A few weeks back, I wrote about the decision to retire my Wink Hub. At the time I figured I’d just plug the Samsung SmartThings Link USB stick I previously bought into my Nvidia Shield TV, which turns that set-top box into a SmartThings Hub. But word of my smart home situation found its way to Samsung, who sent me a review unit of the $279.99 Samsung SmartThings Wifi mesh networking gear, which also doubles as a SmartThings Hub. I have to say, in some ways, I like it more than the Google WiFi mesh network I’ve been using for the past two years.
I haven’t yet set up the SmartThings Hub functionality but I will in the coming days and provide a follow up review on that. So far, purely from a networking standpoint, the Wifi speeds and coverage are at least as good as what Google WiFi has provided, and in some cases, even better.
If you’re not familiar with Samsung’s mesh networking gear, it’s a similar product others in this space such as Eero, Linksys Velop, Netgear Orbi and the previously mentioned Google WiFi. Samsung includes three identical access points in the package and any one of them can be the central node of your home network. Since I only had a pair of Google WiFi units in my home, I only set up two of the Samsung devices for fair and balanced testing.
And it terms of setup, I had my new mesh up and running on Samsung equipment in well under 10 minutes.
It helped that I didn’t have to register for the required Samsung account since I already had one. The setup process is to power up the first Wifi unit and connect it to a home router with the included Ethernet cable. You then install the Samsung SmartThings mobile app, sign in, create your “home”, tap add device and let the app find your new access point. At this point, you name your network and create a password for it. There are advanced settings you can modify but to get up and running this is the basic flow.
Adding a “sub hub” as Samsung calls it is even easier: I connected power to a second SmartThings Wifi unit in my home office, waited about two minutes for it to boot up and then tapped the option to add a sub hub in the SmartThings app. About a minute later, the units were connected, providing a single mesh network in my house.
Some initial speed tests were slower than I expected. However, I realized by looking in the app that the mesh network was in an optimization mode. I simply needed to wait a few minutes after setup. And once I did, every test showed excellent coverage and speed with minimal latency as compared to my old system. The slowest speed test result for my 1 Gbps broadband was still well over 100 Mbps for both uploads and downloads in what’s typically the slowest area of my home. Google WiFi was never able to provide more than around 75 Mbps in that particular location.
I also like the presentation of network and device information in SmartThings as compared to that in the Google WiFi app. It’s easier to see every device on your network, along with connection strength and whether a device is using a 2.4 or 5 GHz frequency. In Google’s app, this requires multiple taps; with SmartThings it’s just one.
There’s another moving part to this mesh network though and that’s Plume, which Samsung has integrated into the product. Plume’s technology is used here to optimize the network and to add many network management features that Samsung itself didn’t include. This is all seamless in the hardware but a little less so in the software because it requires the Plume mobile app. And if you tap Plume in the Samsung app, it then opens that Plume app. So the integration isn’t ideal in my opinion.
However, it does work well. With Plume, you get even more granular views of your network, hubs, and devices, plus you gain all of the Plume extra features if you want them, including advanced WiFi settings (DNS, Port Forwarding, etc…), network protection from ransomware and malware, per-device ad blocking and Plume’s Advanced IoT Protection. I’ll be looking into that feature when I set up the SmartThings Hub.
Here is where you set up guest networks and view network history as well. The guest network function is a little different than I expected though. You don’t actually create a newly named network. Instead, you create a password and restrictions so that your guests can only access the internet or certain devices in your home. The network can be set to expire after a certain amount of time as well.
I like how Plume shows how much data has been used over time, which my Google gear did too. But Plume also shows the percentage of total home data used on a per-device level.
Overall, I’m impressed so far with the mesh networking performance and feature set of the Samsung SmartThings WiFi units. I suspect some of the performance improvements I’m seeing as compared to Google WiFi are due to the Plume optimization and slightly faster networking hardware: SmartThings Wifi supports AC1300 speeds while Google WiFi tops out at AC1200.
Regardless of that minimal difference, the overall software provided by Samsung offers more useful network information at a glance in my opinion. Doubling as a smart home hub, however, puts the SmartThings product over the top for me.