Devolo Home Control review: Smart home gear that’s not as clever as it should be
Devolo is best known for its range of Powerline Homeplug networking products, so it was a surprise to see the German company launch a full range of smart-home kit. The core Home Control Starter Kit contains a control hub, a door sensor and a plug adapter for controlling electrical devices such as lamps.
Other optional components include a smoke detector, motion sensors, thermostats, wall switches and key fobs. Surprisingly, given that most household lights in the UK are fitted into ceilings rather than free-standing lamps, Devolo doesn’t sell compatible lightbulbs.
The control hub is the key component. It connects to your router either via Ethernet or Powerline – oddly, there’s no Wi-Fi option – and communicates with all the other components using Z-Wave networking, so basic functions will continue to work in the event of an internet outage. That also means it should be compatible with non-Devolo Z-Wave smart home products, but we didn’t have the chance to test this.
Devolo Home Control review: Setting up
The control hub needs to be set up using a web browser on a desktop or laptop, and you have to create an online Devolo account. After that, everything can be configured and controlled remotely from the web interface, which was easy to use despite the occasional bit of stray, untranslated German.
Alternatively, you can use Devolo’s respective iOS, Android and Amazon Fire My Devolo apps, but these weren’t quite as well organised as the web interface.
The setup wizards for the home-control components include handy streaming videos illustrating how to set up and install each one, although these can be very superficial for the simpler components such as the key fob.
In most cases, it’s simply a matter of pressing a button or pulling out a plastic tab to turn the component on, and then waiting for it to register with your control hub before fitting it in the position of your choice. Most components can be fitted to walls and door/window frames using screws or double-sided tape, which are included with each component.
Once everything is configured and in place, it’s also possible to set up rules enabling your various home-control components to work together automatically. I quickly created a rule where opening the front door would automatically turn on a radio plugged into the plug adapter.
I also created a rule where any movement detected by the motion sensor (£56) near a window would automatically turn on a lamp plugged into the plug adapter and sent an email notification. It’s also possible to set rules to run on a schedule, and combine those with the other rules to set up quite complicated trigger scenarios.
Devolo Home Control review: Features
There’s quite a range of components in the system, and each has its own individual abilities. The plug adapters, for instance, keep track of power use so you can also use them to monitor power-hungry appliances.
Many of the components also measure temperature, which you can then track on a graph in the web interface, so you can easily identify hot or cold spots if you’re worried about your unevenly insulated home. Many of the components can also track brightness, but this is shown as a meaningless percentage figure rather than something more useful such as lumens or nits. This makes setting up a light to come on when it gets dark, for instance, very much a trial and error.
It gets more interesting when you add the switches and buttons into the equation. There’s a four-button key fob (£40) you can keep in your pocket and a wall switch (£43), and both can be set up to run rules when pressed. The wall switch is a rocker and can be configured as either a single or double rocker switch using the included plates.
One of the suggested uses for the wall switch – mounting it on your bed frame – elicited much derisive chortling in the Alphr offices, but I can see its appeal. Imagine being able to turn on or off multiple devices plugged into plug adapters without having to get out of bed: that’s great if you’re the forgetful type or – let’s get serious for a moment – have mobility issues.
Then there’s the smoke detector (£56). It’s loud, as a smoke alarm ought to be, and it’s tamper-resistant, too. Attempting to remove it from its mounting bracket or prise open the plain white plastic casing will cause the alarm to sound. Disappointingly, there’s no convenient way to silence the smoke detector. You can’t dab a button on the app as you can with the Nest Protect alarm; instead, during false alarms, you’ll have to prod the small button or waft a tea towel at it instead.
This general lack of cleverness also extends to the thermostat (£89) and thermostatic radiator valves (£67). Although I wasn’t able to test it extensively, as my test home already has a Nest smart thermostat fitted, it doesn’t have any comparable learning features. While the ability to control the temperature remotely or easily schedule it are still useful given the generally poor state of thermostat interface design, the lack of more advanced capabilities leaves Devolo’s smart home components feeling more like improved versions of the home-automation kits we’ve had for years rather than true smart home gear.
Devolo Home Control review: Verdict
Another overarching issue – albeit one that Devolo Home Control shares with other connected home kits – is the lack of compatibility with rival smart home systems such as Works with Nest, Apple’s HomeKit and Google Brillo.
Devolo says it’s looking into compatibility with Nest and HomeKit, but for now home kit like this is still a risky purchase, for early adopters only.
A more immediate concern is Belkin’s comparably priced ZigBee-based Wemo smart home system. As well as having compatible lightbulbs in its range, albeit ones with screw rather than bayonet fittings, this system also works with IFTTT for more complex, easier-to-use rule setup. Devolo’s Home Control Starter kit is still good, but I’d think carefully about what you want to achieve with it before splashing out.