Since bursting into life as the result of a 2012 crowdfunding campaign, SmartThings is a classic Kickstarter success story. Much like Google purchased Nest and Amazon acquired Ring, the Korean tech giant Samsung bought SmartThings in 2014 for a cool $200 million. SmartThings moved from its Washington, DC base to Samsung’s Open Innovation Center in Palo Alto and the past half-decade has seen the ecosystem evolve to the robust platform it is today. The original company goal, according to founder Alex Hawkinson was to create an open smart home platform so third-party developers and device makers could come together. This is a winner for you, the consumer, and a sea change from proprietary ecosystems that lock you in and make things awkward if you want to deviate. So, as one of the first smart home platforms to enjoy truly mass adoption, what caused SmartThings to become such a roaring success?
Samsung SmartThings: The Basics
The key to a successful automated home, beneath all the tech, is having a bunch of disparate connected devices that work together seamlessly. While that’s a pretty universal desire for anyone starting out down the smart home route, it’s sadly not always delivered. Many manufacturers force you into purchasing more and more of their devices with compatibility often sorely lacking across brands. SmartThings is a supple platform that allows you to use an impressive cross-section of devices and all you need to get going is your home WiFi connection and a hub…
Get Started With The SmartThings Hub
Now into its third generation, the dramatically improved SmartThings Hub
acts as the brains and beating heart of the platform. Think of this hub as the foundation of your smart home and in its fresher, smaller form, you’ll no longer need to connect the hub to your router. With this new iteration, you’ll enjoy both a more compact footprint and wireless connectivity. All you need to do is connect the hub to your home WiFi and this will create a network for all your devices to communicate with each other. This is not
the same as your home WiFi network that you use for the Internet. In terms of device compatibility with the hub, you’re spoiled for choice thanks to the broad spread of communication protocols supported…
SmartThings and Communication Protocols: WiFi, Z-Wave, and Zigbee
SmartThings works seamlessly with WiFi, Zigbee, and Z-Wave.
WiFi: Although SmartThings does not come with a WiFi radio, since it’s a networked device on your home WiFi, there’s a strong chance any WiFi smart devices you already have in place will work
Zigbee: Running on the same 2.4GHz network as WiFi, SmartThings runs on the Zigbee protocol but this does not mean every Zigbee device will work. You should always check closely for compatibility before committing to purchase. With Philips Hue bulbs, for example, you’ll only be able to hook into the SmartThings platform using the Hue Bridge since it operates on a tweaked version of Zigbee
Z-Wave: Ordinarily, you wouldn’t be able to use a Z-Wave sensor on a regular Zigbee network. SmartThings overcomes this by baking in a Zigbee radio
If you’re confused about the differences between Zigbee and Z-Wave, check out our recent article on how these protocols work in your smart home
. Alongside these, Bluetooth 4.1 has been added to give you maximum interoperability so you can create the smart home of your dreams without too many restrictions.
A Mesh System In Your Smart Home
While the hub is a great brain for your connected home, SmartThings allows you to take things a step further and create a mesh WiFi system. By adding a series of nodes – small modules much like mini routers – you can get blanket WiFi coverage even in larger homes up to 4500 square feet in area. The SmartThings Mesh System
comes with a hub included so if uprated WiFi is something that might interest you, it’s well worth considering this rather than just buying the standalone hub. As well as being able to build your system out using any number of these nodes, you can also benefit from the AI-driven bandwidth allocation optimizing connectivity across multiple devices. Check out our look at why mesh WiFi system are so effective
if you want to dig a little deeper.
App: SmartThings or SmartThings Classic?
Once you’ve powered up your hub, it’s time to think about the SmartThings app and here we need to clear up a little confusion… Before we clarify the difference between these apps, we’ll state front and center that the user experience is underwhelming whichever you choose. This is a disappointment and something we can’t gloss over. Indeed, we’d take this one step further and suggest that SmartThings is really not the best platform for anyone not remotely interested in tech or for smart home beginners. Things are improving but a certain level of tech smarts is assumed. The original app is still operational and this has now been renamed to SmartThings Classic
. Samsung has taken their proprietary Connect app and rebranded this to SmartThings
New app: SmartThings
Old app: SmartThings Classic
Setting aside the confusion over the name which should now be clear, that old bloated app clusters together no less than 40 smart home apps from Samsung under one umbrella. Obviously, this doesn’t lend to the most streamlined user experience. So it’s all good with the new app, then? No, not really! While routines and automations – more on those in due course – have both been undeniably improved, the major bugbear is using the app on anything other than Samsung phones. If you have one of these, you’re in luck. If you’re an iPhone owner, on the other hand, you’re likely to find a number of glitches and sluggish performance that will likely have you scurrying for the security blanket of SmartThings Classic. While we’re sure this is being worked on, for now you might find the newer SmartThings app on Apple Devices problematic. On the plus side, once you are up and running, the new app is generally intuitive although it differs enough from SmartThings Classic that you’ll want to spend a little time familiarizing yourself with the settings, actions and conditions. Setting things up in-app is a breeze so full marks to Samsung there. After checking to make sure your hub is completely updated, it will scan to find compatible devices. Once linked, you just head to the main dashboard for control. Things don’t get much easier. What devices make sense to add to your SmartThings ecosystem, then?
Best SmartThings Devices
If you want to stick with Samsung, it’s simple to get started with some of their branded kit. We’ll glance at 5 great ways to kick off with SmartThings:
- SmartThings Motion Sensor
- SmartThings Multi-Purpose Sensor
- SmartThings Presence
- SmartThings Outlet
- Starter Kit
SmartThings Motion Sensor
The straight-up motion and temperature sensor
gives you alerts on your smart phone in the event of any potential security breach through movement. If it picks up on a change in temperature outside certain parameters, it can automatically trigger your smart thermostat, AC unit or heater to react accordingly and bring things back in line. Placement depends on what you want triggered. Generally, though, placing this sensor in a hallway is a solid option. You’ll get a degree of flexibility with the angle thanks to the redesigned mount on this new, improved iteration.
SmartThings Multi-Purpose Sensor
Very slightly pricier but still not expensive, the multi-purpose sensor
gives you added smarts allowing to keep abreast of doors left ajar and children accessing forbidden drawers or closets along with the usual motion and temperature sensors. Whether you want to use this a simple trigger to play music or turn the lights on as you enter a room, or you prefer to harness the monitoring strand, you can make sure the occupants of your smart home stay safe while also amping up security when you’re away since you’ll receive alerts if any doors are windows are compromised.
SmartThings Water Leak Sensor
We looked recently at how invaluable a water leak detector
can be within your smart home and SmartThings enable you to monitor for leaks in-app and remotely. Another pocket-friendly SmartThings device, the updated version of this water leak sensor is now even more intelligent at picking up on abnormal levels of moisture allowing you to take pre-emptive action rather than cleaning up and dealing with an expensive insurance claim.
Smart plugs are a common entry-point for home automation since any device you plug in will then become controllable remotely using the app, or by voice control if you prefer. Bear in mind, if you opt for this Smart Outlet
, you’ll only exercise control over devices like lamps, heaters or fans that simply need triggering to come on or off. And as far as we’re concerned, it’s the ability to turn things off remotely that’s the major selling point with this smart plug. If you’ve ever got to work and realized you left the coffee machine on or you decided to go out for dinner and want to switch off the crockpot, you can do so from a distance using your smartphone.
If you want to buy several of these sensors and the hub in one affordable bundle, the SmartThings Starter Kit
is tailor-made. You’ll get the following SmartThings components included along with the power supply and batteries required:
- Smart Outlet
- Motion Sensor
- 2 x Multipurpose Sensors
Well, with the basics in place from Samsung, more good news… You can look out for any devices that proclaim they Work with SmartThings
and, even if they don’t boast this label, they still might integrate anyway.
Third-Party Devices: Works with SmartThings
One of the major attractions of the SmartThings platform is that over 100 devices are compatible giving you, the consumer, maximum freedom to select the smart home kit that works best for you. From smart locks to garage door openers, thermostats to smoke detectors, and security cameras to smart speakers, if it slots into your connected home, chances are it will work with SmartThings. We won’t list out a full list of brands here but Yale, Wemo, Honeywell and Philips are all well represented. To check for compatibility, check out the Marketplace section of the SmartThings app and you’ll see viable devices clustered by category under the Things tab. With your hub up and running, and your choice of SmartThings and third-party devices in place, it’s time to automate your home and get things singing together in harmony.
Automating Your Home with SmartThings
Underpinning any successful connected home is automation. While it’s perfectly OK to get started with a simple smart plug, and not everyone wants a complete voice-controlled home with 100 gadgets, getting things working conveniently together with as little user input as possible is equally as important as the security element of smart home tech. If you’re stuck for ideas on automation, Samsung provides some helpful personalized use cases
to get your creative juices flowing. To give you an overview, though, we’ll glance at 4 ways you can automate your SmartThings kit without needing to rely on remote control:
- Rooms and Locations
Whether you’re using the SmartThings or SmartThings Classic app, just flash up the Automations segment and you’ll be confronted with 4 pre-set Routines:
- Good Morning
- Good Night
- I’m Back
You can easily rename these but there’s relatively little point since these names are descriptive. Useful adjustments beyond renaming include educating your SmartThings platform about what time you consider to be morning. After all, maybe you work nights and your day is turned upside down, or perhaps you work from home and get up later than the average office worker. As with all elements of a successful smart home, personalization is vital and SmartThings makes this an absolute cinch. You’ll be able to add in factors like location and sunrise, but we’d advise you keep it simple for best results. With Routines, you can either manually activate them in-app, or have them triggered by sensors to kick in when a certain action takes place whether that’s your smartphone getting back to home base or someone coming down the stairs. You can easily add in more Routines which was not the case in the earliest iterations of the app.
There’s some confusion between Routines and Scenes so here’s how they differ… With a Routine, actions are performed once given conditions are met. As in the previous example, when someone comes downstairs, the lights come on and music starts playing. Scenes, by contrast, allow you to set up a series of device behaviors to happen simultaneously. Imagine you want the lights on but not all at the same level of brightness or the same color. Use Scenes to make that happen without lifting a finger.
Rooms and Locations
In SmartThings Classic, Rooms has a dedicated area in-app while the newer version of the app displays this information on the Dashboard. As you’d expect, you simply group your devices according to room then name the room to make automation even less hassle than ever. If you want to get adventurous and control Things across multiple locations, the geolocation feature makes this possible, too. This can come in handy if you have a home office in the yard or a large workshop outside with some connected devices so it’s not just a gimmick.
The final method of automation involves free SmartApps you can download from Marketplace. These take the form of pre-formulated automation recipes that initially seem confusing due to the number of variables but become much clearer once you put them into practice. Think of SmartApps as third-party logic that will seamlessly integrate with SmartThings. For example, you might want a smart power outlet to come on when a door sensor is triggered. You can make that happen with SmartApps. The serious drawback comes with searching. You need to scroll manually through a list and there’s not even any indicator of which SmartApps are now so the process is tedious to say the very least. Aside from this laborious method of set-up, the underlying principle and also execution both deliver fully.
Using IFTTT with SmartThings
Another web-based service allowing you to create recipes, If This, Then That (IFTT) interweaves brilliantly with SmartThings. You’ll enjoy much more scope with Routines than you’ll find with SmartApps and these recipes are all outlined on the SmartThings IFTTT channel of the website. You’ll also be able to bring Nest devices into the fold although you’ll still be unable to integrate Google devices until some sort of deal is brokered. And that’s by no means a guarantee beyond the inclusion of Google Assistant for voice control purposes.
Building Out Your Smart Home Further with SmartThings
If you’re a fan of our home automation blog, chances are you also use voice assistants in your home. SmartThings is designed to work with both Alexa and Google Assistant
- SmartThings with Alexa
- SmartThings with Google Assistant
- SmartThings with Smart Watches
SmartThings with Alexa
All you need to do to add Alexa is grab and enable the SmartThings skill. Open up the Alexa app and click Discover. Your devices will automatically be exported for use with Alexa. Make any adjustments to devices from the Automation area of your SmartThings app.
SmartThings with Google Assistant
If you’ve got Google Home or a mobile device with Google Assistant enabled, just flash up the Google Home app and hit Home Control
. Click the +
icon then SmartThings/Samsung Connect
. All that remains is to log in to your SmartThings account and Authorize
. While functionality is pretty decent, Google Home Control fails to pick up on some automation. You can get around this by setting up Rooms in the Google Home app. SmartThings has a comprehensive article
for Google Assistant support.
SmartThings with Smart Watches
If you want to assume SmartThings control from your wrist, you can get the app on both Samsung smartwatches like Galaxy Watch or Gear S3 and also on Apple Watch. You’ll be able to activate some more simple Routines and you’ll also receive remote alerts.
As you can see, Samsung SmartThings is a far cry from the hopeful Kickstarter campaign it originated from just 7 years back. Sure, the app still leaves plenty to be desired and you’ll need a certain level of technical proficiency to get the most from this platform. Even considering this, SmartThings is a superb and very agile approach to home automation which keeps on improving so why not invest in a hub and give it a shot? Come back soon as we update our home automation blog
with daily news Monday through Friday along with a handy round-up on Saturday in case you missed anything. Just like Chick-fil-A, we take Sundays off to recharge for the week ahead!