GE bulbs sort of have an upward throw and are slightly cooler. Not like a flood but just not as “incandescent like”. Both are Zigbee based protocol. When I have two or more lights on a single switch, it becomes cheaper to install a dimmer switch rather than separate bulbs. I have had great luck with GoControl and Linear (Which I believe are both made by Linear) The only downside is that they do require a neutral wire. They are Z-Wave based. Now here is the reason to add a Wink to the mix. Wink recently transitioned lighting control from the cloud to the hub, so that if the phone or tablet you are running the app on is on the same network the response is almost instant AND works even if you loose internet connectivity. Now add Alexa (Echo) to the mix… You actualy build groups you want to control in the Echo app (It doesn’t recognize the Wink Groups) BUT… I can walk into my kitchen and say “Alexa, turn on Kitchen to 50%” and it will turn on the two dimmer switches controlling 5 ceiling cans and a single Cree bulb and turn them all on as a group to a dimmed value of 50%. So from within the Wink app it is a two step process, turn on the group, dim the wink group (but this is all done locally in the hub). With Echo it is a one step for you, turn on group to xx% and Echo group talks to wink elements and they are on at dimmed value but requires cloud (internet connectivity)

      4. Thanks for sharing, Willian. You bring up some great points. And definitely I agree that in many cases the smart switch is cheaper than a group of smart bulbs. But many people want the adjustability that the smart bulb offers. That being said, it sounds like you have a great setup, and one that many would probably enjoy mimicking. So thanks for sharing… sounds great! 🙂

  19. I also meant to ask if TAPT handles 3-way switches well. I do want to incorporate a switch that does this in a way that wont require a “make-shift” approach.

  20. Is it possible with Wink to easily (single action in app) arm/disarm or change mode (home/away/night) for security devices (door/window/motion)?

    I’ve used SmartThings for last 6 months but am sending it back as I’ve had SO many failed devices and false alarms effectively making it useless. This feature when it worked, was great.

    As an aside, I’d prefer to stick with ST due to the open source component but support has gotten so bad and with no phone option (email requests often forgotten, lack of communication between staff when the do respond, etc.)

    Also, have you setup the Honebridge to get Apple HomeKit working with Wink? Will this work to arm/disarm via Siri with Wink?
    https://github.com/nfarina/homebridge

    1. Hopefully a more powerful user on here may be able to answer your questions. Regretfully, I’ve not setup a HomeBridge though I am aware of it. I tend to prefer a more vanilla experience so most all my hardware is as is, no hacking.

      That being said, to answer your question, I’m not aware of any way to set the Wink to the modes like the ST. that feature is one I wish Wink would add, since some alerts are only desired when you’re not home, etc. also missing from wink is the ability to have a motion sensor turn on a light for only a certain duration period. But beyond that wink, especially when paired with the Amazon echo, make for a great setup.

      You may want to go explore the smart home section of Reddit. I’ve done some lurking there, and there are some awesome knowledgeable folks that hang out there. If you post this same question there I bet you’ll pick up some good feedback, help, and even suggestions.

      Sorry that I could not be of further assistance in this specific scenario though.

  21. I have decided to go the Wink route & pair with TAPT switches & smart bulbs in areas where 3-way switches are not involved. I am also fairly certain I will go with LUtron Caseta switches for all areas where I don’t need/want a smart bulb & places that have 3-way needs. My only question is what dumb bulbs would you pair with the caseta switches? I want to ensure they are LED dimmable but just not “smart”.

    Thanks,

    1. My findings have been that any cheap Amazon purchased dim able bulb works. I like CREE as a brand, and they make some dumb bulbs, but frankly even the stuff I’ve gotten from Walmart or similar works fine. Just make sure it is listed being able to be dimmed. And also beware most LED bulbs will looks like much below 40% dim level. But should work fine otherwise. Cheers!

    1. Leviton products require neutral wire. Both my home and my friends home lacked this. I’ve asked around and most of the people I know here (Cleveland, Ohio USA) have 50+ year old homes. This was before neutral or even ground wires were popular.

      Most smart switches require a neutral. But many homes lack this. Hence my blog focuses on the hardware that works for me. If you have neutral wires (newer home or newer wiring) there are certainly other options to consider. But even then z wave versus Lutron – other blogs and sites I’ve read concur with my findings that Lutron is more reliable a protocol.

      1. Not going to argue on your blog comments but Leviton is one of the leaders in the space and are major partners to both Wink and SmartThings. I believe it is a little offputting to not even mention Leviton when most houses require a neutral. And… Leviton do make products that do not require a neutral…. example – http://www.amazon.com/Leviton-VRI06-1LZ-Incandescent-Capable-Dimmer/dp/B001U3Z6YG

        We can continue to have this conversation offline if you like. My email address is davidkeller@leviton.com.

        David

      2. We are using a Leviton DZS15-1LZ Decora Z-Wave– if you read the article above in full you’ll notice that device is listed clearly as being at the second home. A few outlets at my friends house were part of a home update that had neutral wiring. But we find your devices don’t work nearly as reliably. Relying on hubs that use zigbee or z-wave slow down the response time.

        I appreciate that you work for Leviton and want to drum up business for your brand. But at my home I’ve gone apple and you guys don’t directly support HomeKit. At my friends house we used one of your switches but were left unimpressed. Sorry, you guys make great hardware, but you aren’t my top pick for this particular sub-segment.

        Please discontinue spamming my blog. As you said offline. You can email me via the contact section here on my blog if you feel the need. All devices tested here are from my own money, this is a private blog not a company, and I’m quite comfortable with the data I’ve listed here. Best wishes.

        PS: I do adore the Leviton EVSE hardware I have 🙂

      3. As a consumer, I prioritize my selection by 1) functionality 2) reliability 3) value.
        Leviton I see as sometimes meeting 1, always meeting 2 and struggling to meet 3. I can typically find a product that will meet the first two criteria for 20%+ less expensive from other brands. I do use Leviton plug-in dimmer modules to control groupings of halogen lamps that illuminate pictures. They seem to run the coolest with no noise even when set to very low levels. Also, because Wink moved lighting control to the hub and no longer needs to talk to the cloud, the response times are nearly instant when using the app on the same LAN as the Wink Hub. I simply haven’t been buying Leviton because regardless if I’m at the Big Box or shopping Online the Leviton products cost more than similar products from other manufacturers. Betamax was better but VHS was good enough. The original Mac was better but Windows was good enough and In my mind (entirely subjective opinion) Leviton is a better-built product !? but the same switch from Linear costs less. If the product does the job, reliably, safely and for less money, I’m going to buy the less expensive product. It’s “good enough”.

  22. Hello Ari

    Thank you for a very informative blog!

    I have some motion, door, glass break, and water sensors from GE/Interlogix (also used in an existing Frontpoint setup) that I am trying to pair with my smartthings hub

    One of the devices I am trying to pair is http://www.amazon.com/Interlogix-Security-60-807-95R-Wireless-Detector/dp/B00070LZ5W

    Apparently these devices communicate on 319.5 frequency while Smartthings has a zigbee / zwave antenna. Is there any additional equipment that I can purchase to act as a bridge between the 319.5 MHz frequency and communicate with the smartthings zwave/zigbee antenna?

    thank you!
    Nick

    1. Sorry, but I’m unfamiliar with this “319.5 frequency” that you are speaking of here. My only experience in this field has been with the more popular protocols, such as Zigbee and Z-Wave, or Bluetooth and WiFi. I’d suggest maybe checking out the Home Automation forums on Reddit or similar, to see if someone there has some help for you. Best wishes!

  23. Ari,
    Firstly, I truly appreciate the blog. Thank you.
    I have a Wink hub, 1 Amazon Echo, 17 Caseta dimmers, 10 Pico remotes, 2 Ecobees thermostats with 3 remote sensors, 1 Shlage touchscreen dead bolt, 2 go control door sensors and a goControl motion sensor and 1 Caseta lamp module.
    I noticed in a previous blog, you referenced the state of the lights getting out of sync in the Wink App.
    Some of my Caseta dimmers, when used manually do not report their state properly to the Wink App. Therefore the Wink App shows incorrect lighting state and Wink shortcuts and Alexa don’t function properly until I cycle on/off via a non-manual method (voice or app) for those specific dimmers.
    Have you seen a fix for this?

    1. I’m not aware of a fix for this sorry. I’ve since migrated over to the HomeKit compatible Lutron Smart Bridge for all of my Lutron hardware. As such I’m not using a wink hub at my home. My friend is but she only has one Lutron switch. I would suggest reaching out to wink directly and see what they say.

  24. Hi Ari, nice blog you have.
    I am instaling a new HA with Lutron Caseta switch and dimmers and I am planning on managing the system with HOME APP so I could mix some other products later on (locks, thermostats, etc). The thing is that I am over the 50 devices limit of the Lutron Bridge and don`t know how to include the additional devices in the system.
    I read you can add another luton bridge but it would be a second account. I was wondering if the HOME APP can manage 2 luton bridges in the same account without having to sign in on different accounts.
    Other option was to include Insteon hub for the additional devices since it is HomeKit compatible and should work with HOME APP but I have read some bad reviews about the stability of that hub.
    Any idea or thoughts on this device limit of lutron and how to combine systems.
    Thanks for your help.

    1. Wow, that is a lot of devices! I’m pretty sure my tally is around 25-30 total, but admittedly my home is modestly sized at around 2,400 square feet. That being said, I’ve therefore had no experience with managing more than one Lutron hub. You mention two accounts– is that two Lutron accounts? If so, you’d still be using the same iOS device, so I’d presume you’d still be using the same iOS/iCloud account. Really then, it should work as you desire, the only time you’d change login is using the actual Lutron app. Which you’d never need to do since you’ll be using the HOME APP as you said. Right?

      However, maybe this isn’t how it works? Maybe you’re logging into your iCloud account, and need two iCloud logins? But that seems less likely. I’d assume you simply link up the first Lutron to your HomeKit, and that is done. Then go into Lutron, log out of one hub, into the other hub (Smart Bridge), and then link that up to your HomeKit as well? Again speculation here, no first-hand experience. But please do report back with what you find out. I’d probably suggest trying that first, see what happens!

      1. Thanks for the reply.
        It´s a lot of devices and it is not that big of a house. The system was design with dedicated panel where almost all the dimmers are located and instead of using dimmers on the rooms (not all of them) I am using picos (3 scenes and 2 zone picos) so the count goes up fast since controlling the same room takes almost doble the devices.
        I read at lutrons forum that when you have 2 bridges they have to be linked to different accounts, so yes, I was taking about 2 lutron accounts.
        Any thoughts on using Home App instead of lutrons App? I still have time to change part of the settings since I have only bought some of the dimmers and switches but no hub yet.

      2. Home is just an app that controls HomeKit devices. You’ll still also be able to use the Lutron app at the same time. Home just controls HomeKit hardware. So it works good for aggregating all of your smart home down the road. Lutron app will handle just their devices exclusively.

  25. I’m new to all this but many are telling me that Insteon is better because it doesn’t use wifi but uses existing wiring and that too many wifi connected devices really bog down your network especially with everything else like Echo, FireTV, AppleTV, TVs, computers, iPads, phones, etc… I Really want my home to be smart like geo fencing so it knows when I’m close and can adjust temperature, lights, etc… Can you offer guidance? I’m so confused by Wink, insteon, SmartThings and my home is going to come with a Clare Controls system which seems barbaric but does use existing wires like Insteon.

    Thanks for any help you can give

    1. I’m not a fan of Insteon. It uses wiring for redundancy. But does so poorly. I found it unreliable both in my 1950s home as well as 1980s office. So depending on how your home is wired and when built your results may be similar or may not.

      My suggestion for a new comer would be to start building a wink system. It offers the best platform for reliability and simplicity but still a wide berth of hardware compatibility. If you have more specific questions let me know!

  26. Ari

    Thank you for great post, I am a newbie to home automation. I actually have just purchased Bali motorized blinds and discovered the ability to use home automation to control them. I understand that the z-wave adapter will allow me to control them with wink or smart hub. It sounds like I should probably go with wink. My question is that I have a Vivint home security system with sky control panel. I believe that you can only use vivint compatible devices with their system, correct? So if I have the sky control will I have conflicts with wink device seeing both on z wave? Can’t wait to add lighting and connecting my echo to the home automation.

    1. Z-wave devices can only work with a single “master” controller at a time. So any z-wave hardware (such as a door lock) that you would link up with the Vivint system would not be able to link up to a Wink or SmartThings hub at the same time. In other words, you’ll have to choose which smart home master controller you’d want to use and stick with that. Since you already have the Vivint you may be limited/forced to work only with what hardware they will let you and support. I’d suggest the Wink hub, but be aware that the locks/etc that are linked to Vivint won’t be visible on Wink. However, the exception there is this: if Vivint itself as a master controller will sync/link with Wink then you’d be able to control it all. That might be worth looking into, but I’ve not personally had any Vivint experience, sorry.

  27. Hi! I’m in love with your website, absolutely!!! Read pretty all articles about wearables and home automation. I have just one request – I terribly want to know, how your friend Holly uses both Wink and SmartThings hubs – maybe, I can get in touch or the list and configuration is listed somewhere? I’d really really like to hear about that!

  28. Hi, thank you so much for you blog.
    My dilemma is, I have a dozen of I strong lights already installed with dimers, HomeKit hues, nest, Lutron shades (not installed)and in wanting to expand I have no idea which direction to go. Do I get a central hub to control everything ( which is difficult as my hardware covers several protocols) or do I go openhab?
    My next two purchases are the August lock as well as the ecobee… As you could see I’m all over the place

    1. There is no one “right” option there, but you have to decide how deep down that rabbit hole you want to go. I don’t have any openHAB experience, so I cannot speak to the usefulness or ease there. My blog caters to the more casual user, or the “getting started” type user. Hence my focus has always been about simplicity and such. Hacking into custom systems is a great way to aggregate various otherwise non-compatible hardware, but that is not an approach I’ve personally ever taken, nor reviewed.

      Based on your reply it sounds like you’ve already made up your mind to go openHAB… considering you slammed the central hub idea in your own reply. Good luck whatever you do.

      1. Thanks for your reply, I haven’t decided where to go yet, to add clarification. I only own a a few I insteon lights, a Phillip hues kit and a nest. I’m just pondering the next direction to go. I use IFTTT a lot but like I mentioned, expansion is where I’m trying to focus. I’d like to get a few actions and trigger to kick off on a deeper level.

        Great job in your blog, stumbled on it from Google … The power of search engine huh.

        Cheers

      2. I’m a huge fan of the Wink Hub. That is the direction I send most folks. But for more advanced users willing to dig deeper and customize more there may prove better options. Cheers!

  29. This is an amazing article! This is what I’ve have been looking for. Thank you for all the informations and options. My SO and I live in a less than safe neighborhood and we travel with work for about a week at a time once a month. We are looking into our options for Home Automation and Security. We have a small apartment. What would the folks here recommend for the following?

    We want to monitor our apartment when we are away 24/7 from our phone/computer. If a sensor for the front door or patio is tripped we get a notification or text. We also want to be able to alternate lights on/off in various rooms while we are gone, but disable it when we are around.

    What would the masses suggest to achieve that?

    1. Dom, you may want to look into Wink as they just released their new version2 hub recently. It would be great for things like motion sensors, switches, and making them all play nice together.

      However, two stand-alone options exist, that I personally use at my house and absolutely love. First off, the NetGear ARLO camera system is great. Can be installed anywhere, including outdoors! Cloud storage is free, and you’d get those motion push notifications you want, too. This would work nicely for security (monitoring), with the battery life of a few months being the only short coming. Though that is a small price to pay for cameras you can put ANYWHERE!

      Secondly, I’m using the Lutron Caseta switches in my home for smart lighting. These are compatible with the Wink hub, or can be used with Lutron’s own Smart Bridge instead. I suggest the latter, as it gives you better control, still integrates with some 3rd parties (like NEST) if you want. But more importantly, this would give you the “Smart Away” feature which is what you said you want. From 6p-11p it will take the lights you choose and randomly turn them on/off each night, to make it look like someone is home. Exactly what you’re looking for!

      Here are some links to help get you started:

      http://amzn.to/2fwjYCF
      and
      http://amzn.to/2eTFZYw

    1. That’s because they are rather expensive compared to conventional shades. And I’m also not convinced my cats won’t destroy them when down/closed. But they are on my wish list, just haven’t justified the cost as of yet.

      1. philips hue are rather expensive compared to conventional bulbs, idk about your cat situation. Im gathering materials to smart up my home, seems like you have this figured out, Great job. So far I have philips hue white/color starter kit, hue bloom, schlage deadbolt and 2 nest smoke/C02 detectors.

  30. you have any recommendations, im remodeling my house, doing the electrical system also.
    So far I have philips hue white/color starter kit, hue bloom, schlage deadbolt and 2 nest smoke/C02 detectors. I plan to add serena shades also

    1. Sounds like a nice system. Do you plan to use a hub to tie things together? I’m a fan of the new Wink Hub 2 (see my review in my recent posts here). Maybe add some Arlo security cameras? And if you’re doing electrical, perhaps some Lutron switches or similar.

      1. the more i read to more im lost, the serena shades comes with lutron smart bridge so ive been looking at lutron caseta light switches. Im thinking my entryway, living/dining room and hallway will be controlled be philips hue system and kitchen, bedrooms and bathrooms with lutron caseta

      2. just replaced all the windows in my house, with plans for serena shades. I received a sample of the shades and couldn’t justify purchasing them, the honeycomb style are paper thin, so i ordered shutters for all my windows. Did ces2017 reveal any new homekit products? Also is there a nvr security system that works with homekit, such as when motion is detected all the philips hue bulbs go code red? idk just thinking with my fingers 🙂

  31. Hey Ari! Fantastic post… We are in the process of building a new home, so it’s the perfect time to think about home automation. Like you, I am an Apple fanboy, and have been invested in their hardware and software solutions for decades, and have no intention of switching now. With that said, Apple HomeKit is what I am going to be building my automation around – Our lives are complete Apple oriented, so it’s what we have, and are comfortable with.

    The real key items I’m thinking of for the new house are already HomeKit enabled – ecobee 3, Schlage Sense Smart Deadbolt, iDevices solutions, Elgato devices, Ring Video Doorbell… One of the aspects I’m still unsure of is lighting control. I’ll get back to that in a minute…

    Being Apple people, we will eventually have a new AppleTV 4th Gen in the Media Room. So, we’d have one regardless of HomeKit integration. From everything I’ve been reading, your blog included, the AppleTV does have it’s short comings. (Although, I see from your original post, dated November 2015, and now it is late December 2016, I can only imagine that a lot of what you reviewed in this post has been improved, upgraded, or new devices might exist all together.)

    I was beginning to wonder if I needed a HomeKit controller 1. INSTEAD of an AppleTV or 2. in ADDITION to the AppleTV. That question is what led me to your blog. I really like everything I’ve read about the HomeKit-enabled Insteon Hub Pro. After reading your reviews, I also started checking out the HomeKit-enable​d Lutron Caseta Smart Bridge. Especially since I’ve always liked Lutron’s quality products. Considering the only component left I was unsure about was lighting control, I’m wondering if the Caseta might be the best logical solution? Or… Is this whole post now pointless, if I am able to find lighting solutions that are HomeKit-enabled? (Which might not have been available when you did your original post over a year ago…)

    I guess I’m still trying to understand the need for an additional Hub or Bridge, if I already have the newest AppleTV 4th Gen? Is there a need for one, if everything I find is now HomeKit enabled?

    Sorry for the long, drawn out post. I appreciate your input!

    1. It sounds like you essentially have two questions: first, what is the best HomeKit lighting solution, and secondly does one need a Hub. The second question remains easier to handle: most devices still need a hub for remote access. Especially Bluetooth ones. You can use an iPad as a HomeKit Hub but make sure it is in Bluetooth range. For example if you want remote alerts or access to control those schlage door locks you need a HK Hub (in Apple TV or iPad form).

      As for lighting, there are certainly more options now than a year ago. But I am, like you, a brand favorite lover of Lutron. Their quality remains top notch. And of all the RF protocols I’ve tested, Lutron “clear connect” remains most reliable. Time and again, the Caseta system remains my top pick, even for folks who use it with a Wink Hub. But especially for HomeKit; it is my winner.

      Since you already have the ATV4 you’re good to go. But you WILL need the Lutron Bridge. That is what connects Lutron to your wifi. And what works as the central hub for the Lutron lights. Just make sure you get the newer hub that is HomeKit compatible. Cheers!!

  32. Wow Ari – what an article! Excellent job.
    The one thing I’m missing here is a look at whole house Smart Home solutions like Loxone, Crestron or Savant…
    When it comes to new built homes or solutions installed by professionals, there is nothing that can beat those. You should check them aswell.

    Florian

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