Tech at Home: Revolv Smart Home Hub Review

The new Revolv hub brings many different smart home devices under one roof. By ChannelPro

Another newcomer to the do-it-yourself home automation, or smart home, market is Revolv. Revolv, unlike the recently reviewed Lowe’s Iris or other smart home systems such as Insteon, isn’t a family of interconnected products. It’s just the hub and the accompanying app. The trick Revolv has up its sleeve is that thanks to the wide variety of wireless radios built in, it has the potential to be compatible with a huge number of third-party products.

The Revolv hub is completely wireless (it doesn’t even need an Ethernet connection to your router) and contains seven different wireless radios, though only Z-Wave, Wi-Fi, and Insteon are currently active (Zigbee is supposed to be activated soon). With this breadth of wireless coverage, it may eventually be one of the most universal control platforms on the market. Because it aims to be compatible with nearly everything, Revolv doesn’t offer its own line of products. The company’s website does give you list of products it deems compatible.

One of the company’s biggest claims is that the product is extremely easy to set up. That’s true. I had the hub plugged in, connected to my network, and was adding devices in less time than it takes to make coffee. The setup process is actually pretty cool itself. One step requires that you hold you smartphone (in my case an iPhone 4S) above the hub while it uses the camera’s flash to communicate.

After the hub was successfully networked to my router it started automatically searching my home’s airwaves for compatible devices, and it found several right off the bat, including Sonos speakers and Philips Hue LED lights.

I also had a few Insteon devices in the house, but for these I needed a few extra steps. For instance, to connect the Insteon motion sensors I needed to open up the back of the sensor and press a button. All the instructions for connecting devices are shown on your smartphone—no printed instructions are needed or even supplied.

Your devices all show up on a main home page. This is much simpler than having separate apps for each smart home device, though you do sacrifice some of the individual functionally of some of your more complicated devices (more on that later).

Actions
Unifying your devices is nice, but that’s not really automation. Automation comes with programming devices to do things based on other things happening (or not happening). In the Revolv world this programming is called “Actions.” You can program actions based on other devices (such as motion sensors), schedules, locations (when you get home the lights will turn on), or create custom macros that activate multiple devices at once. You could easily create an “All Off” command to turn all the house lights off with one button (assuming all the lights are integrated with Insteon). 

I played with the Actions feature to do several things. I set up a motion sensor to turn on lights, and another one to turn on a Sonos speaker (but I couldn’t get the same sensor to turn the speaker back off when I left the room). I created a macro Action which I called Good Morning that would turn all the Hue lights to green, the Insteon light to medium brightness, and a Sonos speaker to a low volume all by pressing one button. With time and the right devices, you could get a lot more creative than that.

Luckily, the on-screen instructions are easy to follow, so with some practice you’ll be able to design custom actions easily. Actions are a bit limited though. Certain loop actions or actions based on the states of multiple devices are either complicated or impossible to do. 

One thing I really like about the Revolv is that it can work with Insteon keypads. These are small (2 to 8 buttons) remotes that connect wirelessly to the hub and can be configured to do all kinds of macro commands. With these keypads you’re not restricted to digging out your iPhone whenever you want to turn off a light. If I were purchasing a Revolv I’d also get keypads for every room and use double-sided tape to fix them to walls.

In addition to the Sonos speakers and the various smart lights, Revolv can also talk to smart locks from Yale and Kwickset and smart thermostats from Nest, Honeywell, and Trane, plus window shade motors from Somfy and a handful of outlets and motion sensors from GE and Belkin.

Limitations
While the Revolv is pretty good at bringing together devices that work on seemingly incompatible protocols, it’s not perfect. First, in some instances the functionality it offers is limited. With the Philips Hue Revolv can adjust the lights’ brightness and color, but it doesn’t import the scenes you already created, won’t let you use your camera to create light scenes (as the Hue app does), and restricts you to eight colors rather than the continuum you get with the Hue app. For Sonos you get volume and track advancement, but nothing else. You can’t select a new channel or playlist, and you don’t see any of the “Now Playing” information via the Revolv app.

The Revolv has three active radios now and many more built in, but the device selection is still incomplete. The two biggest holes in the device list are security cameras and contact sensors. Security and monitoring are among the main reasons people buy automation systems, but with no video cameras or door/window contact sensors the Revolv can’t function as a DIY security system in the way Lowe’s Iris or Staples Connect can. I had hoped it might recognize my Izon Wi-Fi camera, but no luck.

Revolv has a lot of promise, and if you already have some of the devices it works with, it can save you time sorting through multiple apps. Creating macro actions to do multiple things at once can be fun and practical. Revolv is also interesting because it’s the only DIY system of its kind so far that has any support for entertainment products, and it supports just one: Sonos wireless speakers. Most new TVs and audio systems now include apps and network control, but the functionality of those devices is too complex for a system of this type, so A/V integration is going to remain in the world of professionally installed systems, at least for a little while yet. As a fully functioned home automation system, I think Revolv has some growing to do, though I’m sure that’s coming.

Revolv Smart Home Hub
$299
Pros:
Works with multiple wireless products
Easy to set up
Can link devices with Actions
Cons:
No security camera or door/window sensors
iOS app only

This article was originally published by our content partner, Electronic House.