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HolidayBuyer's Guide

Revolv Smart Home Solution review:

Red and expensive: Revolv smart home hub

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I've already mentioned the Nest thermostat (Nest Protect support pending), Philips' Hue bulbs, and Yale smart locks as options for the Revolv. It will also work with Belkin's WeMo smart power outlets, a variety of GE light dimmers and control kits, as well as thermostats from Trane and Honeywell (not the Honeywell WiFi Smart thermostat, yet). You can use the Revolv to drive a Sonos wireless speaker (the Play:3, Play:5, and PlayBar, specifically). It also controls many, but not all, devices in the Insteon family. Insteon LED light bulbs and a remote control worked as promised, an uncertified moisture detector didn't register.

For the Philips Hue bulbs and the Sonos kits, you will still need to use the separate hub device included for those products. Revolv tells me that it's working on a software update to help free you from that extra hardware. That's great, but along the same lines, it's hard to understand why Revolv didn't also include a WiFi router in the Revolv. The lack of a router, especially given its price, will be a competitive headache for Revolv as products like the Almond+ and others come to market in the next few months.

Rich Brown/CNET

To add a device to the Revolv app, you click on the Hub icon on the main screen, and the scroll down to the "plus" symbol. That brings up the Add Devices page, which gives you three options--an automatic search feature, a screen that prompts you to interact with your device to trigger the reception signal, or a manual, typed search feature. All three functions work as you'd expect, and once you locate or trigger the device you want to add, it pops up on the primary device grid as a favorite.

Overall navigation in the app takes some getting used to. It's not too hard to figure out, but it has some redundancy. Three different screens can show your complete list of devices or your trigger-based preset commands, for example. Each list has a different function, from basic interaction to favorite organizing, but consolidation or clearer labeling would help.

The specific device control screens are easier to understand. You don't actually need to click all the way through to each individual device interface. On the main grid screen that shows your favorites, you can simply double-tap a device icon to turn it on and off. Click through and you get finer controls that vary based on the kind of device. The Nest thermostat app lets you set the temperature and switch from heating to cooling mode. You can change the brightness and the display colors on the Philips Hue bulb page.

The controls work easily enough, but they can also be a little too simplistic. On the Sonos control screen, for example, you can't make playlists, you can only adjust the volume and enter basic track commands. You can't set the Nest thermostat to away mode like you can with its dedicated app. When you design a preset that incorporates multiple Hue bulbs, you can't set them all to a standard 2,700K color temperature, you have to use one of the loud colored lighting tones. Revolv says it intends to deepen the capabilities of its in-app commands, but until that happens, you will still find yourself switching back and forth between the Revolv app and the device-specific software.

Despite those issues, on balance the software works well enough. Your network strength will determine responsiveness, and our office environment saw a few hiccups and delayed responses, but nothing show stopping, and nothing that smelled like buggy code. The interface has a few too many screens, but overall it has a minimal approach that helps make it generally easy to use. The ability to make custom presets also gives you broad programmability, and home automation enthusiasts will appreciate that you can map multiple devices to a single trigger. Triggers include GeoSense-based location activation, a scheduler, motion detector support, and basic manual entry. Advanced users will miss IFTTT support, and the scheduler could have more features (the ability to time "off" as well as "on," with a single preset, for example). Revolv says it may add those things soon, too.

The timer preset configuration screen works, but it could use more depth.
The timer preset could use more depth. Rich Brown/CNET

With all of the software features "coming soon," I wouldn't disagree if you had a sense that Revolv has rushed this product to market to beat its competitors and take advantage of the holiday buying season. Usually "rush to market" translates to sloppy, though, and the Revolv definitely isn't that. The company is up-front about the present capabilities of its hub and its software, and I was genuinely surprised by how everything just worked. Even if I wish it had broader compatibility and more robust features at today's launch, it's still a competently made device with plenty to offer the smart-home enthusiast.

If you're only dabbling in smart home devices -- maybe you have a Nest thermostat and a set of Hue lights -- I wouldn't feel compelled to buy any smart home hub, although one that costs $299 like the Revolv would certainly be a harder sell. On your fourth or fifth device, though, you might reasonably want some way to centralize all of that home intelligence. The Revolv will do that for you, and it will do it well. If you need that today, and you know the Revolv will support all of your various devices, I suspect you'll be happy with it. It might even be fun to watch it add features down the road. Given the number of products coming that claim to do essentially the same things though, you might try to weather app fatigue for a few more months.

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