So a little while ago i took the plunge in home automation and initially purchased a Samsung SmartThings starter pack. I had spent some time looking into the options such as WeMo and others but decided that it looked like the Samsung offering had the most compatibility etc.

Now first things first smart home tech at the moment is not cheap and to get the most out of a smart home you really need to buy a decent amount of kit to make it truly useful. I imagine that the cost of the components like most things will drop as more people buy into smart homes or at least some kind of automation but at the moment you will be parting with a good few paper pennies to add smart stuff to your home.

Now this review isn’t all sweetness and light as I’ve had some issues with the system which has caused me some head scratching for some time. if your having trouble with your SmartThings hub such as the solid blue light then jump through to the support section below.

I also was interested in voice control so had also purchased an Amazon Echo Dot to dip a tentative toe in the water.
So firstly whats in the SmartThings starter kit well you get:

The SmartThings hub
Power outlet
Multi sensor
Presence keyfob
Motion Sensor

Hub
The SmartThings hub is the central point of control for all your smart devices and plugs in via ethernet directly to your router (no WiFi available). it has a nice touch of also being backed up by two AA batteries giving you a bit of resiliency for the hub although obviously as these items and aimed at consumers if the hub has lost mains powers then that questions the availability of either an internet connection or power to your smart devices.
The hub comes with a code inside the box that you input into the mobile app during your initial setup routine.

Power Outlet

The power outlet is as you would expect it to be with a small blue LED on the side depending on whether the device being controlled is on or off. I dont know if its just me but I have purchased a further two of the plugs separately and it appears as if there are still some manufacturing issues that Samsung need to sort out although I’m not sure why this is an issue. The first additional plug I received seemed ok, box not dented and actual plug had no visible defects however I could not actually plug anything into it. The earth terminal just would not accept any devices even with a good amount of brute force and ignorance. So I had that replaced and the replacement was fine and worked as expected. Then I purchased another outlet and noticed that it was stiff to push devices into the outlets sockets, it worked fine but I dont know why I’m experiencing this kind of issue for a very basic socket design.

Multi Sensor

The multi sensor is pretty cool and can report the temperature and status of a door or window. This is powered by a BIOS (CR2032) type battery

Presence Keyfob
Does what it says on the tin attach it to your keys and you can use it to kick off automation tasks when it arrives or leaves your home. size wise its about the same as a USB stick so not small but not too much of an inconvenience either.

Motion Sensor
Again includes a temperature monitor and is about the size of a small box of matches. The motion detection is pretty much instant and reports back to the app within a second or two.

Mounting

The box also includes two mounting options and arrives with screws etc for a permanent fix or sticky pads for temporary fixtures or for those of us who DIY generally ends in disaster.

Another nice touch is that when you install the SmartThings app on a device it enables the device to act as a presence sensor as well.

Automation is well catered for allowing you to perform actions on any device at certain times of the day or when triggers occur, for example I’ve got an automation to switch on some fairy lights at sunset and then off again at midnight.

Alexa integration
Alexa integration is an interesting one and if you’ve read this far I’m sure you seen the videos where people perform automation tasks using voice activation. What you dont see is that add a new smart device and integrating it with alexa is a two stage process. Firstly you have to run the “Add a thing” wizard within the SmartThings app and then you also have to run a “Discover new devices” wizard within the Alexa app or by saying “Alexa Discover Devices”. Alexa also classes the automation tasks as a device.
Activating devices and automations using alexa is normally trouble free but I have had instances where its been unable to communicate with the hub on the first attempt but its normally ok on the second attempt, which is likely because my house is pretty old and has thick walls so I’ll let it off on those odd occasions.

Support
I have had cause to contact the SmartThings support teams over a couple of things and this is at the moment where things fall apart a bit. Originally when I first got the starter kit I was unable to complete the installation wizard on my phone, the process would hang and the hub would display a solid blue light indicating that it is unable to connect to the SmartThings cloud. Over the course of both email and twitter conversations with their support teams it became obvious that they have not invested much in a support structure for this product and available documentation on the product when encountering issues is lacking. The furthest I got with the support teams was their suggestions that the below outgoing ports were open. Now as this is a consumer based product the outgoing port comment is questionable to start as these unless specifically blocked would not normally be a problem but incoming is worth checking just to make sure its not an ISP thing or something.

Ports: 11111, 9443, 39500, 443,37, 123
Now obviously some of those ports are well known but when I questioned the support team on what ports 39500 and 9443’s (9443 obviously you can have a reasonable stab at guessing) purpose was as well as a procedure on what the hubs expected behaviour should be with these ports, no answer provided was suitable. It appears from talking to support that have about 2 sentences written down for “SmartThings” hub troubleshooting anything more than that are you are out of luck.
At one point I even port mirrored and captured traffic from and to the hub with wireshark and asked if someone could have a quick look and see where it might be going wrong but that was quickly batted away by their support team.

In actual fact I troubleshooted it myself and found that the SmartThings hub requires Netbios on the local network to be enabled which is disabled by default on my router due to its security concerns. As soon as I reenabled that on my router the hub sprang into life and gave me a solid green light.

You can also log in via a web gui to your SmartThings which will allow you to view and manage your devices should you not have a mobile device to hand. It also includes an enticing events dialog for each device and hub you own but its very basic and will not assist troubleshooting in anyway unfortunately.

https://graph-eu01-euwest1.api.smartthings.com interestingly this url maps back to amazon AWS)

So unfortunately on the support side SmartThings is a fail as their support function probably uses something like the below, which for a cloud technology company has to change.

My SmartHub also receives regular firmware updates which are pushed automatically and remotely from the cloud. So far I’ve been notified by email anything up to a week in advance that the updates are happening with a rough time estimate of when it will be occurring as well so you know not to worry if the smarthub goes into a disconnected state for a short time while its rebooting.

Thoughts
Despite the few niggles around support etc and the relatively high cost to get a useful amount of automation out it (which will be true for any brand of smart home stuff) I’m very pleased with the performance etc so far, and can see my use of the technology spiralling upwards. At the moment my use of it extends not much further than lighting control, temperature analysis and pretending my house is some kind of relation to KITT. Samsung SmartThings appears to have a wide variety of vendor support for other products so I’ve currently got a small number of Philips Hue light bulbs etc being controlled directly by the hub and they keep adding support for other devices. Incidentally it can be a little troublesome finding smart lights with a bayonet fitting and philips were I think the only supported light with this type of fitting as they seem to favour the screw type fittings for some reason which as far as I know is not that common for mains lights in the UK.

Also you can integrate sites such as IFTTT.com to add extra intelligence and capabilities to your smart home, and you can even create your own device handlers for you coders out there to customise the smart devices functionality further.

I’m constantly finding new things I can do with the technology to and in fact with a recent update my Sonos PLAY’s are also now integrated with the SmartThings hub which can provide hours of fun queuing up the imperial march to play at full whack when Mrs vhorizon walks in the front door, have a look at the quick and dirty video below for the automation setup and integration between a couple of devices.

I’ll be interested to see how my implementation and usage grows over the next couple of years and in fact how this kind of IoT technology is possibly adopted and utilised within businesses.

Author:Dale Scriven

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