Pretty much every smart home manufacturer has its own app and little ecosystem, and Aqara is no exception.
For most WiFi based devices this is necessary to get the device connected to your network and get it up and running.
And it also makes sense for any company to want to keep you within their own walled garden. However most of them don’t make a compelling case for it, and the only thing you’ll need the app for is to check for firmware updates every now and then.
I recently reviewed the Aqara Smart Home Starter Kit, which I concluded was an excellent kit for someone starting out with Smart Home tech. However I also immediately imported everything into HomeKit and tested it in that capacity.
But today I want to see what it would be like if I just used the Aqara Home app instead, which I imagine many people might do.
Aqara Home App Layout and UX
Right off the bat the Aqara App looks a bit of a blend of the Samsung SmartThings app and the Home App, and I honestly think it looks better than both.
At the bottom you’ve got the common 5 screen layout, with “Home / Accessories / Automation / Scene / Profile”
In the Home page you’re shown “Information” and “Control”, both of which are customizable.
The Control portion serves as a Favorites section, allowing you to quickly change the state of a device, but also enable automations or scenes.
The Information portion at the top will tell you the current state of your sensors and the last time they were activated. I actually prefer this to the iOS Home app, as it tells you more information, and is actually easier to read.
The Accessories tab will present all the devices you have linked to the Aqara Hub, and list them by room. This is more of an informational and settings type page than it is a command page, although you can also control them all too. I will give it kudos for providing a decent amount of information, for example the Smart Plug detail will tell you its power usage stats, for today, current, and the month.
I’ve preferred this style of device listing to what the Home App uses for a while, since I really hate swiping from room to room, or having to find and select the room I want to select something in.
The automations tab is where you can set up and control all of your automations, and we’ll go into more detail on that in a bit.
Scene is just for making scenes, so if you wanted to have the lights a certain way when a movie was on etc, this is where you would do it.
And finally profile is basically your Home and Account settings. This is where you can export your devices and settings to HomeKit, as well as connect to voice assistants like Alexa and Google Assistant.
Overall I think it’s an easy interface to use and I don’t think any newcomer would get particularly lost or confused using it. It offers some extra functionality and UX choices over the standard iOS Home app that I wouldn’t mind seeing implemented there as well.
Smart Home Automations
I recently went over all of the different automations you can implement with just the devices in the Aqara Smart Home Starter Kit.
In there I did everything using the Home App, so let’s see how the Aqara App can compare.
Right off the bat it gets points having a simple “toggle” automation. Something that HomeKit still doesn’t have for some inexplicable reason. This means that you don’t need to write a damn script just to have the light turn on if it was off, and vice versa.
When you set up the Aqara app for the first time, it will even suggest some pre made automations, which is nice.
Creating more custom automations requires a bit more work though. And while it is flexible in my aspects, it’s sometimes a bit confusing as to how to get that to work.
I do like that you can set automations with multiple conditions, and choose between all conditions or any conditions being met for it to trigger the automation.
The absolute most confusing part was that you could add conditions be swiping to the left, which I would not assume anyone would figure out on their own without just randomly swiping around.
For example if you wanted the lights to turn off when motion is detected between a certain time, you would select the motion detector, but then swipe as if you were deleting it, and add the time restrictions.
I’m glad that the functionality is there but I’m not impressed by that implementation. I’m fairly tech savvy and I was about to give up, so I can only imagine the patience of someone else.
I also like that the “Delay” option is right there, and lets you immediately do minutes and seconds, and not just like seconds like in HomeKit.
I also like that you can have check for Automations within automations; so you can check if someone already enabled an automation, then you can make it so that it does something a little different.
Similar to if someone is already home and has triggered the “At Home” automation, then you can make it so that it does something slightly different to alert the person that you’re now home.
What it doesn’t appear to have is location based automations; which are a big deal to me.
If you live alone or are on a schedule that doesn’t change much, then you can easily implement time based automations without them hiccuping too much.
But if there are multiple people in your household, or your daily schedule is a bit more fluid, then time based automations will have to have much greater buffers to work properly, if they ever do at all.
Then there are of course the more wide drawbacks which are that it’s only for Aqara devices.
You could theoretically build out a decent smart home with only Aqara devices. They’ve got smart switches and dimmers, all sorts of sensors, lights, etc. In which case you could stay within their little walled garden.
However if you wanted to expand and have devices from all sorts of companies and manufacturers, then you basically have to move on to another app that can talk to all of the different devices.
Then there’s also the disadvantage of having no voice assistant functionality, with the iPhone at least. Unless you import everything into the Home app, Siri won’t be able to trigger any scenes, or control any of your devices.
So what does all of this mean?
It basically means that if you are starting out are impressed with Aqara devices and keep buying them, you can stay within their app for a little while.
But there is that hard wall that you will eventually hit, when any further functionality simply won’t be there, and you’ll have to move on to more comprehensive and complete apps to further your smart home.
You can get the Aqara Smart Home Starter Kit here: (amazon affiliate.)