May 24, 2024

Samsung SmartThings Station review: a great smart home hub if you live in Samsung’s galaxy

I am a fan of multipurpose smart home hubs. No one has the space or patience for yet another single-function plastic box plugged into their router. Beyond acting as the brains of your Apple smart home, the HomePod is a great speaker; Google’s Nest Hub Max helps run your Google Home and is a superb digital photo frame. And the new Samsung SmartThings Station? It’s a SmartThings hub that also charges your phone.

Yes, Samsung made a SmartThings hub three years after saying it wouldn’t make any more SmartThings hardware. (Well, it’s actually a modified version of Samsung’s existing wireless charger, but it has a SmartThings logo, so it’s SmartThings hardware.) But the $59.99 SmartThings Station is also a smart home button, an always-on device scanner for SmartThings Find, a Matter controller, and a Thread border router.

If you have a smart home and are all in on Samsung devices, especially if you use a Galaxy phone, this is close to a must-buy. But if you use any other brand of phone, while this will work as both a SmartThings / Matter hub, smart button, and wireless charger, it’s not quite as compelling.

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Let me back up. SmartThings needs a new standalone hardware hub because of Matter, the new smart home standard that Samsung founded, along with Apple, Google, Amazon, and many other companies, that’s designed to fix smart home interoperability. But it is not going to turn all the smart home platforms into one homogeneous, harmonious place.

What it will do is facilitate communications between devices: your new Matter smart plug will work with the smart light bulb you already have and with your SmartThings app and Apple Home app. But you still need to pick a platform (or two) to run your home on. And regardless of the platform, you’ll get the most out of it with a platform-compatible hub — hence, SmartThings now has a new inexpensive standalone hub. 

The SmartThings Station works over Wi-Fi and is powered via USB-C, giving you flexibility with where you put it (it doesn’t have to plug into your router). For $59.99 if you supply your own 25W power adapter, or $79.99 if you need the power brick, it’s expensive for a wireless charger that only charges one device, but a bargain at either price for a SmartThings hub that supports Zigbee, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, Thread, and Matter. 

The Station is small and square, with a discreet look and a nice feel to it. It will fit in fine on your hall entryway table or by your bed. It comes in black or white and has one physical button on the top right. This is also small, displays the SmartThings logo, and can be used to trigger smart home routines. If you have it by your bed, you could set one press to trigger a Good Night scene and a long press to activate a Good Morning scene. Or, on your hall entryway table you could have a Welcome Home scene and a Goodbye scene. 

There’s an LED indicator on the side at the front with two light bars: one that tells you the state of the hub (blue for all good, yellow for problems) and the other that tells you the charging progress of any device on it (red is charging, blue is ready). 

The bottom LED light glows blue when the hub is online and blinks yellow if there’s a problem. The top light goes from red to blue when a phone is charged. You can disable the light.

The bottom LED light glows blue when the hub is online and blinks yellow if there’s a problem. The top light goes from red to blue when a phone is charged. You can disable the light.

SmartThings Station as a smart home hub

As a SmartThings hub, the Station can onboard devices locally to your smart home using Samsung’s SmartThings app. If you have any Samsung appliances or TVs, you’ll likely be familiar with the SmartThings app, or if you’ve been involved in the smart home for a while, you’ll know it as one of the original smart home platforms.

SmartThings has gone through significant changes since its purchase by Samsung in 2014 (for more details, read this excellent explainer from The Digital Media Zone). But in spite of these changes, it can run hub-connected devices locally through the new SmartThings Edge platform, and Samsung tells me it’s working on migrating every hub-connected device to Edge.

SmartThings is an automation platform that can connect devices from different manufacturers and let you use them in scenes and automations. You can use the SmartThings app without a hub to control many devices through cloud connections, including Ring cameras, Philips Hue lights, and Google Nest thermostats and cameras. But those devices need to work over Wi-Fi or through a bridge that connects to Wi-Fi, which rules out a lot of smart door locks, smart sensors, and smart lighting solutions. 

Adding a hub allows you to connect SmartThings-certified Zigbee devices and Thread devices directly to SmartThings locally. The Station is both a hub and a Matter controller, so you can also onboard any Matter device to your smart home network. There, you can control it with the SmartThings app or pair it with any other Matter-enabled app — such as Apple Home, Google Home, or Amazon Alexa — through the SmartThings app. Matter should bring more locally-controlled devices to the platform and open it to some manufacturers that didn’t work with it before (including Eve, Aqara, and Thread devices from Nanoleaf).

If you need a 25-watt USB-C power adaptor, the Station costs $80, or you can buy it for $60 without.

If you need a 25-watt USB-C power adaptor, the Station costs $80, or you can buy it for $60 without.

One protocol the Station doesn’t support that is a big part of SmartThings is Z-Wave. For that, you’d need the Aeotec Smart Home Hub for SmartThings ($135), which is a SmartThings-compatible hub that supports all the protocols (but it’s not going to charge your smartphone). The SmartThings Hub Dongle has the same radio capabilities as the Station and is only $35. It will get an update to Matter / Thread later this year, but it has to be plugged into a Samsung TV or fridge. (Yes, you can control your smart home with a refrigerator.)

The good news is that you can run multiple SmartThings hubs, so if you started with the Station and then decided you did want to add Z-Wave, you could integrate an Aeotec hub into your setup. But Samsung told me that for entirely local automations, all devices involved must be on the same hub. If your devices are on different hubs, the automations on them will run in the cloud.

Setting up and using the Station with Matter

Setting up the Station is straightforward; you just need the SmartThings app on either iOS or Android. It’s one of the first Matter controllers that works with both platforms (Samsung updated its iOS app to support Matter earlier last month; Google and Amazon have yet to release their iOS Matter apps). Open the app, tap the plus symbol in the top-right corner, select “add device,” select Samsung under brands, select Smart Home Hub, choose SmartThings Station, and follow the steps.

Once connected, you can onboard devices to the hub in a similar way. Tap “add device” and either scan the device’s QR code or choose from the other options. SmartThings can also auto-scan for devices using its Matter Easy Pair feature. This only works with Galaxy phones, which detect any Matter device broadcasting a BLE beacon and send a pop-up notification to your phone asking if you want to add it. 

I set up a Matter-enabled Eve Motion sensor using the Station, and it worked smoothly. A notification appeared on the Galaxy S22 I was testing with, and it prompted me to scan the device’s Matter QR code. Then, once it had been added, I chose which room it was in and named it. From there, I set up a routine using the motion sensor to turn on some Philips Hue lights connected to SmartThings via the Hue bridge.

The automation ran promptly and reliably, with the bulbs turning on smoothly a second or so after motion was detected. However, when I added some Nanoleaf light panels and Lutron smart switches to the automation (both of which are connected through the cloud), there was noticeable lag, and the lights popped on in a random sequence.

SmartThings is easily the most powerful mainstream smart home system you can choose, short of setting up your own Home Assistant server — and it’s a lot easier to use. It works with IFTTT-style automation and allows for conditions and multiple actions. This means you can create more intricate and specific automations than those offered by Apple Home and Amazon’s Alexa platform. And it blows Google Home’s paltry options out of the water. 

For example, I set an automation to turn on a smart plug connected to a fan in the chicken coop when it’s over 80 degrees Fahrenheit and sunny — but only if I’m at home and the chicken coop door is closed. SmartThings is able to tie automations to a specific time period, presence, device state, weather, and mode.

The mode feature is particularly helpful for me. You can choose from Home, Away, or Night and tailor automations around them. My husband works 24-hour shifts, so if I add the “Only if location is in Home mode” condition to my automations, I can activate the Night mode while he’s sleeping during the day to make sure nothing accidentally runs and wakes him up.

The SmartThings button gives you physical control over smart home devices.

The SmartThings button gives you physical control over smart home devices.

The Station has a built-in cooling system.

The Station has a built-in cooling system.

SmartThings Station as a smart home button

The button on the Station can be a remote control for any scenes or automation you create. For example, I set the Night mode scene to turn on with a single press. This way, when my husband comes home and needs to sleep, he can just press it once and know that he won’t get disturbed. I haven’t found a solution to that problem as simple as this on the other platforms I’ve tested.

The button can be configured to run up to three scenes or automations or just control a single device. In addition to single press, there’s also the option to double press or long press. When you first set up the Station, it prompts you to set the double press action to ring your Samsung phone (it only works with Samsung phones), so you can find it if it’s in your house. Interestingly, if you turn this on, you can still use the double press to trigger a smart home device. I set it to turn on a light in the hallway, and it did both simultaneously. 

SmartThings Station as a SmartThings Find scanner

A smartphone on a wireless charger on a nightstand next to a small black tracking device.

The Station acts as a device scanner for SmartThings Find, which works with Galaxy SmartTags.
Photo by Owen Grove / The Verge

Speaking of finding things, the Station also acts as a SmartThings Find device scanner. This is Samsung’s version of Apple’s Find My feature, keeping tabs on any devices registered through a Samsung Galaxy, such as watches, earbuds, and even things like keys and pets if they have a Galaxy SmartTag or SmartTag Plus (yes, like AirTags).

I tested it with my car keys, which are constantly walking off on their own.

The Station can constantly scan for any connected device and tell you if it leaves your home or when it comes back. I tested it with my car keys, which are constantly walking off on their own. I attached a Galaxy SmartTag Plus, which uses UWB in addition to Bluetooth for more precise location identification.

It worked reliably to alert me when the keys left my location and when they returned. (I sent my husband out with the car.) But I couldn’t find a good way to get the notification to pop up as an alert. Instead, it just got buried in all my other notifications, making it less than useful for keeping tabs on something in real-time, such as a pet or person.

There’s also the option to turn on alerts when you leave the device behind, and you can see a location history for your device. What I found most helpful was when I had my keys on me but couldn’t find my phone. In those situations, I could press the button on the tag twice to ring the phone. This works in reverse, too, and doesn’t require the Station.

SmartThings Station as a fast wireless charger

The Station is a “fast wireless charger” for Galaxy phones. For everything else, it’s a “very slow wireless charger.”

The Station is a “fast wireless charger” for Galaxy phones. For everything else, it’s a “very slow wireless charger.”

As a wireless charger, the SmartThings Station’s main claim to fame is “super-fast” wireless charging. Bear in mind that this is still slower than charging with a cable and a fast-charging brick, but it does speed things up a bit. It can charge compatible Samsung phones at 15 watts, about three watts more than standard wireless charging (as long as you use a 25-watt brick). The Samsung Galaxy S22 went from zero to hero in around 2.5 hours.

While it will also charge other brands of smartphones, it does so at slower speeds. Samsung says it can charge Apple devices at 7.5 watts and Qi-compatible phones at a glacial five watts. It juiced up an iPhone 14 in a little over four hours, but a Pixel 6 took forever. It can also charge Samsung buds — but not Galaxy watches.

The Station is only worth considering if you use a Galaxy device

I did find it really tricky to position the phone on the charger. I eventually figured out the right positioning for the Galaxy 22; you have to put the bottom camera lens in the top-right corner of the Station. The iPhone preferred a jaunty angle. But all of them required specific placement, and it definitely made me miss the comforting clunk of an iPhone with a MagSafe charger.

As it’s a flat charging pad, the Station doesn’t make it easy to use the phone while it’s charging. It’s also significantly chunkier than most wireless pads, but it’s packing all those extra radios and has a fan / cooling system going on. It does have a charging indicator light that stays red until the phone is charged, so that’s a handy visual cue that it’s working, 

The unique thing here is that you can tie charging into automations. This means that when you start charging, stop charging, or when the phone is fully charged, you can have a scene or automation run. I set it to send me a notification through SmartThings and turn one of my lights blue when the phone was fully charged. I also had it activate an I’m Back! scene to turn the lights on and adjust my Ecobee thermostat when I put the phone on the charger after 4PM. 

A match made in heaven.

A match made in heaven.

As useful of a multipurpose device as it is, the Station’s extra functions are geared toward Samsung smartphones, making this only worth considering if you or someone in your house uses a Galaxy device. If you already have a SmartThings hub that supports Zigbee and Matter, then there’s no need to get this for the hub portion. 

If you have a Samsung Family Hub fridge or smart TV, the SmartThings Hub Dongle gets you the same features for less money. (It will get Thread support soon.) But the SmartThings button feature bumps the Station up a notch if those are your needs. It’s very handy.

If you already have a SmartThings hub that supports Zigbee and Matter, there’s no need to get this.

However, as a smart home platform, SmartThings does not depend on a Galaxy device, especially not in the way Apple Home relies on an iPhone. (I still don’t get why rebooting my iPhone often fixes any smart home problems I’m having with HomeKit.) It works just as well with an Android or iPhone.

SmartThings has wide-ranging compatibility with smart devices. It’s one of the few mainstream options that support Z-Wave (though not through the Station, sadly). It works with a long list of companies and integrates with popular devices from Ring, Nest, Ecobee, Philips Hue, Lutron, and Nanoleaf, as well as with a lot of obscure and geeky gadgets. It’s also compatible with Amazon Alexa and Google Home if you want to add voice control. (You could also use Bixby… .)

If you want your smart washer or oven to be part of your smart home, SmartThings looks like your best option. Samsung has said its appliances will not be Matter devices. While you can control some Samsung devices and those from other manufacturers with Amazon Alexa or Google Home, the experience is rarely optimal. And soon SmartThings may work with most of the major appliance manufacturers.

Samsung is a founding member of the Home Connectivity Alliance, an industry group working to make the smart devices of all large home appliance manufacturers interoperable. If this pans out, SmartThings could become one of the only platforms to be able to control all your larger home appliances alongside smart home devices like lights, locks, and thermostats. So, you could have your LG television, GE fridge, Samsung oven, and Electrolux washer all in one app.

If you want your smart washer or oven to be part of your smart home, SmartThings looks like your best option.

While in theory, other Matter-enabled apps from HCA members (such as LG’s ThinQ app) could do this, too, Samsung’s platform has a significant head start on its appliance manufacturer brethren, putting it in a powerful position. 

This brings me back to Matter. It may be fixing device interoperability, but the smart home platforms will still be competing to lock you into their ecosystems — whatever $10 smart plug you buy. Apple with the iPhone and its subscription services; Samsung with its smartphones and appliances; Amazon with its very cheap smart speakers and streaming services; and Google with its well-curated suite of Nest smart home hardware. 

Yes, the smart home is getting simpler to use and set up, but even with Matter’s multi-admin feature (which lets you use devices across ecosystems), you will still want to pick a primary platform. Matter allows for flexibility, but ultimately, just like most people don’t want multiple plastic boxes dangling off their routers, most people don’t want to use multiple apps to control their smart homes. And right now, the SmartThings platform looks set to have the broadest compatibility once again. 

Photography by Jennifer Pattison Tuohy / The Verge

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