Samsung SmartThings Hub Review

Compatible Voice Assistants: ,
Manufactured by:
SmartThings Hub v3 2018
SmartThings Hub v3 2018

Our Verdict

We believe the SmartThings v3 is a very capable device and so we recommend it as your main hardware smart hub. Samsung offers a series of other devices under the SmartThings brand in case you want avoid compatibility issues. Some users have complained about experiencing a challenging setup process, but if you are comfortable setting up technology devices you shouldn't have a major problem.

However, we suggest staying away from SmartApps if you are concerned about security. These apps are made by third-parties (not Samsung) so you open yourself to unknown vulnerabilities.

What We Like:

  • Works with a wide variety of devices: Z-Wave, Zigbee, Wi-Fi - many officially supported products
  • Allows multiple users/phones to control devices
  • Local Processing makes commands quick: avoids delays due to round-trip server calls
  • Small form factor at 5" x 5" x 1.2" thick

Flaws:

  • No voice control without adding Amazon Echo or Google Assistant
  • No vacation mode for randomizing lights
  • Samsung is a massive company and home automation is not their primary business
  • No Battery backup, which was included in the previous version (2015 v2)
  • Some users complain about server/service reliability. There are often service outages that makes it hard to control your home.

Alternatives:

SmartThings Hub vs SmartThings Wifi

Before getting started, we need to make sure it is clear what product we are discussing in this review. The review below covers the newest (2018) iteration of the Samsung SmartThings Hub that was released in August 2018. The top of the hub has the SmartThings logo on it, but does not have the Samsung logo. The back of the hub includes a power port, a USB port, and an Ethernet port. The model number is GP-U999SJVLGDA or IM6001-V3.

SmartThings Wifi is a Wi-Fi router that also has Z-Wave and Zigbee radios in it so it can operate as a home automation hub. The top of the Wi-Fi hub has both the SmartThings logo and the Samsung logo. The back has a power port, an Ethernet In port and an Ethernet Out port. The model number is either ET-WV520 or ET-WV530. There is no benefit to purchasing the SmartThings Wifi if you already have a Wi-Fi router that you are happy with.

The Samsung website has an article that helps you easily identify the different hub and Wi-Fi models.

Description

The 2018 version (3rd Generation) SmartThings Hub is housed in a rounded-square white plastic case. It lays flat and measures 5" by 5" by 1.2" tall. The puck-like device should fit in nicely amongst all of your other devices.

The front face of the case includes a small round LED light that provides you with important information about your system's status. Solid green means the hub is connected and everything is working. Solid red tells you that it isn't connected to the internet. Samsung's support site provides a full list of LED status indicators.

Views of SmartThings Hub - front, back, and side
Views of SmartThings Hub - front, back, and side

The back of the device includes a power port, the Ethernet port, and a USB port. USB is disabled out of the box and currently doesn't have a use, but we assume that Samsung added this for future upgrades or connectivity. For instance, a USB adapter can be added if a new home automation communications protocol is released in the future.

The package includes the hub, a power cable, and an Ethernet cable. There is also a small Getting Started pamphlet to help you start setting things up.

Features

Version 3 does not require a wired internet connection, but we recommend connecting via cable so you may want to be sure you have an available Ethernet port before you get started. The hub supports both 2.4GHz and 5GHz Wi-Fi, which allows you to locate it anywhere you have a power outlet. Connecting devices is fairly straightforward, but it does require you to navigate through multiple menu options before you get to the point where it is looking for your new device.

Protocols Wi-Fi, Z-Wave, Zigbee, Bluetooth, Ethernet
Multi-User Yes
Voice Control No - can be added with Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant
Local Control Yes, it is called Local Processing
Geo-Fencing Yes
Vacation Mode No
IFTTT Yes
Battery Backup No (yes for the older v2 hub)

Radios / Protocols

The SmartThings Hub supports Z-Wave and ZigBee (the two main home automation protocols) so it will control a wide range of smart devices from many different manufacturers. You will have no problem finding devices that work with the SmrtThings Hub. Bluetooth connectivity is helpful for setting up devices locally, but the range is pretty restricted, which is why it is primarily used for initial setup. WiFi is the main protocol used to connect to the internet and for the devices to communicate to each other.

Multiple Users

You can allow other people to have access to your smart home system. Be sure you trust the people you add since they may end up with access to your security systems.

Each user needs their own Samsung account. Once they have signed up and confirmed their account, all you have to do is invite them to a location you have created. Simply go to the Devices tab, select a location, and tap Invite Member. The user should receive invitation inside their SmartThings app.

You can also invite people using QR codes by tapping the More button under the invitation location and select to create a QR code. The other user opens their SmartThings app, taps settings and then scans the QR code from your phone.

Voice Control

As with most hubs, SmartThings does not have built-in voice control. However, it connects with the Amazon Echo range of products and also connects to the Google Home Assistant. Either of these services will let you use voice control with your devices.

Local Control

The SmartThings Hub includes a feature called Local Processing, which speeds up the response time for commands when you are controlling devices from the app while you are at home. Instead of requiring a round-trip call to the Samsung servers, Local Processing allows the hub to handle the commands locally so you won't experience a delay when you try to turn lights on or off.

Geo-Fencing

Geo-fencing is used to set up automations based on your location. This is great for making sure the lights are on when you arrive home after dark. It works by detecting the location of your smart phone and once you enter or leave a specified area, it will trigger a programmed event. SmartThings also has an Arrival Sensor that you can purchase — put it on your child's keychain and then program it to send you an alert so you know when they arrive home from school even if they don't have a cell phone.

Vacation Mode

Unfortunately, the SmartThings app doesn't include a built-in vacation mode to randomize turning lights and other devices on and off to make it look like you are home. We think this is one feature that every smart home should have to help deter thieves who pay attention to who is around. Some developers have created plug-ins that can be used if you want this feature, but we don't recommend that due to security concerns (scroll down to Third-Party SmartApps for more info on plug-in security issues).

IFTTT Control - If This, Then That

IFTTT is a service that allows you to integrate different devices and services that normally wouldn't be able to communicate with each other. For instance, you can flash the lights when your son or daughter makes a Twitter post (yes, this is a goofy example).

There are a bunch of SmartThings IFTTT services available including applets and triggers. Be sure to search IFTTT for the full range of options.

Battery Backup

One nice feature of the older SmartThings Hub v2 was battery backup. Unfortunately, the latest version of the hub no longer includes battery backup. If your house loses power then you won't be able to operate your home automation system. We don't think this is a deal-breaker since you will generally lose internet access and other powered devices.

Even without the battery backup, all of your devices (including the hub) should reconnect when the power comes back. However, if you experience problems them we recommend turning both the hub and your Wi-Fi router off. After one minute, turn the router on and let it fully boot. Then turn the hub on and let it boot, at which time it should reconnect to the network.

Compatible Devices

Samsung makes a few of its own devices under the SmartThings name, including outlets, buttons, leak sensors, window sensors, and motion sensors. These devices, by Samsung, are preferred since their compatibility is guaranteed. Unfortunately, you cannot build a full home automation system with them since they don't cover every category.

Z-Wave and Zigbee radios in the hub mean you can connect with a wide variety of components. Samsung says there are hundreds of compatible devices from major manufacturers like Lutron, Leviton, Sylvania, Philips Hue, Ecobee, Honeywell, Schlage, Ring, Bose, and many others. You can find the full range of tested devices on the SmartThings website.

While the SmartThings hub should theoretically identify any generic Z-Wave or Zigbee device so you can add it to the control app, unfortunately we have heard many people complain that generic devices either don't work or are hard to set up. Some non-compatible devices are identified, but show up with other manufacturer names. Others simply don't work. We recommend checking the official compatibility list linked above before you decide to purchase the SmartThings hub. If you plan to try unsupported devices then make sure the store offers a solid return policy in case you can't get the device to work to your liking.

Third-Party SmartApps

Samsung claims that they built the SmartThings system to be developer friendly by allowing people to create SmartApps. We haven’t listed this a Pro or a Con because we have mixed feelings on this feature. It is great that users and developers can customize SmartThings to perform tasks that aren’t officially supported in the main app. However, we are concerned that this could open the system to malicious attacks.

Researchers have been able to use SmartApps to take control of homes in the past, and Samsung has corrected these problems through patches, but we are still concerned. SmartThings is as secure are any other smart hub on the market, but we strongly advise users to avoid SmartApps to prevent potential malicious attacks. Stick with official Samsung apps.

The SmartThings App

Samsung released a brand new SmartThings app in early 2018. The new app is used to control all of their Internet-Of-Things products regardless of what ecosystem they belong to. You should use the new app if you are setting up your SmartThings hub for the first time. If you already have a system set up with the Classic App, then we recommend waiting for the transition tool to be available.

The app has a nice appearance and is much easier to use than the classic app. The interface is mostly white with blue, green, and purple accents. The icons are easy to identify, but a little small on the screen.

There are three main sections on the app: the Dashboard, Devices, and Automations.

SmartThings App - Dashboard, Devices, Automations
SmartThings App - Dashboard, Devices, Automations

The Dashboard page includes a scrolling banner with your devices plus some informative tiles — these were annoying so we turned them off using the Manage Dashboard menu item. We turned on the devices that need to be accessed most often. These can be customized, but are not on by default. The default dashboard also includes an Add Devices button and a How to Use card. Both are helpful when getting started, but can easily be turned off, which will give you more room for your favorite device controls.

The Devices menu is pretty self-explanatory — this is where you can control all of your devices. The top menu allows you to set the location in case you have multiple homes that you control, like a vacation home or another family member's house. Below that, all of your devices are listed with simple controls that you tap for quick actions (like on/off for lights). Tapp the device name to get more granular controls, like dim level. The Devices menu is also where you add rooms or scenes by pressing the three-dot menu in the upper-right.

The Automations page is where you set your devices to activate automatically when certain events (triggers) occur. Adding automations is fairly simple. Tap the plus button to get started. The app presents you with a few recommended automations that are popular. You can also create a custom automation if you don't find what you need. Then, it is just a matter of following the prompts and answering questions about what, when, and how the actions should trigger.

SmartThings Classic App

Some users around the internet complain that the Classic App is a bit hard to navigate since it has so many menus and options. We are techies so this doesn't bother us all that much. Just keep in mind that people averse to navigating around their phone may be overwhelmed when setting up the system and programming it. However, once the system is set up, we think the Classic App is easy to use for controlling your home's devices.

Other users prefer the Classic App since they have gotten so used to it. The good news is you can use either app to control your system. The bad news is that you must use the new SmartThings app to set up your hub and devices.

Samsung recommends that you keep using the Classic App if you already have your system configured. They will eventually provide a transition tool to help you migrate to the new app. You will receive a notification in your classic app when the transition tool is available.

The Classic App is available from the Google Play Store and the iOS App Store.

Setup

Setting up your new hub is very easy and Samsung provides step-by-step instructions on their support website. You can also use the Quick Start Guide PDF or the document included in the box.

The first step is to install the app (iOS App Store) (Google Play Store) on your phone. Create an account and log in to the app. Then tap Add Device, scroll to Add Device Manually, tap on Wi-Fi/Hub, and then tap Add next to your model. After that, just follow the on-screen instructions.

Thankfully, you can install the hub over Ethernet or Wi-Fi. We prefer to keep the hub connected via Ethernet, but keep in mind that you need to locate the hub a few feet away from other Wi-Fi devices to help avoid interference issues.

After you've installed your hub and it is activated, start adding your devices in the same manner as you added the hub above. The app will try to auto-detect new devices, but there is also an option to manually install them. Read your device instructions to initiate its pairing mode, then tell the SmartThings app to add a device, at which point it will attempt to detect a new item.

Previous Versions

Samsung's hub product versioning is somewhat confusing. The original SmartThings Hub v1 was released in 2013. In 2015, they released SmartThings Hub v2. Finally, a new version that is simply called SmartThings Hub was released in 2018. The article above covers the 2018 version so now we will briefly discuss the older versions for comparison.

Samsung SmartThings Hub v2 (2015)

SmartThings Hub v2 (2015)
SmartThings Hub v2 (2015)

The 2015 v2 hub is fairly similar to the new Version 3. The two main differences are that v2 has battery backup, but it also requires an Ethernet hard-wired connection to your Wi-Fi router. We don't recommend upgrading unless you are OK without battery backup and you need to locate your hub in a space that doesn't have a wired Ethernet connection.

The battery back-up in v2 uses AA batteries. While the hub doesn't recharge the batteries, it is nice to have this backup in case the power goes out. However, you'll need a Wi-Fi router and a cable modem that also have battery backup, which is very rare. Since most devices won't work without power, it seems a bit useless, but it is nice to know that you can still check in with the home in the event of a power outage. This is probably most useful if you have smart locks — you'll still be able to get unlock the door with your phone.

Samsung SmartThings Hub v1 (2013)

There is no reason to use the original hub at this time. The biggest drawback, which we think is a deal-breaker, is that it doesn't have local processing control. That means every command must go to the Samsung server and back to your house before the command can be completed. This creates an annoying delay of up to a couple of seconds. This is no longer acceptable since the newer hubs include local control. We recommend upgrading if you are still using the Version 1 hub.

System Security

We are not aware of any major security breaches with the SmartThings Hubs or servers. As with any electronic product connected to the internet, security vulnerabilities are occasionally discovered and patched quickly by Samsung. As long as you keep the firmware and software updated you should be OK, but we recommend joining the company mailing list so you are warned of any problems as soon as they happen. Also, be sure to read the section above about SmartApps for a security warning about them.

About the Manufacturer

According to Wikipedia, SmartThings started in 2012 as a Kickstarter campaign that raised more than $1M. The company received multiple rounds of venture capital funding. Their first products were released in 2013.

Samsung acquired the company in August 2014 for $200M. SmartThings operates as a subsidiary of the global Samsung company. Joining Samsung should provide the company with enough capital to continue growing and developing a stable ecosystem. However, home automation is not the primary business for Samsung so we'll have to keep an eye on future development.

Many users of SmartThings products have complained about major server outages that happen regularly. In most cases, the issues are resolved within a few hours, but this is still a concern for people who rely on their smart hubs for home security. Samsung needs to stabilize their network if they want to remain among the leaders of home automation.

One thing we like about the company is they maintain a forum that has a very active community. You can always find answers from fellow users and you will also find Samsung employees helping out when required. This is rare among manufacturers and we think it is very nice to have.