This week, customers in the U.S. can spend $69 for the Homey Bridge, a smart home hub designed and sold in Europe, and now available for the first time here in the U.S. The Homey Bridge is a smart home hub designed for folks who are privacy-conscious and interested in adding Zigbee, Z-Wave and IR to their smart home infrastructure. It also has Bluetooth and Wi-Fi radios.
The Homey Bridge competes with DIY hubs from SmartThings/Aeotec, Hubitat, Aqara and more. But in a week of testing, I found several things that make it a good option, thanks to its European origins and the addition of IR. It’s also worth noting that this particular product is the entry-level Homey device, and most users will end up paying a $2.99 per month subscription when they add it to their home. More on that in a bit.
Later this year Athom, the company behind Homey, will release the Homey Pro, a $399.99 hub that will come with enough computing power to handle an entire smart home without a subscription fee and without sending data to the cloud. Unless you want a cloud-to-cloud integration, that is. If you like what you read about the Homey Bridge, you may want to wait to check out the fancier model.
Okay, to get started, the Homey Bridge works along with the Homey app. The device itself is lovely, and the I like the extra touch of the rainbow LED that passes across the ring of the hub. You can turn that off if you need to. The software is fine, although it uses a long-press as the primary mechanism of interacting with icons, which was a bit confusing at first.
Setting up the Homey Bridge
Setting up the hub involved plugging it in, downloading the app to my phone, and using Bluetooth to find the hub. Then you connect it to your Wi-Fi network and start answering questions in the app. Through a series of questions that takes about 5 minutes, I ended up telling the app the location of my home, the names of all the rooms in my home and where they were located.
Then the app set up my home and started trying to discover devices. It didn’t do too well. It only auto discovered my Spotify account and my Philips Hue lights. When I tried to connect Spotify I had some glitches in the authentication process and gave up. With Philips Hue, my first try connecting the apps got hung up after I put in my password in the Hue website. The second time it worked well.
But then I hit my first surprise. I have eight Philips Hue lights in my home, and the Homey Bridge only supports five devices unless you pay a $2.99 a month fee. For most, I actually think this a completely reasonable price to pay for some of the integrations, but that fee will likely hit you quickly if you have a lot of smart home gear.
I will add that Athom says it put the fee in place because it needs to pay for cloud-related costs, and it doesn’t want to get into the business of selling consumer data. With its more expensive Homey Pro product, there isn’t a fee, but the beefier hardware inside can support more devices running locally. With the cheaper Bridge device, the hardware is pretty minimal.
So many integrations
With my subscription enabled, I set out to find more devices. Because Athom is European, products from those companies were well represented. I found integrations for IKEA, Netamo, Fibaro, Bosch, Somfy and Twinkly devices. I was extremely excited to see that the Homey Bridge could also act as an IR controller for the proprietary Somfy RTS automated shades.
Somfy makes a much more expensive hub to work with its shades and my prior experience with a Z-Wave device that connected my shades to a hub was terrible. However, if I want to use the IR feature of the bridge, I do need to have it in the same room as the device it’s controlling. And yes, this means I might need multiple $69 Home Bridge devices if I have Somfy shades in multiple rooms or I want to control AV equipment in a different room.
The hub also integrates with Ecobee, Yale, Xiaomi, Aeotec, Aqara and Sonos gear. This means you can run sensors from Aeotec or Aqara on the hub. I tested mine with Aeotec sensors, but didn’t have any Aqara devices. The Homey web site also lists a lot more integrations, but these are not designed to run on the Homey Bridge, only on the Homey Pro.
Stefan Witkamp, founder and product director at Athom, explains that the integrations supported on the Bridge are built by the device companies who pledge to keep them working. Some of the other integrations are built by the community, and shared through Homey’s app store. Because they may not work perfectly or stay up for a defined amount of time, Athom only lets Pro customers, who are likely to be more sophisticated smart home users, download them.
Getting devices online
It’s kind of a muddle trying to figure out which devices will work with the bridge, but discoverability has always been a struggle on these apps and platforms.
Getting a device online is pretty simple. I typed in the name of a company and waited to see if it would appear in the app. If it did, I clicked the brand and a list of supported devices appeared. For cloud connections, I then clicked my device and was transferred to a screen where I could enter my password to connect the devices. This sometimes involved going to a web site or my email to get a secondary code to approve the integration. If you have a lot of devices, I hope you have a password manager or all of your passwords written in one place. Otherwise you will get frustrated.
If adding the device involved Zigbee or Z-Wave, the process was similar except for the password. Once I selected the device, I received instructions to set it into pairing mode and then the hub would discover the device. Remember, if you already have Z-wave devices on another hub, they will not pair with a second hub without first unpairing them from the first hub.
I didn’t love how the software dumped all added devices inside the generic home screen, as opposed to asking me about device names and the room it would be in as part of the initial set up. Novice users may not realize the benefits of placing devices in a room and establishing a consistent naming convention, so I’d like to see the app help them do so.
Automations and response
Once the devices were organized, it was time to start setting up automations. Homey calls these flows, and setting them up was relatively painless, once you remember that Homey loves a long press to start opening functions. The Flow functions are incredibly powerful. They range from typical functions on connected devices such as temperature changes or lights turning on or off to automations triggered by presence.
You can also set and/or parameters in addition to your original trigger to set a device to perform something. I created a presence detection flow that waits until people are no longer in the home to trigger my Roomba to vacuum during certain hours of the day (I don’t want to wake my dog who tends to go under the bed to sleep between 9 am and 9 pm).
The device response times seem relatively speedy, although the cloud-t0-cloud integrations do take longer than local controls. I am curious to compare the latency between the Homey Bridge and the Homey Pro, if I ever get my hands on a Pro. However, I think that because of the gaps in existing integrations, the Homey Bridge is only a good option for folks whose primary devices are supported. For me, the lack of Lutron, Eve, Wemo and Nanoleaf support means I will likely pass on using this as my regular hub because these devices control pretty important items in my home.
However, that Somfy support means I’m going to keep an eye on Homey to see if they add Lutron and Eve in particular. I also love the privacy promise. Despite this, I need one device to control all of my core devices and the Homey Bridge isn’t there yet. (Note how sad it is that I have given up on one device controlling all of my devices and will simply settle for one that controls most of my devices.)
Witkamp said that the company is working hard to add more devices, especially for U.S. companies as it expands here. So I’ll check back in six months to see what’s available and how I might make it work for me. I’m also looking for Matter support, which is coming to the Homey Bridge eventually, but there’s no set time frame yet. But in general, the privacy focus is great.
The software is flexible, but could use some small tweaks, and the response times are all in range with other hubs on the market. So if you have the devices Homey supports, it’s a good option for those looking for a DIY hub.