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Revolv Smart Home Solution review: Red and expensive: Revolv smart home hub

The Revolv Smart Home Solution wants to control for all of your connected devices from a single hub. It might just work, but be ready to pay.

Rich Brown
Rich Brown Former Senior Editorial Director - Home and Wellness
Rich was the editorial lead for CNET's Home and Wellness sections, based in Louisville, Kentucky. Before moving to Louisville in 2013, Rich ran CNET's desktop computer review section for 10 years in New York City. He has worked as a tech journalist since 1994, covering everything from 3D printing to Z-Wave smart locks.
Expertise Smart home, Windows PCs, cooking (sometimes), woodworking tools (getting there...)
7 min read

If you've started building out a smart home, chances are you're already familiar with app and controller hub fatigue. If your smart lock, your connected LED bulbs, and your smart thermostat all come from different manufacturers, that means each has an app of some kind, and they likely don't talk with one another. Revolv Inc.'s Revolv Smart Home Solution wants to help.


Revolv Smart Home Solution

The Good

The <b>Revolv Smart Home Solution</b> gives you a surprisingly easy way to centralize control of your various smart home devices.

The Bad

Too many features are pending for the Revolv given its $299 price tag and looming competition. The red won't please everyone.

The Bottom Line

Enthusiasts will appreciate Revolv's attempt to bring order to the smart home universe, but those still dabbling with one or two connected devices should wait for this market to expand.

The premise of the Revolv is a decent one. One hub with seven different wireless radios, all tied into a single app. Have a Nest Learning Thermostat, a network of Philips Hue bulbs, and a Yale Smart Lock or two? Revolv lets you control them all from one unified interface.

Any unifying hub must work seamlessly with a broad range of connected devices, but corralling multiple wireless standards and device software quirks into a logical interface for thousands of different products isn't easy. To Revolv's credit, it has met the challenge deftly. Of the 10 or so devices I tried, not one of them failed to work as expected.

At $299, the Revolv is no throwaway purchase. The Securifi Almond+, and the Staples Connect Hub both promise similar capability (with integrated WiFi router in the Almond+) for $99. If price is a concern, wait to see how these products and the inevitable flood of competitors turn out. Among a number of criteria these devices will need to satisfy, easy set-up and interoperability will be key. Revolv already has these nailed, and it's thus recommendable to early adopters with multiple smart devices. Every one else should hang on to see how the market develops.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

The Revolv Smart Home Solution won't fit everywhere. It's not that its blank CD spindle-size body is overly large, it's more because of its red base. The smoked-plastic cover helps tone it down some, but the Revolv still looks a bit like a cartoon fire alarm. Even if you don't like its aesthetic, you can applaud the designers for requiring only a single power cable and no hard network connection. Unlike hubs for most standalone smart devices, you don't need to wire it to your existing router or cable modem.

Initial setup is also easy. You plug it in, install the app on your iOS phone (Android version coming in Q1 2014) and follow the in-app setup screens, which mostly involve holding the flash on your iOS device up to the tiny LED on top of the Revolv unit and transmitting your wireless network via Revolv's FlashLink technology. You'll need to be on a 2.4GHz Wi-Fi network, and situate the Revolv within 65 feet of your router, but those are the only stringent installation requirements.

Smart home streamlining with Revolv Smart Home Solution (pictures)

See all photos

Once you're on the network, you can go about adding devices via the app.

At the moment, Revolv supports around 50 different smart devices, and only those that use Wi-Fi, the Insteon network, or Z-Wave. Its FAQ details only 26 products as of this writing, but the company tells us it has added, and continues to add, support for more devices regularly. They say it will expand to 200 devices in Q1 2014 with a coming firmware update that will enable the ZigBee radio. In addition to ZigBee support, the company says it will enable the other radios, including various 915MHz and 400MHz bands, as more devices come to market.

Part of the reason for holding off on supporting those additional standards is competitive -- the company says it doesn't want to play its full compatibility hand right now. Another reason more or less boils down to manpower and timing the launch. Revolv Inc. says it wants to precertify every device before the hub will support it to ensure a painless user experience. As a small firm, it can only ensure the experience for so many devices. Fortunately, it's focused on some of the more popular products for launch.

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.


Revolv Smart Home Solution

Score Breakdown

Features 8Usability 7Design 7Performance 8
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