In my never-ending quest to achieve automation nirvana, and somewhat thanks to WeMo‘s frustrating inability to control devices on separate wi-fi networks, I decided to give SmartThings a try. While there is little doubt that SmartThings is a highly ambitious platform, and the potential is evident, I found the SmartThings experience, at least at this stage, to be frustrating and unsatisfactory. After months of wrestling with the devices and the overly complicated and unintuitive iPhone app, I took the entire system off-line.
To begin with, SmartThings devices are difficult to set up. Techie folks will likely stay the course and eventually get their hub and assorted components up and running. Those who just want the equipment to work out-of-the-box may become frustrated and give up. I considered it, after wrangling with an uncooperative light switch. The process to connect to various devices is not consistent and some devices simply will not connect to the hub that controls the platform. For example, I have a Motion Sensor that simply will not connect to my hub, no matter how many times I try. I had to try 5-6 times to get my recalcitrant light switch to connect (though once I got it connected, it worked fine).
Additionally, the set-up instructions, both written (to the extent there are any) and in the app, are lacking (and the instructions for the light switch are utterly horrible). SmartThings should take a look at the way Dropcam and WeMo handle set up for elegant examples of how easy it should be. The hardware, while sufficient, seems a little inconsistent (I have the sense that SmartThings outsourced the manufacture of the various devices to different companies) and insubstantial. Unlike WeMo devices, for example, which feel substantial in your hand most of the SmartThings devices feel light and fragile. I accidentally broke one of my devices and had to tape it back together. I would also like to see more detailed instructions on installing the Multi Sensor device to various doors. I had to try it a number of ways to get it to operate properly (though, again, once I got it installed, it worked, for a while, sort of).
If you stay the course and manage to get your hub and assorted devices set up, connected and working, the SmartThings platform, which includes basic functionality as well as numerous add-on apps, creates a lot of flexibility. For example, after some trial and error, I created rules and processes to notify me when doors are opened or closed, when motion is detected in certain areas and when certain people leave or arrive home. When it works, it’s beautiful. The kludginess of the set-up experience reminds me a little of wi-fi in its early days. It was frustrating, somewhat unreliable, but the potential was abundantly clear. My expectation is that SmartThings devices will become easier and more reliable over time. That may be cold comfort, however, for early adopters like me who spend several hundred dollars on the current hardware.
The iPhone app is in a two horse race with the Hue app for the title of taking something that should be simple and straight forward, and making it almost incomprehensible and totally frustrating. I love my Hue lights, but they need to trash the app and start over. Seriously.
Maybe Apple Home Kit will wrangle these devices into compatible simplicity. In the meantime, I’d wait for Apple or SmartThings to evolve this platform a bit.