The smart-home market is really quite crowded these days. But, as it matures, I think a lot of brands will settle into being the staple for a lot of people. The leading brands will emerge to provide a clearer choice for many. As you know, I own an abode smart home hub, a SmartThings hub and I’ve got the Apple TV with HomeKit.
Aqara reached out to me and said, “Can you have a look at ours, tell us what you think?” So, we’re gonna have a closer look at that and I’ll tell you all the good things and the very few bad things that I feel about this range.
I’ve been playing with these for quite a while now, a few weeks, which has made Aqara think that I’m never gonna do a review of their hardware. But the time is now. The range that I am reviewing is really only a small portion of all of the devices that they have available. I will just touch on the ones that I had them send to me and why I asked for these devices specifically.
The name Aqara comes from the Latin of two words that have been jammed together. One is “acutulus,” which, I understand, means “smart.” And then, “ara” means “home.” And, so, “acutulus,” “ara,” = Aqara.
Aqara G2H Camera Hub and Zigbee
I’ll start with the core piece of hardware, which is the hub. Aqara (from Xiaomi) have two hubs but the model I’m writing about here is their camera hub – both an HD camera and a Zigbee powered smart home hub. This is ZigBee and Wi-Fi-enabled. So, no Z-Wave here, and I’m okay with that. I kind of have a thing for ZigBee, not like…OK that’s weird, the things is that it’s more international.
With Z-Wave, if you’re down in Australia or New Zealand for example, the frequency is different to North America, etc., which means you can’t just buy hardware from around the world and then connect it to you hub and it works.
But with ZigBee, this is the case, you can connect anything. Things kind of just work together much more efficiently. And there are some slight variances in ZigBee frequencies around the world but not enough that it really is gonna be a problem for everyone. And I think that’s why people like Amazon and Apple got together and said, “Hey, let’s work together with ZigBee to create kind of a standard internationally”.
The whole smart-home standard with ZigBee and Wi-Fi and Z-Wave and custom frequencies, radio frequencies, has the ability to kind of run away on itself and we could end up with something like DVD regions all over the world. And that would be a complete disaster for consumers. I believe their thinking is, why don’t we kinda try and unify that so that every country gets to play in the same space?”
What is cool about Aqara, which really interested me most about having a look at it is that it’s all Apple HomeKit-certified. For a long time, manufacturers were really struggling with Apple because it was so hard to get hardware HomeKit certified.
I believe Apple has now relaxed the rules around that a little bit, but, overall, a lot of hardware integrators have taken a long time to get there. Abode came out with their Gateway Version 1 probably nearly 5 years ago and said HomeKit was coming. But only with Version 2 of their hub did they actually bring it to life and then Iota had that as well.
I don’t think the Gen 1 hub, which I have, still has HomeKit retrofitted to it, it’s been actually a while since I’ve even bothered to look.
Aqara integrates really well with HomeKit. So, once you get the hardware device set up, you can go to your Home App on your iPhone and then the camera will, with a little bit of connectivity, become part of your Home App and you will have full camera streaming. From there you can do things like, when you leave home, it will say, “All right, I’ll start recording now if there’s any motion on the camera.” And then, when you come home, it’ll say, “All right, I’m not gonna record anything anymore but the live feed is always available.”
The base can sit flat, upright or rotate (manually). When sitting flat it kind of looks like an Among Us character.
Aqara and Smart Speakers
The Aqara doesn’t only work with Apple, they also got it right with working with other smart speakers. So, if you’ve got Alexa or you’ve got Google, this will work with that too.
Set up wasn’t a major problem for me. There were a couple of little gremlins there in terms of the firmware update, it didn’t look like it had finished, but then it had finished. And then I was trying to connect another device to it, which wouldn’t really connect. And, so, I just did a quick restart and then everything worked fine.
Don’t be scared of that because, even with my Ring devices and all the other hardware that I have around the house, switches, bulbs, lights, locks, controllers – I’ve always had problems with smart-home hubs, SmartThings, Abode, HomeKit, openHAB. All of those have had some issues for me over time with new device set ups.
So, I wasn’t too fazed with it. And as I say, a quick restart and everything connected great.
There are some voice prompts on setup. She has one of those voices that you wouldn’t want to be married to. But it is nice to have a little bit of a verbal confirmation like “Device not connected,” or “device connected.” It’s the little things.
Flicking back to the HomeKit conversation for just a minute, one of the things that I do appreciate about that is, you know, whether you trust Apple or not, I kind of do, I think they’re trying to get it right. And, therefore, to be HomeKit-certified means you have to reach a certain level to make sure that, you know, the data is secure, the interoperability is tight and waterproof. And that gives me a lot of confidence with this stuff.
Aqara Smart Home App
The Aqara Smarthome app on the iPhone is good. It feels familiar if you have used SmartThings or he Apple Home app. It’s really well put together, and there’s a lot of depth of features in it, things like facial recognition via connectivity to iCloud. It really is quite feature-rich.
My goal here really is just to give you confidence that you won’t be disappointed. I really am pleasantly surprised, especially with the product design and the quality of the finish of the hardware. It really is quite superb.
Now, when they said, “What would you like us to send you to have a look at?” I was quite specific. Normally, I would’ve gone with a light, a plug, a switch, a hub, and a camera. But because they had over 40 devices, I thought, “Let’s go with some different accessories.”
Wireless Mini Switch
I do have a standard ZigBee just button, push button, programmable push-button, on/off stuff.
So, it’s very straightforward, nice and light, nice and tactile. Well made – the quality feels great. All of them generally come with some sort of ring on the back with a double-sided piece of tape for connectivity so that you can just, you know, stick it to your wall, or a table, or a desk, or anything. Wherever you want it to go. So, quite simple, that is just a push-button switch, programmable.
And I like these because, you know, sometimes, if I’m trying to be, as I’ve said before, a silent Ninja, creeping into bed because everyone else is asleep, it’s nice to be able to just have a button that you push that’s programmed to turn off all the lights in the house. Nice.
This is not something that I’ve seen very common in smart-home devices, which is literally just a vibration sensor. I know there’s brake-glass sensors, there’s other audible alert sensors, but this is just a very small vibration unit designed to detect vibration.
You could put this in a drawer so that, if someone’s gonna open a drawer, you get a notification saying, “Hey, the drawer’s open.” You know, brilliant for kids, the Cookie Monster, cookie drawer, “Oh, I noticed you’re getting into the…” It’s not stalking when it’s family, right?
Aqara Motion Sensor
The other device, which I’m a huge fan of, and I’m always thinking of ways to be more creative is motion sensors.
I have things set up like, if the house is dark and I wake up in the middle of night (because I’m old and I can’t sleep very well) and I just wanna drink water, I can go to the kitchen, motion sensor picks me up and a soft light comes on, I haven’t touched the light switch, I haven’t fully woken up, it’s not too bright, it’s a nice smart light.
I grab a glass of water. While it’s detecting motion, it stays on. And then I just walk out of the kitchen and go back to bed, and then it’ll all shuts down automatically.
These are the cool things I love doing with motion sensors. You know, a motion sensor at a door to turn a light on. A motion sensor in a dark part of the house and the garage when you walk in, the lights come on, things like that.
Aqara has one of the best-looking motion sensors that I have seen. It’s cooler than the Abode, it’s cooler than the SmartThings ones I’ve had, it’s cooler than the Aeotec one I have. Sorry guys, I love all your brands but this one, it’s just a really great size and looks good.
It comes with a little stand, obviously if you wanted to use it, which you can use just to stand the sensor up on something. There is some movement in the stand to angle it in different directions.
Finally, there’s the cube. So, what can the cube do?
Well, the cube can do lots of things. Now, I love these things but, at the same time, I always forget what they can do because there are so many things they can do. And you have to remember how you programmed it.
2-year battery life, which I find on most of my devices.
You can control with six actions.
You can push it and that’ll pick up an action that you’ve programmed it to do. You can shake it and that will pick up an action or a scene or a group of actions that you’ve asked it to do. You can rotate it, like spin it on the table. Picks that up as well. I’m guessing it’s just got a gyroscope in there that’s picking all this up. You can flip it 90 degrees and it will do something. And you can flip it 180 degrees and it will do something else. And you can tap it twice and it will do something else. So, in terms of…I can do lots of things, man. The cube can do lots of things, man, but it’s up to you to program it.
So, don’t be shy, jump in there!
Back to the camera
It’s just a standard USB plug that keeps it powered. HD quality, I was super impressed.
So, what’s the competition like? If you’re not going the open-source route (let’s just put openHAB and Home Assistant and those dudes over to the side for this one), those are great if you love tinkering. If you don’t love tinkering, you want “off the shelf, and it works” and you’re looking for a smart home hub with a bunch of controllers and switches, I tell you what…Aqara beats them out.
I would choose Abode if you’re going for a hardcore security system with good back-to-base controls, alarms. They would be the obvious a competitor in that space.
I would choose SmartThings, if you want incredibly broad and diverse interoperability. With SmartThings, you’ve got Z-Wave, ZigBee, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth. There are lots of connectivity options with SmartThings and it probably has connectivity to most devices.
But, if you’re in a space where you only need a camera or two, you need all the great things that a smart home brings, you want it to be easy to set up, HomeKit-level security that integrates with your HomeKit, can be controlled by your smart-home speaker, Aqara is a great choice.
Any questions, anything you wanna see, ask them in the comments below. Bye for now