Samsung has been rolling out the SmartThings platform for years – but not with us. That changes now that Aeotec takes over the sale of the necessary hardware in Europe. This makes it easier to get started with this popular smart home platform. Time to take a closer look at SmartThings and take a look at Aeotec SmartThings hub and devices.
Aeotec as Samsung’s hardware partner
SmartThings from Samsung has never received a full launch with us. That’s also the main reason why this smarthome platform on FWD was never covered extensively, despite 62 million users worldwide and very strong third-party support. Incidentally, SmartThings did receive good support from Samsung in other areas. You could, among other things, purchase a hub from the Korean giant with which you can connect smarthome devices that functioned via Zigbee , Z-Wave , WiFi and Bluetooth could pair. There were of course various devices and sensors from Samsung itself, but the platform also always had ample support for devices and services from third parties. In addition, the SmartThings platform is open to code from tweakers and third parties, which means it offers many integration options.
The ST story largely took place outside Belgium and the Netherlands, but the SmartThings app has also been increasingly discussed with us lately . After all, Samsung has centralized the app control of its AV and home appliances (think of the brand’s soundbars and robot vacuum cleaners, for example) in this app. The fact that the SmartThings platform has seen its usage base increase by 70 percent in the past two years is probably mainly due to this. If you bought a Samsung soundbar, for example, you were asked to install the ST app and create an account. The platform has undoubtedly grown without every new user necessarily wanting to do something with ‘smarthome’.
You may have noticed with the above piece of text that sometimes the past tense is spoken. That’s because Samsung has recently adjusted its plans around SmartThings. A step in that direction is that the Koreans themselves no longer want to release a hub or official accessories or sensors. Instead, a hardware partner, Aeotec, will do that in North America and Europe. That is why in this test we zoom in on the ST hub and a number of ST devices from this German-American company.
If you want to start with SmartThings, then you are now dependent on this Aeotec Smart Home Hub. However, you continue to set up, add devices, create routines and operate devices via the SmartThings app from Samsung. That gives this review in a sense a double topic: Samsung’s SmartThings platform and Aeotec’s new ST products.
A very broad platform
Before zooming in on the Aeotec products, we have to tell a little more about SmartThings itself. After all, the platform is relatively unknown to us. Still, it is quite an important player in the smart home market. That should come as no surprise, because Samsung is simply a superpower in terms of TVs, mobile devices, white goods and household appliances. In addition, the Korean company has also really embraced and used the platform to end the proliferation of Samsung proprietary apps. Where in the past you sometimes encountered multiple Samsung apps for different product types, most new devices are now controlled from SmartThings. Samsung has gone very far in this regard. For example, in the SmartThings app you can see recent Samsung QLED TVs or sound bars pop up, but also devices such as the Family Hub refrigerator or a smart washing machine from the brand. It also recently launched the Galaxy Tag, a smart label that you can hang on your car keys, for example. You can then see the location in the SmartThings app, which is always useful if you often lose things. The same functionality is also ingrained in Samsung’s recent wireless earphones. In SmartThings you can immediately see where they are (although you cannot zoom in further than an address) and possibly make noise.
Samsung is big enough to think: we keep this platform to ourselves. Perhaps because SmartThings is actually an acquired company, they didn’t. Many collaborations have now been entered into, so that you can also easily use other smart home products. Sonos speakers and Hue lamps, for example, appear neatly in the app. Names such as Bose, LIFX, Nanoleaf, Honeywell and Ring are also included in the list, in addition to a number of ‘real’ smart home brands. Think of AduroSmart Eria, Fibaro and Tuya. It should be noted, however, that a name in the official list does not necessarily represent that much. For example, Ring stands among the partners of SmartThings, but in reality the platform only works with five products from the company.
According to Samsung, approximately 5,000 devices are officially supported – and there is also an unofficial route through which even more devices can be linked with SmartThings (see below). A consideration that we have to make: sometimes there are also devices that you can link with SmartThings, but that can only be controlled basically. In tests of Samsung soundbars in the past, for example, it was noticed that you cannot reach all functions (such as switching sound modes) via the app.
In terms of voice control, Samsung always tries to push its own Bixby assistant, but there is also support for Google Assistant. You can use a detour to control smart home devices that do not actually have built-in Google Assistant support.
A SmartThings hub, including the Aeotec Smart Home Hub, also comes with extensive support for smart home protocols. That means you can easily create a smart home with a combination of Zigbee, Z-Wave and WiFi devices. We realized a good example in the dining room and kitchen: above the table hangs a beautiful chandelier with built-in, permanently mounted LED lights. We operate and dim it with a Z-Wave relay that is installed behind one of the two-way switches. Elsewhere in the room we have GU10 spots from Hue. Two completely different protocols, but via SmartThings we can create a lighting group with both. Or define a ‘scene’ (a shortcut to an action) in which the two lighting types are controlled, that is also an option. Do we also want to include an AduroSmart Eria socket for a floor lamp? That is because SmartThings does not look at the protocol used.
And again: through some hacking even more is possible. In the past, we already linked smart sockets / energy meters from Fritz! with SmartThings, even though they work with DECT. That went through a Fritz! Box. There is also IFTT support.
Also something for the tweaker
The SmartThings platform has become increasingly accessible over the years, partly due to the expansion of official support for third-party smart home devices. This means that you can also do and automate a lot as a non-technical user via the SmartThings app. Pairing devices, setting routines, controlling devices directly, it all goes very smoothly.
What makes SmartThings even more interesting for the techie is that under this user-friendly app there is an entire platform that allows much more tweaking. In recent years, this was done via the Groovy API, a relatively easy language that was also embraced by many tweakers to make integrations with smarthome products that were not supported by default. Or to build a new bridge between two products. For example, we could very easily link an Ikea Symfonisk volume knob and Hue via SmartThings, so that the cheap rotary knob could be used as a wireless dimmer. To do that, we had to paste some code, which someone had devised themselves, into a window via an online interface. So not exactly high-level coding; if you follow instructions everyone will succeed. In short, so there is a lot of flexibility in this platform – especially if you are willing to roll up your sleeves yourself. It would take us a bit too far now to go into all the tweaking possibilities of the SmartThings platform, but this aspect is certainly one of the reasons why ST can count on such a following in the US and some European countries. And of course you don’t necessarily need those hacking skills if you get started with officially supported SmartThings products, such as the Aeotec devices we review here. They can be easily installed via the app, as described above. and some European countries can count on that much support. And of course you don’t necessarily need those hacking skills if you get started with officially supported SmartThings products, such as the Aeotec devices we review here. They can be easily installed via the app, as described above. and some European countries can count on that much support. And of course you don’t necessarily need those hacking skills if you get started with officially supported SmartThings products, such as the Aeotec devices we review here. They can be easily installed via the app, as described above.
We already mentioned that there are some changes in the pipeline for SmartThings. As part of a recent initiative by Samsung to transform and partly outsource the SmartThings platform, Groovy would also be replaced by something new. What and how this affects integrations set up by users is not yet known.
Via the SmartThings app
In this review, in addition to the Aeotec Smart Home Hub, we also look at a number of ST devices: a water leak sensor (34.95 euros), a 360° camera (49.95 euros), a smart socket (44.95 euros), a multifunctional sensor (essentially a magnetic open/toe sensor, €34.95) and a motion sensor (€34.95). There is little negative to say about the build quality and finish of these devices.
Aeotec also offers a Button, an adjustable push button that you can operate in three ways (tap, double tap, keep pressing). However, we did not receive the Button, presumably because the deliveries are delayed. The new Aotec devices almost all use Zigbee 3.0, but the company also offers Z-Wave devices. The 360 Cam is a predictable exception and requires a WiFi network.
What you need first is the Hub. Because indeed: SmartThings is a platform that runs partly locally, partly in the cloud. That is immediately one of the relative disadvantages of ST: certain things do not work if the internet connection is lost. Automated routines will run, but notifications or cases relying on cloud integrations will not.
So the first thing to do is set up your hub. You do this via the SmartThings app, which is linked to a Samsung account. If you don’t have it, you’ll have to create it. Coincidentally, we still have a Galaxy S21 review device at home, so we discover that you have an extra two-factor authentication option via a Samsung smartphone. After logging in, we receive a code on our Samsung phone (and not via other smartphones in the house).
We already have a SmartThings hub (a v2) at home, so we feared conflict. But phew: setting up the Aeotec hub went without any problems. First, a connection is made to your smartphone via Bluetooth, after which you can choose to connect the hub to your network via Ethernet cable or via WiFi. We find a hub that you can connect via WiFi a bit more unusual, and possibly not the best option. But in some situations it might be useful. Then it is a matter of downloading a software update and the hub is ready to be connected with smart home devices.
Pairing devices with a code
At SmartThings you will find several options in the menu to connect devices. For example, you can first filter by brand and then by device type, after which you will receive device-specific setting instructions. For example, with a Z-Wave thermostatic radiator valve you may have to press a button combination. Newer smart home devices also make themselves known via Bluetooth LE, which you can track down via the Scan option. However, we linked most of the Aeotec devices we received by scanning a QR code on the device. That went very smoothly. It is a good idea to first create the rooms in the app, then you can immediately assign each device to the correct one. That is also possible afterwards, it is not that much more difficult.
How the setup of a device then proceeds, of course, depends on the product type. With a water sensor you are ready after a few taps, with the 360 Cam you have to do a little more because there are more options. Fortunately, the SmartThings app has been completely revamped in terms of interface a while ago and has become very clear. It’s not really difficult.
Scenes, Mode and Auto Settings
You have several options in terms of automation. You can create a scene, after which a shortcut appears in the app to do different things with one touch. You can also activate these scenes in another way, for example when you come home and your smartphone is detected or at a certain time. Via Automatic Setup you can then set up routines via a simple ‘if’ something happens, ‘then’ it has to happen. It is made very clear in the app, but we sometimes stumble at the options that you have with certain devices. For example, our Danfoss thermostatic valves offer a range of options that do not quite match the real functions. Another example is Sonos: you see the speakers appear in SmartThings and you can control them, but setting an automatic rule where someone presses a doorbell and a speaker in the kitchen plays a sound does not work. You can let them ‘play’, but you can’t specify what is correct (and so they take the last played). It sometimes gives us the idea that the SmartThings platform focuses too much on expansion and cool ideas, but just doesn’t work out the fine details. That being said, we manage to run the Aeotec devices in automatic routines without any problems. For example, we switch on the Hue lights in our workspace when the Aeotec motion sensor detects something, except during daylight hours. You really set such a rule in less than a minute. It is also positive that the SmartThings app clearly presents rules and devices. You keep a good overview
SmartThings also has something like a Stand. This can be ‘home’ or ‘away’ for example, and serves as a sort of overarching mode to activate certain things. For example, when you’re “away,” you can schedule certain lights to give the impression that you’re there after all. We ourselves find the use of the Mode less clear than Scenes or Automatic settings.
The 360° Cam is undoubtedly the most feature-rich device in this test. It is a compact Full HD copy that can cover a particularly large area. As the name implies, it can rotate completely on its axis and thus horizontally frame 360 degrees. However, it does not continue to run. So you can make one full circle. It also captures a lot vertically, but the options are more limited there because of the 96° tilt angle. In terms of installation, you should rather think of indoor use, because this WiFi device is not really waterproof. But it can function down to -20°C, so it might be possible under a shelter. The power supply is via a USB cable and ceiling mounting is also possible.
It has a night mode (which is quite effective), microphone and speaker, and can be activated via sound or movement. These are handy things if you want to use the 360 Cam to protect your home, also because you can use Automatic Settings in the SmartThings app to set other devices (such as turning on lights) when sound/motion is detected.
You can also control the camera yourself in the SmartThings app and save images on your mobile device. That all works pretty well, as long as the WiFi connection is stable and strong. You will also find some useful options in the settings, such as the possibility to film certain areas at specific moments. Strangely enough, you cannot set the camera to do this continuously or every five minutes. The 360 Cam automatically saves ten-second clips and keeps them in the cloud for one day. This formula is free, but there seems to be no option to upgrade to a paying formula. We have asked Aeotec if there will be, but we have not yet received an answer. That would be handy, because when you’re on vacation, one day of storage is not much. You don’t want to check a series of clips every day on the beach, do you?
Aeotec SmartThings Conclusion
One of the reasons we got excited about Aeotec SmartThings is that enormous flexibility and large ecosystem, coupled with a community that has created an immense amount of unofficial integrations. There are some downsides to the platform though. Sometimes you have fewer options with devices than you would expect. So you sometimes unexpectedly bump into a wall, despite many options in other areas. It is also unclear how the unofficial integrations will go. We’ll have to wait and see, but that’s less important for an average user. After all, it may use one of the 5,000 officially supported devices, such as from Hue or Sonos.
The Aeotec devices perfectly fill the gap that arose after the discontinuation of Samsung’s own SmartThings devices. They appear to be of good quality and provide basic building blocks to automate all kinds of things in your home. The 360 Cam – given its price tag of approximately 50 euros – is not bad at all. When it comes to price tags, the Aeotec SmartThings devices are a bit hit and miss. For example, 45 euros for a smart socket is a bit too large, while the Button is reasonably priced at 25 euros. The bundle with hub, camera, motion sensor and door contact for 199 euros is attractively priced.
Pros of Aeotec SmartThings
- Aeotec devices fit seamlessly into the comprehensive SmartThings platform
- Hub supports Zigbee, Z-Wave, Bluetooth
- Large, vibrant community at SmartThings
- Many compatible products
- Strong support from Samsung
Negatives of Aeotec SmartThings
- Sometimes you end up in a geeky online interface
- Integrations sometimes lack options
- Many partners, but some big names are missing