The success of the easy-to-use and all-in-one smart home systems like SimpliSafe has led to an avalanche of competitors trying to enter the market. These have achieved varying degrees of success, but tend to have one thing in common: they are very cheap.
Aqara is the last brand to launch its hat on this ring, with its smart home starter kit Aqara. This Zigbee-based Apple HomeKit compatible system consists of five components. In the center is the Aqara Hub, a thick disk that connects directly to the power of the wall. As the brain of the system, the hub houses a Wi-Fi bridge (only 2.4 GHz) and an on-board siren.
This review is part of TechHive’s coverage of the best smart home systems, where you will find Competitive product reviews, in addition to a buyer’s guide to the features you should consider when buying.
The box includes two sensors, a door / window sensor and a motion sensor. You also get a basic smart plug and a single-button wireless switch that you can use for various control operations. The hardware is utilitarian design but surprisingly compact and discreet. Only the large smart plug does not fit the rest of the group.
The configuration is done through the Aqara Home application, although if you have an Apple device on hand you can also configure things with HomeKit. Aqara and HomeKit have a bit difficult integration, and in my tests, the Aqara application did not import any of my HomeKit configurations (such as room names), nor did it incorporate other HomeKit devices into my network within the application. On the contrary, the Aqara team successfully appeared in the iOS Home application.
After following some simple setup instructions to put the Hub online, Aqara proceeds to connect the sensors and other accessories automatically. This was somewhat surprising to me, since I still had to remove the plastic tab that hooks the batteries to turn them on.
The application does not even tell you to do this, but all sensors (presumably previously paired) are displayed in the Aqara Home application. Once I turned on the sensors and connected the smart plug, everything was activated in the Aqara Home app, successfully paired and ready to go. A rarity: Aqara also automatically paired a smart bulb with my application, although a bulb is not included in the starter kit.
The Aqara application does not offer the most intuitive interfaces, and it is difficult to say at first glance whether its main function is a security system or a more general system for controlling smart devices. The answer, of course, is both. Aqara wants to be a bit of everything, telling him if the door is open, how much light is in the room (there is a luminance sensor built into the motion sensor), if the smart plug is on and if the alarm is activated. enabled, all at once. There is not much rhyme or reason for any of this, although if you do not have too many sensors and accessories (the hub reaches maximum support 32 anyway), it is not difficult to get an idea of the system status at a glance.
Putting all this into productive use is another matter, and it quickly becomes clear that Aqara has a lot to do, particularly as a security solution. Let’s start there, because Aqara’s security features are terribly undercooked. By default, Aqara sets a rule that sounds the alarm if motion is detected or if the door / window sensor is triggered, which is a great start, but that’s all it can do. There is no timer system that activates the alarm after one minute when leaving the house, and there is no keypad for visitors to deactivate the alarm when they arrive.
The included smart button is at least preprogrammed to use to turn the alarm on and off (as well as the smart plug, interestingly, depending on the number and duration of the button presses), but this does not seem to this reviewer as a feature that It offers any level of real security. The siren is quite tame even at maximum volume, and the inclusion of various sound effects (such as “ghost calls”) feels frivolous rather than safe and comforting. There is also no battery or cellular backup function: the entire system can be deactivated simply by disconnecting the hub. While Aqara sends automatic notifications, it should probably be clear that there are also no professional monitoring features available. As security systems progress, it simply does not deter too much.
On the positive side, Aqara includes a curious graphics-based registration system for those looking to keep an eye on things. If you want to see when motion was detected, you can view the activity hour by hour and drill down from there for details. A “smart records” section, hidden in the Profile tab, combines records for all your devices on a single page if you really want more details.
You can also take advantage of a rule system based on if / then to link several components. If you want to reprogram the button to exclusively control the smart switch, that is not difficult to do. If you want more complexity, Aqara sells a variety of additional types of sensors, including vibration sensors, water and temperature / humidity leaks, each for less than $ 20. But it is worth repeating that the concentrator can only control 32 devices. Allegedly, Alexa and Google Assistant support is also included, but Alexa could never find my Aqara devices in my tests.
For just $ 130, the Aqara starter kit compares favorably in price with the competing team of brands such as Abode and Simplisafe, and is a good value considering the amount of sensors and accessories you get in the box. While it does not deserve a solid recommendation at this time, particularly as a security solution, I am hopeful that future updates will at least teach you some new tricks.
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