ProsFantastic price; very responsive; offers a lot of configurability; has the backing of Samsung
ConsApp is not intuitive; sometimes drops connection; limited support of 3rd-party devices
There are a few ways to judge the performance of the SmartThings Hub. First, we can look at ease of setup and device installation. Second, we can look at its third-party device support. And third, we can look at performance via the SmartThings app, which is what you actually use on a daily basis. We’ll consider each of these in turn, starting with setup. To test the SmartThings Hub, we used the following devices:
- two Amazon Echo Dots
- one Cree Connected bulb
- one Ring Spotlight Cam Wired
- one Ecobee4 thermostat
- SmartThings Multi-Purpose Sensor
- SmartThings Motion Sensor
- SmartThings Button
- SmartThings Outlet
A special thank you to Samsung for providing the SmartThings accessories, as well as to Ecobee for providing the Ecobee4 and Ring for providing the Spotlight Cam. We purchased the Cree bulb and Amazon Echo Dots at retail.
To set up the various SmartThings accessories, you simply scan a QR code on the device (or included in the box) using the SmartThings app, and the product is automatically added to your Smart Home system. When the process worked, it took just a few seconds, but alas, our Button didn't include a QR code, so we had to go through a more complicated manual setup process. Even worse, our Multipurpose Sensor simply wouldn't work properly for the first few days after we added it, constantly indicating that the door was "open". After a few days back in its box, it finally decided to start working, with no intervention from us. Also of note, our Button dropped off the system after about a week, and required a battery removal and reinsertion for it to be recognized, so it does seem there are still a few gremlins in the system for Samsung to work out.
For third-party device installation, you won't have a QR code to rely on, and while the process was still relatively simple, it wasn't that user-friendly. In the accompanying screenshot, we show you the "blank stare" the app gives you when you go to add a device. We singled this out to Samsung's representative as a critical flaw in the user interface, and we're hoping future app updates resolve this obvious shortcoming. The add device tab makes no sense at all, taking up a huge amount of screen real estate for available Bluetooth devices (like Samsung QLED TVs or Roku streaming sticks), but these are probably not what you're actually looking to add each time you go to the add device tab. Below that section is a hidden drop-down menu that lists dozens upon dozens of device categories, starting with Samsung's maddeningly long list of branded devices like washers, dryers, and refrigerators, which again you're unlikely to be adding on a regular basis. Simply put, the app needs to be flipped on its head to make any sense.
Another thing that we were a bit disappointed about was the third-party support offered by SmartThings. While the roster is quite broad, it's not all that deep. Take, for example, Ring. The SmartThings Hub could connect to our Ring Spotlight Cam Wired, but not our Spotlight Cam Battery. Seriously? That's a rather arbitrary cutoff to make. Additionally, it didn't support our GE Link bulbs, despite these being very popular options in the Smart Home marketplace. And thermostat support is incredibly limited: only Ecobee and Honeywell are supported, not the biggest player in the world, Google's Nest. We fully understand that Google probably isn't setting a level playing field, given that it has its own competing "Works with Nest" universe, but even so, Samsung's lack of support for the Nest thermostate is going to take a whole lot of Nest owners by surprise. Luckily, SmartThings is more agnostic when it comes to products that aren't from competitors; it fully supports both Kwikset and Schlage smart locks, the two leading products in that category.
Assuming that your product works with SmartThings, however, things go smoothly once the device is added. We found that the on/off buttons in the app worked instantenously to turn on and off devices, and voice commands issued to any of our Amazon Echo devices were also acted on in a split-second. And the responsiveness of the SmartThings Motion Sensor was so fast we were sometimes caught off guard by how quickly it turned on our Cree lightbulb - it would light up before we'd even stepped all the way into a room. Now that is impressive! We'd say SmartThings has the clear lead over Wink in this regard. It's just really, really fast. We also loved that a Motion Sensor placed outdoors doubled as a thermometer, and could even report back temperature readings via our Amazon Echos. Very cool!
In addition to simple automations like the motion sensing one mentioned above, there are also a huge range of other options in the SmartThings app, combining various factors such as time of day, GPS location, temperature, weather, etc. Many of them have been submitted by the community and listed in the app as recommended "recipes", so to speak, although the newcomer to the Smart Home world may wonder how a guy named "Michael Struck" or "Eric Gideon" commandeered their app. We suggested to Samsung that these automations should be tagged as "approved by Samsung" to make clear that they are not due to some rogue activity. We actually tried our hand at creating a number of automations, such as having our Ecobee4 thermostat resume when the Multipurpose Sensor sensed a door opening, but it actually didn't work. And honestly, there a whole lot of logic that isn't quite there yet - for example, what if you're only opening the door to retrieve a package from your door step, and how can the Hub determine if you're entering or leaving? Combining smartphone GPS tracking can help with this, but it's an awkward solution, and we're hoping Samsung and the broader Smart Home community can continue to work on making automations not only smarter, but easier for the average consumer to set up. Ultimately, we feel that as cool as automations are, the very best use of Smart Home equipment is to set schedules, and luckily, Samsung provides plenty of options here. Lights or outlets can easily be programmed to turn on at sunset (or any number of minutes before or after), shut off at sunrise, and so on. These worked without a hitch, proving very reliable and becoming just another part of "the family" as we came to rely on them each day.
In drawing conclusions about the SmartThings Hub (3rd Gen), it's hard to get around the fact that it's only one piece of a very large puzzle, but there's no doubt that it's the piece that belongs in the center of any next-generation Smart Home. The hardware is attractive and very responsive, and the software offers a lot of customization, even if it could still use a little nip and tuck in terms of the user interface. We also like that SmartThings has an ever-expanding selection of first-party devices, as these provide an even greater guarantee of compatibility. We'd still like to see better third-party device support, both between brands and within specific brands, where drawing distinctions between different products, like a wired or wireless camera, is simply going to confuse consumers. The good news is that Samsung is clearly putting a lot of effort into improving the SmartThings brand and further integrating it into the broader Samsung universe of products, which should translate into ongoing improvements to the SmartThings ecosystem with every passing day.
The Samsung SmartThings 3rd Generation Hub retails for $70, but is available for $63 shipped from Amazon, as of our publication date thanks to an ongoing Black Friday promotion. Not surprisingly, it's currently the top-selling Smart Home hub on the market, and we fully expect it to continue its dominance for a long time to come!
For advice on the best gear to buy when setting up your own Smart Home, see our Smart Home Buyer's Guide, our Smart Lighting Buyer's Guide, and for an overview of what Smart Home tech can do for you, see our Complete Guide to the Smart Home.