I’ve been a fan of Universal Devices‘ ISY line of home automation controllers for quite a while. They are incredibly powerful, highly extensible, and very reasonably priced. The current model is the ISY-994i, and it supports multiple protocols (Insteon, X10, and optionally Z-Wave), can manage over a thousand devices, and run a thousand custom programs. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the ISYs still suffer from a horrid user interface, a Java client that looks like an applet stuck in a 90’s time warp.
I use an ISY-994i as my primary home automation controller, but recently needed to make changes to another family member’s configuration, one that I need to support remotely, and so I used the opportunity to take a look an updated contender, Smarthome’s Insteon 2245 Hub.
The Insteon 2245 Hub is a small Applesque white box less than 4″ by 4″, and 1.5″ high. It features a single Ethernet connection, power slot, and an LED. That’s it. But don’t let its diminutive size fool you, this is an impressive piece of hardware built for simplicity. Plug it in, install the iOS, Android, or Windows app, and it just works.
Or rather, it should. When I installed the app on an iPad it found the device on the network, but could never complete the configuration. And so I had to call Smarthome support, a process which reminded me just how good their support is. Yes, I had to wait 17 minutes, but when I got a rep on the phone he was efficient, competent, and genuinely helpful (no running through scripts). It turns out that my device was running new firmware that had a bug in it, so he had me run through steps to rewind to older firmware, and then all was good. So, points scored for support.
Once the device was powered up and connected, I had to connect it to all the already installed outlets and switches. This required selecting an option in the app, and then pressing a button on each device. One device gave me grief and had to be manually reset, but that aside, hooking up all the devices was quick and painless. The app recognized each device properly and displayed appropriate controls for each. At this point I could touch any switch or outlet or device in the app, and turn on, off, dim, etc. So far so good.
Next up, scenes (device grouping). Again, this is initiated within the app, define a scene, and then add its members. Unfortunately, this process didn’t work as well as it should have, several scenes had to be created multiple times, and more than one required going to each device to manually press the configuration button. But, not that big a deal, it all worked pretty well.
The final step was to set up programming schedules, and this is where I ran into the Insteon Hub’s limitations. I use scheduling extensively. I have events tied to times of day, sunrise and sunset, specific days and dates, and more. And I’ve gotten used to just how flexible ISY scheduling is, I have never run into scheduling conditions that it couldn’t handle. The Insteon Hub on the other hand? Consider the following:
- I have a scene that turns on at sunset and off at sunrise every single day. I have another scene that turns on at sunset and off at sunrise on certain days only. Insteon hub won’t allow that, only one scheduled event can be tied to each time slot, including sunrise and sunset.
- No problem, so I’ll schedule one for a few minutes before or after sunrise and sunset, right? Nope. Time arithmetic is not supported at all, so no hours or minutes +/- anything, something the ISY does with ease.
- There is also no support for date based scheduling, only day of week is supported, so no scheduling ahead of time based on travel schedules, for example.
- No support for AND or OR conditions.
- No support for sequences of non-time-based events (do something when a light is turned on, or a motion sensor tripped, thermostat reached specific temperature, or a water leak sensor triggered).
- It gets worse, but you get the idea.
Honestly, Insteon Hub’s scheduling support is pathetic; it can handle simple time of day and not much else. This is a really serious limitation. Fortunately, it’s a software limitation, so perhaps a future firmware update can address this. (And I really hope that that the just announced upcoming Insteon 2243 Hub Pro isn’t similarly crippled).
A few other notes:
- Insteon Hub requires Internet access.
- Settings are synced to the cloud, which makes me wonder why there is no web client to compliment the app client (well, there is one, but it doesn’t do much).
- The hub seems to support just about every Insteon device out there, that’s good news.
- Insteon Hub supports Nest thermostats (in addition to Insteon thermostats, of course).
- X10 is not supported. This shouldn’t be an issue for most users, but if you have legacy devices, keep that in mind.
- HouseLinc is not supported, that’s coming in the 2243 Hub Pro.
- Local network access is needed for initial configuration, but after that any Internet access works, even cellular.
- Remote camera monitoring (assuming compatible cameras and/or DVR) is supported.
So, what’s the verdict? All in all, I do like the Insteon 2245 Hub, it addresses a real need not served by more complex controllers like the ISY. It’s inexpensive at $100, and an absolute bargain on sale now for $40. If you need a simple remote-manageable home automation controller, something that will let you check devices, alert you to device status changes, turn devices on and off, and work with scenes, then this one is truly worthy of consideration. But if scheduling is a key part of your home automation strategy (as it is mine), then look elsewhere’ poor scheduling support truly is this device’s Achilles’ Heel.