At the tail end of last year, Stacey and I created a buying guide of smart home products. I added the Nvidia Shield TV to the list, which sounds odd since the device is an Android TV set top box. But the Shield TV gained Google Assistant integration and then Samsung created the SmartThings Link USB stick, which turns the Shield into a full-featured SmartThings hub.
I’ve been testing the SmartThings Link for the past week and it’s a great, inexpensive add-on if you have a Shield TV. (By the way, $179.99 Shield TV on its own is a fantastic Android TV and Chromecast device; I use it all the time in my home office where it’s connected to a 4K set.) I was lucky to be among the first buyers of Samsung’s SmartThings USB stick, and paid just $9.99 for it. These days, you’ll find it for the full price of $39.99, which is still a good deal.
There isn’t much to the Link. The main purpose is to add both a Zigbee and Z-Wave radio to the Nvidia Shield TV, which already has both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth radios as well as a Gigabit ethernet port. From what I can tell, all of the hub processing takes place on the Shield TV, and not the the USB stick. For comparison the Smartthings hub which has the same array of radios and no Android TV/Chromecast capability costs $89.99.
Installation is super simple as well. You just open the SmartThings app on the Shield TV, plug the Link into the Shield, sign in to or create a Samsung account and then link the “hub” to your SmartThings phone app. Two notes though: First, there are now two SmartThings mobile apps. During the setup process, I tried to use the newest SmartThings app but it didn’t work. Instead, I had to use the original mobile app, which is now called SmartThings Classic. That actually may be a good thing though, since the newer app hasn’t been very well received. And secondly, the Link is pretty wide so if, like me, you’re using one of the two USB ports on Shield TV for additional storage, you’ll need the small USB extender cable included with the Link.
If you’re familiar with SmartThings or already have a SmartThings hub, there’s nothing new here to see. For the rest of us, you get the functionality of Samsung’s SmartThings Hub product without actually owning the hub.
Just about everything you can do on Samsung’s native hub can be done with the Shield TV and SmartThings Link. I say “just about everything” because Samsung has a history of updating the firmware on its own hub first, leaving the Link running an older version. So new features that come to Samsung’s SmartThings Hub may not appear on the Link for some time. Regardless, you can add the same supported devices to the Link, set up automations and routines. I haven’t found any major technical differences between the tested setup and an actual SmartThings Hub.
Since I’ve built my smart home around a Wink Hub 2, I only tested a few devices with the Link: A bulb, a lock and a motion sensor. All of them work just as they do when connected to my Wink Hub. And although I’ve long preferred Wink, Samsung does have one key advantage when it comes to device compatibility, which I love.
If you purchase a smart device that isn’t compatible with SmartThings, you may still be able to use it. That’s because Samsung allows you to create or install device handlers so that the Link (or SmartThings Hub) can control it.
In fact, I have two non-supported Z-Wave devices that I’m testing now with the Link because I was provided unpublished device handlers for them. More on those in a separate review is coming, but the point is this: Device handlers are handy to have. Wink doesn’t support them, so I’m considering a full-scale change over to SmartThings.
I did have one concern about the Link before setup, but it turned out to be unfounded. I thought that my TV would have to be on for the Link to work, since the Shield drives all content to the set. Indeed, when using Nvidia’s Shield TV, the set-top box lights up green, so you know it’s on. Even when that green light is off and the Shield TV is in sleep mode, however, the Link hub works. I should have realized this because I often use a Google Home voice command to turn on the Shield TV. It works every time because the set-top box is just sleeping, not completely off.
Speaking of Google, you can link Google Assistant or Home with the SmartThings Link to use voice commands and control connected home devices. Even if you don’t own a Google Home or have Assistant installed on your phone, this works through the microphone inside Nvidia Shield TV’s remote. Sadly, Nvidia hasn’t yet delivered on the low-cost Google Assistant microphone called Nvidia Spot it announced in January 2017. If it ever does, I would fully expect these to work with the SmartThings Link as well. Those that prefer using Alexa can do so without any hassle.
Overall, I’m impressed by this little USB stick. Granted, I already spent money on the Nvidia Shield TV; if you haven’t or if you’re not in the market for a new set-top box, this isn’t for you.
Even if you own a Shield TV, you may want to pass on the Link based on where your connected TV is. This isn’t like a hub that you can place directly in the center of your home for maximum range. I’m just lucky that my home office is is the right spot and can reach all of my connected devices, such as those with limited range that use Bluetooth or Zigbee, for example. Thanks to a simple setup, device flexibility and strong voice integration, I just may retire my Wink Hub 2 in favor of the SmartThings Link.