Although I’ve gone all-in on HomeKit for personal use, there are still other great smart home options out there. And one of them is Home Assistant, which often gets lost in the connected platform shuffle. If you’re not familiar with it, Home Assistant is an open-source smart home system you self-host on a small computer, like a Raspberry Pi. It has a great community, tons of integrations, and is in some ways more powerful than the “brand name” options. Now it’s even better with the recent release of version 2202.4, which is packed with new features.
Once I read about this new Home Assistant release, I dusted off my old Raspberry Pi. I went through the installation process from scratch, discovered my home’s devices, and tested the software. It’s come a long way since I last did this a year ago. Kudos to the Home Assistant team because the platform is so much easier to set up, configure and use now. I’d say the platform is definitely more approachable to the mainstream consumer since my last check of it.
The Home Assistant installation and setup are super simple now
That was evident from the installation process, which has been streamlined at some point and much easier to install than I recall. I didn’t have to manually download the Home Assistant software this time around.
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I used Balena Etcher, the recommended application to flash the Home Assistant software to a microSD card. All I had to do was provide the GitHub link to Balena Etcher, click a button and in two minutes, my microSD card had Home Assistant on it. This saved me from having to manually download the Home Assistant software, removing one usability barrier that might stop people from trying the platform.
I didn’t have to connect a keyboard, mouse, and monitor to my Raspberry Pi either. Now you just put the microSD card in the Pi and connect both power and an ethernet cable to it. So there’s no more looking at a bunch of Linux gobbledygook and wondering what’s going on.
The entire Home Assistant setup process is automated and within a few minutes, I was able to see Home Assistant in a web browser. I configured my local account and Home Assistant discovered all of the devices it supports in my home. Aside from the account configuration, I really didn’t have to do anything.
So what’s new in Home Assistant?
The full release notes for this version are here, and there are at least 20 noteworthy changes in the list. I won’t go through them all here but I will highlight some of the more impactful ones. The first one listed might be the one most people will use right off the bat: You can now create groups of like devices as explained by the release notes:
A group lets you combine multiple entities into a single entity. Entities that are members of a group can be controlled and monitored as a whole. This can be useful for cases where you want to control, for example, the multiple bulbs in a light fixture as a single light in Home Assistant.
I ran through the new Groups feature by creating one with all of the lights in my home. It was simple and worked as I expected.
The new group was automatically added to my web dashboard and in the Home Assistant mobile app, making it easy to control all of my connected lights with a tap or click.
Oh, and my dashboard looks a bit nicer too. At least I think so, based on the sliders and other more modern elements used.
Another impressive new feature is the ability to test automation conditions. This was added based on recent user feedback because, in a prior release, Home Assistant added automation trigger testing.
Now you can test automation conditions or triggers. That’s super helpful to see how an automation will cause a device to react, or not, based on the criteria you set.
How about firmware updates for your devices? You don’t need to do that manually in a mobile app for a device now.
The latest release of Home Assistant supports these updates within the dashboard. I didn’t have any devices that needed an update during my brief time testing, but I can’t wait to see one. I definitely appreciate that the process is kept inside the Home Assistant experience and interface.
Technically, I did have a software update but it was for the Home Assistant software as a small “point” release appeared in the past few days. Of course, Home Assistant can update itself, which isn’t new. But the fact that the process is now extended to my connected devices is a huge plus.
It’s easier and more intuitive to modify blueprints and device controls now too. There are new selectors that look more familiar, such as the RGB selector for setting light colors.
I played with these and found that they speed up the configuration process for my Hue Bulbs, although I tend to just use Hue scenes more often than not. That’s probably evident from the many scenes populated in my dashboard.
Since I don’t have many motion sensors in my house, I never used the Zones feature of Home Assistant in the past. Another reason is that I didn’t see much functionality in Zones. Now there is because Zones actually have a “state” indicating how many people are in a Zone. That allows for more robust automation when someone is or isn’t in a Zone.
You might not want devices to be active in an empty Zone, for example. So why have an automation turn devices on when there’s nobody there? With this feature, it doesn’t have to.
There’s so much more, so go explore!
As I said, there are at least 20 major feature updates or additions in the latest release of Home Assistant. I’ve only hit the tip of the iceberg here, but even if what I covered was all that was added, I’d be impressed.
But there’s so much more, including new integrations, some of which can be configured easily right from the dashboard, backups for people using a container to run Home Assistant, and converting a switch into a different type of a device, such as a fan or a lock, just to name a few.
If you want to run your own smart home platform and have a number of devices or integrations that Home Assistant supports (now nearing 2,000), you’ll want to check out this software. Yes, there can be a bit of light coding required for some features, but with this update, there’s less of that. Home Assistant is now more user-friendly, powerful, and reliable.