SmartThings review: A smart start in home automation

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7

The Good With easy-to-install sensors, wide product compatibility, and no monthly fees, SmartThings gets home automation right. We love that it's compatible with IFTTT, too.

The Bad The SmartThings Hub is a little bit limited in terms of range. Also, the newly redesigned SmartThings app feels overcrowded with redundant features.

The Bottom Line If you're looking for an easy and (relatively) affordable entry point into home automation, then SmartThings makes a lot of sense.

8.1 Overall
  • Features 9
  • Usability 7
  • Design 8
  • Performance 8

EDITOR'S NOTE: Since publishing this review, SmartThings has added support for third-party products including Belkin WeMo devices, TCP smart LEDs, Philips Hue color-changing bulbs, the Sonos home music system, and the Ecobee thermostat. Read the full story here.

Curious about home automation? If so, you'll want to be sure to consider SmartThings. With a variety of helpful, multifunctional sensors, wide product compatibility, and a slick-looking smartphone app to control it all, last year's Kickstarter-born startup is one of the most appealing smart-home offerings yet. At $99 for a standalone SmartThings Hub and with sensor-rich kits starting at $199, it's a relatively affordable option, too -- especially given the fact that SmartThings doesn't charge its users a monthly fee.

This is a system that takes full advantage of home automation's immense potential. The sensors are designed to be as useful and as usable as possible, and beyond those, you'll have the option to add a great number of different third-party devices to your system, since the hub at the heart of the SmartThings setup uses both Z-Wave and ZigBee. By supporting those two wireless standards, SmartThings is compatible with everything from Schlage deadbolts to Honeywell thermostats. You'll also enjoy full compatibility with IFTTT (If This Then That), meaning you'll be able to use your sensors to trigger other IFTTT-friendly smart devices like the Belkin WeMo Switch or Philips Hue bulbs (not to mention integration with apps like Twitter, Google Drive, and Foursquare).

I was eager to learn whether SmartThings delivers on its promise of making the Internet of Things more accessible, so I installed and tested out one of the kits for myself. Setup was a relative breeze, and for the most part, the sensors I tested worked extremely well, never failing to do whatever I automated them to do. The recently revamped SmartThings app (free on Android and iOS devices, but not available for BlackBerry or Windows Phone users) was a worthy little control center, though at times I found it a bit cluttered and confusing. Overall, I liked what I saw from SmartThings, and would have no hesitations recommending its products to just about anybody with an interest in home automation.

Getting your system started is about as easy as it gets. Screenshots by Ry Crist/CNET

Each SmartThings accessory revolves around the SmartThings Hub. Using Z-Wave or ZigBee, the Hub will communicate with your smartphone over Wi-Fi, then relay your control to each of the sensors and devices in your system. The Hub features a simple design, with no buttons or switches to worry about -- just plug it in, connect it to your router using the included Ethernet cable, then log in to the SmartThings app.

It's a similar experience to installing an Insteon Hub or a Revolv Hub, though it's worth pointing out that the SmartThings Hub costs a little less than the Insteon Hub, and a lot less than the $299 Revolv Hub. It's also worth noting that SmartThings and Revolv do a much better job than Insteon does of guiding you through the setup process with their respective apps (Revolv's app goes even further, offering detailed, automated help for the installation of third-party devices).

The SmartThings app makes it easy to add sensors to your system. Screenshots by Ry Crist/CNET

The SmartThings app features a stylish and appealing new design that will walk you through each step of the setup process with clear instructions, handy illustrations, and even quick video clips that demonstrate exactly what you need to do. I had the Hub up and running within seconds, and from there, installing the additional sensors that came with the kit was just as easy. You'll tell the app which sensor you want to install, then pull a tab to activate that sensor's battery. In moments, the Hub will pair with your sensor, and you'll be able to to start automating with it.

SmartThings recommends keeping within 10 feet of the Hub while installing a sensor, which is a pretty tight radius. After your device is hooked up, you'll have more latitude with placement, but not as much as we've seen from other systems, like Nexia Home Intelligence. In my tests, I saw a slight decrease in reliability whenever I moved a sensor more than 50 feet away from the Hub.

The SmartThings motion detector doubles as a range extender. If you're trying to cover a large area, you'll definitely want at least one. Colin West McDonald/CNET

Fortunately, the SmartThings motion detector that comes included in both kit options doubles as a range extender for the Hub. As soon as I added one to my setup, those performance quirks disappeared. Keep in mind, though, that in order to take full advantage of the range extension, you'll need to place the motion detector roughly in between the Hub and the sensor you're trying to accommodate, which can obviously limit your placement options.

Aside from boosting the Hub's range, the motion detector does a good job of its primary function: detecting motion. In my tests, I was never able to sneak by it without setting it off, and when I programmed it to notify me of changes in motion, or turn on a lamp when I entered the room, it always came through. Over multiple days of testing, I also never saw a single false positive from it, though it did seem a little bit too sensitive at times. When I set it to monitor motion in our conference room, for instance, it would occasionally catch people walking by the door. This would be less of an issue if SmartThings allowed you to customize the sensitivity of the device within the app, but it doesn't. As it stands, you'll probably just need to be prepared to play with the positioning a bit to get it to work exactly as you'd like.

Comparable Smart Home

All smart home

Best Products

All best products