When you review a lot of Home Automation products you often find that you highlight the same issues over and over again.
Unless you purchase all of your Smart Home kit from the same manufacturer, which in itself is quite hard to do, you end up in a scenario where you are struggling to get the different pieces of kit to communicate with each other in a meaningful fashion.
There are services out there that try to facilitate this such as IFTTT, which we love but it has its own set of limitations, Alexa from Amazon which isn’t officially supported in Ireland yet and a few OEM programmes like “Works with Nest” which tries to build in some sort of common communication platform at a hardware level. In truth it is still a mishmash of services which can be confusing for new people entering the market and extremely annoying for others when they realise the often expensive, shiny, new pieces of Smart Home kit they have just bought can’t talk to each other.
This is why the nCube Hub caught my attention. It’s a little blue plastic box which promises to talk to all your equipment and allow you control it from just one app!
When we covered the last Web Summit to take place in Ireland back in 2015, I spoke with numerous Start Ups who were developing similar products, but to date, I have yet to review one of them and I know several of the companies have since shut down.
The fact that nCube have managed to get a working product to market is an achievement in itself.
What’s in the Box
A box inside a box. The packaging is an interesting layered cardboard construction which was actually quite refreshing to see considering that absolutely everything seems to be packed in the same manner these days. Thanks Apple.
Inside you get the nCube Hub, a power adapter and an ethernet cable and that’s all you need to get going.
At least with the unit we were provided, the initial setup had to be completed using the ethernet connection. Once powered up, the box automatically started to download and install the latest update for the box.
While the nCube Hub works without the need to leave it plugged into an ethernet port, without doubt if performs way better when it is. Everything works faster when it uses a wired connection so if you do plan on picking up one of these boxes we recommend setting it up this way if possible. This isn’t a criticism as such. Nearly everything except the most expensive tech works better with a wired connection and any opportunity you have to reduce radio signals in your home you should take.
The update our box did during the initial setup was to do with enabling WiFi control. It didn’t go smoothly and we couldn’t get the box to connect wirelessly but after some emails with their support guys the issue was resolved and everything worked fine form there. There’s a lot going on in this box. Between its own operating system, normal wireless protocols and all of the other ways it needs to communicate with devices there are a lot of things that have the potential to cause issues or conflict. Everything I have seen from nCube so far suggests they are on top of this and releasing updates to resolve any issues that pop up.
What devices will it work with?
Right now nCube claim the box will work with over 100 different devices and more are being added regularly. nCube will work with Smart Home products connected using Z-Wave,WiFi, Bluetooth or connected via a home LAN and this is one of the key USPs for the device. Using this hub cuts out the need for communication with a third party server to control a device in your home.
It means that there is straightaway less latency, less things to go wrong along the way and it also solves one of the big issues people have with IoT devices and that is data privacy. Not everyone likes the idea of data about what they do in their home being shared, so if this is one of your concerns, you’ll find using nCube a more palatable proposition.
The nCube Hub will work with many of the main Smart Home products from companies such as Sonos, Nest, Tado, Belkin Wemo and Philips Hue and indeed with many of the lesser known Z-Wave devices.
To test things out we used the nCube with a Nest Thermostat, a number of Sonos speakers and another smart thermostat from Tado.
The nCube App is where everything is controlled from. From the home screen of the app you can add new devices, create rooms and also create “Cubes” which we’ll get into more later.
When adding both the Tado and the Nest thermostat you need to sign into your respective accounts and grant access but the Sonos devices showed up instantly and were ready to use.
We did also try to add a Belkin Wemo Link and Smart LED bulbs (which the nCube website says are compatible) but we couldn’t get them to work. After further discussions with nCube it seems as though a lack of an API for the Wemo Link is causing the issue for them. It’s a little disappointing though as the Link is an essential part of the Wemo ecosystem.
Once all your devices are set up you now move to one of the killer features of nCube. The “Cubes” themselves. Here you can create routines, schedule events and do some basic programming to control your devices. What sets this apart from online services such as IFTTT is the ability to have multiple inputs to trigger an output.
For example, lets say I want a motion sensor to turn on a light if triggered. Using IFTTT I can select the motion sensor as the trigger and choose the light turning on at the outcome. That’s it though. There are no other variables I can introduce or control. What if I only want this to happen when it’s dark or between certain hours? How do I turn the light off after the event? There is just no easy way to do any of this with the online services available but it is straightforward with nCube.
I know some of you reading this will be screaming that there is an app call Yonomi which can perform similar multiple input actions that I described above and in some cases it can, but the biggest issues with Yonomi is reliability and latency. Sometimes things just don’t happen at all when using Yonomi or, when you walk in front of a motion sensor, the light turns on 60 seconds later. I hope you like the dark. With nCube it is instant and the combination of the speed of action coupled with the flexible programming options make the device worth its price for that alone.
One thing we haven’t covered yet is price. The nCube Hub retails for GB£149. Whether you feel that is expensive or acceptable will depend on whether it solves some of the Smart Home headaches in your setup.
nCube need to keep refining the product with updates and evolving it to work with more products. The fact they have a working product on the market is a huge achievement. As they add more and more compatible devices and increase the capabilities of the App it will become an easy device for people to purchase to control all of their Smart Home tech from one place.
To find out more and to purchase an nCube Hub please visit: https://ncubehome.co.uk/