Wink Hub or SmartThings Hub: Which Works Better?
These home automation hubs were tried out in this home to see which better handled connecting its smart devices.
You Need the Right Hub, Bub
Around this time I started running up against the limitations of the Wink hub. First and foremost, even though I had selected Z-Wave as the protocol and Wink worked with Z-Wave, there were a number of compatibility issues. I couldn’t find many temperature or presence sensors that would work with Wink, so my options were becoming limited. Also, the Wink hub was WiFi only, so reliability was an issue at times.
Finally, the Wink hub doesn’t process anything locally; everything has to go out across the Internet to their servers to be processed, and if the WiFi connection goes down, your system is toast. At best, this process added latency; if you hit a switch and expected a lamp to turn on with your overhead light, you had to be patient – 4 seconds seems longer than it sounds. Wink, you served me well, but this was science!
Time to move on! I ultimately upgraded to a SmartThings hub. This company had excellent developer support, many of the third-party sensors and devices for sale on Amazon included reviews stating they worked with SmartThings (not Wink), and SmartThings had just been bought by Samsung, which boded well for long-term support.
The SmartThings hub used a wired connection to my network and had local processing, so while things were not as instantaneous and a simple switch they were faster. And devices continue to function when the Internet is down, although you do lose remote control and reporting from your phone.
The transition was not difficult. Before boxing up the Wink controller, I “unenrolled” all of my devices one at a time, and then re-enrolled them in the SmartThings hub. I discovered a new world of connected devices, and a new level of complexity in terms of programming. For example, American Pacific makes a Z-Wave controller for gas hot water heaters that has a little motor in it.
When activated, it turns the temperature knob up on the hot water heater; when turned off it turns the knob to “pilot.” As the SmartThings hub knows when I am home, on days that I am home it turns the hot water heater on from 5 a.m. to 6 a.m., which really gives me enough hot water to get me through the day. When I travel, I’m not heating a tank of hot water for an empty house.
Adding some sensors increased the usefulness as well. A sensor on my stairs activates the light above the stairs, a lamp on a table at the bottom of the steps and a lamp across the room at the top of the steps. The lights only activate if it is dark out, though, and they turn off after a certain period of inactivity or when I enter another room.
A sensor on my front porch turns the porch light on when activated (again, after sunset), and flashes lights in several rooms if the door is locked but I am home, telling me someone is on the porch but not interfering with any invited guests. And I get a text message if temperatures drop above or below certain thresholds.
Exploring Endless Possibilities
There are other projects on the horizon. I have flood sensors in my crawlspace, utility room and laundry room, but I’m thinking of adding a shutoff valve that would kill the water main if a leak is detected, just to be safe. As my network has gotten more extensive, it got more robust, allowing me to add automation to my shed which is about 30 feet away from the house.
Now, when I go in the shed, motion detectors turn the lights on and they shut them off again after 10 minutes of inactivity. And the devices in the shed brought the signal to my detached garage, 150 feet away from the house. I’ll be adding a garage door opener controller that will shut the door after inactivity, and motion detectors for lighting there as well.
There are little common sense things that automation allows that you might never bother with ordinarily. My WiFi router shuts off for one minute at 3 a.m. every night, a simple task that has helped with reliability but one that I never would have bothered with on my own.
A humidity sensor in the bathroom activates the exhaust fan automatically, shutting it off when the level has normalized. And walking into my kitchen at night activates a small light under the range hood (yes, there are built-in switching modules available as well), but only if there are no other lights on in that room.
And the system keeps improving. I had previously installed Philips Hue lights in some lamps and fixtures some time ago; imagine my surprise when they started working through my SmartThings controller after a software update. And the Amazon Echo provides voice control; if you say, “Alexa, turn on the bedroom heater,” a small supplemental space heater is activated, but SmartThings shuts it off if I leave the house to conserve energy.
I’m waiting for better integration with Nest thermostats, although that can be done through third-party applications such as “If This Then That,” available for Android, iPhone or Windows PCs.
So, where do I see this going? Well, it’s a fun hobby that makes life more comfortable and possibly saves energy. There’s a level of complexity involved that a “tweaker” will like but the average person may not.
In fact, the average person may run up against their limits and hire someone to get them to the next level. It’s not as reliable as I’d hoped – I had entertained the notion of getting rid of my monitored alarm system, but have decided against that for the time being. It’s just not reliable enough.
But if you have some time on your hands, want to learn some new things and don’t mind an incremental hobby that can get expensive over time – but in manageable, bite-sized chunks – then the home automation bug may be the answer for you. Although, as SSI Editor-in-Chief Scott Goldfine ruminates, you’d better be sure you’re up for the slippery slope before heading down this particular hill.
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