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Oomi Home Starter Kit review: Oomi's do-it-all smart home kit is impressive but expensive

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Editor's Note, 11/1/17, 5:25 PM EST: Oomi has lowered the price of its starter kit in the US from $700 to $500. That's still expensive, but not unreasonably so given Oomi's versatility. We've raised the score from a 7.4 to a 7.7 as a result; the full review, as originally published, follows below.

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7.7

Oomi Home Starter Kit

The Good

Oomi devices pair using NFC, which makes setup about as foolproof as it gets. The system is incredibly versatile, offering automation, security, color-changing light, entertainment controls and more.

The Bad

Oomi is expensive and the system isn't compatible with as many third-party gadgets as Wink or SmartThings. Also, the tablet's universal remote feature lagged badly with each button press.

The Bottom Line

It isn't cheap, but Oomi is a stable, easy-to-use smart home system with a lot to offer.

We've seen no shortage of smart home starter kits over the past few years, and Oomi, an Indiegogo success story and perennial favorite at CES, is one of the more ambitious.

In addition to color-changing smart bulbs and attractive-looking smart plugs, Oomi's starter kit offers a Piper-like camera embedded with sensors and smarts. It's also got a sophisticated rules engine and a dedicated tablet controller that doubles as a universal remote. Along with automating all of it and using Oomi as a DIY security system, you can sync the starter kit with Alexa for voice controls, or put your Nest thermostat, Philips Hue bulbs and Z-Wave devices under Oomi's control. All of Oomi's gadgets have near-field communication (NFC) built in, so you can connect each device just by tapping it with the tablet.

Oomi's slick smart home system is a jack of all trades

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There's a "but" coming, though, and it's a big one. Sure, Oomi is a likable smart home system, but it costs $700. I rarely get to use exclamation points in my reviews, so allow me to seize the opportunity: $700!

Oomi points to the versatility of the system to justify the expense. That's all well and good, but consider this. If you swapped an Amazon Echo Show in for Oomi's touchscreen controller, two color-changing Lifx LEDs for the bulbs, a Nest Cam for the Oomi Cube and a Belkin WeMo Mini in place of Oomi's smart plug, the total cost would be about $560 -- and that's if you bought everything at full price.

"By piecemealing a system together, you don't get the simplicity that Oomi provides," counters Colin Marshall, vice president of Oomi's parent company Fantem. He also points to Oomi-specific features such as its compatibility with Z-Wave devices and the multitude of sensors packed into the Oomi Cube. It's a fair point to an extent, but it doesn't make the price tag any easier to swallow. 

All of that said, I like Oomi, and think it could have been an interesting competitor to names such as SmartThings and Wink a couple of years ago. But today there are simply too many strong alternatives that cost less for most people to justify spending so much.

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Oomi's tablet can pair and control devices, program automation rules and serve as a universal remote for your AV gear.

Chris Monroe/CNET

All about Oomi

Oomi's starter kit ships out in a distinctive black box with gilded, Gucci-esque lettering. The first impression is a far cry from the plasticky white hardware of Wink and SmartThings -- by comparison, Oomi's weighty devices feel refined and maybe even a little bit haughty.

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To add an Oomi device to your setup, just hold the tablet next to it.

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You'll start by plugging in the tablet's fancy, magnetic charging dock and powering it up. From there, it'll walk you through the setup process, which is one of the easiest I've ever experienced from a starter kit of this kind thanks to the NFC radios built into each device. Just tell the tablet you're adding something, then tap it against the gadget you want to add. There's no scanning, no temporary Wi-Fi networks to join and no access codes to enter. Just super simple setup by way of physical proximity. (I should point out that this makes for a system that's less vulnerable to outside hacks.)

Oomi's devices use a wireless language called Z-Wave to communicate with each other. The nice thing about that is that they don't rely on your home's Wi-Fi network for anything other than letting you connect with the system from afar. They'll still be able to talk to each other if your Wi-Fi goes down, and any automations you've programmed should continue to run like normal. Another benefit: You can connect a wide range of third-party Z-Wave devices with Oomi, most of which cost less than adding extra a-la-carte Oomi gear.

With your devices up and running and the tablet calling the shots, you can create an Oomi account and download the Oomi app to your phone to control things from there. One complaint about the app: You can view any automations you've programmed on the tablet (the lights turning on when motion is detected, for instance) and you can turn those automations on and off. But you can't edit those automations and you can't create new ones. You're forced to use the tablet for that.

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About the size of a softball, the camera-equipped Oomi Cube acts as the hub of the system.

Chris Monroe/CNET

At least that automation engine is well designed. In addition to selecting custom triggers and resulting actions for each automated rule, you can also set conditions -- rules that only run during certain times of day, for example. Those conditions give you the flexibility you need to customize those automations as you see fit. It's just a shame you can't do so from your phone.

The centerpiece of the setup isn't the tablet, though -- it's the Oomi Cube camera, which doubles as Oomi's Z-Wave hub. In addition to featuring night vision and letting you check the camera feed on the tablet or on your phone, it's also packed with sensors for things like light, motion and air quality, as well as a siren that'll sound if it spots movement while the system is armed. The camera's image quality wasn't quite as sharp as you'll get with the Nest Cam, however, and I noticed a persistent delay of about five seconds in my feed.

The Cube also uses its infrared light to communicate with audio-visual gear and television sets. That lets you link the physical buttons on the tablet with the physical buttons on, say, your TV remote. From there, the Cube will act as middleman, relaying those button presses on your tablet to the TV, and effectively letting you use it as a universal remote. Programming everything was easy when I connected Oomi with the Roku TV in the CNET Smart Apartment bedroom, but there was a noticeable delay when I tried pressing buttons as I tested it out. Your mileage may vary depending on your AV gear, but for me it's a feature I'd try once and then probably never use again.

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Oomi's starter kit comes with two color-changing smart bulbs.

Chris Monroe/CNET

The bulbs were better performers, reliably turning on and off and changing colors whenever I wanted. I appreciated that you can pick out a custom color pattern for each bulb to cycle through, but I wish that the colors themselves were a bit brighter. Still, they're perfectly decent smart bulbs, and a nice inclusion in the starter kit, since color-changing bulbs are typically smart home extras that you have to splurge on in and of themselves.

As for the plug, it did a fine job of turning a desk fan of mine on and off as needed. With a glowing ring of LEDs and a USB port on the side for charging devices, it's a smart, well-designed device.

Oomi also offers integrations with three notable smart home platforms: Nest, Philips Hue and Amazon's Alexa. The first two let you put third-party thermostats and lightbulbs under Oomi's control. As for Amazon, you can enable the Oomi skill in the Alexa app then ask the virtual voice assistant to run your preset scenes or turn devices on and off. I wasn't able to test it out, though -- the Oomi skill is still in beta, and not officially up and running just yet.

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The verdict

Oomi tries to do an awful lot -- security, automation, entertainment controls, color-changing light -- and some of those efforts are more successful than others. I love the use of NFC for easy pairing, and little details like the smart plug's USB charging port show that Oomi's creators put a lot of thought into their product. Other features, such as the universal remote functionality, feel a bit tacked on.

In the end, I just can't get past the price tag. At $700, Oomi needs to offer more than versatility for versatility's sake. As DIY, do-it-all smart home systems go, it's a very good one, but the asking price is tough to stomach. Unless you're willing to spend extra in order to unify your gadgets and automated rules within one app, I'd recommend shopping around for something less expensive.

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7.7

Oomi Home Starter Kit

Score Breakdown

Features 8Usability 8.5Design 7Performance 7