I’ve spent two weeks playing around with Roku’s smart home gear (which is Wyze hardware running a software overlay provided by Roku) and I can tell you it’s fine. If you’re the type of person who wants to experience the smart home circa 2013 with the addition of a services plan and an integration to your existing Roku TV, then this is the gear for you.
Roku introduced its smart home products last October, starting with cameras, plugs, and lights. This year, it announced monitored security plans and a set of hardware designed to support that service. For the purposes of this review, Roku sent me the smart home security sensors, alarm, and keypad; three different cameras; an outdoor-rated outlet; and a light bulb. I already own the most recent generation of Roku set-top box with a voice remote.
Who needs this?
Usually in a review, I would explain what the product is trying to do and then immediately run through how well it uses hardware, software, and services to do whatever those things are. But Roku is basically offering an array of smart home gear that anyone reading this newsletter has been familiar with for years, possibly specifically this smart home gear, if you already have Wyze products.
And the gear mostly works, and works exactly as I’d expect it to. There are no novel features with the exception of the deeper integration with Roku TVs and streaming boxes and voice control via the Roku remote. It’s also sold exclusively at Walmart, making it accessible to anyone who wants to take a dip into home security and home automation at a relatively low cost.
Which begs the question: Who, exactly, is this for? My sense is that it’s for people who want a video doorbell or some smart home security product because they have been hearing about them for years and want to give them a whirl. Or perhaps it’s a parent buying for their kid who is living in their first apartment.
It is decidedly not for people who want the latest and greatest in smart home technology or those who don’t have a Roku TV or streaming box. For the same price you can build a similar system using Wyze gear, or for a little more you could build a system that provides a few more bells and whistles when it comes to features. But Roku at last count had almost 72 million active users, so there’s a good number of people who might appreciate Roku smart home stuff.
Does it work?
The set-up is basic. As basic as you’d expect from a company that seemingly entered the smart home on a whim, reselling hardware from a known low-cost, low-margin hardware provider. But it works. If you think you want to own an alarm keypad, a motion sensor, two open/close sensors, and a monitoring hub plus siren plus a camera or two by spending $99.99 on the hardware and another $9.99 per month on monitoring, it isn’t a bad option. The cameras range from $25 to $74 each depending on which one you choose, and there are subscription plans that cost between $3.99 per camera per month and $9.99 per month for more than three cameras.
Customers with Roku TVs or boxes have the option of seeing camera feeds on their TVs and getting notifications of security events from their home monitoring sensors on their TVs, if they so choose. If they have the most recent Roku box and remote, they also can use the voice control on the remote to ask Roku to control their smart home. Things like, “Hey Roku, please turn on study (lights),” worked with a few seconds of latency, while asking Roku to show me the backyard (camera) took longer.
Sitting next to me, my child quipped, “I could have been murdered while waiting for Roku to show me the camera feed.” That murder would have had to have taken place pretty fast, but to their point, it did take a good 20 to 30 seconds to load. I also noted a latency of four to five seconds between notifications and automations triggered by the Roku open/close sensors.
The latency on the camera notifications on my phone as well as getting the app open on my phone was also high enough that I often missed seeing much after motion triggered a camera alert. The subscription plan does include basic object detection, so Roku will tell me if it has seen a person, pet, vehicle, or package. I can also tailor any motion detection zones in the cameras the way you can with more advanced cameras.
Setting up the devices and app
Folks using the Roku smart home gear need to download the Roku smart home app, not the streaming app. And if you want to see the notifications or camera feeds on your TV, you’ll need to use the same user name and password for both devices.
The app works for both iOS and Android, and I got it loaded on my Android device in no time. Setting up the outdoor camera took a moment because it needed me to install the base station first, and then both it and the camera needed an update. The outdoor camera base station also needed access to an Ethernet port and power. I also had to charge the camera before it would get connected.
But once those stars were aligned, I got it online easily. Adding the monitoring system was also easy. First you add another base station (but this one has Wi-Fi or Ethernet) and wait for updates. Then you add the array of sensors through a pairing process that is easy and quick.
I then installed the light bulb and the outdoor outlet before running out of steam. Those installed the fastest, and it was a really simple process. With my devices online, I was able to create schedules and automations, using the same interface as the Wyze app. Controlling a device from the app requires the user to open the app (first tap), tap on the device (second tap) and then view the camera feed or control settings (third tap).
Again, everything works pretty much as expected, if a little latently, and there’s nothing here to really wow a user. None of the gear currently works with Matter, and while Roku is a member of the Connectivity Standards Alliance, it’s not clear if or when future Roku products would work with the Matter standard.
For me, this gear is relatively cheap, but doesn’t offer much if you don’t get the monthly subscription, which costs more than I would want to pay.
Almost all of the professional monitoring offered by smart home security hardware companies comes from Noonlight, which also provides Roku’s professional monitoring. And as a DIY security system, it’s on the cheapest side (Ring’s five-piece alarm kit costs $200 while Abode and SimpliSafe have different configurations that cost $200 or more). However, I have seen Wyze’s system for as low as $50 for literally the exact same hardware.
So unless you want to see notifications on your TV that a door just opened as it happens, or want to click through to the camera feeds channel on the TV, there’s no compelling reason to get this product over Wyze gear. In a conversation with Mark Robins, VP of Roku Smart Home, he said that Roku is hoping to get consumers to subscribe to services, but the services today are the same ones Wyze provides.
This feels like a low-cost, me-too product that works but ultimately doesn’t provide much value for consumers. I feel like it might work for about three years and end up in a landfill as the best case scenario. I think most consumers want more than that. But I don’t think smart home companies are prepared to give that to them.
Updated: This story was updated on July 19, 2023 to reflect a correction. The Roku outdoor camera does provide the ability to tailor motion detection zones.