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My initial SmartThings setup and impressions


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                I've been looking at home automation systems for a while now and I finally pulled the trigger on SmartThings a couple of weeks ago. I thought I would give a brief (okay, not that brief) summary of how it's gone so far. The reason I started looking at home automation was because my wife wanted to be able to control an outlet and turn it off in case she left something plugged in. I looked at the WeMo system but that was pretty limited and wasn't compatible with Windows Mobile. I had been reading up on SmartThings for a while. I knew they supported Windows Mobile although there were complaints about app stability. I decided to go ahead and grab it when the Home Monitoring kit recently went on sale for $200 (instead of $250).

                The kit includes the new V2 hub, a motion sensor, outlet, and 2 door (or window) sensors. I was eager to get the system up and running. One problem, the Windows Mobile app was terrible. I couldn't get past the initial setup screen without it crashing. I thought this might be a problem so I went with the Android app to continue with the setup. I should just get a cheap Android tablet for this sort of stuff but since I don't have one I used the BlueStacks emulator on Windows. I was able to install the SmartThings app and get things set up just fine. After I created an account and added the hub I added the outlet. It was as simple as plugging it in and selecting "Connect New Device" in the app. The app found the outlet and I was able to name it and say where it was located. I tested it through the app and it seemed to turn on and off as expected. One thing I really like about the outlet is that it has a button on it to override the app when needed.

                The next thing I installed was one of the door sensors. It was very simple. There are two pieces, the larger one attached to the door frame and the smaller piece to the door. I attached them with the included double sided tape but you could also screw them in. I installed the second door sensor to my actual garage door. Again, the sensor was found by the app and added to the system. In the app there is an option to use the sensor in "Garage Door" mode. In "Garage Door" mode it uses the accelerometer (I think) instead of the magnet to trigger the sensor. That way you can just apply the large part of the sensor to the garage door and it can tell if it's vertical (closed) or horizontal (open). I added the sensor in the app and tested it by just laying it flat or standing it up on a table to make sure it was working before applying it to the door. After I installed it I tried testing it again but the sensor wasn't tripping. Even when the door was open it said it was closed. Here's something that might save you some time. After a bunch of troubleshooting (at first I thought it was a range issue) I discovered that the sensor simply wasn't getting tilted flat enough when the door was open. I moved the sensor to an angled part of the door on one of the decorative panels so that when the door is open the sensor is totally flat but when it's closed it's at a slight angle off of vertical. Now it works perfectly fine. It seems to be more sensitive about lying perfectly flat than standing perfectly straight up. So that's it for what was included in the kit. I don't know what I'm going to do with the motion sensor yet. I'm sure it will have more options in terms of how it's triggered and what it sets off.

                I wanted to try adding a light to the system so I got a Cree LED lightbulb. Unlike the other sensors this was a total pain to get connected to the system. I went through the same procedure of telling the app to look for a new thing and then turned on the light bulb. It would just never find the bulb. I read that there is a way to reset the light by turning it on/off at 2 second intervals. When a reset is triggered the bulb will flash on its own. I probably had to reset the bulb 5 times before it was finally recognized by the app. Once it was found though the rest of the set up was easy. The bulb can be triggered to turn on or off and has a dimmer. Within the app I've set up a smart lighting procedure so that it automatically turns on at sunset and off later at night. It has been working great after the initial problems getting it connected.

                One last thing I want to talk about is the SmartTiles app (www.smarttiles.click). THIS APP IS AWESOME! It was written by a third party developer and installs on the SmartThings hub to provide a web interface for the system. It works great on my Lumia 950 and I can pin the page right to the home screen. I can control the light and outlet, monitor the sensors, and arm/disarm the system all from within the tile interface. The long term plan is to try using my Surface RT as an interface for the SmartThings system via this app. We'll see how it goes.

                Ideally I would eventually like the system to know when I get home and leave so it can automatically arm and disarm the sensors. It seems like the presence sensing ability of the app isn't great right now. There are times when I'm home and it says I'm not. I think presence sensing will probably be better with a dedicated key chain sensor (which they have) or with a revision of the app. The Windows Mobile app quality has actually improved since my initial use. I think there was a behind the scenes update because I don't remember seeing an app update. I am able to add new things and it seems more stable now (although it still crashes too much). So far I'm really happy with the SmartThings V2 hub and system. I only have a few things integrated right now but I'm excited about the potential of the system. More importantly, it has been really reliable and stable and has passed the wife approval test. Hopefully all of that continues. Please let me know if you have any questions or comments. Thanks.

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