There’s been a big problem with the smart home concept, and to understand the trouble, it helps to think of smart home set ups in a different way. Many of us have an eclectic friend group: There’s the people from your childhood. School chums. Random folks you’ve felt kismet with after meeting at bars or the gym. Work pals and colleagues, and those true friends who are there through thick and thin. As much as you love and appreciate all the people form those different circles, chances are you don’t intermingle them. Likely because you may worry those different personality types, backgrounds, and interests are unlikely to commingle easily. Now, think of your friend groups as smart home gadgets. While Google, Philips Hue, Amazon Echo, Wyze and Ring are great on their own, they don’t talk to eachother as well sometimes. What if there was a way for each of your friend groups (or smart home devices) to actually talk to each other meaningfully without crossed wires, missed connections and conversational barriers? This is the premise of Homey. If you’re interested in the concept of Homey and looking for a full review of Homey Bridge, you’ve come to the right place.
What is Homey Bridge?
Homey has just launched its Homey Bridge manufactured by the Dutch company Athom B.V. Think of Homey in the same way you’d think of an Amazon Echo Device or a Google Nest Hub: it acts as a central command point for smart home gadgets and it can control them all. Homey’s promise is that it can link disparate smart home gadgets under one app, in theory meaning you no longer need to flip among half a dozen apps to manage your devices. Well, that’s the promise, anyway. In practice, Homey actually appears more limiting than the marketing materials let on. I got hands-on with Homey bridge days before its public launch (after it was delayed over a year, which I wrote about for Digital Trends ). In this article I’ll take a look at what Homey claims to do, how it works and if it could really be the uniting force of the future of smart home.
What does Homey work with?
Homey is designed to work, not just with different brands (Philips Hue, Somfy, Fibaro) but with different internet protocols or types of wireless connections, including Zigbee, Z-Wave Plus, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Infrared and 433MHz (UK only). At this moment it doesn’t work with Matter, but Homey tells me that’s coming later this year.
Homey Bridge pairs with the Homey App which you’ll use to connect and manage up to five smart home devices. Any more than that and you need to pay to upgrade to Homey Premium for $2.99/month. Will it be worth it? Read on.
Many smart home brands are missing
Homey claims to work with about 1,000 different brands, but a quick survey of the ones operating in my own smart home showed I was out of luck on several. While it will work with Philips Hue, some select Google Home devices, and LIFX, it was not compatible with Abode, Cync by GE, Eve, Wyze, or Ring. While Govee shows up in the app, that doesn’t work either; more on that in a sec too. You also won’t find any Amazon Echo compatibility. In truth, many of the brands it works with are European, like Kasa, Ikea. As a tech blogger I often have many gadgets and devices from many brands at my disposal to test out. The fact I struggled to find devices in my home that would work with Homey today perhaps says something about how realistic it would be for the average consumer to adopt at this early stage of the Homey game.
Homey set up: easy
Getting Homey itself set up was easy enough. Plug it in, and download the app, then follow the instructions to get it on your Wi-Fi network. The product design is lovely; it’s a puck-shaped hub with a brushed silver and black wrap and a rainbow LED light ring underneath for some subtle drama. Once you’ve set up Homey, you need to set up the Homey app so you can add devices to it. What does Homey app do? It lets you manage all your smart home devices inside the one app, plus you can create more complicated routines than some other apps allow you to do.
My test package came with a few smart home accessories from Aqara and Fibaro, brands which I have not ever tried.
I had a door sensor and a motion sensor plus a smart plug set up and added to the app fairly quickly. The I moved to add my Nest Thermostat, and was able to add it into the Homey app with a few clicks and allowing permission. I was able to then use Homey app to adjust temperature. The first thing I noticed was that it converted my Celsius-configured thermostat readouts to Farenheit, and after spending 15 minutes surfing around the app, I couldn’t see how to put it back to Celsius.
Some brand integrations aren’t ‘official’, need to pay to use
Next up, I was hoping to add my Govee lights to the Homey app, since on Homey’s website it shows Govee is compatible. But sadly, Govee integration is only available to Homey Pro users. I asked Homey why that was, wondering why some brands would require you to seemingly pay for access when their own apps are free:
“There’s no pay-only access for certain brands or apps. So there’s also no difference between compatibility of the free version of Homey and Homey Premium. There is a difference though between Homey / Homey Premium and our flagship hub Homey Pro. The latter has local processing support for community-built Homey Apps. These are apps built by our dev community that extend Homey’s compatibility, but are not sanctioned by the brand (in this case Govee). Because this means continuity of the integration cannot be guaranteed, and also because there’s often a bit less polish in the UX, we decided to allow these community apps on our prosumer product Homey Pro, but not on the mainstream-focused version of Homey. Govee is one of the brands we’re opening conversations with to get them on board as official partner. Support for community-built apps is one of the main differences between Homey Bridge Vs Homey Pro,” according to an e-mail response I received to my query.
With no ability to add Govee lights, I decided to see if my Eve smart home devices would play nicely with Homey, but no dice there either.
Back to Homey for the explanation:
“As for Eve – most of these HomeKit devices will support Matter, and we are currently looking into the best way to bring Matter devices to Homey. Homey Pro will already have Matter built-in in Q2 of this year, and like I said, for Homey we’re currently looking into the best way to bring Matter devices on board as well – making sure that Matter devices will work well with Homey one way or another. For HomeKit devices that do not get Matter, these we usually cannot control as they are typically HomeKit-only. If they have their own APIs as well, next to HomeKit (like Philips hue has) this changes and we integrate them that way. For Eve specifically I don’t believe this is the case and these devices are currently HomeKit-only at the moment, but slated to change with the arrival of Matter.”
To summarize, I was only able to get a Nest Thermostat, a smart plug and a door-window sensor set up to work with Homey. Does Homey work with Nest? The short answer is, sort of and sometimes.
Using Homey for smart home routines: How to create ‘Flows’ with Homey
If you’re familiar with Alexa of Google Routines, Homey offers similar connected commands, and these are called Flows. Setting up a Flow was… interesting. I think it helps if you have a robust smart home assortment of devices, which at the moment I do not.
I started by trying to create a simple Flow where, when the Door and Window Sensor opens, a light would turn on. Except I couldn’t get it to work, since none of the triggers involving the Door/Window sensor allow for that.
Next I decided to create another Flow where when the temperature went above 20 degrees Celsius, the smart plug would turn a light on. That worked.
Without being able to test out a few more devices, it’s hard for me to get a sense of how intricate and complex these Flows can be. For the moment, these Flows don’t seem to be anything more than I can do today using Google Home or Amazon Alexa. Overall Flows are easy to set up and seem easy enough to interpret, depending on the brands involved.
Does Homey have voice control? Not without buying more devices
If you’re hoping for voice control with Homey, you’re out of luck. There’s no integrated voice smarts in the Bridge itself. If you want to use your voice you’d need a Google Nest Hub Max (and at the moment that’s the only Google speaker that will work with Homey) or an Amazon Echo device. Trouble is, if you already have almost any newer Echo speaker, Homey may be redundant, since Alexa can already control and manage hundreds of smart home devices for your already. (I use both Google and Alexa to manage nearly a dozen smart home brands today.)
How does Homey compare to Google or Alexa?
On that topic, I reached out to Homey to ask what the point of its device is if Alexa and Google can already outdo it. Homey’s response:
“This is a fair and good question; Homey offers some things Alexa and Google Home do not, so a lot of users prefer to let Homey ‘orchestrate’ their smart home, but add Alexa and Google Home for voice input. What Homey offers more/differently from voice assistants:
1) Connectivity. Homey includes connectivity to smart home devices on zigbee, Z-wave and Infrared, among others, and unifies these with your other smart home devices. Devices on zigbee, Z-wave and infrared cannot connect to voice assistants on their own – they need a hub.
2) Automation. Homey Flow is more versatile than the automation options of voice assistants. This makes many users want to coordinate their automations within Homey, and use Alexa or Google (or Siri Shortcuts) for some of them as triggers, and add more conditions (and/or, then/else) and have other Flows all in the same place.
3) Privacy. Homey can act as a ‘privacy shield’ for your devices, where live device data is handled in Homey and used for Flows and Homey Insights. Device names and types are exposed to voice assistants if you link those, but the live status isn’t. This allows you to control your devices and trigger Flows from your voice assistant without these collecting (unnecessary) device data on you.
If you don’t want to use Homey as a ‘privacy shield’ and already have devices integrated into Alexa or Google Home, it indeed is redundant to add then again to your voice assistant via Homey. However, a lot of users like having all devices ‘managed’ in one place first (Homey), and then imported in a voice assistant as one of many control options (next to automations, widgets, physical buttons or sensors, etc.). Homey then also adds Flows to that, which voice assistants can trigger too, as well as devices on local tech (zigbee, Z-wave, IR) and acts as the aforementioned privacy shield, so it can provide extra advantages for all users.”
Adding Amazon Smart devices to Homey
As I noted earlier, Homey isn’t compatible with Alexa and Amazon Smart home devices per say. You can add Homey and all the devices you have within it to your Alexa app. But again, this might prove redundant. If you have to revert to the Alexa app to control those devices, what’s Homey so good for?
Overall review of Homey Bridge
Overall I have yet to be sold on the usefulness of Homey for the average consumer. Simply put, chances are if you’re running a basic smart home and already have a Google Nest Hub speaker or an Echo device, you won’t find much use for Homey. If you are looking to start a smart home from scratch, I also wouldn’t recommend Homey yet, since it isn’t compatible with a lot of popular North American smart home brands—I’d recommend you select the gadgets/devices you want first, then see if they will work with Homey. On the other hand, if you are a smart home expert, running some far more complex smart home devices and integrations, you might find this is a good way to bridge disparate devices to create more involved smart home workflows and commands. But again, check that the brands you already have do indeed integrate.
If, like me, you’re struggling to see the usefulness of this device it’s probably the case Homey is not really meant for us. But if you’re reading this and salivating at the prospect of Homey to connect more advanced and disparate devices, I’d love to lean more about why and how you’ll be using it. Post your thoughts in the Comments below.
Meantime, I’ll unplug Homey and put it away for now because my Google Home and Amazon Alexa devices are doing everything I need them to, but I will absolutely give Homey another chance in the future when it can do more for the average North American consumer.
Homey sells for about $69US. It’s currently available for preorder on Homey’s website.