The Aqara Smart Home Starter Kit is the kind of product that more companies should be making.
When you set out to build a smart home, it can be easy to be overwhelmed by what you need to have in your smart home, or even what your smart home should really be.
What’s exciting about this product its that there aren’t many kits like this out there. People are often left to figure things out on their own, and end up with some smart lights and plugs, and call it a day.
The Aqara Smart Home Starter Kit is an easy way to get introduced to both smart home functionality and automation. The devices included let anyone build a solid smart home foundation, with an easy path to adding more devices to expand and complete their home.
In the box you’ll have the Hub, a smart plug, a window/door sensor, a motion sensor, and a smart button.
Between these 5 things you can easily cover the majority of smart home automations, but we’ll go into more detail later on.
The Aqara system is compatible with both HomeKit and Google Assistant, and even Alexa, though it doesn’t say so on the box. HomeKit is the first ecosystem that the Aqara brand was built around, while the Google and Alexa inclusions are still works in progress.
The first impression you’ll have with this kit is one of quality. Unboxing is quick and the products are all laid out in their own cutouts in the packaging; certainly an experience on par with an Amazon or Google product.
A nice touch that I found was that they give you extra adhesives for each product in case you decide to move the device to somewhere else in your home, and the existing adhesive pad needs to be replaced.
Setting up the Aqara Smart Home Starter Kit
Setup is pretty straightforward, it comes with a little booklet that has all the instructions clearly written out, and even has detailed information for each of devices that you get in the box.
You go through the typical process of downloading an app, linking the Hub to your WiFi (2.4 GHz only, by the way), and then adding the devices into your Home app.
The hub is wireless only, in fact it has the plug built right into it, so this entire kit is purely wireless. It also will take-up two plug spaces, due to its shape and size, so I would recommend putting it somewhere that you don’t need to plug stuff in often.
Some of you may be wondering why you even need a hub in the first place. Good question.
While many smart home devices rely on WiFi, that isn’t always the best option. It also isn’t particularly feasible for small battery powered devices such as motion sensors or wireless buttons.
WiFi requires a fair bit of power, which is why most of these little devices rely on a low power wireless protocol called Zigbee, (and sometimes Z-wave).
Your phone and your router don’t have a way of connecting to Zigbee devices, so they instead connect to a Hub that can then connect to everything else.
Many other products, notably Philips Hue lights, also use Zigbee to connect with their devices.
I would somewhat prefer the hub to have the option of a wired connection as well, but I think for a lot of people having a wireless hub that they can plug in anywhere is a bonus.
The hub itself has a built in speaker, though just for alerts, not for music or anything, and also has a big LED ring around it, that it actually identifies as a light in the app.
The Home app immediately recognized the hub and all of the accessories in the box, so that part of the setup was a breeze.
The Aqara home app even suggested some automations to get started, like linking the button with the smart plug, which would be great for making a regular lamp part of your smart home.
A minor annoyance with HomeKit is that they still don’t have the native functionality of just switching the state of a device as an action, but rather only turning off, or only turning on.
This can be achieved with a tedious and lengthy “Shortcut”, but is something that I don’t think any newcomer, or sane human would be expected to figure out.
This means that to achieve what I just mentioned, have the button toggle the plug on / off, everyone will have it be set up in the Aqara app.
This isn’t the end of the world, but it would be preferable to have all automations and device interactions contained in one place.
I mentioned earlier that the Aqara Kit also works with Google Assistant, as it is printed on the box, and also Alexa, which is not printed on the box.
To add the devices to Alexa, you just add the Skill and link your account, and for Google Assistant you just add the device and sign in.
Both of these ecosystems were able to link to the Aqara account and Hub, and add the devices; however they seemed to have trouble finding all of the devices.
Alexa was about to find four out of the five Aqara devices, somehow missing the button, meanwhile Google assistant was only able to find three out of the five devices.
There didn’t appear to be any particular reason why they didn’t find everything, and even deleting and re-adding did not yield results.
The devices that were able to be found by Alexa and Google Assistant worked well though. They were responsive and didn’t give any communication errors.
If you were looking to build a smart home around having an Alexa or Google Assistant ecosystem, then I would hold off on the Aqara Smart Home as it is still clearly a work in progress.
How well do Aqara Smart Home Devices Work?
I initially set this up as if these were my only smart home devices, and tested out their responsiveness and automations. This was done so that it would emulate someone buying this as their first smart home devices.
It would also allow me to make sure that the devices worked completely on their own merit, and any errors weren’t caused by another device.
I placed the door sensors on my front door, the smart plug was used for the light strip that goes around my whole master bedroom, and the smart button was placed on the wall to turn that on or off.
The motion sensor was placed in my hallway and it would activate the hub light, which served really well as a nighttime path light.
If this was the first set of devices I got to start a smart home I would be very happy with what I got. I would also be very tempted and inclined to purchase more devices to outfit the rest of my home.
All the automations that were set up with the devices have been quick and reliable, providing a good experience. Getting slow responses, or “no response” errors from smart home devices is all too common, and can be very off putting, especially to newcomers.
All of this brings us to the golden question:
Should you buy the Aqara Smart Home Starter Kit?
Let’s start with the price. It is $130 on Amazon, but you can frequently find discount or coupon codes that bring it down to $110.
If you added up the cost of each of these devices individually it would cost about $20-30 more; so buying them in this starter kit saves you a little bit of money, but also allows for the simplicity of getting everything you need to get started.
Ultimately I am really impressed by this starter kit; both with the device quality and functionality in a smart home environment, and would easily recommend it to anyone looking to start a smart home.
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