Samsung SmartThings first impressions and initial setup

Samsung SmartThings is Samsung’s consumer home automation/Internet of Things (IoT) product range. I had a starter kit of this through the post to test. The kit retails at £199, but only seems to be available either direct from Samsung or from Currys. Here’s my initial thoughts.

Kit contents

The starter kit that I have received consists of:

  • SmartThings Hub – as the name suggests, this is the centre of the system. It contains ZigBee and Z-Wave radios which are used to communicate with the various SmartThings sensor and control devices. The Hub connects to your home broadband router via Ethernet cable (included), not WiFi. Presumably cramming a WiFi radio in there too would be just too many antennas in close proximity and risk interference. The hub is slightly smaller than a stack of three CD jewel cases, but in white and with rounded corners. It is powered by an external mains “plugtop”-type Power Supply Unit, which has about 2 metres of cable. The PSU provides 5V at 2A, but does not use a MicroUSB connector, instead opting for a coaxial-style one. The bottom plate of the hub slides off to reveal the backup battery compartment. This takes 4 x AA cells, which are included.
  • Power Outlet – this allow switching of a 13A UK mains socket outlet. It’s fairly compact, not being much larger that the outline of a regular 13A plug, but about 4cm deep. It does not provide dimming functionality, though it does have a power sensor so can tell the number of Watts being drawn by whatever you’ve plugged into it.
  • Motion Sensor – This is a 180 degree PIR motion sensor, but also contains a temperature sensor, so the name seems a strange choice. It comes with a removable wall mount bracket that it can be clipped in and out of, and also has a keyhole mounting on its rear. You even get a drilling template for the mounting bracket, plus screws and wall plugs. This device is smaller than I expected, being about 4x4x2cm.
  • Multi Sensor – the multi-sensor can do several things: it has a separate magnet that can be used to detect doors/windows opening/closing much like regular burglar alarm door sensors; it can detect temperature; it has a vibration sensor to know if something has been picked up or moved, maybe an earthquake – or even the spin cycle starting on your washing machine; finally it can also detect orientation, so something being knocked over – a heater or baby’s cot or valuable item. A wall bracket is included for the main sensor, plus screws, and a sticky foam pad for the magnet.
  • Presence Sensor – this is a fairly chunky keyfob-style sensor that can trigger alerts when it comes into or goes out of range of the Hub. This could be used to alert you when your kids get home from school, or turn on lights & heating when you get home. When in range of the Hub it can be made to beep too, so could be used if you constantly lose your keys, or want some kind of pager.

The box is roughly cube-shaped, and folds out in half, with the Hub and its PSU in one half, and the sensors in the other. You also get a CD-case sized foldout envelope with a “welcome” code printed on it, and containing quick-start guides for the hub and the found sensors. The envelope is also printed with four numbered instructions:

  1. Download the free SmartThings app for Android, iOS or Windows.
  2. Create an account in the app
  3. Follow the on-screen instructions in the app to connect your hub
  4. Enter the welcome code when prompted

SmartThings App

The Android app (v2.0.3 at time of writing) is rated 3.7/5 stars. Reviews range from things like “2.0 is a big improvement – four stars” to “Good app, bad battery use – three stars” and “Crashes or hangs constantly – one star”. My phone is an HTC One M9 with Android 5.1 so we’ll see how it goes. The app needs quite a few permissions, and I’m not sure why some of them are necessary (e.g. Contacts) but current Android versions don’t let me block stuff I’m not happy with so I’ll just have to hope the app behaves. The app is 47MB.

On running the app you’re presented with the SmartThings logo and two buttons: Sign Up or Log In. Signing up requires you to provide your full name, email address and a password. By signing up you are stating that you’ve agreed to the terms of service and the privacy policy (of course I’ve not read either…). Next you get a “hello” screen, and have to pick your region, the only options are “US or Canada”, United Kingdom or Ireland. Then you are asked for the 5-character welcome code, and are told that this can be only used once, but to contact support if it doesn’t work – mine did work.

Now it starts to walk you through the setting up of the Hub and “Things”. It even gives you a video to show you how to plug the network and power cables into the hub… to be honest, if you struggled with that bit this is probably not the product for you! The hub has an indicator light on the front, and this shows red when initially powered on, then goes off for a few seconds, comes back on blue, then changes to green, followed a while later by purple – this whole process took maybe two or three minutes. At this point I touched the “next” button in the app. The app then says “please wait” and gives you a spinning thing, the app screen confirms when your hub is ready. During this time the hub light went blue again, then green, and then I finally got a green blob in the app and was able to continue. This bit took another two or three minutes – just long enough that I thought it was going to timeout and fail! Next the app asks you for a name for your home, which defaults to “Home”, it also asks for a picture – you can choose from various built-in ones like some outdoor fairy lights, tulips, park railings, a field of green crops etc. but cannot pick your own – at this stage I have no idea what this is used for – perhaps some kind of security/authentication? It also wants to know the location of your hub, apparently so that they know when you’re at home (potential security implications here too, both good and bad).

Add the Things

We now move onto the stage where we connect the “things”. This seems to mostly involve pulling the “Remove to pair” plastic tab that three of the four devices have (motion, multi and presence).

  • For the motion sensor, this levers off the front cover and pulling the tab allows the CR2450 3V cell battery to make contact and power the unit up. I had to pull the tab pretty hard to get it to come out. Once powered up, a blue light starts flashing on the sensor, which soon stops.
  • The power outlet has two indicator lights and two buttons on either side of the casing, these lights do the same things as the motion sensor – flash blue for a bit then go off.
  • Pulling the tab on the multi sensor also causes the front cover to come off, and the light does the same thing as the other devices. It is also powered by a CR2450 button cell. The cover only fits on properly one way up.
  • The presence sensor doesn’t seem to have an indicator light, and is powered by a smaller CR2032 button cell.

None of the indicator lights from the battery-powered things are visible once the covers have been replaced, so you’re not going to see lots of little lights flashing all over your house. Once they were all powered up and had stopped flashing (and in the case of the presence sensor, I gave it a few minutes) I tapped “Next” on the app, and was told that it was looking for my new things. The green light on the Hub started flashing, and two of the things were discovered – the Multipurpose sensor and the SmartSense Presence. A few minutes later the motion sensor appeared, I had picked it up and took the cover off at this point so I wonder if that had something to do with it (the light flashed green – maybe to show that it had detected movement, or maybe by coincidence it had just finished registering with the Hub). More than five minutes after this, the power outlet still wasn’t detected, so I pushed one of the buttons on the side – this caused it to turn the outlet on, the light went solid blue and I heard a mechanical relay operate inside. I pushed the other button and it turned the outlet off again, but still didn’t register with the hub. I pulled it out of the mains wall socket, and plugged it back in again and a few seconds later it appeared in the app.

Next we have to configure each thing. This involves giving it a name, and selecting a room. I put the multipurpose sensor and the power outlet into my living room, the motion sensor into the hall, and I created a room called my name for the presence sensor – I plan to keep that with me so it won’t be fixed in a particular room. You can take a photo for each room or add one from the phone’s gallery.

Finally

Finally we get the All Done! screen, and the initial setup is complete, and we’re taken to the Welcome screen. This explains:

  • Dashboard – monitor your smart home for intrusion, leaks and floods, smoke and CO, and more
  • My Home – organise your smart home by creating rooms to control and monitor your devices
  • Routines – Customise different actions to take place throughout the day in your smart home
  • Notifications – See what is happening in your home now and what has happened recently
  • Marketplace – Marketplace is where you can discover new ways to personalise your smart home

Swipe the screen to the left and you move to more information screens, some of which say the same thing as the welcome screen, and other tell you something new/different:

  •  Smart Home Monitor – same as Dashboard
  • Rooms – same as My Home
  • Things – The things category lets you control and monitor all of the connected products in your smart home
  • SmartApps – Once you add SmartApps from the Marketplace, you can manage them from here
  • Family – Family lets you stay connected to those who matter most y seeing when people, pets, and cars have arrived home

The final screen, Family, has a Get Started button at the bottom. Tapping this takes you into the app proper, and to the dashboard.

So that’s it for my first impressions. I’ll write more as I start to configure and use the system over the next few days.

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