Devolo Home Control Review Part 1 – Starter Pack

Interested in having a ‘smart home’? Want to do more than just switch a few lights on and off? Want to save energy and cut down on your electric and fuel bills? Want a higher level of convenience and security for your home? Well Devolo think they might have the answer and it’s called Home Control.

There is an increasing selection of smart home devices from different manufacturers to choose from. With it comes a widening number things you can control either through an app on your smartphone regardless of your location or you can build logic driven sequence that act autonomously.  You can now control heating, tailoring it to the needs of an individual room, get warnings if smoke is detected, monitor the power consumption of devices, brew a coffee when you get up, the list goes on.

Devolo AG, based in Germany has been developing communications systems since 2002 and is best known in the consumer market for its dLAN powerline adapters.

Earlier in 2016 they expanded their product portfolio by offering a choice of Z-Wave devices under the Home Control banner. The range currently includes a central unit which is compatible with the existing powerline adapters, window/door sensors, motion sensor, power metering plug, smoke detector, key fob switch, wall switch, room and radiator thermostats. Whilst they don’t have any of their own lightbulbs they do support Philips Hue.

This review of the Starter Pack is the first in a series over the coming weeks where we are going to take a look at the products in the range to determine the capabilities of the system and if it lives up to the claims on the packaging to be – Easy, Reliable, Expandable.

Devolo have taken a bold step and moved into a growing Internet of Things market with their portfolio of Z-wave based devices. The Starter Pack at £179.99 is the first essential building block. 

Unboxing

First we will start with the £180 UK Starter Pack (Art No: 09508). As we want some flexibility positioning the controller to give optimal coverage we will also use a Devolo dLAN 650+ (Art No:9218) to provide an additional network connection.

Devolo Home Control Starter Pack Contents

The Starter Pack contains:

  1. 20 page instruction booklet – don’t throw this away as it has the device serial number and security ID on a sticker on the top right hand corner.
  2. Home Control Central with UK plug (Art No: 2601)
  3. 2m CAT5 Patch lead
  4. Metering plug (Art No: 2655)
  5. Door/window contact (Art No: 2648)
  6. Magnet for door/window contact
  7. 4 off Ph1 head screws for securing the door/window contact and magnet
  8. 3 off 3M double sided foam pads, an alternative to the screws

The Devolo ranges comes nicely packed with an inner cardboard box and the glossy outer, both of which can go to your recycling bin. There is not too much excess plastic to dispose of.

The claim on the box is that it doesn’t get any quicker or easier than this: a smart home in 10 minutes. Just unpack it, plug it in and get started! We have set the timer so let’s get started.

Initial setup

Before powering up any of the devices it is recommended to create a Home Control account at www.mydevolo.com. Registering for a new account is straightforward, you will need to finish registration by clicking the link in the confirmation email. Once logged in with your email and password you will be taken to the myDevolo overview. Quick and easy so far.

Devolo dLAN 650+To give us flexibility positioning the Central Unit we used the dLAN 650+, plugging it in beside the router and then connecting the patch cable. We then plugged the Central Unit into a socket in the hall which is at the centre of the house. The two units starting talking within seconds.

As the central unit doesn’t have wifi it needs to be placed within patching distance of a hub or use a powerline device like this setup, I guess that is Devolo’s intention.

Back on the myDevolo site select the Home Control icon and then you are presented with pre registered Central Units, at this stage only ‘Demo Haus’ is available. Clicking the ‘+’ icon adds a new unit. First you have to enter your physical address, we guess this is used to pull in weather data. Then give your central unit a name. The system then goes off to find any units on the network. Within seconds the unit is found and we are asked to confirm the unit serial number. We are prompted to do a software upgrade on the central unit. After a download, a reboot and a couple of clicks we are prompted to start adding devices.

Devolo Home Control SensorAdding devices

We start by adding the door/window switch to the front door in our test house. The device is approximately 94mm tall, 26mm wide and protrudes 22mm. It has a translucent base and a glossy white cover. The translucent base allows the trigger LED to be seen from all angles. Once opened it’s clear to see what determines the size of the unit, its CR123A battery and below it the antenna. Devolo have chosen the Varta Professional Lithium battery which deliver 3V and 1600mAh. These are relatively inexpensive, a quick search found 10 for £14.00. Only time will tell on their longevity. There is a switch protruding on the back of the unit and an internal switch. Our first thought was that these were for anti-tamper purposes but having checked with Devolo, the switches cannot trigger a rule. Also the devices are not suitably IP rated for outdoor use.

Devolo Home Control SensorSince its going on a uPVC door we opt to use the self adhesive pads, the existing traditional alarm system sensors are located in the same fashion. After pulling the battery tap the switch goes into discovery mode as indicated by the pulsing LED, this can also be triggered by flicking the switch on the rear of the unit 3 times in quick succession.The adhesive pad for the sensor fits perfectly but you will need to cut a pad to fit the magnet. Devolo Home Control SensorWe stick these to the front door. Before doing this we tested the permissible gap between the magnet and the sensor. It still worked with a 20mm gap, this was useful as the shape of the door profile meant the magnet could not go perfectly next to the sensor. We stuck these to the door and door frame.

The setup of the device through my Devolo could not have been easier and a short video illustrated the steps. We then gave the device a name and location and picked a suitable icon. If you don’t want the LED on the device to signal a change then select the ‘No’ option under ‘visual feedback’.

The newly installed device now appears in the device list with its current state, temperature, brightness and battery state.

Devolo Home Control Browser Interface

Following the statistics link you will see graphs of triggers, temperature and brightness over time. This screenshot illustrates a perfect sunrise as the brightness increases

Devolo Home Control Graphs

Going back to the main Dashboard the layout can be modified by dragging and dropping widgets. The dashboards default name is ‘Ubersichtsseite’, which translates to ‘about summary page’ but this is easily changed. Another example is on the device page where the search field says ‘geratenamen suchen’, which translates to ‘random names search’. There are a few areas around the site, including the FAQ that have missed the translation efforts. While these shouldn’t stop a user getting up and running, this is something Devolo should work on. The website has an online chat facility but anytime we tried to use the service it was off line. We did submit a number of questions and these were answered via email within 7 hours.

Devolo Home Control Dashboard

It’s time to add the final device of the starter pack, the Smart Metering Plug. It’s a similar process as adding the previous switch. Go to Devices, press the ‘+’ sign to add a device and select the type of device you want to add, in this case the Smart Metering Plug.

Devolo Home Control Add Device

With a few clicks the device is found and added to the network.

Devolo Home Control Adding Smart Meter Plug

As the name suggests you can switch devices on and off via the plug but it can also tell you the power being consumed by the device and the total power consumed in kWh. Since one of the justifications for a smart home is energy conservation this could be used to determine which device are consuming high amounts of energy. The ability to add a cost per kWh or to aggregate total power consumption or cost for the whole property is missing so it is impossible to see exactly how much different appliances are costing. Devolo please add this to your software development plan.

In essence we were up and running in just over 10 minutes, I am sure it would have been within 10 minutes if we skipped the software update and reboot of the Central Unit.

Devolo Home Control iOS AppGoing Mobile

Next to setup the iOS app. A quick search for myDevolo in the App Store and the press of a button the 52.7mb app was installed. Use the same email and password created on the desktop site to login. The app shares the same style as the desktop site and uses tiles to show the status of the devices. Like the desktop version some of the content is in German such as the FAQs. Our preference was to use the desktop site for setting up and configuring the system. The system cannot use your mobile devices location so there is no geofencing option if you wanted to bring your lights on when you are within say 500 meters of home.

Getting smart

So now the devices have been set up it’s time to make them work. The first thing we want to do is add a schedule for the hall light, not just on and off but to react to its environment. So it’s into the Schedules option. As with many areas of the site you get some useful overlay prompts on what to do next. It was easy to set the light to come on and go off at specific times, you can even set start and end dates for the schedule. We did think the schedule could be smarter, as the site is pulling in weather data for the location, why could it not use dynamic dusk and dawn times i.e turn on 15 min before dusk. The ability to set up a random switching pattern would be useful to give the impression someone is in the property when on vacation.

It is also possible to add some additional logic. Setting up a rule was straightforward just drag and drop the widgets you want to use in the logic. For example we wanted to have the hall light come on if the front door was opened in the dark and the light was not on. So first drag the door switch widget to the ‘IF’ side and then click on the twisty to reveal the setting for temperature, brightness and timing. We selected the less than symbol by clicking on the = sign until it appeared and opted for 20% brightness. We are not sure what 20% brightness is exactly so this may take a bit of fine tuning. Then drop the light switch to the ‘IF’ side with the logic selected to ‘AND’. On the light tile select it to off, as we don’t want the light being turned on if it was already on. On the ‘Then’ side drop the light tile and move the switch to on. Save this rule and within seconds we have a smart greeting light in the hall.

Devolo Home Control - Progaming Logic

The Verdict

There are a few things that could be improved. Having no WiFi access may not suit all users and the desktop interface did have some German popping up periodically. The iOS app is basic and lacks some of the finesse of the desktop version. Brightness is measured in %, an option for lux might be more meaningful. The schedule function allows the user to set up basic on and off times, it would be useful to allow additional dynamic options such as dusk and dawn time triggers or random timings. The ability to cost appliances consumption would be nice. No geofencing so it cannot bring on the lights when you are 500m from your home. The ability to aggregate and cost power consumption would be welcomed.

On the plus side the hardware is robust and well constructed and the software is clear and succinct on a web browser. The starter pack was up and running in around 10 minutes as promised. The device temperature, brightness, state power consumption graphing options are useful when looking for trends. Adding devices was a flawless process and the system lived up to the marketing expectations as a quick and easy introduction to home automation.

There is a good selection of Devolo components to build your smart home and in our next instalment we will add some motion detection, remote switching capabilities and look at the Scenes and Groups functions.

devolo.com  :  Now Read Part 2

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8 Comments on "Devolo Home Control Review Part 1 – Starter Pack"

  1. richard gil | June 3, 2016 at 10:53 am |

    Good in depth review

  2. Having considered the devolo system for some time, along with others, to replace my capable but far from fully automated system. So on the strength of reading this review (part 1) I went out and purchased the starter pack.
    My experience based on this excellent review is as follows.
    I plugged in the base unit into a wall socket close to an Ethernet switch, registered and installed the included power switch and door sensor. All up and running in about 11 minutes. Now I have other z-wave units from my previous system, 4 Danfoss LC 13 trv’s, a Danfoss Room Stat, 4 THB power sockets, a Philio motion sensor, a Aeon Multi sensor and a Fibaro FGSS001 smoke sensor. All of the above where excluded from previous network and factory reset, after just over 3 hours ( one of the LC13 did not want to play) all where included. Again following this review all except the Fibaro FGSS001, Aeon, Philio, oh and I forgot a StellaZ trv are opperating and communicating flawlessly.
    Thanks again for this review looking forward to part 2.

  3. Thanks for the feedback on the review.

    I had previously ventured into Z-Wave home automation and was not overly impressed so I gave up on it. So when I tried the Devolo Home Control kit my expectations were low but this kit and reset my expectations. It is easy to use, reliable and the interface is clear and concise. There are development opportunities for Devolo but overall it has been a great experience.

    It’s good to get the feedback on the systems interoperability with a comprehensive range of other manufacturers devices. We will be looking at this in the final installment of our review.

    Stay tuned!

  4. Yes, my previous z-wave system left a lot to be desired. But this devolo starter pack impresses me more each day, so much so I have now all radiators covered save one and added another room thermostat.

    I now have comprehensive cover of the heating, my sole aim, but without integrated boiler control, this is taken care of separately by a wireless programmer.

    A big investment but a massive improvement.

    With more information and funds I hope to expand the system.

  5. Glyne Davies | July 4, 2016 at 8:51 am |

    Well one month in and my honeymoon with the HCCU is getting a little fraught.

    Mostly all is well but since the last firmware update I have experienced units going offline and the non devolo/clone items are now next to useless, this maybe down to some having ridiculously long factory set wake up times, not conducive to devolo system and not being able to fine tune their setting.

    The worst is a new devolo wall switch only including after three resets and shows offline but appears to work ok, switching units on and off, it’s also less than three meters away from the HCCU. I have emailed support and await a reply and I’m sure there is an answer.

    Awaiting part three of this review.

  6. Update:
    After not receiving a reply from support 2 days on and impatient as I am I decided to try again.

    Two further factory resets of the Wall Switch and I now have it included as a two paddle switch. After extensive testing it appears to be operating as it should.

    Because of the ease of installing all other units I was taken aback by the problems with this switch. As I have much of what I require from the system for the time being I will hold back on further expansion until I at least get a reply from support.

  7. @Glyne did you get that response from support?

  8. Hi Mark B. Yes received reply, the support team asked for HCCU serial number and registered email address to investigate.
    Explained Wall Switch operating now OK, (and still is) thanked for reply.

    Still at a loss as to why I had so much trouble with this devolo switch as I have since included a further two Danfoss LC13’s without any problems.

    Still quite pleased with system but winter will be the real test, although I don’t envisage any problems, fingers crossed.

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