Samsung SmartThings: Getting started with your smart home

How it works, what to buy, and how to get the most from the new 2020 kit

Get started with Samsung SmartThings
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For the smart-home dabbler with some lightbulbs, a door lock and a couple connected plugs, a smart speaker can act as a hub to help make your gadgets work together. But for a really smart home you need a real smart home hub, and Samsung’s SmartThings is not only the original, it’s the best.

While Apple HomeKit, Google Assistant and Amazon's Alexa are all excellent ecosystems in their own way, what makes SmartThings great is its inclusivity. Almost everything works with SmartThings (with one or two notable exceptions that we’ll get to later). And while Samsung has its own line of SmartThings devices, you can add pretty much any Wi-Fi, ZigBee or Z-Wave device to this hub and control everything from one app. It’s the ultimate conductor for your smart home devices.

This is because SmartThings is not just one central place to control all your gadgets, it knows how to talk to all those gadgets and how to get them to work together. So, if you have a door lock from Yale and a smart bulb from Philips Hue you can pair them both to SmartThings and have your light turn on when you come home. It’s not the most intuitive system out there, but it is one of the most stable and if you’re willing to put a bit of time and effort in to get things set up, you’ll be well-rewarded with a proper smart home.

Whether you’re interested in investing in the wide-ranging hardware from SmartThings or you’ve already picked up a SmartThings Starter Kit, here’s our guide on how to use it all.


Getting started with SmartThings

Samsung SmartThings: Getting started with your smart home

The SmartThings Hub

Buy now: Amazon | $69.99

The first device you need is a SmartThings hub. This is the brains of the operation and creates a wireless network to connect and communicate with all your smart home gadgets. Simply plug it in and either add it to your Wi-Fi network or hardwire it using an ethernet cable.

Then you can pair any ZigBee, Z-Wave and Wi-Fi-powered devices (not Bluetooth) and start monitoring, controlling and automating your home using the SmartThings app (Android or iPhone). Voice control is also an option with Samsung’s voice assistant Bixby on Samsung devices, or by connecting to an Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant speaker.

Guide: The best smart home hubs

SmartThings’ big advantage as a hub is that it packs both ZigBee and Z-Wave radios. These protocols are considered some of the best ways to connect the smaller, less showy smart home devices, such as sensors and light bulbs. These are the gadgets that help make your smart home run smoothly – a motion sensor will turn on your lights, a contact sensor can trigger an automation or scene without you needing to press a button or give a command.

Z-Wave and ZigBee devices also create their own mesh networks, using each sensor and bulb in your home to piggy back off and extend their reach. This means you get better coverage throughout your home (no devices dropping offline – especially compared to Bluetooth). Plus, the Wi-Fi network you use to surf the internet doesn’t get bogged down by smart devices. Also, because they don’t rely on the internet, ZigBee and Z-wave based routines and scenes will run even if the internet is down.

Samsung SmartThings: Getting started with your smart home

SmartThings Wifi

Buy now: Amazon | $279

If you’re also in the market for a mesh home Wi-Fi system, SmartThings Wifi is a smart home hub and Wi-Fi router in one. For a smart home, this both extends the range of your devices and - thanks to software powered by Plume - manages the amount of bandwidth your gadgets use intelligently. According to the company, the system adapts to internet usage by accounting for all your connected devices and selecting the optimal band and frequency channel to get you the fastest speed.

Read this: Samsung SmartThings Wifi review - The best mesh for your smart home

You can buy a single SmartThings Wifi unit to be a hub and router in one, but to take advantage of the mesh-y features you're going to need the three-pack. Obviously, the benefit of this is that you can blanket your home with full coverage, with each node bringing a range of around 1,500 square feet.

Samsung SmartThings: Getting started with your smart home

The SmartThings App

After the hub is set up you’ll want to get comfortable with SmartThings app. You’ll use this to add your new gadgets, control your devices, set up Scenes, Automations and Groups and generally manage all of your smart home needs.

For awhile the app situation at SmartThings was a bit confusing, thanks to there being two apps with different functionalities. But now the original, Classic app is being officially retired and all functionality is being ported to the main SmartThings app.

The new, now main SmartThings app has gone through a few shaky iterations but thanks to the most recent update it's now a fully-featured, solid app with a great user interface and a pretty good experience throughout. There are still a few areas that could use some work (adding multiple devices to rooms for example and differentiating between groups and rooms) but these are small niggles.


What gear to get with SmartThings

Samsung SmartThings: Getting started with your smart home

Now you've got your SmartThings network set up and are familiar with the app, you'll be wanting some connected kit to drag your home into the 21st century with.

As we’ve mentioned, SmartThings has a lot of compatible devices, and if the device you want to use isn't' compatible services like IFTTT can help (more on that later), but Samsung has really beefed up SmartThings own offerings in recent years, and these inexpensive, well-made devices are a great place to start.

SmartThings Outlet

Buy now: Amazon | $29.99

The SmartThings Smart Plug turns whatever you've got in the socket into a controllable device, so can be turned on and off remotely and be added to any Automations. Bear in mind anything you plug in has to have a physical on/off switch to work with a smart plug.

SmartThings Wifi Smart Plug

Buy: Amazon | $17.99

This Wi-Fi version of the SmartThings outlet can work with or without the SmartThings hub.

SmartThings Cam

Buy now: Amazon | $89

With 1080p HD video, two-way audio and contextual notifications, the SmartThings Cam can keep an eye on the inside of your home. It can be set to turn on when motion is detected at night, or automatically turn on activity zones when you leave home, as well as be added to your Automations. It also has 24 hours of free cloud storage, which is nice (you can pay for more).

SmartThings Smart Bulbs

Buy now: Amazon | $9.99

The SmartThings Smart Bulb has dimmable white light and can be integrated into Scenes and Automations. Integrating lighting into your smart home gives you lots of fun options, such as setting up a Movie Time Automation that dims all your lighte

SmartThings Multipurpose Sensor

Buy now: Amazon | $19.97

The Multipurpose Sensor is a contact sensor (which detects when something is open or closed), vibration sensor and temperature sensor all in one. You can put it on anything that opens or closes – a door, drawer or cupboard, a mailbox, a gate or a medicine cabinet and then use it to monitor access or for security. It can also act as a trigger to do something else, such as play music or turn on a light when you open a door into a room.

If it's on your front door, it will tell you when someone's knocked because of the vibrations, and that can be handy to know if you're out in the garden or listening to loud music. And, because it has temperature sensing, you can set it to help smart thermostats properly heat your home.

SmartThings Motion Sensor

Buy now: Amazon | $19.99

The Motion Sensor, like the Multipurpose Sensor, also doubles as a temperature sensor. But its best use case is for turning things like lights, music or heating on or off based on whether someone is in a room or not. The sensor comes with a magnetic ball mount, so you can easily adjust its angle to better catch the motion you want without uninstalling it.

SmartThings Trackers

Buy now: Amazon | $84.95

SmartThings Trackers are presence sensors designed for children and pets (your mobile phone works as a presence sensor for you). They're really useful and rather fun. Both are a way for your smart home to know that you're coming or going. That might be because you want lights to come on or heating to go off, but we rather enjoyed getting music to play before you get home. Make sure to set your geo-fence to a reasonable distance or it'll start triggering smart actions if you go outside to fetch the mail, for example.

SmartThings Leak Detector

Buy now: Amazon | $19.63

Samsung's SmartThings water leak sensor has sensors on both the top and bottom to detect where water shouldn't be. Stick one of these by your hot water heater, or near a dishwasher or washing machine, and know that there's a problem before it becomes a catastrophe.

SmartThings Button

Buy now: Amazon | $14.99

The SmartThings button is handy for a physical way to trigger an Automation or Scene, or pair it to some light bulbs and use it as light switch. It can also monitor temperature in an area of the home, too, and can signal your connected thermostat to adjust automatically.

What other devices work with SmartThings?

There are literally hundreds of different products that work with SmartThings, covering burglar alarms, smoke detectors, doorbells, bulbs, garage doors, kitchen white goods, soundbars, robot vacuums, surveillance cameras, thermostats, door locks, speakers and more. It's easily the most comprehensive smart home ecosystem there is.

While you can get most anything to integrate with your SmartThings hub, the most painless option is to choose devices that are certified to Works With SmartThings. Just look for the logo on the package and you can be assured of easy, seamless setup.

Some of the names that'll interest you include Ring, Amazon Echo, Arlo, Sonos, Honeywell, Ecobee, Bose, Philips Hue, WeMo, Yale, Lifx, Innr, Lutron and a lot more. Here's a full list to peruse. And, remember, just because an item isn't officially labelled 'Works with SmartThings' doesn't mean it won't, it will just take a bit of extra legwork.

What doesn’t work with SmartThings

As we mentioned above, some Z-Wave and ZigBee devices are not natively supported in SmartThings, but this doesn't mean you're totally out of luck. There are code- and programming- based workarounds for this (including installing custom devices handlers).

The same is also true for the lack of any Nest integration, however with Google's recent change-up of Nest's API, getting Nest to work with SmartThings is a lot trickier. We recommend you stick to a supported thermostat, Ecobee is a great one.

The Bluetooth radio in the SmartThings Hub is just for initial set up, so you can't get any Bluetooth accessories to work with SmartThings, which rules out most HomeKit devices.


How to set up your SmartThings home

Samsung SmartThings: Getting started with your smart home

Once you have all the equipment in place, you’ll need to connect your gadgets to your hub and then start playing with Automations (formerly called Routines), set up Scenes and dive into everything the SmartThings ecosystem can offer. For all the details, read on.

How to connect devices to SmartThings

This process is thankfully much easier and more streamlined than ever before. Simply open the app and hit the plus button on the top right-hand corner of the app, scan your device’s QR code and follow the steps from there.

If there’s no code, select Device from the menu and search by device type or brand. Tap the name then select the type of device you have (i.e. motion sensor), choose which room your device is in and follow the paring prompts.

SmartThings is also smart enough to know when a new device has appeared on the network, so sometimes all you need to do is plug in your gadget and SmartThings will prompt you to pair it automatically.


Samsung SmartThings: Getting started with your smart home

How to group your gadgets

The first thing to do to properly automate your home is group your gadgets. This makes it much easier to control everything with a single command.

There are two ways to group your devices, use Lighting Groups and Rooms. You’ll want to put all your devices into individual rooms (including your lights), and then you can also add individual lighting groups for quick access to turning all the lights in a room on or off.

To create a lighting group just tap the plus button and choose Lighting Group. You can group all your lights into one, separate by labels such as downstairs and upstairs, or use any configuration that works for you.

To create a Room, follow the same steps, then go into the room and hit Add Devices. When you add devices to your system you are also prompted to add them to a room then.

Once set up, you can access all your Lighting Groups and Rooms on the front page of the app, and rearrange them so your favorites appear first.


Samsung SmartThings: Getting started with your smart home

How to set up Automations and Scenes

Automations make your smart home sing, and while they can be a bit of a pain to set up, it's worth the initial effort. Using a basic If This Then That language in the SmartThings app, you can connect any of your devices together to create an Automation.

Automations are triggered based on one or more Conditions. These include the time of day, a device’s status (a motion sensor detects movement), the location of you or your family members and the mode of your SmartThings system (Away, Night or Home or a Security mode – see below for more on Modes). So, for example, you can have something happen only when you are home, motion is detected and it’s after 6pm.

Alongside controlling devices – Automations can also send a notification, a text message or speak an alert on a connected speaker, as well as change the Mode of your home. You can add as many Conditions (Ifs) and Actions (Thens) as you like to create your Automation.

Pro Tip: Be sure to go to Settings and allow the app to use your phone’s location – this lets you set up GPS location based automations so you can create one that powers the house down when you've left for work, for example. If you add family members to the app and enable their location, you can personalize routines – so, play this song when Mom opens the front door.

Samsung SmartThings: Getting started with your smart home

One hang-up for us with SmartThings in creating Automations is that even if you’ve diligently created Groups and Rooms, you can’t select these as one device in Automations, you still have to go through and select each light to add to the automation.

A workaround to this is to add Scenes to your Automations. Scenes let you control multiple devices with one button tap in the app, so if you create a Scene that turns off all your lights, you can easily add that to your Automation rather than having to add each light individually.

Create a Scene by tapping the plus button on the front page of the app, choosing Scene and selecting the devices you want to control together.

Samsung SmartThings: Getting started with your smart home

Home Monitor, Modes and Smart Apps explained

SmartThings Home Monitor is a way to use your connected devices as a DIY, self-monitored home security system. Once your devices are connected to SmartThings any relevant sensors, including motion sensors, contact sensors, smoke alarms and leak detectors, will show up under the SmartThings Home Monitor tab. You can then choose what to use to activate a security alert based on the status of your monitoring system – Armed Away, Armed Stay or Disarmed.

Modes have been part of SmartThings since its inception. Originally designed as three preconfigured options, they set your home to react differently based on whether you’re at home, away or it’s nighttime. For example, you may want a light to turn on when a motion sensors detects movement at night, but not during the day. Basically, Modes is a way to make sure you smart home doesn’t seriously piss off your partner.

Modes have transitioned from the original SmartThings app to the new app and can be added to Automations. Setting up Modes is done automatically when you add your location but can be managed by tapping the three dots at the stop right of the screen and selecting Manage Location.

Smart Apps are readymade automations you can easily tailor to your home that have been created by Samsung and other developers. They are designed for easy set-up of common Automations such as triggering smart lights. There used to be a Marketplace accessible from the app that was full of these pre-written recipes for home automation, but they’ve largely disappeared in the new app, with only a handful of non-Samsung remaining.

How to use SmartThings with IFTTT

IFTTT is a web-based service that allows you to make your own automation recipes that can involve smart homes, social media, weather, other web services, other smart gadgets and just about anything you can think of with an IP connection.

Read this: IFTTT The Essential Guide

IFTTT is particularly useful to SmartThings users because there are variables to Automations that just aren't available as options within the SmartThings app. So, for example, there's an IFTTT recipe that will strobe your alarm if there's a hurricane on the way, or one that will switch your lights on during the day if there's a forecast for rain. Take a look at the SmartThings channel on the IFTTT website for everything that's available. There's a fair bit.


SmartThings Integrations

Samsung SmartThings: Getting started with your smart home

How to set up SmartThings with Alexa and Google Assistant

If Samsung’s voice Assistant Bixby isn’t your bag (i.e. you don’t have a Samsung phone or a Family Hub fridge), you can still control your home with your voice by linking your system to Amazon’s Alexa or Google’s Assistant.

With Alexa connected to SmartThings you can use your voice to control light bulbs, on/off switches, dimmer switches, thermostats, locks. You can also use the voice assistant to run your SmartThings Automations or create Alexa Routines using all your SmartThings gadgets (for security reasons only Automatione and Routines controlling lighting, switch, and thermostat devices will work).

Alexa will work with your sensors too – “Alexa is there motion in the bedroom? or “Alexa is the front door open?” Handily, any motion, contact or temperature sensor connected through SmartThings to Alexa can be used to trigger Alexa Routines.

Google’s abilities are more limited, but for basic voice control it works fine. You can control lighting, plugs and thermostats, and also run Automations that trigger thermostats (US only) and lighting actions, door locking and arming SmartThings Home Monitor, and mode changes.

SmartThings on your wrist

The SmartThings app is available on Apple Watch and on Samsung smartwatches, including the Samsung Gear S3 and Galaxy Watch. On each of those, you'll can choose to get notifications about all the occurrences in your smart home such as when doors open, when people come and go, when alarms go off, when motion is sensed and so on. More importantly, you'll also be able to activate your basic Routines from your wrist too. So, there's no need to go hunting for your mobile to relax into evening mode.

Upgrade to Webcore

As good as Samsung SmartThings is at putting all of your smart home devices into one control system, when you get down to automating your home there are still plenty of restrictions, making it harder to program the more in-depth ways of automatically managing your home. That’s where Webcore comes in.

A free add-on for SmartThings, this powerful system gives you a complete scripting language that lets you control your home exactly the way you want. This is not for beginners but once you get your head around the basics, it’s surprisingly easy to build quite complex automations.


SmartThings: Is it for you?

SmartThings used to be for true techie tinkerers, and while it’s still a top choice for the hard-core home geek, user-friendly upgrades to the app since Samsung took over the product have definitely made it a more viable mainstream option.

It’s still not for everyone, however. The relative openness of its platform compared to most of the competition does make for some headaches, especially when it comes to pairing devices, but if you stick to certified SmartThings compatible gadgets your path will be smoother.

Even if you are already invested in a smart home ecosystem such as HomeKit, Alexa or Google, SmartThings can be an excellent addition, and is a simple way to super charge your smart home.

TAGGED    smart home

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