Not quite as smart as it should be, but this home automation kit has real promise
OS Support: Windows 7/8/10, Ubuntu 14, Mac OS 10.7+, Android 4.0+, iOS 5+, Transmission Speeds: Ethernet 10/100, Powerline networking 200/500, Central Unit Range: 30m (Powerline, Z-Wave indoors), 200m (Z-Wave outdoors)
Devolo is best known for its range of Powerline Homeplug networking products, so it was a surprise to see the German company launch a range of smart home kit. The core Home Control Starter Kit contains a control hub, a door sensor and a plug adaptor for controlling electrical devices such as lamps. Other optional components include a smoke detector, motion sensors, thermostats, wall switches and key fobs. Surprisingly, given that most household lights in the UK are fitted into ceilings rather than free-standing lamps, Devolo doesn’t sell compatible lightbulbs.
The control hub connects to your router either via Ethernet or Powerline – oddly, there’s no Wi-Fi option. It communicates with all the other components using Z-Wave, so basic functions will continue to work in the event of an internet outage. It should be compatible with non-Devolo Z Wave smart home products, but I didn’t have the chance to test this.
The control hub has to be set up using a web browser on a desktop or laptop, and you have to create an online Devolo account. After that, everything can be configured and then controlled remotely from the web interface, which was easy to use despite the occasional bit of stray, untranslated German. Alternatively, you can also use Devolo’s respective iOS, Android and Amazon Fire My Devolo apps, but these weren’t quite as well organised as the web interface.
The setup wizards for the home control components include handy streaming videos illustrating how to setup and install each one, although these can be very superficial for the simpler components such as the key fob. In most cases, it’s simply a matter of pressing a button or pulling out a plastic tab to turn the component on and waiting for it to register with your control hub before fitting it in the position of your choice. Most components can be fitted to walls and frames using either screws or double sided tape, both of which are included with each component where applicable.
Once everything is configured and in place, it’s easy to set up rules enabling your various home control components to work together automatically. I quickly created a rule where opening the front door would automatically turn on a radio plugged into the plug adaptor. I also created a rule where any movement detected by the motion sensor (£56 from Broadbandbuyer.co.uk) near a window automatically turned on a lamp plugged into the plug adaptor and sent an email notification. In another example, lights plugged into the plug adaptor were configured to turn on automatically if the smoke detector goes off, providing valuable illumination of your escape path in the event of an actual fire. You can also set rules to run on a schedule.
The plug adaptors keep track of power usage, so you can also use them to monitor any ruinously power-hungry appliances. Many of the components also measure temperature data, which you can track on a graph in the web interface, so you can easily identify hot or cold spots if you’re worried about your unevenly insulated home. Oddly, many of the components can also track brightness but this is shown as a meaningless percentage figure rather than something more useful such as lumens or nits.
The four-button key fob (£40 from MoreComputers.com) and the wall switch (£43 from Kikatek.com) can be set up to manually run rules when pressed. The wall switch is a rocker and can be configured as either a single or double rocker switch using the included plates. These can be prised off gently using a small flat head screwdriver if you ever want to change the plate or need to change the battery.
One of the suggested use cases for the wall switch – mounting it on your bed frame – elicited much derisive chortling in the Shopper offices, but this can still be useful for turning on or off multiple devices plugged into plug adaptors without having to get out of bed, which is handy if you’re forgetful or have mobility issues.
The smoke detector (£56 from Broadbandbuyer.co.uk) was reassuringly loud and it’s tamper resistant, too – attempting to remove it from its mounting bracket or prise open the plain white plastic casing will cause the alarm to sound. Disappointingly, though, there’s no convenient way to silence the smoke detector, such as through the app, during false alarms – you’ll have to prod the small button or waft a tea towel instead.
This general lack of real intelligence also extends to the thermostat (£89 for the wall mounted room control version and £67 for the individual radiator version, both from Broadbandbuyer.co.uk). Although I couldn’t test it extensively as our test home already has a Nest smart thermostat fitted, it doesn’t have any comparable learning features. While the ability to control the temperature remotely or easily schedule it are still useful given the generally poor state of thermostat interface design, the lack of more advanced capabilities shows that Devolo’s smart home kits feel more like improved versions of the home automation kits I’ve had for years rather than true smart home gear.
Another overarching issue, albeit shared with other connected home kits, is the lack of compatibility with rival smart home systems such as Works with Nest, Apple’s HomeKit and Google Brillo. Devolo does say it’s looking into compatibility with Nest and HomeKit, but for now smart home kit is still for early adopters willing to risk buying into a system that might not be popular enough to have a wide choice of compatible components a few years down the line.
A more immediate concern is Belkin’s comparably priced ZigBee-based Wemo smart home system. As well as having compatible light bulbs (albeit ones with screw rather than bayonet fittings), this system also works with IFTTT for more complex rules. Devolo’s Home Control Starter kit is still good, but I’d think carefully about what you want to achieve with it before purchasing.
|OS SUPPORT||Windows 7/8/10, Ubuntu 14, Mac OS 10.7+, Android 4.0+, iOS 5+|
|TRANSMISSION SPEEDS||Ethernet 10/100, Powerline networking 200/500|
|CENTRAL UNIT RANGE||30m (Powerline, Z-Wave indoors), 200m (Z-Wave outdoors)|
|WARRANTY||Three years RTB|