Every adventure has its beginning. If you wonder when a smart home impressed you for the first time, what will you answer? In my case it will be the opening scene of the film "Back to the Future." And when did you start your adventure with a smart home? When did an intelligent home full of sensors and devices become something for you, thanks to which your life becomes simpler and more comfortable? I started it when I pulled out a whole bunch of boxes from the Aqara set from Xiaomi from the grid and I said to myself: let's start!
Ok, but let's go back one step, because not everyone needs to know what Aqara or Aqara Hub is. This is the Xiaomi sub-brand, dedicated to the smart home, which is to have even higher quality than Xiaomi products. It is very popular behind the great wall, and has recently also officially appeared in Europe. The devices that make up the Aqara Hub form a smart home command center.
In today's review, I will deal with the minimal smart home kit that I recommend to anyone starting to smarten their home. The kit includes the following devices that make up the homekit technology:
- Aqara Hub goal.
- Door and window opening sensor.
- Flood sensor.
- Smoke sensor.
- A motion sensor.
- And additionally a temperature and humidity sensor.
For me, this set of smart products is the basis for a safe home and they guide the purpose of a smart home for everyone. And besides, with this set the price-quality ratio is unbeatable.
Xiaomi smart home - first impressions
Each of Aqara's products is very well made and packaged. In the box you will always find a product with instructions that will help you operate and install Xiaomi applications and devices without any problems. In my case, it was a manual in Chinese, but you will receive instructions in English or even Polish.
The gate with sensors is kept in the color range of most Xiaomi products, i.e. white. The gate and smoke detector are larger, while the sensors for doors / windows, flooding and temperature are really small. You can often find them in combination with strong colors (such as white on black) or on wood. It looks really very good.
The door and window opening sensor is the only one that consists of two elements - a smaller and a larger rectangle. In short, a set of intelligent devices that automate basic activities at home looks modern and attractive.
Launching and pairing Aqara devices
Configuring Xiaomi smart home based on Aqara products is done on two levels. First you add the Aqara Hub gateway, and then individual sensors. Due to the fact that it is a bit of fun, we have created a special guide that you will find here. It includes both a description for MiHome and integration with the Apple Home application (Apple HomeKit). Thanks to it, you will learn how to start using the Xiaomi smart home technology.
Aqara Hub from Xiaomi
Aqara's product, without which we will not start the adventure with a smart home, is Aqara Hub, i.e. gate. The gateway is designed to connect more equipment and allow its remote control via wifi. We attach more sensors or controls to it (Aqara Relay review coming soon). It must be plugged in all the time and should be in the middle of the house and close to the router.
A very big advantage and the main difference compared to Xiaomi Hub is support for Apple HomeKit. This means that both the gate itself and all the devices that we connect to it can be connected directly to the Home application on Apple devices. And although I like MiHome very much, I still manage my smart home much better with the help of Home. In the later part of the review I will describe it more broadly.
The Aqara Hub from Xiaomi is not just a goal. Another big advantage is the alarm function. The gate has a built-in siren and if we connect it with sensors in the form of an alarm, it will be loud in an emergency. On the gate we will find a button with which we can turn the alarm on or off, although we will do it automatically or from one of the two applications. Motion sensors make the smart home guard the safety of household members.
The last gate function is a lamp. In addition to the alarm siren, the gate has a lamp that flashes red when the signal is triggered. It can also be used as a night lamp in conjunction with a motion sensor.
For one goal it's quite a lot of options.
Door and window opening sensor
The basic sensor on the basis of which we can start building our home alarm within the Xiaomi homekit technology is the opening sensor. The principle of operation is as follows: the sensor consists of two elements that must be very close to each other. One is glued on a movable element, and the other on a permanent one, e.g. a door and its frame. If the connection between the sensors is broken, e.g. when the door is open, then the sensor detects that they are open. If we add them to the appropriate rooms, we will know exactly where the change occurred.
The sensors are mounted by attaching them to the tape on the back. During installation, the application will inform us about whether the sensors are close enough or whether we still need to bring them closer. Note that the distance is really small - it is only a few millimeters. After adding the sensor to the gateway, it will automatically appear in MiHome Xiaomi and Apple House.
The sensor itself does not have much configuration, but it can be used for many automation:
- Basic automation is incoming phone notifications that one of the sensors has detected the opening of doors or windows. You can choose to do this always or only when you are not at home. This is very useful when you can't remember whether you closed a window or a door. You fire up the application and everything is clear.
- Another automation is the alarm function. We can point out that opening doors and windows triggers an alarm. If any of the sensors detects an opening when the alarm is triggered, the gate will start to howl and glow red, and we will get a notification on the phone about the alarm. We can set its inclusion for specific hours or based on our position when we are moving away or approaching home.
- We can also build other automations that will be triggered by sensors. For example, when we open the entrance door, the blinds will hide or the hall light will come on.
Step by step automation of an intelligent home can be found among our guides.
The flood sensor has saved my apartment three times now and this is one of the best purchases I have made so far. The sensor works in a similar way to the one mentioned above. When it detects something (in this case, when it gets wet), it immediately sends the information to the gate and starts squeaking. The gate then automatically goes into alarm mode (whether or not it was turned on) and it also starts to howl and glow red. We also get a notification on the phone with information where the leak was detected.
Real life story is the use of this sensor only two days after installation. We just moved into the apartment and barely installed all home appliances. I already had two flood sensors, which I placed next to the washing machine and under the siphon, both in the kitchen. One evening, while we were watching TV, suddenly the alarm and flood sensor began to howl, the noise was terrible and my wife and I had no idea what was going on. I quickly grabbed my cell phone and looked at the notification that Xiaomi Smart Home had detected a leak at the washing machine. The washing machine is built in the kitchen and under it is a strip with a waterproof seal. After removing the strip practically flooded us. It turned out that the washing machine hose fell out and everything began to flood. It took several days to dry the furniture and floor, but if it weren't for the sensor for PLN 30, we would never have known about it, because the strip kept all water from pouring, and we would probably destroy new furniture for the kitchen and the floor. Later, there was a leak two more times (again the hose from the washing machine and once the dishwasher), but then we knew where to run to stop it immediately.
After this story, I bought two more sensors that I placed in other places where there may be water. The flexibility guaranteed by the Xiaomi homekit is an important advantage.
The smoke detector works in a similar way to all other smoke detectors. We install it on the ceiling near a place where fire may appear (so in 95% of cases it is a kitchen). In the sensor settings, we can define the type of place where it is located: whether it is, for example, a warehouse, where it must be very sensitive, or a kitchen, where there is a greater chance of a false alarm.
The pairing method is identical to the other sensors, i.e. it detects a threat (in this case smoke) and activates an internal, very loud siren, as well as an alarm in the Xiaomi Aqara Hub gateway and phone notifications. So far, the sensor has only fired once when the wife was making dinner. Therefore, it is a sensor that he doesn't like very much ????
A motion sensor
The motion sensor differs from other Aqary products. The first thing that catches the eye are its small size. In staircases or in restaurants we are used to sensors of the size of a large fist. The sensor from Aqara is much smaller, so we can hide it in virtually any place. The sensor can be ordered alone or with a foot. The foot allows us to maneuver the device and set it under an unusual account. Thus, we can put it, or stick it to the wall or ceiling. The possibilities are endless here.
After pairing the sensor with the gate, we can use its full potential after a while. It can be used as an additional element of security by detecting movement in the apartment when we are gone can trigger an alarm. We can also base on it various automation such as lighting the lamp when we enter the room with the indication that it should be done only at night. This sensor is an inexpensive but useful extension to our Aqara system.
Temperature and humidity sensor
This sensor differs from the others in that it does not belong to the safety category, but to the convenience category. However, it has too few features to have a dedicated review, so I have included it here. As the name suggests, it detects the temperature and humidity in a given room. Additionally, it also shows pressure, but not in hectopascals, but in kilopascals - just add one zero and everything will be clear. In addition to these functions, the sensor also shows us whether the temperature in a given room is optimal (green field) or not.
The sensor itself gives us only basic information about the weather, but the possibilities of using it in automation are much wider. We can connect part of our Xiaomi smart home automation based on temperature or humidity, e.g.
- Starting the air conditioning if the temperature rises to a few degrees.
- Starting the humidifier if the air has low humidity.
- Rolling down the blinds when the temperature rises, or moving them up when it is low.
Applications for Aqara - MiHome and Apple House
Knowing how all smart home devices work, we can go to two main applications, namely MiHome from Xiaomi and Apple Dom. As I wrote earlier, I leave the detailed configuration in the guide, and here I will describe what both applications offer us.
After adding the gate in MiHome and pairing it with HomeKit, the first device will appear, i.e. Aqara Hub. From the MiHome level, on the first screen you will be able to start / disable the alarm and a lamp. Then we have two more views - automation and devices. In automation, we build scenes (guide), and through devices, we can add more sensors (it is also possible via the main MiHome menu). As for the gate options, we can set the room in which it is located, the volume and sound of the alarm (e.g. a police siren) and the color of the lamp. I managed to set up the gate around midnight and when I turned on the alarm sound, it surprised me that the gate showed its full potential. Yes, the neighbors must adore me ...
At Apple House, we have fewer options. After adding the gateway to HomeKit, the device will appear in the main menu. It is good to change the name and add it to the appropriate room. At Apple House, we can also turn on / off the alarm and lamp and perform the same automation as in Xiaomi MiHome. The options are much less, but it is more convenient for me to use this application.
We add opening, flood, smoke and temperature sensors by adding devices. We remember to describe it well and assign it to the room, thanks to which we will know where something has been detected. In the Home application, we don't have to do anything to make them appear - the gate will add them itself. Here we also describe them and assign them to rooms. There aren't many more options in this case.
Everyday life with Aqara
Having such a set of devices, we already have a real Xiaomi Smart Home. I use it non-stop every day and I feel very safe. Of course, this is not the whole PLN 2 alarm with a security team that will arrive in 15 minutes, but not all of us need something like that. I advise people who own a house to both make a smart alarm and set up a normal one - in case of a really big misfortune.
Flood and smoke detectors are invisible and this is their role. They are only supposed to run when something happens. The door and window opening sensor informs me if everything is closed or if I forgot something and I need to close the window. And the temperature sensor not only gives me all the data, but also looks really nice on wood 😉
Apart from the gate, all devices are battery operated and wireless. How much can they last on one battery? It's hard to say because I installed them more than half a year ago, and so far I didn't have to worry about changing the battery.
If you want to start your adventure with a smart home in general or Xiaomi Smart Home, I recommend you a set of Aqara devices with a hand on your heart. Just check if these will be the latest devices on our product page. Their price is practically the same, but the new generation works on the Zigbee 3.0 protocol, which allows better communication, more devices and less energy consumption.
If you associate a smart home with terrible switchboards, forging in walls, pulling cables and the necessity to know programming languages, I am happy to tell you that this is a thing of the past! ☺ Now we stick smart home devices where we want them to be, or just put them there. The entire setup is literally a few clicks, and so is automation. And instead of spending a few or even several thousand zlotys, you can have a smart home, closing the budget in the amount below PLN 400. Instead of an army of assemblers and builders, you can do it yourself or with help. And you don't have to wait a few weeks for it, one evening is enough.
And this is the type of smart home that we want to popularize in Poland. A smart home that is:
- for everyone,
Here is the first of many reviews on (soon;)) the largest portal about being smart in Poland.
You are welcome!