I’ve been keeping my eye on the smart home world for a little while now, but I never had the chance to pull the trigger on anything due to moving around in rental units so often
That said, we just purchased a house and I was excited to finally jump in and start upgrading various bits of the place.
What I was looking for
There are a bunch of products on the market, but I had a few major requirements to keep my setup simple.
I’m mostly in the Apple ecosystem and wanted a single place to control all of my smart home products. While I was doing my research, I noticed that even if a product doesn’t support HomeKit, you can still force them to make it work through software like Homebridge.
If you’ve got a product in mind that doesn’t support Homekit, I would recommend seeing if there is any 3rd party support available.
This might be an obvious one, but as a designer running a minimal design publication blog, I wanted products that looked great as well.
Sensors are simple enough for the most part, but when it comes to large items like smart locks, there are some really ugly products out there that I wanted to avoid.
Affordability / no monthly subscriptions
It turns out that once you start going down the smart home rabbit hole, it’s kind of hard to stop.
You’ll start seeing the benefits right away, and you’ll probably want to continue improving more and more as you go.
The problem is that the costs can quickly add up, so I wanted a system that wasn’t on the upper end of the price range.
I also didn’t want to invest in a product line with a monthly cost to store data. Most of the major products take this approach (Ring doorbells, Blink cameras, etc.).
Why I went with Aqara
After looking at everything available, the project line from Aqara seemed to check all the boxes I needed.
They have a pretty impressive lineup of products, release them often, and are leaning into the newest smart home technology all the time.
Here’s what I ended up with, and how I’m using each.
Aqara Camera Hub G3
For most systems, you’ll need some sort of hub that connects all the devices together. These are usually separate pieces of equipment that you keep tucked away by your modem and router.
The G3 takes a different approach by combining a hub with a security camera, eliminating the need for two pieces of hardware.
The device is pretty minimal in design, can automatically rotate to follow people in the room, and has really good night vision.
Here’s a screenshot of a live feed of the device to give you an idea of the wide angle and quality.
For comparison, here’s a shot of the camera at night with no other lights on.
My favorite part about this camera is that it automatically uses your iCloud+ plan to store camera data, so there are no extra monthly subscriptions beyond what I was originally paying for.
If you're into the cat aesthetic, it comes with a little silicon cat ear hat as well.
I can't say that's the look I'm going for, so I have it removed.
Aqara Smart Lock U100
This was the easiest choice for me to make, and the product that made me discover Aqara.
It has the cleanest design out of everything I was looking at, has HomeKey support (one of the first on the market), a fingerprint reader, keypad access, and a traditional keyhole in a hidden compartment.
There is something so satisfying about leaving the house without a key and then coming back and unlocking it with your Apple Watch or iPhone.
Installing the lock took about 30 minutes and was pretty straightforward with some basic tools. I like this lock so much that I bought an extra one for the garage door entrance as well.
Aqara Water Sensor
Since we’re no longer renting our home, things like dealing with water leaks are now top of mind. We’ve got insurance for water damage, but the sooner I can get notified of a leak, the better.
That said, I picked up 3 Aqara water sensors and have put them in key areas — on the floor by the water heater in the basement, under the sink in the kitchen, and in the bathroom.
If water is detected near these sensors, I’ve set up the Aqara app to automatically text and email me immediately.
You can go the extra mile and buy some hardware that will automatically turn off your water main when a leak is detected, but I’m not there…yet.
Aqara Vibration Sensor
I saw this on the Aqara website, and I was thinking of ways I could make it useful.
I decided to place it inside my mailbox, and when the mail gets dropped in, it would automatically send a text message to my phone.
This felt good in practice, but when I was going through the setup process, the app told me that I should keep it away from metal enclosures.
Unfortunately, my mailbox is made of metal, but I figured I’d give it a shot anyway. Low and behold, I did end up getting a ton of false positives, so I’m trying to figure out what else I can use it for.
Just something to keep in mind if yours is made of metal as well.
Aqara Door/Window Sensor
These sensors are great for automation, because you can automatically disable your A/C if an open window is detected in your home.
Thankfully the temperature in our place is pretty moderate, so I haven’t had a need to turn on the A/C all summer.
I do have a horrible tendency to leave my garage door open, which is especially bad in the inner city area I’m in.
The sensor is now set up to detect if the garage door is open, and will automatically send me a text message when I’ve accidentally left it open.
What's next for me?
Now that I've seen all the benefits of home automation, I'm already planning my next batch of upgrades.
First, I want to add an Aqara Presence detector to the master bathroom, which would trigger some under cabinet LED lighting during the night. We had something similar in our previous apartment, and it makes such a big improvement not to get blinded by the primary lights in the middle of the night.
Next, I need to rig up a Doorbell Camera, but I'm a bit undecided on the model. The Aqara Doorbell looks great, but unfortunately it looks to be a little bit too wide for my doorframe.
It looks like the Logitech Circle Doorbell camera is the next best bet, but without existing wiring, it looks like I'd have to hire someone to get everything up and running.
Overall, I've been very happy with my setup, and would recommend any of these devices if you're looking to dip your toes into home automation.