Iris Home Management System review: Fees foil this system's potential

The Good The Iris Home Management System is compatible with a larger variety of sensors than most of the competition, making it an intriguing option for smart home multitaskers.

The Bad For certain uses, like home security, Iris lags behind its competitors. Also, the website you'll use to control your system isn't as well-designed or easy to use as it should be. The smartphone app isn't much better.

The Bottom Line Iris charges $10 per month for full system functionality, making it difficult to recommend over fee-free competitors like SmartThings, iSmartAlarm, or Insteon.

6.8 Overall
  • Features 8
  • Usability 5
  • Design 6
  • Performance 8

Most of today's home automation options come in the form of old-guard systems like Insteon or crowdfunded Internet startups like SmartThings . The Iris Home Management System, a descendant of the UK-based AlertMe, is a little bit different, as it has the full backing of US retail giant Lowe's. You can order Iris online, or pick it up from one of the hundreds of Lowe's across the country that showcase the system, along with the multitude of compatible Z-Wave switches and sensors you can add to it.

As a system capable of working with such a wide range of devices, and with multiple kits available starting at just $179, Iris shows a lot of promise. It's a flexible system, too -- use it for home security, use it to track and lower your energy costs, or just use it for simple conveniences like motion activated lighting and smart lock controls. Whatever your automation needs, Iris should be able to get the job done.

However, that multifunctionality doesn't come without a price. In the case of Iris, that price is $9.99 a month, which is what you'll need to pay to unlock the full potential of your setup. You can go fee-free, but you'll be giving up the ability to set rules, schedules, and preset modes for your devices, along with countless other key features that would justify using Iris in the first place.

While not totally unreasonable (Iris starts you out with two months of full service for free), the fees are still a little hard to swallow given that worthy competitors like Insteon and SmartThings don't charge a thing. If you need a system that's capable of meeting several different home automation needs all at once, Iris probably deserves your consideration. For more focused automation needs, you can find a system that fits better into your home -- and into your budget.

Iris Home Management System
Go with the Safe and Secure Kit for $179 if you want a system with security in mind. Colin West McDonald/CNET

With most home automation systems, the variety of starter kits available won't be terribly different from one another -- at least not in terms of functionality. You'll likely get extra sensors with certain options, or maybe the addition of a cool peripheral accessory, like a camera, but the way you'll use your system and the things that you'll use it for will remain largely the same.

This isn't the case with Iris. The $179 Safe and Secure Kit offers a motion detector, entry sensors, and an alarm control keypad, while the equally priced Care and Comfort Kit offers a smart plug module and a connected thermostat. As the names suggest, the former is intended for security-minded consumers, while the latter is intended more for budding hobbyists and for those looking for a higher level of convenience at home. The only common denominator between the two is that they both come with the Iris Hub used to control every Iris system. Your third option is to go with the $299 Smart Kit, which combines the other two options and adds in a range extender.

Ryan Crist

No matter which kit you go with, you'll have the option of adding additional sensors and devices to your system on a piece-by-piece basis, most of which are reasonably priced. These device options range from wireless IP cameras to leak detectors, smoke alarms, and everything in between. Your options also include many third-party smart-home products, things like Schlage deadbolts and Honeywell thermostats .

If you want to automate it, chances are good that Iris can handle it, as both its Web site and app are designed to fully accommodate just about every smart-home scenario imaginable. In fact, Iris boasts compatibility with a greater number of sensor categories than any other system we've tested, making it a more expandable option than something like SmartThings or even another fee-based system like Nexia Home Intelligence .

This is one of the system's true selling points, but it gives the Web site and app you'll use to control Iris a cluttered, confusing appearance. In both cases, the home screen has grayed-out sections for each type of device that Iris is capable of handling. Add a device to your system, and you'll activate that section. Unless you go hog wild with your setup, you probably won't be needing a majority of these sections -- and yet they remain locked into the home screens. In the case of the Web site, each one features a hyperlink that takes you to the online Iris Store so you can buy the associated device. That's a nice feature for shopaholics, but for the average user, it's as if Iris plastered cheap, repetitive ads all over your home screen.

Cluttered controls
The Iris Web site and smartphone app are both littered with grayed-out devices you aren't even using. Screenshots by Ry Crist/CNET

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