Knowing what the best home automation system available is after reading through all the previously posted articles may be a little difficult. I will mention what my favorite system is and why, and I’ll also mention a few systems that garner “honorable mention” honors.
What are the Choices?
There is a growing list of companies that are making some of the best home automation products on the market today. Some of these systems are from companies you’ve definitely heard of such as Lowe’s and Schlage. Some of them are from companies you may have never heard of unless you’re a professional low voltage and controls system installer, such as Crestron. There are also a plethora of individual devices and complete systems from many well-known and not-so-well-known, newly formed companies. My favorite just happens to be from one of those smaller and newer companies. This product is called SmartThings.
Why is SmartThings the Best Home Automation Product?
I can answer this question quite simply: It’s open source. The fact that it’s open source means that anyone can develop a product or sensor for it, plus the requisite programming code to make that product or sensor work the way they want it to. Dozens of people already have. Here are a couple examples:
- User wackware created an app he calls “Potty Train the Dog.” This app consists of a moisture sensor and an alarm. When the sensor detects moisture in the area it’s placed in, it signals the system to sound the alarm, making the dog stop peeing.
- User HelixWuff is developing a sensor system for use in hot tubs to constantly check qualities, such as Ph and temperature.
- User bia.migueis built a device and app that tells the user when their houseplants need watering.
All the major players in the home automation market have products that will turn the lights in your house on and off from afar, usually over the Internet. They also have apps and products that will integrate with your home security system and turn it on or off and even unlock the doors to let service people in or let you know when the kids come and go. But they’re all limited to the products that are available from the company whose product you bought. The only limit that I’ve been able to see with SmartThings is the imagination of the user community.
SmartThings is ZigBee and Z-Wave Compatible
ZigBee and Z-Wave are two of the major home automation communication protocols in use today. Most of the products available for home automation are compatible with either or both of these protocols. Any device that is ZigBee or Z-Wave compatible will work with the SmartThings system. Although the SmartThings hub doesn’t directly use Wi-Fi (as we know it for computer networks), there is an extra port on the hub that can connect to a Wi-Fi router, enabling that wireless router to be used to communicate with Wi-Fi enabled devices throughout the house. They even plan to integrate near-field communication (NFC) in the next iteration of the product (Remember the Samsung Galaxy cell phone commercials where people trade data just by touching phones? That’s NFC.)
This means that SmartThings works with any device available on the market except the few that work with systems that use a proprietary communication protocol. This means there are literally hundreds of devices that can be used with a SmartThings system that you can buy separately, when you need it. In other words, you don’t have to buy a device that you’re never going to use if you decide to use the SmartThings home automation product.
Sure, it’s always nice to buy things from a nationally recognized name, such as Lowe’s, Schlage, Crestron, and AT&T. When you buy a product line from a large name company, you can be assured you are getting a trusted level of quality with that product. However, I personally don’t see this as an issue when I compare it to the fact that SmartThings lets me design and create my own sensors and control devices to do things that nobody else has thought of. To me, that sort of system flexibility is more important than a nationally known name behind the product and makes this the best home automation product on the market. As far as I’m concerned, there’s only one problem with SmartThings, and it is, admittedly, a pretty significant one. There’s a waiting list to acquire the basic system. I recommend you get on that list now.
Photo credit: Gramophone Maryland