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Choosing your home brain

(Singlish Version)

An online search on "Best Smart home hubs 2018" will garner you lots of results written by writers around the globe. Sadly, most Home Automation (HA) hubs are costly and packed with features that may not be applicable to the Singapore context :( Fret not. We have consolidated a few affordable hubs which we Singaporeans can easily gain access to.

So how can we make better choices when choosing your smart hub?

Firstly, let's start off with what is a Smart Home hub? The amazing internet will tell you several definition of a Smart Home hub. For brevity, we will consider the basic definition: a Smart Home Hub is a hardware device that can communicate, instruct and control smart home gadgets through various network protocols (e.g. Z wave/Zigbee/WeMo etc.).
Secondly, we have tested a few hubs based on a few criteria i.e.

  1. How easily can we connect them with other appliances
  2. The variety of smart gadgets the hub can connect to,
  3. Affordability
  4. Availability, last and most importantly,
  5. How compatible is it in Singapore context

Here are some of them:

 

Philips Hue

Image taken from Howtogeek

The central smart lighting controller for all things Philips. It works seamlessly (really seamlessly) with any and only Philips devices (tested on Philips Hue Bulbs, LED Strips, Hue Tap and Motion Sensors) and has its own mobile app which is also beautifully designed. Setting up Philips devices with its hub was easy and smooth, without any hiccups. We observed that Philips Hue Bridge is the ideal cost effective and reliable choice for Smart LED bulbs and Smart LED Strip Lights; compared to its smart light range competitors. Though, Philips Smart bulbs are reasonably priced for its quality, it can still amount to quite a sizeable amount if you decide to overhaul your entire home lighting to Philips Smart bulbs. You should also consider the long term maintenance cost of replacing the smart bulb. We would suggest to weigh the cost of smart bulbs versus automating your existing light switch. In most occasion, the latter will be cheaper. We will post more on this comparison in future. Stay tuned!

Network Protocol: Wifi only

Variety of smart gadgets: Philips Hue product line only

Price in SGD: Retails at $89 from Lazada. May be more affordable if purchased as a starter kit during Philips Carnival Sale.

Where to buy: Available in most electronics departmental store and during the Philips Carnival Sale.

Compatibility to a Singapore home: Plugs and voltage are 240V, compatible to our power/lighting points.

Mijia Gateway

Image taken from XiaoMi homepage
Yet another central controller from the renown Chinese company Xiao Mi. The Xiaomi MiJia (Mi Home) is home to a large and growing platter of smart devices that is exceptionally cost efficient. Such competitive pricing makes the MiJia Gateway the ideal hub for all your Smart Home sensors eg. Door/Window and Motion sensors.

Network Protocol: Wifi only

Variety of smart gadgets: Xiaomi MiJia(Mi Home) product line only

Price in SGD: The starter kit (inclusive of hub, a door sensor, a motion sensor, a wireless switch) retails at $75 from Qoo10.

Where to buy: Online shopping store such as Aliexpress, Qoo10 and Lazada.

Compatibility to a Singapore home: Setting up the MiJia hub can be complicated as the software was written and designed for usage in Mainland China. Thankfully, since its launch, the online community has written a handful of easy-to-follow English guides. Here is one simple video guide we followed during our testing. Plugs and voltage are 220V, and the appliances are two-prong plugs. i.e. you will need an adaptor to be able to use the smart devices.

Securifi - Almond 3/Almond+

Unique hub that serves as a reliable router and a Smart Home central controller that connects with many variety of smart home devices. You can find the list of smart devices that works with Almond in this link.

Please note that some devices found in the link are meant for US users. These devices may not be suitable in Singapore due to voltage differences of power sockets and lighting points. Although the Almond is comprehensive and packed with many feature, through testing, we observed that the user interface can be rather complex for some users. Also note that the latest model Almond 3, though cheaper and more powerful as a router, requires an additional USB Z-Wave dongle to unlock the Smart Home Hub feature.

Network Protocol: Almond+ has built in Zigbee and Z-Wave

Variety of smart gadgets: https://www.securifi.com/rg/sensors

Price in SGD: The Almond 3 is USD$139.50 at Amazon.

Compatibility to a Singapore home:

You can find out who is entering or exiting your home whenever their smart phone's wifi connects or disconnects from the Almond Router.
Unlike other routers, advance router capabilities such as assigning a static address can easily be done with minimal configuration.
The wifi range of the Almond is also phenomenal as the coverage was wide enough for regular 5 room HDB flats in Singapore. We were surprised to access wifi even in hard to reach places like bathrooms. Saving on the need for additional wifi repeaters could very well be the greatest plus factor of the Almond.

Where to buy: Amazon.

Amazon Echo

The leading Smart Home Voice Assistant (Alexa) that serves as a hub in the cloud by connecting with almost all smart home devices in the market. With the Amazon Echo, you may control your smart devices with just your voice and completely hand-free, just like Tony Stark. We will recommend to place the entry range Echo Dot at every room in the house due to its small form factor and high affordability.

While Alexa can control numerous smart home devices, many of the integrations require a smart home hub to act as a middle man. Do not be mistaken that it can your home's only hub.

Also since Alexa is always in the cloud, your Echo will need to be constantly connected to the internet for voice-enabled commands to be activated. Always ensure your smart switches can be turn on or off the conventional manual way when your internet is down.

To pair the Amazon Echo with your Smart Home devices, you will need to search and enable the complementary Alexa Smart Home skill from the Alexa Skills "App Store". The skills app store can be accessed from the Alexa mobile/web app.

As this process has to be done manually for each brand of smart device you introduce to your home, we thought that this maybe tedious and not intuitive to some.

Network Protocol: Bluetooth (for audio communication), Wi-Fi (for connection with your router only)

Variety of smart gadgets: Almost countless number of Smart Home devices are supported. Simply look out for the Alexa-Enabled label.

Price in SGD: Entry range Echo dot starts at only USD$49.99 from Amazon. Regular promotions as well as bulk discounts are also available for the Echo dot.

Where to buy: Amazon or from 3rd party reseller like Qoo10.

Compatibility to a Singapore home:

Weather, Flash Briefing (News) and most Alexa skill command are applicable to the US Context only. For instance, when you make a weather request ("what is the weather"), Alexa will return you the weather in Seattle. This is because weather is fetched based on the location of the Amazon Echo which is currently limited to the US postal areas only.

In addition, iOS users may only download the Alexa mobile app from the US app store. Take special note to set your App store region to the United States.

Google Home

A relatively new Smart Home Voice Assistant backed by the world famous search engine Google. Like the Amazon Echo, it falls under the category of a hub as it is connected via the Cloud to many variety of smart devices. We have yet to test its capabilities fully but we are certain it will be a viable contender for your Smart Home due to its reputation and the growing support for this product.

We will keep you posted on the Google Home in future.

Network Protocol: Bluetooth (for audio communication), Wi-Fi (for connection with your router only)

Variety of smart gadgets: Google Home is still very new. Lets keep this hanging; we will keep you posted. :)

Price in SGD: Entry range Echo dot starts at only USD$49.99 from Amazon.

Where to buy: 3rd party reseller like Qoo10 or ezbuy.

Compatibility to a Singapore home: Immediately detects your location and updates you based on its google searches locally. There is no need to do additional setup to fit it to be compatible to Singapore context. It is able to tell us local weather from its proprietary application. However, we did find a few occasions where the local weather updates were slightly different from the ones we got from NEA. Currently, local news feed (e.g. from Channel News Asia) are not available. Finally, we also noticed that it connects to your Spotify account and it does very well at playing music; we could even get it to play songs from Jay Chou. Google has certainly lived up to its name for being the top in voice recognition (in terms of song titles and song artistes).

Conclusion

Your smart home revolves around the Home Automation (HA) hub. There is no best hub, but only one hub that suits all your needs. It is always good to do lots of research before purchasing a hub; as technology is constantly changing to feed its users with advancements. Feel free to drop us an email at askme@homeagenius.sg if you have any questions!

Team Home-A-Genius signing off!

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