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Nexia Bridge review: Monthly fees make the Nexia Bridge a tough sell

The Nexia Bridge home automation hub impressed us, but the monthly fees depressed us.

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Ry Crist
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Ry Crist

Senior Editor / Reviews - Appliances

Originally hailing from Troy, Ohio, Ry Crist is a text-based adventure connoisseur, a lover of terrible movies and an enthusiastic yet mediocre cook. A CNET editor since 2013, Ry's beats include smart home tech, lighting, appliances, and home networking.

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7 min read

If you're just getting started with home automation, chances are that you might feel a little overwhelmed. Whether you want to automate your lights, your appliances, your thermostat, or even an elaborate homemade security system, your options are immense. It's easy not to feel confident that the system you're building will work well together, piece for piece.

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7.5

Nexia Bridge

The Good

The Nexia Bridge offers easy setup and a low maintenance entry point to offer comprehensive home automation controls.

The Bad

Nexia charges $9.99 a month to use its automation services, which is a little tricky to justify given the subscription-free alternatives available.

The Bottom Line

As home automation systems go, the Nexia Bridge offers a great mix of simplicity and functionality, but the monthly fee is a tough sell, especially for casual users.

That's where Nexia Home Intelligence and its centerpiece, the Bridge, come into play. At a price of $59, the Nexia Bridge will serve as your home automation mothership. It looks like a router and works like one, too. Just plug it into your network, tell it which devices you want it to communicate with over the wireless Z-Wave network, then use Nexia's Web site and smartphone app to control them however you see fit. With over 200 Nexia-compatible devices currently available for purchase, that's a lot of functionality to play with.

Check out the Nexia Bridge (pictures)

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Here's the rub -- Nexia charges $9.99 a month to use its automation services. That might not sound like a bad deal at first, but given the abundance of subscription-free home automation options from other manufacturers, it's definitely a reason to think twice before buying. Still, it isn't a disqualifier, either, especially since there are no contracts and you can terminate service at any time, penalty-free.

For homeowners prepared to dive deeply into the world automation, I say the simplicity of the Nexia Bridge and the functionality of its Web site are worth nine bucks a month, especially if you've got lots of automatable gadgets ready to go, and until something better comes along without a fee (SmartThings, I'm looking at you). As for folks who just want to automate a porch light, the subscription fee isn't worth it, making a simple product like Belkin's WeMo Switch a better, more affordable fit.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

Design and features
The Nexia Bridge is a simple enough device, with just two buttons, one to enroll devices into your home automation system, and one to unenroll them. Outside of those two functions, the only other time you'll actually interact with the thing is when you first plug it in and tuck it away on a shelf.

If you want to find the true functionality of the Nexia Bridge, you're going to need to log on to Nexia's Web site, where you'll uncover plenty of additional features. The site showcases a great interface and gives you complete control over all of the automation options you could ever want. Not only can you control each device hooked up to your network, but you can fiddle with their specific usage settings, too. If you have a punch-code lock on your front door, you can use the Nexia Web site to update the code, or to turn off the beeps whenever you press a button.

Best of all, the Nexia Web site gives you the power to create automated relationships between your devices. For instance, you can set the lights to come on whenever you unlock the front door - perfect for coming home from work. I was initially disappointed that the Nexia Bridge wasn't compatible with IFTTT, the way the WeMo is, but Nexia's Web site turned out to be a fairly worthy consolation. It gives you a great deal of customizable controls for each relationship that you set up, and it makes the whole process fast and intuitive.

The app, however, was a little less impressive. Yes, it's easy to use, and yes, you can turn your gizmos on and off without any trouble. You cannot, however, create new automated relationships, nor can you tweak existing ones. Both of these functions can only be done through the Web site. It's a significant limitation, and an odd oversight for an otherwise flawlessly designed piece of software.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

Usability
Nexia makes home automation simple, and accessible even to less tech-minded consumers. Setting your account up is fast and painless, and once you do, you'll just need to plug the Bridge into your router and start enrolling your devices. As soon as you've built your system and populated your corner of the Z-Wave network, you'll be ready to begin automating.

All of the devices that I enrolled with the Nexia Bridge showed up on the first try, and without any confusion. You simply hit the add button on the Bridge, then follow your device's instructions for joining networks. For some Nexia accessories, like the light dimmer I tested, enrollment is as easy as pressing a button. For others, like the Schlage Touchscreen Deadbolt, you'll have to enter a code.

The Nexia Bridge's range can extend as far as 100 feet in every direction, meaning that the total area it can cover is almost 8,000 square feet. I found that I got consistent, reliable results at up to 95 feet away, although this was in an open-floor testing space with very few walls in between the bridge and the device, so don't be surprised if your results aren't quite the same. Still, you can expect to have a great deal of flexibility with device placement, which is especially nice considering that the Nexia Bridge can accommodate as many devices as you can squeeze within its coverage radius. Additionally, Nexia's identical-looking light-dimming modules and appliance-control modules (both sold separately), claim to double as range boosters if placed in between the bridge and another device outside of the normal radius.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

Performance
The Nexia Bridge did a great job on my tests, easily living up to its claims of being able to smarten up the home. Starting with just a few Z-Wave-ready, Nexia-compatible appliances, you'll find a wealth of automation possibilities, and with everything from Schlage locks and cameras to Trane thermostats to light dimmers and motion detectors available, the potential to develop a pretty incredible system is obvious. And, if the thought of connecting your appliances to a wireless network makes you uneasy, you can rest assured that the Bridge uses SSL (Secure Socket Layer) encryption to protect your home, the same encryption used by the banking industry to protect financial transactions.

In my tests, the Bridge never failed to execute an automation as planned. If I wanted the doors to lock, they locked. If I wanted the lights to come on, they came on. If I wanted to receive a text notification, I received one. Everything ran like clockwork, with no hiccups, except for when I tried pushing the boundaries of the Nexia Bridge's considerable range. Even then, the thing did surprisingly well.

Most impressive was the Nexia Web site, which functions as a true home automation power station without feeling overwhelming or difficult to use. More than anything else, the sophistication of the Web site is what makes me feel comfortable saying that $9.99 a month will be worth it for some users, even given that I also liked subscription-free home automation products like the Belkin WeMo system. Nexia had better hope, however, that its subscription-free competitors like Belkin, iSmartAlarm, and others don't start releasing equally impressive sites of their own.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

Maintenance
Maintenance is essentially a nonfactor with the Nexia Bridge. It is, after all, a home automation product, so by definition, you'd expect it to be low-maintenance. Much like your home's router, once you've set it up, you can pretty much ignore it. There may be an occasional firmware update to install, but the Nexia Web site and app will help you take care of these in a matter of minutes, notifying you of the need to update, then letting you do so with just the tap of a button.

As far as the app and Web site go, they're as hands-on as you want them to be. If you constantly want to experiment with your setup, they'll be happy to enable your fiddling. Or, if you have specific functions in mind, and don't ever want to have to think about them again after you've got them going, the app and Web site will be happy to enable you in that direction as well. The app is available as a free download for both iOS and Android users, as well as those using BlackBerry devices. iPad lovers will also be happy to hear that there's a dedicated iPad version of the app, and not just an upscaled iPhone app. Though free to download, the app will only work for paying subscribers. Those curious to see what the Nexia Bridge can do, however, can use the app to test the product's capabilities before buying or subscribing.

Service and support
Nexia offers a two-year limited warranty on the Nexia Bridge, which we find both reassuring and indicative of the confidence Nexia Home Intelligence has in the quality of its product.

In addition to free customer service via e-mail or the phone, Nexia's Web site also offers a complete list of home automation brands and products that are compatible with the Nexia Bridge. This list should give you at least some confidence that your newest upgrade will play well with your system.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

Conclusion
You've got plenty of options for how to automate your home, and for its impressive performance and comprehensive web tools, the Nexia Bridge deserves your consideration as the keystone of your system. Still, paying a monthly fee of $9.99 isn't ideal, not to mention the $59.99 you'll pay for the Bridge and the cost of whatever devices you want to add to the network. For many consumers, this will be a deal breaker, especially if they aren't totally sold on home automation to begin with. If this sounds like you, and you'd be more interested in a simpler, less costly entry point to home automation, then take a look at the Belkin WeMo Switch. You can also keep an eye out for the forthcoming Revolv Smart Home hub, which aims to link home automation products using a number of different communication standards. That product launches later this year.

Consumers willing to stomach a monthly fee for comprehensive smart home management should move the Nexia Bridge to the top of their list. Security-minded consumers in particular will enjoy that they can customize their own homemade, Nexia-powered security system for considerably less than they'd spend in the long run using an established home security brand. They may also want to check out the iSmartAlarm, though, as its price, performance, and lack of subscription fees made it one of our top-scoring setups.

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7.5

Nexia Bridge

Score Breakdown

Features 8Usability 8Design 6Performance 8
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