Samsung SmartThings Hub Overview and Setup

Samsung SmartThings Hub is one of the most popular smart hubs in the market. It is easy to get started and has practically zero maintenance. It offers good compatibility with the popular smart devices and has great support and community. In fact, you can easily write your own extensions for it! In this tutorial, we will cover some of the basics, how to set up and tips.

Why use a Smart Hub?

I get this question all the time. What is the value of buying a hub? Why can’t I just buy a bunch of smart devices and start managing these? Quite honestly, as the smart home solutions are becoming predominant, it has become more like legos – there is often more than one way to build the same solution. Indeed, some of the common capabilities that are offered by a smart hub are now being offered by the smart device vendors themselves. For example, if you are just looking to automate lights, you certainly don’t need to invest in a hub. In the Festival Smart Decorative Lighting post, I’ve talked about a couple of options – one using the smart hub and one without it. Investing in a smart hub makes a lot more sense in the following cases

  1. When you are going to use smart devices from different vendors (for example, a Schlage smart lock,  Philips smart bulbs, GE smart switches, etc.)
  2. When you are going to build a “scenario” that spans multiple such devices (such as, at night lock all doors and turn all lights off)

A smart hub by itself is not much of a use. It is the smart devices working in conjunction with the smart hub that makes it much more meaningful.

Why use the SmartThings Hub?

There are several options for a smart hub today. Having used the Smart Things hub for many years now, here are some key reasons that I would recommend it.

  • Low cost
  • It offers both wired and WiFi-based connectivity.
  • Good compatibility with multiple smart device vendors from bulbs, switches, locks to thermostats.
  • Well maintained by the vendor and they do issue occasional updates to keep it updated. This leads to practically zero-maintenance experience as a consumer.
  • They keep adding support for newer devices and services.
  • For several common smart devices, the SmartThings app itself provides instructions on how to connect (including the support manual), which is really useful, especially for the first time users.
  • SmartThings has a very active community and if you have a question, chances are high that someone might have already experienced and answered it.
  • SmartThings can be easily integrated with a voice assistant like Amazon Echo. You can also choose which devices you would want to manage via the voice assistant. For example, if you do not want to manage door lock using Alexa, you can choose to not add these to the Alexa managed devices.
How SmartThings Hub works?
Several smart hubs work in the following manner including the SmartThings Hub.

  • The user uses the SmartThings mobile app (or other smart hub vendor’s app) to give an instruction, such as turn on a light.
  • The app talks to the hub’s cloud service. The smart hub and the cloud service work in conjunction to work on the instruction.
  • Finally, the hub issues the command to the smart device and the action is completed.

It is important to understand this as just because you are at home it does not mean the hub does not require internet connectivity. Most smart home solutions assume that you can act on these even when you are remote. In short, your smart hub will need Internet connectivity.

Equipment and Budget

Note: The prices shown are based on data at the time of writing this article. Taxes and shipping are not included in these and actual cost may vary.

For the sake of demonstration, we will use a smart outlet with the hub. Hence, it is included in the equipment list below. You can choose another smart device of your choice.

ItemUnit PriceQtyTotal
Samsung SmartThings Hub$74.681$74.68
Samsung SmartThings Outlet$39.941$39.94
Total$114.62

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Item TypeItemKeywordsQuantity
Recommendedsmart hubSmartThings hub1
Optionalz-wave indoor outletSmartThings outlet1

How to set up a SmartThings Hub?

Setting up a SmartThings Hub is really easy and typically takes a few minutes only. Often times the vendor will continue to make improvements to the experience. But, here is the gist of the key steps.

Tip
Since the hub does not require frequent physical access, it is best to keep it in a location that is not commonly accessed, but has a good connectivity (preferably wired, if you can), such as where you keep your router.

How to start using the SmartThings Hub?

As we discussed earlier, a smart hub by itself is not of much use. So, you would want to integrate it with at least one smart device to get the things rolling. In this tutorial, we will use it with a smart outlet.

Follow these steps to add a new device.

  • Ensure the device is in pairing mode.
  • Go to the Things section of the SmartThings app and select Add a Thing.
    SmartThings App - Devices List
  • SmartThings will now search for new devices. Be patient! This may take some time. If the device still does not show up select choose Add Device Manually and follow the steps.
    SmartThings App - Add Device

Once SmartThings has found the outlet, give it an appropriate name and save it.

SmartThings App - Add Device - Add Outlet

Now that the outlet has been added you can turn it on/off using the SmartThings app.

What are some of the challenges with SmartThings?

SmartThings is a great starting point for many smart home needs. But, it is not without challenges. Following are some of my experiences as a consumer and things to the best of my knowledge.

  • Bit flaky and inaccurate battery notifications: Majority of the smart devices are battery-powered. While this is helpful as the device does not need to be close to the power source, it does bring in a challenge to ensure the device is always on. Hence, being able to monitor the battery status accurately and getting a notification in advance that the battery is low is critical. After all, what good is a smart device if it is not working? SmartThings does mention that the app notifies on low battery. However, over the past several years my experience is this monitoring is not very accurate (the battery status shown does not reflect the battery usage for several types of devices). Also, the low battery notifications come in very rarely. Now, it may very well be that it is the smart device vendor or a combination of device vendor and SmartThings integration that cannot do this in a useful manner. But, nonetheless, it is good to know about it.
  • Not so good out-of-the-box integration for garage door: I believe garage door automation is extremely helpful for homes and especially being able to monitor the door status and open/close remotely is quite helpful. While there are ways to get the garage door open/close status, the ability to manage the garage door for some of the popular garage door systems is not built-in. This often requires using solutions that do not work consistently.

As I have mentioned earlier, SmartThings has a very active support and it will not be surprising that these get resolved over time. Besides, these are not deal breakers IMHO, especially considering the overall value offered by the SmartThings hub.

Best Practices for Using SmartThings

Let’s talk about some common best practices that you can use to manage a fairly decent number of smart devices using the SmartThings Hub and app.

  • Enable touch ID in the More section. This requires the user to use the touch ID in order to use the app and adds a layer of security especially when you start adding more security related devices, such as locks.
  • Always test out the basic functionality of the device after adding it to SmartThings to ensure the hub is able to manage it correctly. For example, if it’s a light try turning on/off.
  • Use logical names. I like to use a device name that represents its purpose. For example, instead of calling a device a light, you can name it as “Family Room Light”.
  • SmartThings offers several generic smart apps that can be configured using Automation->Smart Apps. I highly recommend using the Notify Me When smart app, which lets you configure notifications for various types of devices, such as motion, open/close, etc. For example, every time your main door is opened/closed you can get a notification and that way you can monitor any abnormal activity.

 

Let your smart home journey begin!
– Nitin

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