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Revolv Smart Home Hub and app eases home automation setup

As noted in my Macworld/iWorld 2014 talk on using Siri to control the "Internet of Things", there's one big problem in the home automation world right now -- too many standards! Now I know that sounds like a contradiction in terms, but there are a number of competing standards available: Z-Wave, Zigbee, Insteon, Sonos, Belkin WeMo and more. Several manufacturers are attempting to corral this stampeding herd of standards with smart hubs. We've already reviewed one here at TUAW (the US$99 SmartThings Hub) and now it's time to take a look at the $299 Revolv Smart Home Hub and the companion app that controls it.

Over the past few years I've been building up my home automation world by purchasing bits and pieces as I've had a chance. As a result, I have a number of Belkin WeMo switches, wall switches, and motion sensors, some SmartThings sensors (moisture, motion), and some other Z-Wave devices that I've picked up along the way. In this review, I'll tell you about how the Revolv hub is set up, how it recognizes and controls the various devices, and how the free Revolv iPhone app works to tie all of your home automation devices together.

Setup

The Revolv Smart Home Hub is incredibly simple to install. You just plug in the included AC adapter and plug the other end into the red teardrop-shaped hub. There's no need to run an Ethernet cable to the Revolv hub, which is quite different from competing hubs. Instead, you launch the Revolv app and tap a button to begin the new hub setup. That basically requires you to identify the network that your iPhone and the Revolv hub will be on, and then enter the password for that network. Once that's done, you're asked to put the camera flash from your iPhone right over the top center of the hub, and the fireworks begin.

What kind of fireworks? Well, all sorts of rapid-fire flashing takes place as your iPhone communicates to the hub via light. Wait a short while and then the hub is up and running. At that point, you can have it begin to search for connected devices on your network.

This is where things got a little interesting. At this time, I have a number of devices on my home automation network, including some door/window switches, moisture sensors, and a number of Belkin WeMo devices. Well, the Revolv hub found a few (but not all) of the WeMo switches and a WeMo motion sensor, but couldn't find the other devices that communicate on the Z-Wave protocol.

Revolv has a list of compatible devices online, and even has links to those products on Amazon. But if you have devices that just aren't compatible, your only choice is to let the company know through a "suggestion box" and then hope that others vote for that device to be added.

In comparison with the SmartThings hub, the Revolv hub doesn't appear to me to have as much range or as much compatibility with a wide variety of sensors and switches. I initially started out with the Revolv hub in nearly the same spot as the SmartThings hub was during its testing, and it couldn't detect many of the devices that the SmartThings hub picked up immediately. Even moving the Revolv hub to other locations didn't seem to help.

Actions

Rather than use IFTTT to allow mashups in an almost-infinite variety, Revolv's app has the ability to create actions. One of my first tests was to do something that took me no time to accomplish with WeMo's own rules and that's to have a specific light in the house turned on when someone trips the sensor, then turn off the light after a certain amount of time has elapsed.

When I tried using Revolv's actions to do this, I could get the light to turn on, but then it turned off immediately. As far as I could tell, there was no way to get that to turn off after a set period of time. What I finally ended up doing was something that's supposed to be resolved with a hub: using an app specific to the problem at hand, in this case the WeMo app.

That's not to say that Revolv's actions and app aren't useful -- they just weren't in this particular case. Some of the other actions include having lights go on as you get near your home, as the hub determines its location during setup and the app uses iOS 7's Location Services to figure out where you are at any particular time.

Along with location-driven actions, the Revolv app also provides actions based on the status of a device (on or off) and on time.

Design

Although the Revolv hub costs about three times the amount of the SmartThings hub, it looks cheaper. The red, plasticky exterior of the Revolv hub might be attractive to some home automation fans, but to me the sleek white exterior of the SmartThings hub is preferable and blends into a lot more homes. On the other hand, not having to plug in an Ethernet cable makes it possible to place the Revolv hub in a lot more locations.

Conclusion

The Revolv Smart Home Hub wins kudos from me for its simple setup process. However, the lack of breadth of sensors that can be controlled (moisture sensors, for example), the inability to create mashups with IFTTT, and the relatively high price are three sticking points for me. IFTTT integration vastly expands the abilities of the competing SmartThings hub, making it possible to do such bizarre things as receive a phone call from your house when a plumbing leak is detected or activate an alarm when severe weather is approaching.

I won't count Revolv out of the picture yet -- the company says they still have three more radio standards to implement in the device, and it appears to be moving forward on adding support for new devices all the time.

Rating: 2-1/2 stars out of 4 stars possible

Two and a half stars

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