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.
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.
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.
The Starter Pack contains:
- 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.
- Home Control Central with UK plug (Art No: 2601)
- 2m CAT5 Patch lead
- Metering plug (Art No: 2655)
- Door/window contact (Art No: 2648)
- Magnet for door/window contact
- 4 off Ph1 head screws for securing the door/window contact and magnet
- 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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
Since 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. We 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.
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
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.
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.
With a few clicks the device is found and added to the network.
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.
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.
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.
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.