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Samsung SmartThings Home Monitoring Kit review: A solid connected-home foundation

Dave Zatz | Dec. 11, 2015
A second-generation hub is the key to this platform's appeal.

SmartThings accessories 
SmartThings works with a wide array of connected products, including third-party hardware such as the Bose SoundTouch and Philips Hue LED light bulbs. Credit: Dave Zatz

The manner in which these devices interact—with each other, with third-party products, and with the surrounding environment—is completely up to the end user. The objective isn’t to have a single user interface for manipulating the various gadgets. The real power comes from having them interact with each other, based on schedules, thresholds, security-camera activity, events, and even your physical location, based on smartphone geolocation.

One of the first scenarios I tried was based on the leak detector sensing moisture: The SmartThings Hub sent a text message to my phone, activated the siren to blast its horn for a few minutes, and triggered the Philips Hue LED lightbulbs to bathe the upstairs family room in red light until the motion detector sensed someone coming downstairs to investigate the leak.

For more everyday utility, I also programmed the system so that the lamp module turned on a light in the basement each time the motion detector sensed someone coming down the stairs. The light would turn itself off after 15 minutes in the absence of any further motion. I could have also programmed the Hub so that the door/window sensor sounded the alarm and turned on the light if the basement door opened between 9PM and 7AM—a window of time when no one should be going into that space.

Fault tolerance and battery backup

Relying on servers in the cloud allows a service provider like SmartThings to deploy much thinner and less expensive hardware on the ground. It also makes for easy remote access. But there’s a significant downside to over-reliance on the cloud. No one wants to resort to Flintsones-era control of their tricked-out smart home just because they’ve temporarily lost Internet access due to a power outage, a broadband service disruption, or routine maintenance gone awry.

SmartThings battery bay 
The second-generation SmartThings Hub has a battery backup. Credit: Dave Zatz

So SmartThings wisely decided to integrate more local control into this, its second-generation offering. That means some Routines and SmartApps will continue to function even in the absence of an Internet connection—but only if the SmartApps and the Things they’re controlling can also operate without Internet access, and it’s often difficult to determine which ones can and which can’t.

The SmartThings hub has Z-Wave and ZigBee radios, so it supports two of the most common connected-home protocols (it also supports Internet Protocol). That enables it to create a self-healing mesh network in which every node—be it a light bulb, an outlet, or a dimmer switch—has the ability to pass along a message that’s intended for another node. The more devices you have on the network, the larger the network can be. If one device drops off the network, the hub can rebuild the network based on the nodes remaining—provided the distance between the remaining nodes isn’t too great.

 

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