Building on the Starter pack it is natural to extend the scope of the system by adding some additional devices and Devolo have provided a good range of options.
One of the next most obvious additions is the Motion Detector (Art No: 9503) that costs around £50. The first thing that strikes us is the similarity to the Door/Window contact, it is identical on the outside. Open the case and we see it is the same PCB but populated with a different selection of components most notably a PIR sensor. This is the same technology found in most alarm system motion detectors.
Adding the sensor to the Home Control environment is simple and within a few clicks it’s connected. The configuration of this device is a little different from the others as you can adjust the sensitivity of the detector although we stuck with the default 80%. The instructions suggest mounting it at a height of 1.6m and away from sources of heat or direct sunlight. This height easily puts the device with arms reach and without the tamper functionality it might be vulnerable to interference.
We took a number of attempts to find an ideal spot in the hallway of the house. The sensor adequately covered the 6m length of the hall (quoted distance is 8m) but the 80° did prove a little narrow. When approaching from the side of the sensor you need to be directly in front of it to trigger an alarm. A PIR sensor detects Infrared signal emitted or reflected off an object. The detection pattern of most of these devices mean they are quicker to detect an object moving across the target area than towards them. To give adequate motion detection in the test home hallway at least another one detector should be installed. Perhaps ceiling mounting device would be more effective, less conspicuous and harder to interfere with but we didn’t test this approach. As a comparison the intruder alarm PIR sensors in the test house have a 140° angle with multiple detection patterns and whilst larger in size they are less obtrusive when mounted in a corner, however it has the advantage of a constant 12v power supply.
In keeping with the door/window contact the motion sensor has a red visual indicator LED. This is particularly useful when testing the position of the sensor. This feature can be turned off via the device control panel. Usefully this device also measures brightness and temperature and you can avail of the same 3 day history.
Another logical addition is a remote switch (Art No: 9505) which costs around £40. The switch is made of a number of parts that snap fit together:
- The base plate, this can be secured to a surface with 4 off 3M self adhesive pads or the supplied screws.
- The switch surround
- The electronics module with 4 switches, this is powered by a CR3023 battery.
- And finally the switch rocker. You have the option of making this unit a single rocker or a double rocker switch.
The whole assembly felt a little lightweight but once assembled a secured to a surface it is satisfactory and quite discrete with a 22mm protrusion. We chose the single rocker version for our installation. This is going to sound repetitive now but the device addition process was effortless.
One suggested use for the switch is to use it to tell the system the occupants have retired for the evening. We placed the switch on a bedside locker in the master bedroom. We then setup a Rule that if button 1 on the switch was pressed all the switches in the Hall Lighting group were turned off, no more going round turning lights off before going to bed. The switch was located 26m from the central unit without any range issues.
One thing that does strikes us is that as the system expands the device page will become long and busy. It is possible to alphabetically sort devices by location but here is a tip if you are going to have lots of locations. Start each location with a number i.e. 01 Lounge, 02 Hall, 03 Kitchen this will allow you to build a logical sequence of locations rather than an alphabetical list. This way you will see the devices in a recognisable order and the room you interact most with will be on top. A development idea for Devolo is a ‘smart home view’ that would allow users to build a map of their property and see the status of each room or devices in that room, this would make the system much more intuitive. Here is a scenario – A quick look at my smart home plan and I see the garage door is open and the kitchen window is open and someone has left the study lights on.
Some of the components in the Home Control range look identical to devices sold under the Zipato, TKB Home, Philio Tech and Heat Genius brands. It appears that rather than reinvent the hardware Delovo have put their effort into making a seamless ecosystem that works straight out of the box and it’s been a good decision based on our experience to date. Another differentiator is Devolo’s 3 year warranty whereas most other manufacturers offer a 1 year warranty.
One thing that does get us thinking is the price point, creating a smart home is going to be an expensive business and it would be hard to justify based on energy conservation, making this a luxury item. The motion sensor is double the price of a premium brand dual technology (radar/PIR) intruder alarm detector. The Devolo motion sensor is one of the most expensive motion detectors on the market yet it doesn’t offer tamper detection, UV or vibration monitoring. It’s understandable that sales of hardware also pay for the software and its ongoing development. A lower price would make this a commodity item and drive adoption and sales volumes. The risk to Devolo is users like the interface but purchase other manufacturers devices and they lose a valuable revenue stream that finances the software development and R&D. We assume Devolo will have done their market research.
The desktop interface is familiar, clean, crisp and initial screen overlays get you started. The Groups function allows you to build a collection of devices, for example a ‘Smart Plug Lighting’ group could be used within a rule or a scene to turn off all the lights when you go to bed or to turn them on if the smoke detector is triggered.
We did find ourselves questioning if we were using all of the available functionality. We made use of the ‘Can we help?’ chat window. Anytime we opened it we were greeted with the message ‘The expert is not online to answer questions’. We submitted a question and it was answered within 4 hours. It would appear that there is no additional documentation or tutorials for the Groups or Scenes functions. We were referred to the demo site for examples.
Devolo should invest time in educating the systems users and learning from the user’s feedback to drive their software development roadmap. Hosting a users forum may be a good start.
Scenes is akin to writing a macro. You can add multiple Devices, Rules, Schedules, Groups or Notifications. We found ourselves thinking of multiple examples, a ‘Leaving Home’ scene would turn off all the lights, turn down the heating and the inverse, ‘Coming Home’ would turn on some lights, turn up the heating and start the coffee machine. Geofencing would be a useful trigger for some scenes i.e. open the gates, turn on the lights and open the garage door. We will return again to these features as we add more devices.
Instructions on how to use all the functionality of the system in the form of tutorials or short videos would empower users. The price appears to be expensive. The following points are not unique to Devolo Home Control but are worth pointing out to the first time user: The suggested 1.6m height of the motion sensor places it at eye level and the 80° angle of detection is narrow, multiple devices may be required where you have multiple motion paths. The switch does not share the same robust feel as the other devices.
Having installed the Door/Window contact the process is reassuringly familiar for the motion sensor and the switch. As with all Devolo devices they come with a 3 year warranty. Good level of email support. The software is impressively simple with intuitive drag and drop widgets for building Scenes. To date the system has been robust and stable.
In our next instalment we will look at smoke detection, using the system for security purposes and the Notifications function.