Sunday, October 4, 2015

Using the SmartThings Hub V2 as my primary home automation hub

My Previous Setup

My home automation setup had consisted of WeMo switches for controlling lights and appliances, a Logitech Harmony Hub for controlling my home entertainment system and a Honeywell Wi-Fi Thermostat. I was using OpenHAB, on my server, as the backend in order to automate everything.

Then I decided to buy the Wink Hub and GE Link Lightbulbs in a combo from Home Depot which they regularly have for $50. Although it had bad reviews, the reason I got the Wink hub was because:
  • It worked with my thermostat natively
  • It was the first hub to be supported by Amazon Echo
  • The combination with the lightbulbs was cheap

My OpenHAB setup was doing all of the leg work. While it has a very steep learning curve, it is very flexible. My uses were to:
  • Send a signal to my Harmony Hub to turn on my living room air purifier on/off at specific times.
  • Run a script via SSH to my Raspberry Pi device to send an IR signal to turn my bedroom air purifier on/off.
  • Turn my WeMo switches on/off at specific times.
  • Run a script to scan for my phone via bluetooth to determine if I'm home to then set the thermostat to a specific temperature depending on the time of day.

Grabbing the SmartThings Hub V2

SmartThings was having a sale where they were offering the SmartThings V2 Hub with the Motion Sensor and Open/Close Sensor for $100. It sounded like too good of a deal to pass up, so I decided to pick one up.

While it might be a bit strange getting a Samsung product since my home is majority Apple and it won't have Apple HomeKit support, there isn't much HomeKit support anywhere yet and the SmartThings hub offers great compatibility and features which include:
  • Support for Wi-Fi, Zigbee, Z-Wave, and Bluetooth (currently disabled)
  • Backup batteries incase the power goes out
  • Local processing, so it is faster to initiate requests than sending it to the Internet/Cloud and back
  • LAN port on the back
  • Supports WeMo

I wanted to see how good this new hub was, compare it to my current Wink hub, and see how many things from my OpenHAB I could replicate on the hub to reduce maintenance work on my end.

Setting up the new hub

The package is pretty simple. It includes 4 AA batteries, an ethernet cable and a wall wart using a dc barrel plug. The sensors are powered by a single AA battery. One of the first things I noticed was how small it was compared to the much larger Wink Hub.

The App

The SmartThings software is much better looking and understandable than the Wink. There are tabs for Dashboard, Home, Routines, Notifications and Marketplace. 

Dashboard is for home security that includes functions to Arm or Disarm a home security system or door locks, report of any sensors active, and alerts of anything unexpected.

Home is for device control which separates your devices into specific rooms, a list all of your sensors, SmartApps currently linked with, and Family which shows who is at home based on their cell phone. 

Routines comes with a basic setup of Good Morning, Good Night, Goodbye, and I'm Back. Within each of those routines, you can specify what triggers them (a sensor, a specific time, a specific person), and then what should happen (toggling lights, switches door locks, garage doors, thermostats).

Notifications shows an SMS messaging type of interface where the Hub messages you the things it is doing like "Performing Good Night" and "Welcome Home." An Activity Feed section shows all your sensors and devices being changed by time. 

Marketplace is where you configure new sensors and devices or setup configurations with third-party systems like Logitech Harmony, IFTTT or other scripts users have created and have been approved.

WeMo Switches

Unlike the Wink Hub, this hub supports the WeMo switches. I was able to remove the scheduling script from my OpenHAB setup and allow the hub to control the set times I wanted my WeMo switches on/off. Unfortunately the hub does not support the Insight Switch, so I still need to use IFTTT for that.

I would use IFTTT to detect when I would get home and automatically turn on my indoor entrance light which is WeMo light switch controlled. But it seemed to have problems where it would randomly turn on the light in the middle of the night. Now that I am using SmartThings to do this, I have not had any false positives anymore.

Logitech Harmony Hub

Next was controlling my living room air purifier with my Logitech Harmony Hub. SmartThings has native support for Harmony. And while it supports toggling activities, it does not support sending specific commands. I am using specific power commands which has no affect on activities, so I still need to use my OpenHAB setup for that.

Honeywell Wi-Fi Thermostat

For switching my thermostat control from OpenHAB to SmartThings, I needed to find a script as there is no native support. I used a script from GitHub in order to achieve this. You must go to in order to add custom scripts to your hub. Once in, you go to My Device Types at the top and create a new type, selecting the From Code tab and pasting in the GitHub code. Afterwards you can go to My Devices and add a new Total Comfort API device type. After correctly configuring it, I could use it as an action in recipes and the SmartThings hub could interact with it perfectly.

I was able to replicate my bluetooth user detection setup that I had on OpenHAB with SmartThings. Once you configure your hub with your phone, the hub will use it in order to determine your presence, which is really cool! What I did was set a motion sensor facing my front door. And when a motion is detected within a specific time range AND it also detects my presence arriving, it will run a routine that sets the thermostat to a specific temperature. And I have the Goodbye! routine set my thermostat to an away temperature when I am not present.

Amazon Echo support

SmartThings supports the Amazon Echo (Alexa) for controlling switches and lights. Unlike the Wink Hub that could only allow the Echo to turn lights on and off, I am able to tell the Echo to dim my lights to a certain percentage with the SmartThings hub. This is great, as I got tired of asking Alexa to turn on my GE Link lightbulbs and then having to take out my phone in order to dim them. After unlinking the lightbulbs from Wink and linking them to SmartThings, they turn on really fast when controlled by the Echo. I also have my Good Morning routine turn on my bedroom lightbulb at a low dim in order to get me out of bed.

Within the SmartThings app, after linking it to your Amazon Echo account, you can select what devices your Echo will see. And then within the Echo app, you can do a search in order to find them after which they will correctly be labeled as coming from the SmartThings hub.

Final Words

Overall I am very happy with the SmartThings V2 hub! It will be replacing my Wink Hub, as I will dump that off to my parents. I will still use OpenHAB as SmartThings cannot do everything that I want, but for what it can I will have it offload those duties. Other than HomeKit support, I cannot think of anything wrong with the hub for now. I did wish it supported more security cameras though, like Foscam, instead of just a Samsung and D-Link cameras. And while having to set up the Honeywell Thermostat is not user friendly, I am glad the community was able to create support for it. Bluetooth is not enabled, but I hope that it will be by the end of 2015 as I had Kickstarted the new Ilumi Bluetooth lightbulbs that I plan to integrate with SmartThings. Overall it is a solid hub that I would recommend to others!


Having used the SmartThings V2 hub for a few months, I am still satisfied with it but not as much as I had hoped. If you are looking for high reliability I would recommend sticking with openHAB. SmartThings has many random outages and the automated routines are not reliable. Even now I am dealing with my morning routine never starting, requiring me to manually trigger it. The solution you will find online is to delete and recreate it. But after the first few times it gets annoying. Also the status of some devices do not properly update. I have to rely on a third party script (Pollster) in order to make sure everything is refreshed. Other than that, I enjoy the easy setup and nice mobile applications SmartThings has over openHAB. So the setup may be easier than openHAB, but the maintenance is worse. Pick your poison.


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