Best of open source smart home: Home Assistant vs OpenHAB
OpenHAB and Home Assistant have much in common. Both are well supported open source projects with strong and passionate communities. They offer one of the most flexible platforms to control all of your smart home devices from one place without having to use dozens of apps. We went through the main differences and unique functionalities that both OpenHAB(OH) or Home Assistant (HA) offer to recommend what might work the best for you.
In addition to theoretical research, we also tested both products for a couple of months in two houses in London. We really liked the stability of OpenHAB, its powerful (and easier than YAML) scripting language and support of the community. Home Assistant, on the other hand, is built on a more modern architecture which is evident with exciting innovations it brings and many more natively supported devices.
Overall, OpenHAB seems to be a great choice for the experienced users (especially coders) as the complicated built-in tools give your superpowers to customize and tinker with the routines. All other users, however, should go for Home Assistant as a more consumer-friendly product creating a comprehensive smart home eco-system.
Regardless of your choice, you can try any of those two products (or even both) with little investment in smart home hardware (see our recommendation of the best smart devices that work with Home Assistant). You can also see be interested in our comparison of SmartThing vs Home Assistant
Under the hood
Software architecture choices impact many aspects of such complex products like OpenHAB or Home Assistant. This includes principles of how systems work and overall the pace of development. And as each of us have a unique sweet spot in the balance of stability versus against the speed of development it will subsequently impact our consumer choices. The same applies to how future-proof we want the product to be and how much manual tinkering we keen to do to maintain it.
OpenHAB has a longer history (created in 2010) and is predominantly based on Java. The pace of development is slower compared to Home Assistant with the latest version dating to December 2017 (as of 3rd May 2018). This means that integrations and some notable add-ons (like WebCoRE) are left to the community to develop and maintain.
Home Assistant is built on Python which might offers a more modern and dynamic development process. The project adopted a two weekly release cycle with one extra week for beta testing. Hass.io, which is a flavor of Home Assistant worth special mentioning. It offers simple installation and modular architecture significantly simplifying the life of less technical users.
Overall, from the technical perspective, we believe that Home Assistant have an advantage over OpenHAB. Differences in conceptual choices mean that you will likely have more devices integrated into Home Assistant and overall more responsive development of features in future. In some very rare cases that might come at the cost of stability but those can be avoided with more careful upgrades.
Set up and maintenance
Open-source solutions rarely come off the shelf, so the simplicity of setup processes and maintenance is important. Setup usually involves installing the software on the server and designing automation rules. We cover integration in the next section.
Installation is a similar process for OpenHAB and Home Assistant. We recommend using a separate mini-server (Raspberry Pi 3 might be the best option) and the easiest way to install is flashing the microSD card and plug it in. Looking at things after the initial installation, Hass.io makes it easy to fine-tune your setup after the install. Installing additional database hooks, visualization tools, DHCP servers, Pi-hole and many more is done at the press of the button. This is something you cannot easily do in OpenHAB
However, we are giving a score to OpenHAB for better-documented manuals and technical information. This is slowly improving for Home Assistant, but some of the components are still not documented and you might need to spend some time in forums to understand it all.
Creating automation rules is fairly similar. OpenHAB is using a more powerful and flexible built-in scripting tool (Xtend) compare to the unforgiving YAML. The majority of us, however, will probably only use visual tools, and both allow you to install it. See some information on how Node-RED can be used with Home Assistant, the tool that makes creating even the most complicated automation easy and straightforward.
Integrating with smart home eco-system
The ability to quickly include new devices to your system can mean a lot for less experienced consumers. This is especially important for open-source projects where the simplicity of pairing the devices or auto-discovery can take away one of the benefits of the polished professional or consumer market products.
Both products have a very extensive list of devices that can be connected to. It is difficult to decide which one has more integrations, but based on the pace of development Home Assistant seems to be able to integrate more devices and do it at pace.
As for the logistics of pairing, if your devices use RF, Zigbee or Zwave you will need to have additional comm sticks for them to work (we recommend Aeon Zwave Stick and QuickStick Zwave Zigbee stick). After the physical pairing, Home Assistant seems to have an upper hand with very handy auto-discovery. The feature means that the devices will appear in the list of available components with no extra effort required, while for OpenHAB config changes are required.
For other hubs and hardware, the process might be less easy and similar for both. It usually involves editing configuration files and restarting the hub. Generally, we felt that the syntax of OpenHub was more complicated and more difficult to test the integrations.
Using the hub
Smart home hubs should make your life more comfortable without constant attention to adjust. This can be achieved by having good UI for device control, access from outside, good notification system and easy updates.
To work with integrated devices, OpenHAB offers HABmin which is a visual dashboard to manage and manually control devices. Home Assistant has more than one interfaces you can use. Stock UI, custom UI, HADashboard, Floorplan are among the ones you can use and are one of the unique features compared to OpenHAB.
In addition to a web-based dashboard, OpenHAB offers the official mobile application for Android and iOS. Home Assistant went a different way with the concept that no mobile application is required if the web-based dashboard is designed properly. We recognize that some users might prefer the designated applications with some third party applications being available for Home Assistant.
Notifications are important to alert you to any alarming events (motion detection or water leak). OpenHAB and Home Assistant give you a similar option on what you want to use (Telegram, Pushbullet etc). A differentiating factor is that for Home Assistant it is really easy to integrate with other components. For example, you can create a notification if you are at home and the trains are delayed or the shares you bought drop in price and so on.
Updates are also better managed in Home Assistant – it is done at the press of the button with very few breaking changes being introduced lately. To update OpenHAB you will need to use the shell and command line.
There are a number of reasons why we prefer OpenHAB or Home Assistant to consumer products like SmartThings, Wink Hub 2 or Vera. This is primarily due to the flexibility of automation rules and the ability to create a single eco-system with all your smart home devices. Choosing between OpenHAB and Home Assistant, however, is also a matter of personal circumstances and preference. Home Assistant is a younger project which develops at an impressing pace. We like all the innovative solutions that come out of HA and are very much in favor of the philosophy of the product. OpenHAB has millions of current users with a more mature community and a stable code base, but it will not have the latest integrations as quick which can arguably be fixed with some coding.
If you are running OpenHAB already, there is no reason for you to switch but for all the other users, our review suggests going for Home Assistant as it is a more future-proof, innovative and responsive solution for your smart home.
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