Smart stuff... so many questions..please guide me!

Hey guys,

Ok this has a potential to turn into a super long post unless I make things short and sweet, so i will try my best. Firstly, I am a geek and very much interested interested in smart living. I know the potential but also know we are far from there. I have been patient the last two years as I am in an old house, with no intention to turn it smart, waiting to move to somewhere new where I always planned to get it as smart as possible. Well that time is now, I move there in 2 weeks and unfortunately, things still seem as messy and lacking in standards so need some help with where to begin.

First I should say what I intend to get out of a smart home. Definitely lighting - i want to control how bright, colors, which rooms and scenes. Same with sound… i want to control volume, playlist and which room. I am using philips hue and sonos for these. Other than that, Id love to control a coffee machine (still dont think one exists that just works), thermostat temperature and perhaps a security camera. Thats roughly about it.

I have an iphone, with no interest in leaving, so ideally I’d like a “homekit” enabled house… unfortunately, of all the hubs out there, this is the least compatible with third party devices so I am bypassing them for now.

In came echo, I thought, and still do think this would be a worthy hub. It seems to be able to control philips lights and sonos nicely, so I relaxed in the knowledge that this is what I would get. But just like any geek, I wanted to see other options… smartthings, as far as I know, is the most integrated hub, with the most third party devices for it so I looked it up. It seems good with a great app but voice recognition is a MUST for me.

This is where I learned that people connected Echo with smartthings. Which leads me to my first major question. Whats the point in smartthings if you have Echo?

My assumption is smartthings has access to way more devices than echo… but needs echo purely for voice recognition.

Presuming that I am correct, I can wrap my head around that… but then I saw that its a common thing to connect echo, smartthings AND LOGITECH HARMONY! Ok, so now Im bloody confused. My brain can’t handle the thought of three hubs. Why is that needed?

Fundamentally, i just want to be able to say things (to which ever voice enabled device i decide on) such as…

“Good morning” - and have coffee started and light dim up

“play my dinner playlist” - and have sonos play the playlist in the dinner room only

“good night” - and have all lights turn off in the bedroom and check all other lights in the house are off.

and I am hoping you guys can help me get there.

Echo in and of itself doesn’t control anything. All it does is take a spoken command and parse it and then pass it over to whatever does control the device.

That controller might be an app or a hub or a bridge or a cloud service, but it’s not echo.

For Phillips hue bulb, it’s the Phillips hue bridge.

For an iHome plug-in pocket socket, it’s the iHome cloud service.

For a Z wave light switch, it could be the smartthings hub.

You talk to Echo, Echo passes along the request to the appropriate bridge/service/hub.

But if you just had a hue bulb, or you just had a zwave switch, echo couldn’t do anything at all with it. There has to be a control device for echo to talk to. :sunglasses:

With regard to echo plus harmony plus smartthings…

Harmony can control your television. Echo can’t and smartthings can’t.

Echo can pass messages to harmony, so if all you want is some voice control of your television, you don’t need smartthings in the picture. Echo by itself is not a hub. It’s a voice interface. So it has to pass a message to harmony to turn on the television.

SmartThings can also pass a message to harmony, so people use that to schedule events other than through voice. For example, if when you arrive home in the evening you want the lights to come on and your television to start the news, you could use SmartThings to talk to harmony to get the television on.


Echo is the voice interface that will pass the request over to the device controller.

Harmony is a device controller that can control devices that use IR, like most home theater equipment.

SmartThings is a different device controller with a much better brain then harmony, which means it can do things like handle time schedules, motion sensors, detect people arriving and leaving, and all that. So if you want to add that kind of scheduling and rules control into the control of your television, you would add SmartThings into the picture.

But if you just want to tell your television to change to HBO with a voice command, you could use just echo and harmony.

From my very, very simplistic view what I will say is that the first things I purchased was 2 WeMo bulbs and a WeMo switch.
I found these to be unreliable when set up through the WeMo app rules. (People think ST is bad!!! Let me tell you this was horrendous).
With a bit of research I found that most things could be controlled by the ST hub. If not, somebody out there would write some code to make it work.
I suppose what I am saying is ST can control most things. Echo, Google Home, Everspring, Belkin, Fibaro. The list goes on.
I’m currently playing with my newly purchased Google Home that is integrated to ST and can control my Google Play Music, Lights, Switches, Heating etc. etc.
Not sure if this helps but just my take.

EDIT: BTW I only have an ST hub controlling my Hue, Sonos etc. etc. stuff. All good and working.

First off, let me say that the write ups that @JDRoberts gave were excellent in explaining the differences between the different devices. To tack on to what’s already been said, there is no “right” path to follow. It’s all about what YOU want to do. My wading into home automation came from wanting to have the lights come on when we walked in the door. When you have two small children, something as simple as flipping on a few light switches can be a chore! :grin: My original thought was to have an Echo and just yell to it when we arrived home. I started super small, with an Echo and a Wemo plug. It got old real quick asking to turn that light on/off. That’s when I really got into the automation piece of home automation. Here I am a year later and the most used lights in the house come on and off without us needing to do anything other than operate as we usually do. A combination of sensors (presence, door, and motion) take care of the automation piece of things. I have a few more to put in place this winter that will really remove some of the last switch presses.

So, if you want to be cool and control things with your voice, get an Echo, or a Google Home and connect away! If you want to automate your life, where stuff happens as your life moves, then get a Smartthings hub and let your imagination (and this forum) make things a bit easier.

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Thanks everyone for your answers. So far everything has helped, but yes, especially @JDRoberts

So i need to think of echo, at least in my case, as nothing more than a “voice device” and attach that to the main brain, which in my case would be “smartthings hub”.

So if I had echo, which i presume, with help from the “skill” can control hue lights with ease… but i also have the smartthings hub, is there an advantage to using echos skill to control lighting as apposed to using echo to tell smartthings to control the lighting?

Do both use the same keyphrases? For example if using echos skill means i have to say some nonsense like “Alexa, trigger kitchen lights” then that would kinda suck. Where as if echo, talks to smartthings and enables me to be able to say many different more natural phrases that that would be another plus point in smartthings favor.

So in short, does linking smartthings to echo allow me to have more freedom in the way i ask echo to do things?

So sorry guys that my questions are probably so badly worded. I’m kinda throwing my thoughts at my keyboard here trying to grasp a few main concepts as it will help me better understand the whole thing :slight_smile:

Say you have a table lamp on your nightstand and you have just named it “nightstand.”

“Trigger” is only needed if you are using the echo IFTTT channel.

Otherwise there are one of two situations.

One) the controller that you want to pass the message to is on its list of officially integrated controllers. In that case, you get the simplest format:

“Alexa, turn on Nightstand.”

This would work if the light was controlled by smartthings, so that the smartthings hub was the controller that echo pass the message to.

It would also work if you didn’t have smartthings but you did have the Phillips hue bridge and the bulb in the table lamp was connected to that bridge. Then the Phillips hue bridge is the controller that echo passes the message to.

There are other approved controllers as well, including harmony on its own, wink, Insteon, yonomi, and some others.

So that’s the first method. It’s using an official echo integration. It’s simple and easy and the phrase is as short as possible. You could even just say “Alexa, nightstand on.” :sunglasses:


  1. you are going to reach the device controller through an officially registered “Alexa skill.” There are literally thousands of skills. The skill is created by another company so that they can take advantage of echo’s ability to understand spoken command. Say the nightstand light was controlled by one of these skills. We’ll just make it a hypothetical called “home commander.” And that’s the name of the skill.

Now you would say

“Alexa, tell Home Commander to turn on Nightstand.”

It’s almost The same, but you have to tell the echo to start the Skill before you speak the home automation command.

It’s not a really big difference, and there are a lot of reasons why you might want to use a skill for some things, but it is a difference.

This is why you’ll see skills examples like “Alexa, tell Dominos to order a pizza.” In that case “Dominos” is the name of the skill, probably provided by the dominos company.

Back to Trigger

Back to the original “trigger” example, that’s sort of an all-purpose skill that’s taking advantage of the IFTTT channel. It means the device manufacturers don’t have to write their own echo skill and get it approved – – they can just connect through IFTTT. That’s a free service. It’s very useful when there’s a device otherwise you just can’t get connected to your system, but it may or may not be something you’ll ever need. If you do, you can explore it then.

So in terms of simplicity of phrasing, SmartThings is one of a privileged set of skills where you don’t have to say the name of the skill in order to get echo to use it. Because Echo is actually going to work from the device name because you have individually registered each of your devices with it and told echo that they belong to a specific controller.

Flexibility in Phrasing

So using SmartThings means you don’t have to say “tell smart things” each time you talk to echo. However, it’s actually one of the least flexible forms of phrasing because the only commands that echo understands in that format is “Alexa, turn on”, " Alexa, turn off," “Alexa, set…” And a few others.

You can call a device or a group anything you want, but it’s a pretty limited set of verbs.

That means you will have to say “Alexa, turn on Good Night” if you want to run a good night routine.

One of the advantages of the IFTTT trigger method is that you can use any phrasing it all that you want after you say “Alexa, trigger.”

so you can say “Alexa, trigger good night”

You can say “Alexa, trigger night mode”

You can say “Alexa, trigger all hands on deck” or whatever you want. But you do have to say “trigger” each time.

(BTW, the new Google Home has a lot of similarities to echo, but it doesn’t require that you say “trigger” to get to IFTTT. So you could say “OK, Google, Secure the drawbridge” for your end of day routine if you wanted. It’s actually the most flexible command format if that’s really important to you. And it does have an official SmartThings integration.)

So different people like different things as far as command formats.

The official echo/SmartThings integration doesn’t give you more flexibility in what you can say, but it does give you the option to drop the skill name from the spoken command , which some people really prefer.

Hi @theviewer1985 I’m really glad you started this thread as you have engaged @JDRoberts (The Guru ;)) into this conversation. Every time JD (hope you don’t mind me calling you this) posts on topics like this, useful information appears and I learn even more.
Thanks @JDRoberts and @theviewer1985 I hope you get a system that works as you want it. Have fun.


A follow up here, because I don’t think it was said explicitly. In the example given, where there is a Hue bridge AND a Smartthings hub, the Echo would talk directly to the Hue bridge, and not through the Smartthings integration. Phillips Hue is one of the Smart devices (as mentioned above) that talk directly to the Echo. Smartthings would still handle any automations, but the Echo wouldn’t talk to the bridge through Smartthings. At that point though, assuming the bridge can do basic automation, Smartthings isn’t really doing much for you.

As mentioned, I have a WeMo outlet. That outlet talks directly to the Echo. I can say “Alexa, turn on WeMo outlet” and it comes on. I made the mistake once of allowing the Echo to see the outlet through Smartthings, but then I got a “there are multiple devices with the same name” error from the Echo when I tried to control it. Took a few minutes to figure out how to resolve that one.

A friend of mine is also starting on the road of home automation and wanted to just start buying devices. I slowed him down and said don’t worry about how to solve a problem until you first figure out what the problem is you are trying to solve. Once you know that, you figure out how to build an automated solution.

Small info but very useful @abcvalenti … you were correct, I was not aware of this and it was a confusing point for me. I wondered how echo would handle itself if both itself and smartthings are able to control the same object in question. So yes, thankyou for clearing that up. So if for arguments sake, I ONLY had philips hue and echo… there really wouldnt be much use at all in a smartthings hub.

Even though my questions are probably coming across random, the answers are definitely helping me gain clarity - and has unearthed one other question that I will tag @JDRoberts as his answers have all been awesome (i was unaware i was talking to a famous smarthings guru)

So, in my individual case, where all I want is philips hue (and bridge) and sonos speakers (both of which are integrated into Echo directly) and voice control is a must… is there any genuine reasons why I should get the smartthings hub? Perhaps echos iphone app / philips integration doesn’t allow me to control lights while away from home which is an important feature in home automation where as the smartthings app would? Off the back of that… perhaps the echo iphone app doesn’t allow me to control anything ever, even from in the house and it all has to be done via voice (that would certainly be a huge reason to get for smartthings)

Overall and just to summarize what i hope ive learnt… I guess echo has only a few DIRECT integrations but LOADS of skills… where as smartthings has LOADS of direct integrations. Most of which, aren’t directly integrated into echo (but in many cases will have a skill, although the direct integration with smartthings will be a nicer experience than the skill not only by voice but via the smartthings app)

Ps. I just re-read @JDRoberts last answer and I want to clear something up… if i was to use philips hue, i thought i would have to have the hue bridge, irregardless of any setup i have. But his answer has planted the seed in my mind that I only need the hue bridge if i dont have the smartthings hub? Hopefully i read it wrong, as that was one aspect I thought I was certain on. So I thought the chain would be “I tell echo > echo talks to smartthings > smartthings talks to hue bridge > hue bridge talks to the individual hue lights”

I only have an ST hub.
I am running 2 Phillips Hue RGBW light strips and a phillips hue RGBW bulb.
Also got a phillips motion sensor.
All run ok using community written Device Handlers.
This is where ST is very good. You can integrate lots of different products from different manufacturers.

Echo/Hue Integration

With the Phillips hue bridge, you have two choices.

You can set it up so that the echo will make its request directly of the hue bridge.

Or you can set it up so that the echo will make the request of smartthings and smartthings will make the request of the hue bridge.

The reason you can do this is because with smartthings and echo, you individually authorize each device that smartthings controls that you want echo to have access to. This is in part a security feature. It means if there’s a switch that you don’t want voice control to apply to, maybe something like a pool pump that you have running on a schedule but that you don’t want your kids turning on and off with voice, you can leave it invisible to echo.

Because of this individual device authorization option, it’s very easy to set up echo so that it is using the official echo/Phillips hue integration to pass messages to the hue bridge and the official echo/smart things integration to pass messages to smartthings for other devices.

That’s the way I recommend setting it up, and it’s the way I did it, because it will be slightly faster, and it will solve some issues that you might run into later. And because it will immediately give you voice control of “scenes” that you set up through the Hue app.

The Phillips hue bridge is somewhat unusual in the home automation world because it is happy to talk to pretty much anybody. :sunglasses: It has lots and lots of “friendships” and it doesn’t favor one over the other. It just keeps all the conversations going, which turns out to be very nice because you can take advantage of whatever different features you like.

Smartthings/Hue Integration

Officially, smartthings requires the hue bridge for the Hue integration. While it’s technically possible to connect a Hue bulb directly to the Smartthings hub and control it that way, it introduces a set of potential new problems and means that, among other things, SmartThings won’t support you if you run into any issues.

If you have a good reason for connecting directly, you can, but otherwise stick with the bridge.

p.s. As far as being a “guru,” i’m not. :wink: But I was a network engineer and had worked with Z wave and zigbee before I ever bought SmartThings. So I am interested in a particular aspect of home automation, network protocols, that most people could care less about. There are many very experienced and helpful community members who will chime in on all kinds of subjects. But there are only three or four of us who have much interest in commandsets and clusters, so we tend to stand out more.

I don’t think there is a Sonos/echo integration at the present time. There is one that has been announced for 2017, but it hasn’t been released yet.

If all you want is voice control of Phillips hue, you don’t need SmartThings. And there is an app which will let you use your phone from the office and turn on lights at home using echo. Although you probably don’t need that either – – you would just use an app that passes a message silently to the Phillips hue bridge. Hue is a very popular product, and there are many apps available that let you do different things with it with just the bridge and the bulbs. :sunglasses::bulb:

What SmartThings gives you primarily is the ability to control A number of different kinds of devices integrated with a number of different kinds of sensors. People wouldn’t typically buy it just for lighting

Whether you need any of those other devices or not, just depends on your own situation. Choice is good.