- Easy installation and operation
- Extensive automation options
- Zigbee, Z-Wave and Bluetooth control
- Competitively priced
- cloud dependencies
- Advanced features limited
- No local control over Wi-Fi
- Subscription required with more than 5 devices
Anyone who seriously wants to get started with a smart home has to make considerable demands on the platform on which it runs. This does not only apply to automation, compatibility with different manufacturer ecosystems also becomes more important as your smart home installation grows. This becomes clear, among other things, in the article about smart home automation from the community.
If you are looking for a (new) smart home platform, you often find that you have to choose a position in the triangle of simple set-up and operation, extensive automation options, and a low purchase price. Platforms such as Home Assistant, Domoticz and OpenHAB mainly offer advantages in the latter two areas. The purchase price is low if you use not-too-expensive hardware, and the possibilities are virtually endless. That has a downside; the set-up of these platforms is not as easy as with products that you can buy ready-made in the store.
One manufacturer that so far has tipped the triangle to the high-cost side is Athom. For years, Athom has succeeded in operating the Keeping the Homey platform simply without being limited in automation options. In addition, the platform offers support for a lot of equipment, via the cloud, but also with various radio technologies such as Z-Wave, Zigbee, 433MHz and infrared.
The Homey Pro, of which a new version is on the way, has a hefty entry price of 399 euros. For this you get the aforementioned options, but also cloud functionality to reach the Homey outside the home. Still, that entry price is spicy, especially because you only really know whether the device is something for you when it has been fully implemented in your smart home.
We hope to receive the new Homey Pro soon for a review, but in the meantime, Athom had another product for us to test: its new Homey Bridge. The price of this Bridge is 69 euros, a lot more friendly than the Pro. This is possible because the Bridge relies heavily on Homey Cloud, Athom’s cloud platform. Is the Bridge in combination with the Cloud a full-fledged replacement for the Homey Pro and can you build a serious smart home based on the Bridge? In this article, we look at the Homey Bridge and Homey Cloud, and hope to answer those questions.
The Homey Bridge comes in a mainly cardboard packaging in which we find a USB power supply and accompanying micro-USB cable next to the Bridge. We also find a quick start guide and invisible, Athom includes three months of Homey Premium.
The housing of the Bridge breaks with the design tradition of the hardware that Athom previously released. The classic Homey and Homey Pro are both designed as a ball with an LED ring. The new housing looks more like a large hockey puck and renders of the updated Homey Pro show it will likely end up in the same housing as this Bridge, with the Pro distinguishing itself with a silver side.
The bottom of the housing is illuminated all around with different LEDs, which can emit one or more colors. By default, Athom opts for a (smooth) gradient rainbow effect when the Homey is in operation. The glossy top has the circular logo of Athom/Homey incorporated, and behind it is the infrared blaster, as we can see on pictures of the pcb.
The new design is not as pronounced as Homey’s old ‘dots’. On the one hand, this makes the equipment somewhat more anonymous, but an advantage of this is that the device attracts less attention. Especially if you use the infrared blaster, the device will generally have to be in sight.
Just like the Homey Pro, the Bridge contains a lot of antennas on the inside to support different radio protocols. In addition to WiFi, which is used to connect the Bridge to your home network, a Bluetooth LE, Zigbee and Z-Wave radio are incorporated in the device. We also see the infrared option of the Homey Pro in the Bridge. The speaker of the ‘old’ Pro is missing, but it did not return in the new Homey Pro either.
Of course, for the price of the Bridge, it cannot contain the same hardware as Athom has incorporated in the Homey Pro. Athom itself does not say anything about the specifications, but on pictures of the inside we see that the basis is formed by an ESP32 module. This module features a 240MHz dual core processor, an ultra low power coprocessor, and 457kB of storage. The ESP32 module also contains a 2.4GHz radio, which the microcontroller uses to provide Wi-Fi and Bluetooth functionality in addition to running the firmware. We also find, among others, a CC2530 Zigbee module from Texas Instruments and a Silicon Labs Z-Wave module. On the other side of the PCB, oriented at the top of the Bridge, we find the infrared LED with which the Homey operates amplifiers, televisions, and air conditioners, for example.
Cloud remote control
The latest generation of the Homey Pro is equipped with a 1.8GHz Arm processor with four cores, 2GB of RAM and 8GB of flash memory storage. This is necessary because this version runs the platform software on its own hardware. This new Bridge uses Athom’s cloud service for this: Homey Cloud. The Bridge is actually Homey Cloud’s remote control to control your home from the data center.
This review is of course about the Homey Bridge, but as we saw in the previous chapter, you cannot run a serious smart home platform on the Bridge’s hardware. The functionality of the Bridge, therefore, originates from the overarching Homey Cloud platform. Without Homey Cloud, the Bridge is of little use. That is why this review mainly focuses on the cloud platform and the functionality that this platform can offer with and without the Bridge.
Athom once introduced the Homey with two hardware variants: Homey and Homey-Pro. On this equipment, the Homey software and all actions you program in it ran locally on the hardware itself. In 2021, Athom introduced something new: Homey Cloud, the same Homey software, but available online as a cloud service and open to everyone to use for free.
You can connect Homey Cloud to APIs from all kinds of smart home manufacturers and online services. This creates a kind of Ifttt-like platform where you can connect all kinds of different services where this is normally not immediately possible. An example of this is, for example, connecting a Shelly built-in switch to a Philips Hue wall switch module. Homey Cloud connects to the cloud services of both manufacturers and thus forms the spider in the web to ‘link’ the products together.
The Homey Bridge is connected to Homey Cloud, with the Bridge relying on the online platform for all intelligence. All control is done from Homey Cloud and the Bridge is used as an external antenna to operate your equipment.
The interface of Homey Cloud has not changed compared to the local version. You can access it using the Home app or a web browser. We have already extensively examined the Homey interface and were already enthusiastic about the simple design with extensive options. At first glance, the interface seems limited, but you can often reach extensive options within a few clicks to, for example, set a lamp in detail. This simplicity also applies to the automation, or ‘flows’, as they are called within Homey. You can easily put them together by placing cards with situations or actions in three fields: If, And, and Then. This is how you build automation almost as you imagine them: ‘If it’s 6:00 PM and I’m home, then the heating can be set to 19.5 degrees’.
You can use Homey Cloud for free with up to five devices, a possible Homey Bridge does not count. If you want to use more devices, you have to pay 2.99 euros per month for a Homey Premium subscription. This subscription is valid for the Bridge and all users you link to it. When purchasing the Homey Bridge you get three months free access to the premium features. A quick calculation: it takes 113 months (almost 9.5 years) before your Homey Bridge with subscription turns out to be as expensive as a Homey Pro, so quite a while.
As a premium subscriber, in addition to the option to connect more equipment, you also have access to historical data from sensors connected to the Bridge, which you can use to view the history of the energy consumption of your equipment, for example.
You can expand the functionality of the Homey platform by installing Homey apps. You need such an app, for example, to connect to your Philips Hue Bridge or to contact Google’s API to reach your Nest thermostat. Building those apps is not reserved for Athom, but is open to everyone. Over the years, this has resulted in a well-stocked Homey Apps Store, where developers can publish their app for free. The community store also exists for apps that Athom does not consider suitable for placing in the store.
That principle does not work differently in Homey Cloud, but the rules have changed slightly: only ‘ Homey verified developers ‘ are allowed to publish apps for the Homey Cloud, a status that is available by taking out an annual subscription of 99 euros. However, this is only available for companies that want to implement an official integration on the platform.
A fair share of the apps developed for the local platform on the Homey Pro come from handy community members who have decrypted the equipment’s communication protocol. For example, they developed their app separately from the manufacturer. With the new rules, these apps are excluded from access to the “Homey verified developer” program because they do not come from the manufacturer.
For users of Homey Cloud, the range of community-driven apps is therefore currently absent. The other offer is, if you look beyond the ‘big brands’, sometimes sparse. Since Homey Cloud is almost celebrating its second birthday, you would think that most equipment and services are covered, but quite a few names are still missing and sometimes the operation of product groups is limited. For example, you can only operate your super-intelligent Android TV via infrared and therefore cannot read out exactly what is happening with the television, which can also limit automation.
Normally you would address such a television via the WiFi network. That is a task that you would think that the Homey Bridge, as an external antenna, can easily take on. However, there is a limitation of the Bridge: a lack of local control when it comes to WiFi connections.
Local control and internet dependency
The functionality of Homey Cloud without Bridge is limited to operation of equipment between Homey Cloud and that of the manufacturer. If you have a Homey Bridge and Philips Hue lamps at home, you would think that the Homey Bridge and Hue Bridge communicate with each other over your local network. That’s not true. If you switch on a lamp from Homey, the servers of Homey Cloud will connect to the servers of the Hue cloud and from there a signal will be sent to your Bridge in the house. This applies to all equipment that cannot reach the Bridge via Zigbee, Z-Wave, Bluetooth or infrared.
Cloud and internet dependency
This brings us to an elephant in the room that many readers have probably already seen walking into; the Homey Bridge makes you very dependent on the availability of internet and cloud services. The Wi-Fi connection adds some extra dependency. If one of these links in the chain fails, your internet connection, Homey Cloud or the cloud server of a third party, it can cause some devices to fail or even your entire smart home, cutting you off from all control options and automation. It is therefore important to always have the option to operate your equipment physically and locally.
The more advanced options that Zigbee and Z-Wave offer for this, binding and association, are unfortunately not present on the Homey platform, including the Pro. Still, it is good to ask yourself whether it is useful to make your smart home installation dependent on so many different links that can refuse. Frankly, that goes against all good smart home practice and disqualifies the Homey Bridge as the basis for a really serious smart home setup.
If you own a Homey Bridge and decide to switch to a Homey Pro, the Bridge does not have to go straight into the trash. In combination with the Pro, the Bridge can be used in satellite mode. The Bridge then functions as a Zigbee and Z-Wave repeater, and can be used to control infrared equipment in rooms other than where the Pro is located.