SmartThings vs Ninjablocks vs Vera?


(Noah M) #1

Hi everyone

I am new here (and to HA) and hoping that someone might be able to help. I am trying to decide on what system to go with and had a lot of questions. Based on what I’ve researched so far, I’m most interested in these options:

  • Ninja blocks. I like their open-source approach, low cost, and what looks like an elegent and extensible rules engine. But my concern is that it may be too early and the system lacks a robust dev community and device support (in particular, not being able to use zwave devices easily)
  • SmartThings. Seems like a good system, but not sure I’ll be able to easily create and manage the kinds of rules I want. I also am concerned about dependency on internet access, as this is for a house in the mountains with spotty internet
  • Vera Lite or Vera 3. I like the fact that it has what looks like a pretty robust community and lots of people using it. But people seem generally agreed that the UI is bad and can be difficult to use
  • I haven’t looked as much at other systems (insteon, homeseer, etc). most seem generally outdated and/or hard to use. Are they worth looking at?

My anticipated use is fairly straightforward. It would be for a vacation home that we sometimes rent.

General controls:

  • Door locks with temp passcodes enabled remotely
  • Cameras, motion sensors, door sensors
  • “Startup” house on arrival (unlock doors, turn on heat, turn on lights, turn on hot tub, turn on water)
  • “Shutdown” house when empty (reverse of above)
  • alarm if activity w/o presence token?
  • Turn on ceiling fan when outside temp above 80
  • get text message each time visitor door code is used or door opens w/o passcode
Hot tub:
  • manual on/off of pump and heat with 1 button remote
  • cycle pump (no heat) 30 mins twice a day
  • turn on heat and pump for 5 mins every half hour when air temp is below 32
  • turn off after 10 pm if no-one in area
I think all of this is fairly straightforward, but I’m sure I’ll want to expand and explore further once I have the basics

some of the comoponents I am considering:
Intermatic CA3750 InTouch Wireless Multi-Volt 120-277VAC Contactor Module
Aeotec DSB05xxx-ZWUS Z-Wave Muliti Sensor, 2nd Edition
Kwikset 912 Z-Wave Tustin SmartCode Electronic Lever featuring SmartKey in Venetian Bronze
SmartThings Know and Control Your Home Kit

Is SmartThings capable of handling that type of automation?

Any comments are truly appreciated!!
Noah


(Chrisb) #2

Door locks with temp passcodes enabled remotely
SmartThings can not do passcodes with any lock right now. They say they are planning on it, but it’ll likely be a while yet before we see it.

Cameras, motion sensors, door sensors
Cameras – not directly. There is some effort to get IP camera integrated, but I’m not sure where that is yet. Motion sensors definitely. Door sensors, definitely.

“Startup” house on arrival (unlock doors, turn on heat, turn on lights, turn on hot tub, turn on water)
Yes, definitely. Using Presence or Mobile Presence SmartThings can detect when you arrive and based on that run multiple SmartApps. The only thing I’m not sure of it s the “turn on the water.” What do you mean by that?

“Shutdown” house when empty (reverse of above)
Again, yes… should work fine. When presence tags leave, other apps are triggered.

alarm if activity w/o presence token?
Yes, using smartapps you can do this.

Turn on ceiling fan when outside temp above 80
Yes. There is a app out there that can do this I believe.

get text message each time visitor door code is used or door opens w/o passcode
Because no passcodes, then this is no. You could be notified each time the door is opened without you home, but not based on passcode.

manual on/off of pump and heat with 1 button remote
Kind of… it depends on what you want to use for the remote. The problem is that most (all?) z-wave remotes are really secondary controllers and these don’t report back to a central hub properly. You can do this with a “dumby” switch or using an open/close sensor as the “remote.”

cycle pump (no heat) 30 mins twice a day
Assuming that heat and pump are independent power cords and the pump using a physical switch, then yes it should work.

turn on heat and pump for 5 mins every half hour when air temp is below 32
Assuming the the heat is a physical switch, then yes.

turn off after 10 pm if no-one in area
Yes, using motion sensors and/or presence tags.

some of the comoponents I am considering:
Intermatic CA3750 InTouch Wireless Multi-Volt 120-277VAC Contactor Module

Should work. I have a number of Intermatic Z-wave things and they work perfectly.

Aeotec DSB05xxx-ZWUS Z-Wave Muliti Sensor, 2nd Edition
Yes. I have two of these.

Kwikset 912 Z-Wave Tustin SmartCode Electronic Lever featuring SmartKey in Venetian Bronze
Yes. I have one of these. Outside of the passcode thing of course.


(Gray) #3

I can’t say anything about Vera, but I did look into Ninjablocks quite a bit. I rejected it because they made the stupid decision to go with a non-standard 433 MHz as the main protocol. They seem to have admitted this wasn’t the best solution because their latest iteration, Ninja Sphere, switches to Zigbee and bluetooth, dropping support for 433. It still won’t support Z-wave without a dongle though.

I don’t believe Vera supports Zigbee. While all of the devices you mentioned are Z-wave, this is one advantage that ST has. But from what I hear, Vera can control quite a few aspects of more common Z-wave devices than ST. Like the locks. I believe you can set up codes and such through Vera, but ST doesn’t support that yet.


(Chrisb) #4

The benefit of being open source is that if you get someone who knows what he’s doing… like BigPunk6, you can sometimes get these features for the official support comes along!

http://build.smartthings.com/forums/topic/door-locks-fully-supported-by-sts/page/2/#post-8143


(Noah M) #5

Thanks everyone for your responses. I decided to go with ST and I just ordered my first batch of toys and I’ll let you know how it all goes


(Noah M) #6

OK. Out of the box, I’m able to do some basic controls and like the super-simple approach…but I’m totally flummoxed on next steps to do the more complicated controls I want to.

I liked what I saw with Ninja blocks and the ability to easily configure different actions based on sensor state and various conditions, all in a pretty intuitive UI (Vera looked like it had the same thing just a more complicated UI). It looks like I can do similar with ST, but I have to write a complete custom app???!!!

that seems like a pretty onerous undertaking and a lot more complicated than Vera or Ninja blocks!

Here’s a simple set of things I’d like to do with my hot tub (as an example)

  • manual turn pump and heater on/off with 1 button remote or dummy switch
  • cycle pump (no heat) 30 mins twice a day on a timed basis
  • turn on heat and pump for 5 mins every half hour when air temp is below 32
  • turn pump and heat off after 10 pm if no activity in the area for 15 minutes

We rent the house frequently, so having controls that are easy to use for guests, but give me control when remote are important. Down the road, I would also like to be able to have a simplified tablet-based UI to allow guests to control things as well, but mask the ‘edit’ capability so that it’s really just a switchboard

I’m technically proficient but not a coder. Further…I don’t really want to have to get into code to accomplish things like the above. Am I heading down the wrong path with SmartThings? Am I better off switching to Vera?

Do people ever hire out services? Can I pay someone to write a smart app like the above?

I really like aspects of what I’ve seen with ST, but I’m afraid I may just be too early and it’s not really ready for primetime as far as an end user like myself. And I don’t think I’m alone…it’s a pretty big gap for ST to leave between canned apps (albeit with a degree of configurability) and writing code. The rules-based UI ninja blocks is working on seems much more flexible and easy to use

thanks in advance for any thoughts or advice!!!


(Chrisb) #7

@noahm,

One of the problems with SmartThings is that is still relatively new and they are ironing out some issues. Many of the apps you want already exist, some of them have been created for others and are shared apps. Because SmartThings hasn’t fully evolved to the point where users can submit their apps and you can simply pull them down to your device, you have to go through a few more steps. Essentially you’re going to copy someone’s shared app (their code) and “re-create” their app in your apps. To do this you’ll go into the area and act as if you’re creating a new app. After giving it a name a description go to the code area. Now in the top right corner there is a link browse existing SmartApps, including ones shared by other users. Here’s a quick cheat sheet I wrote a while ago: https://www.dropbox.com/s/jtlrls9otfwxpjy/STGetAppStart.pdf

Generally, even if there isn’t a specific app that does what you want it to do, there’s often something pretty darn close that’ll work with just a little code modification.

Now, on to your specific needs:
manual turn pump and heater on/off with 1 button remote or dummy switch
If you have a Dummy Switch (ie, a z-wave switch that isn’t wired to anything) than you should be able to use the existing “The Big Switch” app in the convenience section.

cycle pump (no heat) 30 mins twice a day on a timed basis
This one is easy. Simple using the existing “Once a Day” app in the convenience section. Setup your start and end times and install. Then, go back and do it again with your second start and end times. So you’re installing the program twice.

turn on heat and pump for 5 mins every half hour when air temp is below 32
This is definitely going to need a custom app. I think I’d start with av8rdude’s “Porch Fans - On…It is Hot!” app (The MyApps section of shared apps) as a good template for how to schedule an app and how to interact with different devices.

turn pump and heat off after 10 pm if no activity in the area for 15 minutes
Again, you’re going to need a custom app for this. A quick look through the existing apps doesn’t turn up one that would be super easy to modify, but this shouldn’t be too hard to do.

We rent the house frequently, so having controls that are easy to use for guests, but give me control when remote are important. Down the road, I would also like to be able to have a simplified tablet-based UI to allow guests to control things as well, but mask the ‘edit’ capability so that it’s really just a switchboard

What you probably want to do here is setup an Android tablet with Tasker commands for these things. It’s a bit complicated, but there’s a nice tutorial to get you through it. I use this to place an icon on my kids tablets so they can control different things. They have one icon for each switch/outlet in their rooms. Tap it to toggle on/off.

I’m technically proficient but not a coder. Further…I don’t really want to have to get into code to accomplish things like the above. Am I heading down the wrong path with SmartThings? Am I better off switching to Vera?

Do people ever hire out services? Can I pay someone to write a smart app like the above?

Have you do any coding ever? I took some classes “way back when” and did some real simply coding in Basic, Visual Basic, and Pascal. It’s been more than a decade since I did any coding. But I was able to do some simple and even some moderate level coding just by looking at examples and modifying existing programs. If you’d done any coding in the past I’d urge you to take a look… I think you’ll find that you can do more than you thought you could.

You can always ask for help in the developers forum too if you get stuck with anything.

Finally, I’m sure if you offered that people would do some coding for you. I have no idea what price they’d want, but if it’s easy stuff I don’t imagine it would cost too much. Again, I’d ask in the developer section.

And I don’t think I’m alone…it’s a pretty big gap for ST to leave between canned apps (albeit with a degree of configurability) and writing code. The rules-based UI ninja blocks is working on seems much more flexible and easy to use

Obviously I’ve never used the rules based stuff from ninjablocks. My concern with stuff like that how complex can it get with the GUI before you have to dig into the code anyway? For example, I think it would be relatively easy to say: At 10pm, turn this off. But how easy would it be to say: Between 10pm and 8am, check every 15 minutes and turn off if it’s on? Next can it handle using a motion sensor to “disable” the automatic off? Maybe I’m wrong… maybe this is something that can all be done with the GUI drag and drop stuff, but I tend to think you’d have to get into the underlying code real quick with something like this.


(Noah M) #8

@chrisb: thanks for the thorough response. I’m starting to figure things out…but my problem is lack of time and lack of experience in copious equal parts. I’m planning on putting in some time this weekend to see if I can figure any of this out

thanks again


(Ron M) #9

I’m new to ST but have had Vera 3 a few years now. I like Vera when it works but it’s buggy and unreliable. It’s also slow to respond and the lag increases over time until the unit is restarted. I decided to switch to ST knowing that there would be some sacrifice but hopefully a faster and more reliable platform overall. So far I am pleased with ST, I have most of my controls migrated over, including two Nest thermostats. The interface is not as robust as Vera but it has potential and is better on many other levels. The ability to code and edit device types is a wonderful capability.