In my home, I have smart plugs, smart lights, smart speakers, smart thermostats, smart locks, smart doorbells and more. Getting them all to work with each other to create a truly smart home is a challenge. Samsung's SmartThings hub has long been the best option for integrating all such devices so that, for example, the lights turn on when I open my front door. The newest version of the SmartThings hub ($69) has a slimmer design and comes with Wi-Fi — but it's the app that really differentiates this device from all others, and makes it the best smart home hub.
The SmartThings 2018 (V3) hub has roughly the same footprint as the older model, but it's a hair thinner and has a rounder shape. Although you can connect this hub via Wi-Fi to your router, the newer model also has an Ethernet port for a hardwired connection.
The hub can connect to Zigbee and Z-Wave devices from 50-130 feet away (depending on the construction of your home). But because you can connect this hub to your router via Wi-Fi, placing it in the ideal location in your house is much easier.
There's one USB port on the back — one fewer than in the previous generation — but, as with the second-generation hub, you can't use this port for anything. Samsung has been promising for years that you’ll be able to use this port to plug in a device to it; I'm beginning to lose hope. Same goes with the Bluetooth module in both hubs, which is used for setup only.
Current model (left) vs. previous model (right)The 2018 hub also lacks the battery backup of the previous model, but if you've lost power, chances are none of your other smart home devices will work, either.
If you're upgrading from an older hub, be prepared to do some work. You have to first remove the older device from the SmartThings app, then manually reconnect all your smart home devices. If you're like me and have a ton of devices, this can take some time.
Samsung's SmartThings app has changed a lot since we initially reviewed it. For one thing, the interface is a bit clearer than before. Now, the dashboard tab on the home screen of the app has three sections. The top section shuffles among three screens: A brief look at the status of your connected devices, a scene-creation window and a link to buy more SmartThings products. The middle section is used to add devices, and the bottom section brings you to how-tos.
Select the Devices tab from the home screen, and you'll come to a screen that shows all your connected smart home devices; their status; and, in the case of smart lights, a toggle to turn them on and off. Select any one of these devices, and you'll come to another screen with additional control options.
You can group devices into rooms and create scenes, such as Nighttime, to control several products with the press of a single button.
I liked that I could control the color of my Philips Hue lights from the SmartThings app, but that's about the extent of it. You can't control Philips Hue scenes (as you can in the Alexa app); I also wish that I could view feeds from security cameras.
What Can You Control?
SmartThings can connect to a wide range of products, including Ring video doorbells; Ecobee thermostats; Philips Hue and Sengled smart lights; Lutron Caseta switches and plugs; Yale, Schlage and Kwikset smart locks; and Netgear Arlo cameras. You can also use Alexa and Google Assistant to control devices connected to SmartThings. Here's a full list of all devices that work with SmartThings.
However, there's no integration with Nest or August, two of the bigger names in smart home products. That means I couldn't connect my Nest Protect smoke detector or the August smart lock. Also missing is TP-Link's Kasa lineup.
When it comes time to add a new device, the SmartThings app will first attempt to discover the device automatically. If it doesn't appear in the app, you can add it manually, selecting from a bevy of options, including TVs, air conditioners, washers and dryers, refrigerators, robot vacuums, cameras, doorbells, and lights.
The main reason to use SmartThings is not that you can control smart home devices from a single app, but that you can link them together. So, for example, you can have a smart speaker play a sound if your doorbell camera detects motion, the water sensor gets wet or you arrive home.
You can create automations based on the time of day, the status of a device (such as a door sensor opening), or your or a family member's location. SmartThings has a few recommended automations, such as warning you if a window is open and a rainstorm is approaching. The hub can also be set to turn off your thermostat if a window is opened.
SmartThings' automations are more sophisticated than both Alexa's and Google Home's Routines; within Alexa, there are very few smart home devices whose condition can trigger an action. You can't set your lights to turn on when you get near home. Google Home is even more limited, letting you initiate a Routine only via a spoken command. Yes, you can use IFTTT with Alexa or Google Home to perform some more-sophisticated actions, but then again, you can use IFTTT with SmartThings, too.
By virtue of its more-advanced automations and ability to link to both Z-Wave and Zigbee devices, the Samsung SmartThings Hub is still the best choice for linking multiple smart home products together. However, the same issues we had from several years ago persist: It's a pain to upgrade from an older hub — if you're not having issues with the second-generation hub, there's no need to switch — and it's still missing some key partner integrations. Yes, SmartThings is still the best smart home hub out there, but it could be better.
Credit: Tom's Guide