SmartThings vs Home Assistant: What is the Best Smart Home Hub

by | Home assistant, Smart Hubs

It is not fair to compare Home Assistant with SmartThings as those are of different species. Samsung’s SmartThings is the best off the shelf product for a consumer market, while Home Assistant is the best smart home platform open source community can offer. In our review, we tested the experience both provide to the average consumer, unique features, advantages and reported issued.

Overall, we recommend Home Assistant due to the level of sophistication, amount of integrations available and professional systems like functionality it offers. With Home Assistant you can build a very powerful system even with just $250 to spend although investment of time to setup is required. At the same time, if you are new or/and only require basic automations around your house, SmartThings offers an affordable and very functional solution.

SmartThings

Home Assistant

GOOD

  • Simple product and easy to start with
  • Good quality out of box kit
  • Can use four protocols (Zwave, Zigbee, Bluetooth, wifi)
  • Integrated with over 1000 devices
  • Very flexible rules engine
  • Quick development and active community

BAD

  • Only works in the cloud and with internet
  • Recent system outages
  • Rules engine is too simple
  • Steep learning curve to start
  • Need to buy separately (see our $250 kit)
  • Effort required to make it simple for all family use

PRICE

On its own: $79 multipurpose server

Minimal kit: Seven device kit for $250 including two switches, two outlets, one sensor

VERDICT

  • Good as the first try of smart home for the average consumer, with a simple interface and many compatible products
  • Limited functionality does not allow to build and benefit from a truly smart home
  • Powerful system with professional like functionality at a fraction of a cost
  • Investment of time in a more complicated setup pays off by richness of features and granularity of automations

OUR RECOMMENDATION

Fundamentally the choice between Smart Things and Home Assistant is the one between two smart home concepts. SmartThings is solid off the shelf device from a known brand for an average consumer, but a dependency on the internet and limited flexibility might put off some more advanced users. Home Assistant is very flexible, powerful system that can integrate all your devices in one ecosystem, but its open source nature would require some time to get used to.

You can still start with Smarthings and test it out (with recent discounts it is really a no-brainer) especially if you are not sure of your technical skills. If it all goes well, you can still use it with Home Assistant. However, do not hesitate and go for Home Assistant if you are even slightly tech skilled (see our $250 starter kit for seven devices) and plan to automate many things in your house. The reason is that any new system (even as simple as Smart Things) require some investment of time to get used to it, so we recommend to do it with more flexible and powerful system. This investment will give you benefits and better return on effort long after.

HOME ASSISTANT: COMPLICATED BUT MIGHTY

Home Assistant started fairly recently in 2015 and has been growing at a great pace over the last years. As of now, it has over 1,000 supported devices and one of the most active open source projects. It can be installed on many devices—from full-blown Linux systems to some network-attached storage (NAS) environments and most importantly on a Raspberry Pi. Good architecture choices made it easy to develop and expand. For example, it is written in Python, which allows developers to create fast integration with many devices (including cars, DIY sensors etc) and services (like share prices, weather). The UI is also based on Polymer, the Google library implementing the Web Components standard, so it looks clean and attractive out of the box.

Three things make Home Assistant stand out and first of all its the expansion abilities. It natively offers more than 1000 devices and platforms with the number growing exponentially. This most likely to cover the majority of the devices that you own and will allow you to use one place to control all of them rather than having a dozen of apps on your phone. You can connect other devices using additional comms hardware (like our favorite Aeon Z –wave stick) or other hubs (Xiaomi gateway or even Smarthings itself). Benefits of this cannot be understated as all your devices and information from them can be used as triggers and conditions (like motion or luminance). Another related feature is that it can be used as powerful notification center notifying you not only when your cleaner came and left, but any other events (for example if the shares you bought drops in price or bitcoins is in trouble again).

Secondly, it is Hass.io. This is more polished and self-contained version of Home Assistant which can be installed and minutes. It deserves an article on its own, but its main brilliance is bringing professional like complexity to commercial market allowing you to control the complicated system with simple UI. It is not on par with ease of SmartThings,  but a welcome feature for less advance users. In addition, it also modular and there are very useful add-ons (like Node-Red, home bridge and so on) that can be installed and configured in minutes further increasing functionally.

Lastly, controlling many different devices from different brands and using various protocols might be difficult and that is where Home Assistant get is right. All you supported devices will be integrated into single eco-system and controlled using unified components. For example, regardless of any brand, you can switch off and off any light in the same way and change available parameters. Once your device is in Home Assistant you can setup all the automations via a text editor and YAML (scripting language). This is very powerful and flexible, but complicated to learn and deploy. Our preferred way is Node-RED – visual rules editor that was initially developed by IBM specifically for the Internet of things. It is very easy to learn, make prototype automations and rollout with a very simple visual interface.

At the same time, other Home Assistant features can put away some consumers. This might be a lack of official mobile application. The philosophy is that web application designed for mobile first would not require a designated app and smart home needs to be smart, not just allow you to manually control devices. It works great for us, but I see how it can be different for others. Secondly, starting with Home Assistant might be scary and intimidating. It is not something you buy in the shop and within 30 minutes all works. You probably need at least couple of hours to get it started. In our experience it worth the effort and also as even starting with SmartThings will require learning the skills you learned in setting up Home Assistant will go long way.

The last concern is integration with some platforms like Google Home might be overly complicated. The developers recently overcame this with Home Assistant cloud, but it is still not as seamless as you would hope.

Overall, we believe that Home Assistant is already a major force in smart home market and continue growing. It has already become something bigger than justa smart home hub for many users and helps to have one place to get all the information required around your house. Looking at competition we do not see any comparable system in terms of complexity and flexibility. Although the ease of implementation can be improved, the functionality and features it offers more then justifies the investment of effort and time.

 

SMARTTHINGS: SMART HOME INTRO

SmartThings was created in 2011 and later acquired by Samsung. Today it is the best off-the-shelf offering for the majority consumers despite fierce competition. This is because SmartThings offers a reasonably priced kit including a number of devices like sensors and outlets, has four most popular protocols (Zig-bee, Z-wave, Bluetooth, and wifi) and easy to set up. Comparing to Home Assistant, however, it loses in the flexibility and complexity of automations possible, but even more so in the amount of integration possible. Basically, Home Assistant can become a true centre of your smart home, while Smart thing will only be handling only some of your smart devices.

The best feature that I like in Smart things is how easy it is for consumers to pick up and start using. You can literally buy the kit from the shop, bring it home, install the devices, pair them with the hub and all that under 30 minutes. As a commercial product, it has support team from Samsung which helps resolve issues.

Rules manager is easy to use and you can easily setup simple automations. Complicated rules might be difficult to create, but community developed WebCoRE – an add-on scripting tool – extends the capabilities of the hub. At the same time, it requires time to understand and use, so we think spending time on learning Home Assistant will give you more returns

As we mentioned, expanding and adding new devices is generally easier comparing to Home Assistant. Having four most used protocols used means you can just buy a new device and will have no troubles integrating in your system. The app guides you through overall process, although some users noted unnecessary overcomplication of the navigation and un-intuitive interface choices.

Switching to the negatives of the SmartThings, reliance on the internet would be our biggest concern. A smart home is an integral part of the modern house and significantly reducing the resilience of the hub of making it dependent on internet connection is not a wise choice. While we understand the desire for Samsung to gather data and maybe use some computation power of the cloud to control the SmartThings better, but this should have been done in addition to local control, not as the only option. As the result, any outages in Samsung servers (we had a number of reports recently) or internet connection disruption will make it impossible for you to control the hub and also disable your rules. If you live in the city the latter is not a problem, but it makes it difficult for rural sites.

Another big negative point for SmartThings is presence detection. In the modern automations, the presence detection is one of the key conditions and triggers for your heating to start warming your home, make sure that alarm system is switched on and avoid unnecessary energy waste. While this can be done using a number of factors in Home Assistant (router detection of your mobile, GPS position etc) SmartThings rely on the additional sensor that you should carry around with you. Although this seems to be a good idea, in theory, users report that it is very unreliable and frustrating to use.

As we mentioned, overall SmartThings is a good choice for some users and offers good value for money. However, consumers need to be aware of the limitation of the system and factor this in when making a purchase choice. What might be a good option is to buy SmartThings and when you worked on the setup and encountered limitation mentioned above, you make SmartThings a middleman to Home Assistant. This will allow you to easily pair the devices, but allow Home Assistant handle all the controls and integration with other devices.

OTHER COMPETITION:

Obviously, there are so many other systems in the market, and we made sure that we reviewed all of them before making our recommendation. For Home Assistant main competitors are OpenHub and Domoticz. For Smarthings it is Wink 2, Insteon, Vera. Some users also compare it to more expensive and more professional systems like HomeSeer or Loxone, but we do not think this is fair even if just looking at price levels. You need to spend $2,000 on just hardware while $1,000 would be the absolute maximum for any of the above systems.

The reasons to prefer two platforms we recommended versus competition are the following:

  • OpenHub, slower development, and fewer integrations while no extra functionality (see more detailed review)
  • Domoticz – while one of the early smart home hubs, it lost its development pace and do not have many of the modern features
  • Wink 2 is a good alternative and has welcome fixes of the first generation hub, but SmartThings offer more intuitive application at more competitive price
  • Comparing to Insteon, SmartThings is a more polished and flexible product, offering much better connection options
  • Vera considered to provide good value for consumers, but lacks in the quality of the app, with SmartThings also offering better connectivity and more active community

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