Wow, what a different three years makes in the smart home world. The last time I shared what connected devices were in my house was October 2017, and as I review that article, it seems like nearly everything has changed. I have a completely different smart home now with all of the same functionality I used to have, along with some extra features too. Here’s what’s in my smart home today.
Hubs: There can only be one
I was all in on Wink as the hub of my home in 2017. Since then though, I decided to pull the plug on Wink and have tried a number of other hub solutions: Home Assistant, Hubitat and SmartThings WiFi, a mesh network system that doubles as a SmartThings hub. I can’t effectively use HomeKit because I switch between Android and iOS from time to time.
All of these options have their pros and cons and what’s best for me may not be best for you. But I ended up using the Samsung SmartThings option, and still do today, due to its broad range of device support and ease of use for my family. I’m cautiously optimistic for the upcoming SmartThings platform changes. We’ll have to see how that works out.
For now, SmartThings meets our needs. The automations are reliable as are the device connections whether they use Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Zigbee or Z-Wave. And SmartThings integrates with multiple digital assistants, which we have no lack of in our 2020 home.
Adios Alexa, Google is better than OK
Speaking of digital assistants, we were more of an Alexa house three years ago. Back then we had multiple Echo Dots, the original Echo device and a portable Echo Tap that I’d take out on the deck for wireless music and voice commands. My Sonos One speaker also had Alexa integration at the time.
Today though? It appears Alexa has moved out. Or was evicted, depending on how you look at it.
All of my Echo devices save for a Dot have found better homes, replaced by Google Home products. We use the Lenovo Smart Display on our kitchen island daily for watching YouTube TV or streaming Spotify tunes. Our bedroom and my office each have a small camera-less Nest Display. We have a few Home Mini speakers around the house as well. And as for listening to music on the deck, I plug in a Sonos One, which gained support for Google Assistant last year.
Again, digital assistants are a personal choice, and many people are happy with Alexa. For us, the Google Home app experience is better and we make heavy use of Chromecasting content to our smart TVs, so Google is the better option here. Additionally, Google appears to be making progress with local, on-device voice control while Amazon doesn’t seem interested in that. It’s another reason we stay invested in the Google ecosystem.
I see the (colored) light!
In 2017, our home was filled with a mishmash of different connected bulb brands, all using different radio protocols. And they were all white or tuneable white bulbs. Not any more!
I’ve replaced many of the older white bulbs that use Zigbee or Bluetooth with Wi-Fi bulbs. Some are C by GE and others are the low cost Wyze bulbs. But I’ve also added Philips Hue lights to our home and it’s all Stacey’s fault. She bought me the Philips Hue Sync box last holiday season and I use that to synchronize movie and gaming content with colored Hue Play bulbs.
Of course, once you get hooked on connected bulbs with color, you can go a little crazy if you’re not careful. And I’m not careful because we have another six colored Hue bulbs in the house for ambiance and scenes. I often have calming mood lighting in my office when working or reading.
New locks and cameras but an old smart oven
Three years ago, I had a Kwikset Z-Wave smart lock but that’s been replaced with a Nest x Yale lock. We like the look of the modern touch keypad better and have fewer disconnects with the Nest system.
Of course, if you have a Nest lock and Google Home devices, a Nest Hello video doorbell complements them nicely. So even though we added a Ring Doorbell in 2018, we later switched to Nest Hello. The Ring product was a bit flukey on our home network but the Nest Hello has been excellent.
We did have a few older webcams back in the day. They’re all gone, replaced by better and cheaper options. We use Wyze Cams both indoors and outside now, so no more subscription fees for us. Feeds from the Wyze cameras are slow to appear on our smart displays, but that’s about the only bad thing I can say about them.
Our first-gen June Oven is still used every day, often multiple times per day. I love starting the preheat option from my office when lunchtime is nearing. And my wife says the June has made her a better cook. I concur since she’s not the kind of person that preheats a traditional oven or follows recipe instructions too well. Now, she lets the June Oven handle all of that, which my stomach appreciates!
Given how much my smart home has changed in the last three years, I expect that three years from now it won’t look the same either.
I wonder if I’ll even have a hub in the house at that point, given that the digital assistant platforms such as Google, Alexa or Siri have become central to the smart home. I really hope for true personal presence detection in the near future. I anticipate that by 2023, I’ll have at least one device that works with with gestures or touchscreen-style projection as an interface. After that, who knows? But I’m excited to find out!
Jason J says
I’ve run the gauntlet, too. My wink is sitting in a box. I still have both my ST v2 and V3 hubs, but I’ve lost confidence with repeated cloud outages. I’ve got C4 and C5 versions of Hubitat. It’s solid and very dependable, but it’s sometimes convoluted. Interestingly enough, I’ve made a different change that has made a hub fairly irrelevant for me.
I pulled out all of my Zigbee and Z-Wave switches and replaced them with Shelly relays. My wife likes using switches that she wants to use, instead of whatever form factor I can get for my project. She likes that she can actually USE the light switches without me telling her that my bulbs went offline because of her.
They make me happy because every one of them is as smart as a hub. They have timers and schedules built in, 7 different switch behaviors, 4 power on/off options, and they can even send commands to each other, up to 5 of them. That’s all local. I can unscrew the coax from my cable modem so that I just have the Wi-Fi network and everything still works.
Because of that, I’ve stopped using my hubs. They’re still set up and I can play around with things, but my home runs like a top with the Shelly devices. They just came out with the i3, which I’m going to use with the three switches in my master bath to control the shower light and a row of smart bulbs over the vanity – I set them so that from midnight until 7 am, they’re never brighter than 30 percent unless I specifically override that – I got huge brownie points for that.
I connected Alexa finally, to control things by voice, but I like that if the Internet goes down, I can still control everything from my tablet and the actions that are programmed in are always set. I’m a total fanboy now.
As a newbee, this is daunting. Please assist.
Recently I purchased a vacation rental. It is a two unit (A&B) complex having 2 stories per unit. Flat TV’s came with the purchase (4 smart).
I desire to incorporate a “wi-fi” lock and door camera for both units. Also, desire wifi thermostats (2 per unit). Currently use Honeywell Home RTH9585WF1004 at my residence which works well via its App.
Both units will be rented on a weekly basis. My cleaning team and tenants will need to access via wi-fi assistance, so I foresee having a modem/ router in place (possibly 2 – one at A&B if I can not get applicable signal via one router).
How do I control things via an I phone (various apps, a hub, ?)
Stacey Higginbotham says
This question has layers and the answer depends a bit on what you want to do. First up, the network. If you want to have one Wi-Fi network for the whole home I’d do a mesh system like Orbi or Eero. You will want to put your guests on the guest network and the devices on the main network. However, your guests may not want their devices on the same network as the guests in the other residence.
The second layer is the hub question. Do you want your guests to be able to control the devices with their phones? Does your housekeeper/super have an iPhone? If it were just you I’d go with a HomeKit setup, but then others may have to have an iPhone to control things. Or you can use something like a SmartThings hub or even Alexa or Siri to control the devices from the home itself.
Once you know what you want to control and how you want others to access the devices then you can pick the devices that will work. I recommend a door lock with a keypad and Wi-Fi simply because the keypad allows guests to control the door without downloading an app while the Wi-Fi eliminates the need for a hub. The most recent Nest thermostat and the most recent Ecobee thermostats should eventually work with Matter, an upcoming interoperability standard, but if you wanted to pick a thermostat that supports HomeKit today I’d go with Ecobee.
This is just a start but I hope it helps.