Choosing a Smart Home Controller is very much like buying a car - the decision to choose a particular manufacturer is only the first choice you have to make, after that there's a bewildering array of models and options on top!
SmartThings takes a different approach to other manufacturers as they only have a single model available, so there are no choices or comparisons for potential customers to make, offering a much simpler start to your Smart Home journey!
Samsung acquired the SmartThings brand during 2014 and since then they've made incremental improvements to the platform as well as releasing several successful iterations of Smart Home Controller.
Unlike others, SmartThings started life as a purely Cloud based system, meaning that everything ran within the mighty Samsung Cloud Services. Nowadays there's more local processing within the SmartThings Controller itself, meaning that some functionalities can run locally so that certain automations driven by Zigbee or Z-Wave devices will not have to make a round trip from the device, to the SmartThings Controller, up to the Cloud, and back.
Recently Samsung have stepped away from the hardware side of the SmartThings offering and instead now offer two separate platforms called "Works With SmartThings" and "Works as a SmartThings Hub". Aeotec have taken over the existing SmartThings hardware product line, you can read more about this announcement here.
As there is only a single model of the SmartThings Controller, our "Choosing a SmartThings Controller" guide will simply help you to understand the specifications and features that the SmartThings Hub v3 offers.
|Feature||SmartThings Hub v3|
|Wizard Based Scene Editor|
|Virtual Devices - IP Strings|
|Virtual Devices - Script-based|
|Virtual Devices - Scene Triggers|
|Android Wear Support|
|Alexa Voice Assistant|
|Siri (via iOS App Shortcuts)|
|Number of Plug-Ins / Apps||no limit|
|Recovery / Backup|
|Bridge (Linking Controllers)|
|Home Automation Support|
|Z-Wave Plus (868.4MHz)|
|Recommended No. of Z-Wave Devices||up to 232|
|Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE)|
|IP Camera Support|
|Processor (CPU)||Single-core ARM Cortex-A7 (528MHz)|
|WiFi||802.11 b/g/n 2.4GHz|
|Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE)|
|Built In Battery Backup|
|Dimensions (HxWxD)||127 x 126 x 26mm|
What do these specifications mean?
The SmartThings Controller will run your Home Automation system with stability and reliability and the "Cloud first" nature of the system means that it is incredibly well suited to integrations with devices and systems from other manufacturers such as Ring, Philips Hue, Netatmo, Netgear Arlo, etc, etc.
Scenes enable you to control multiple devices all at the same time. Scenes can be triggered from other devices (such as sensors) or from external events (such as the weather). They form an important function of your Home Automation system.
SmartThings offers three main ways to create Scenes - Wizard Based Scene Editor (known as "Routines"), task-oriented Plugins / Apps for common things such as Motion Lighting, Heating Control and Security Alerts (known as "SmartApps") and finally by using the Groovy scripting language (to write your own scripts in the form of a SmartApp).
Wizard Based Scene Editor ("Routines")
Routines are built right into the SmartThings App and offer a very simple way to create basic Scenes and logic. Using the Wizard driven interface you can select devices to turn on or off and then optionally have these actions performed automatically, for example based on a Schedule, when somebody arrives home or leaves, or in response to another device changing state (perhaps a door or window opening).
SmartApps can be provided by SmartThings themselves, or by third-party developers. They can be installed from within the SmartThings App with a few taps on your screen and offer much more focused Scene and logic creation to do specific tasks. Our favourite SmartApps are "Smart Lighting", "Notify Me When" and "It's Too Cold" - all of these offer Wizard based setup to simplify the process of creating quite complex programming!
SmartThings also offers its "Smart Home Monitor" (SHM) which is built right into the App iteslf and doesn't need to be installed separately. This allows your SmartThings Controller to monitor your home for intrusion. fire, carbon monoxide, leaks and more, all by following a few on-screen prompts.
The SmartThings Controller uses the Groovy programming language for scripting and you can use this to write your own SmartApps to carry out almost anything that you can possibly imagine, but you will require basic programming skills to do so. Fortunately SmartThings also allows you to install SmartApps from third-party developers, so the chances are there may already be a SmartApp that does what you need!
Virtual Devices are exactly what they sound like - devices in the Smart Home Controller that aren't physical devices. Virtual Devices are very useful for controlling devices via other networks, such as AV equipment that can be controlled from your Wi-Fi / Ethernet network ("IP Strings"). Other types of Virtual Device support scripting directly ("Script-based"), allowing much more complex logic and control. The simplest type of Virtual Device ("Scene Triggers") can be used to create a simple button in the smartphone / tablet App that can control a number of scenes - quickly and easily.
The SmartThings Controller support Scene Trigger Virtual Devices as standard, but of course given the ability to use the Groovy scripting language to create your own Device Handlers you can essentially create Virtual Devices that do anything you want!
General Software Features
Remote and Mobile Access
You are able to control the system from a smartphone or tablet using the SmartThings App, whether you are at home or away. App Widgets can also be created to allow quick running of common tasks directly from the home screen on your smartphone or tablet.
Alexa and Google Assistant are both available for the SmartThings Controller, with the integrations being improved upon all the time.
Alexa has a Smart Home Skill that offers basic functionality ("Alexa, turn on the light").
Google Assistant and the SmartThings Controller work together to make your Smart Home even more convenient to use! With the Google Assistant integration you can control lights, scenes and more, all without lifting a finger.
Siri voice control is also supported, but only via Siri "shortcuts" at this time.
Geolocation features use the location based services on your smartphone. When you are within a pre-determined range of your home, this can trigger scenes to run. For instance, a heating scene could be triggered when you are 5 miles from home, or an outside light scene when you are just arriving home. This functionality is built right in to the SmartThings smartphone App, so no additional software or configuration is required.
Plugin / App Support
As mentioned previously, SmartThings calls these "SmartApps" and there are a vast array of them available from both SmartThings themselves and from third-party developers. These SmartApps help provide support for external systems, such as Sonos, Kodi and Spotify, allowing you to do more advanced things without needing to develop your own code.
Unlike with other manufacturers, there is no real limit to the number of SmartApps that can be installed because the SmartThings system uses the might of the Samsung Cloud Services. This means that the system simply scales up as needed, on demand, all completely hidden from the end-user. With SmartThings you should never run into problems with resource limitation or slow-downs!
Recovery / Backup
Backup and Recovery aren't currently available on the SmartThings Controllers. However, it should be noted that since everything is stored in the Samsung Cloud Services all SmartApps, Code, Logic and Scenes are safe. In the event that the SmartThings Controller has a hardware problem, only the devices would need to be re-paired to a new Controller, similar to other systems such as Philips Hue.
Bridge (Linking Controllers) Capability
When we talk about "Bridging" of Smart Home Controllers it's usually in terms of the Z-Wave protocol and we typically mean the ability for several Controllers to be used together to create a much larger system than is possible with just one.
With multiple Controllers it allows you to have more than 232 Z-Wave devices on the whole system and you can configure your system to maximise Z-Wave network access by locating the Controllers in different parts of the building.
The SmartThings Controller doesn't currently support bridging, but you can of course add multiple Controllers to the SmartThings App and access each location separately..
Home Automation Support
While the SmartThings Controller will support a Z-Wave network of up to 232 devices, it is also a good idea to look at support for other technologies as this enables you to choose from a wider selection of products going forward.
The SmartThings Controller is a fully certified Z-Wave Plus devices and will therefore experience all the improvements that the Z-Wave Plus protocol implements when used with a Z-Wave Plus interface.
The extended features of Z-Wave Plus include increased range (up to 150m), greater battery life, more available RF channels supporting higher bandwidth communications, standardised methods for Over-The-Air (OTA) firmware upgrades amd improved self-healing, fault tolerance and diagnostics on the Z-Wave network.
Zigbee is a popular technology used by many products. It has been very popular in the US for a number of years, and although Europe has been slow to adopt it, we are seeing more and more European centric Zigbee devices coming to market. The SmartThings Controller is a fully certified Zigbee 3.0 device and therefore supports a huge number of Zigbee devices!
Bluetooth and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) devices can be controlled directly from a mobile phone or tablet (or computer) that supports these Bluetooth protocols. This makes them very easy to install and configure - a true plug-and-play experience. At the hardware level SmartThings supports Bluetooth, but this currently hasn't been enabled at the software level. Hopefully it will be added at a later date!
433Mhz / 868Mhz
Being a predominently Cloud based system, the strength of the SmartThings Controller lies in its ability to seamlessly link with other Cloud based services so local control of other, lesser known, protocols isn't a priority. That said, you may find that a Cloud based integration exists for these other protocols anyway - for example LightwaveRF devices using both the 433MHz and 868MHz protocols can be integrated with SmartThings via the LightwaveRF Link Plus Hub and respective Cloud Service.
The SmartThings Controller supports many Cloud based cameras such as Ring, Netatmo and Arlo, seamlessly integrating them into your Smart Home system.
As mentioned previously, by utlising the power of the Samsung Cloud Services to run your Smart Home, the local SmartThings Controller doesn't need to be an all-singing and all-dancing hardware device - it can operate on a lower specification of hardware because most of its job is to simply operate as a gateway between your devices and the Samsung Cloud.
The CPU (or Processor) is the Controller's engine. The faster it runs, the faster your system will run. The SmartThings Controller uses a single-core ARM Cortex-A7 running at 528MHz - this is a high performance CPU well suited to the nature of the embedded hardware.
The other aspect of the hardware that affects performance is memory. The memory is split into two types - Flash and RAM. The basic rule (as for computers) is that the more memory the better, and you can never have too much!
- Flash - This is permanent memory, it holds the main Controller software and details of all devices, scenes, and programs for your system.
- RAM - this is used when the system is running. The more RAM available, the more things the Controller can do at the same time. This translates into allowing it to run more devices, run more scenes and allow it to run quickly regardless of what you ask it to do.
The SmartThings Controller has 4GB of Flash storage and 256MB or RAM - more than enough to provide the gateway service between your devices and the Samsung Cloud!
Ethernet / WiFi
With both wired Ethernet connections and 802.11 b/g/n 2.4GHz WiFi connectivity the SmartThings Controller is well suited to the modern Smart Home, allowing it to be sited in almost any location!
Getting Help and Advice
Hopefully this guide has helped clarify the specifications of the SmartThings Controller and what they mean in actual real-world use. If you need any further help or advice, contact Vesternet and we will answer all your questions.