Charles April 2, 2019

What is a Smart Device?

If you're new to smart home technology, you've probably heard the term smart device thrown around and wondered what is a smart device? By definition a smart device is an electronic device that connects to other smart enabled devices by using wireless protocols such as Wifi, Bluetooth, Zigbee, and Z-Wave to name a few. Smart devices usually communicate with each other directly, but sometimes they require sending data over a network. They do this by using wireless protocols to send and receive "commands" to and from other smart gadgets.

All of these wireless signals each have their own strengths and weaknesses and later on in this post we'll go over which ones you should consider when building a smart home. For now let's go more in-depth about what a smart device really is and why you might consider buying one.

What Makes a Smart Device Smart

So, what makes a smart device smart? Well that depends on your perception of smart. The term "smart" is sort of a buzz word used to describe the technology behind these devices, but in short you can think of these devices as being connected or linked to one another.

There's one main trait that smart devices have to have before they are considered "smart" and that is interoperability between all connected devices.

A smart device is only considered smart if it is interoperable between all other connected devices, but what does this mean? Interoperability is essentially the ability of your devices to communicate and understand one another when sending and receiving information. Interoperability makes it so each electronic device can talk to each other and process the information, when another device sends it a command.

This is important because if the devices can't understand each other, they have no way of relaying their messages back and forth to one another.

A device that isn't able to talk to other devices might as well be considered "dumb". I say this because if the device can't communicate with the other smart devices, there's no way to tell the other devices what it's doing.

Also a device has to have the ability to receive data from other electronics that are smart enabled. Just like you need the ability to send data, having the ability to receive data is just as important. Once again without this the device might as well be considered "dumb".

This is because if another device sends a command, but that device isn't receiving data, it's not going to be executing the command it was given. There are certainly more features that can make smart enabled gadgets more intelligent, but without interoperability I wouldn't consider them smart.

Here're a few extra features that could make your devices more intelligent:

  1. Sending commands with your voice
  2. Setting routines to do perform tasks at a certain time
  3. Sensors that can detect motion, lighting, moisture, etc

With that said, while these extra features could definitely be considered smart in their own regard, without interoperability, these devices aren't truly "smart" by smart technology standards. This is because none of these devices would be able to interact in harmony with one another and that would make them be considered "dumb" devices in my book.

What are the Benefits of Having Smart Devices in Your Home

Now that you know what a smart device is, you're probably wondering what can you do with them. The simple answer is to make your life easier and more convenient in everyday life situations.

Lets say when you go to bed at night you have to turn off two lights across the living room and the tv. With smart devices you could have them connected with a voice assistance like Amazon's Echo Dot and be able to turn off all of those devices with a simple command like good night.

Although this example was extremely simple, you can setup your smart devices to be as simple or complex as you like. The main benefit of a smart home with multiple types of smart devices is to save you time, money, energy, and to make boring interactions fun again.

Here's a few ways that people commonly use smart devices in their smart homes:

  • Turn on/off lights with an app or voice control
  • Lock the doors with an app or voice control via smart locks
  • Control the thermostat temperature with an app or voice control
  • When a motion detector detects motion, certain lights come on automatically
  • Change the channel of the tv with voice control (Example: Change channel to espn)
  • When a smart contact sensor detects a window is opened an alert is sent via text/email
  • Have an alert sent to a device that lets you know when the washing machine is done washing your clothes

These are just a few of the ways people have been using smart devices in their everyday life. Smart devices also have the benefit of being able to schedule routines so that you can program them to to do specific things at a certain time or when specific things happen.

The flexibility and usefulness of these smart devices are only limited by your own imagination and when you experience it for the first time you'll be blown away. Your mind will begin to think of other creative uses that you can add to make your life smarter and not harder. Some people call it being lazy, but I like to call it being more efficient.

What Are The Different Types Of Smart Devices

Lets take a quick look at the different types of smart devices that are currently available on the market. Every year new devices make their way to the market and it's hard to keep up with all the new products in this field.

To make this short and sweet here're a few of the most common types of smart devices and a brief description of what each one does.

  • Smart Plug: A smart plug is a device used to turn on/off another device that is plugged into it that is not considered "smart". This plug essentially cuts on and off the power from the device that is connected into it when you use an app or voice assistant to control it. This allows you turn make a "dumb" device such as a lamp or tv a little more "smart".
  • Smart Bulb: A smart bulb is a light that can be put into a lamp or light socket without the need of rewiring your light switch. You can control the light's color, brightness, color temperature or on and off state by using an app or voice assistant. This is perfect for beginners looking to get into smart homes because you can just plug it in and it just works (as long as you have a hub that supports it). The downfall of smart bulbs is if someone turns off your light switch your smart bulb will no longer be connected and it won't work until the light switch is back on.
  • Smart Switch: A smart switch is a device that you install into your existing light switch that allows you to control your "dumb" light bulbs with an app or voice assistant. This switch requires wiring and usually involves having a neutral wire, although there are a few products on the market that don't require one. Essentially this switch makes it so that even when your lights are off a small amount of current still runs into your switch which gives your bulb a tiny amount of power which makes it look like it's turned off. This way no matter if your lights are on or off your smart switch will always have power running through it and thus will always be connected to your other smart devices.
  • Smart Hub: A smart hub is a device that can bring all of your smart devices together allowing you to control them from one place. Smart hubs are able to talk back and forth between your devices and apps and bridge the connections between these devices. For example you can think of a smart hub as a translator. By having a translator between you and another person who doesn't speak the same language as you, you can send requests or questions to the other person and they will know what you are asking them. Without a smart hub or translator all devices/people that don't use the same protocol/language wouldn't be able to interact with each other. Smart hubs also allow you to set up custom routines that activate based on time or event based actions such as motion detectors activating. The hub is the heart of your smart home and some devices such as smart speakers or voice assistants will have this built into it like Amazon's Echo Plus.

Learn More Smart Bulbs

I created an in-depth guide that will teach you everything you need to know about smart bulbs and the benefits they can bring to your life. To learn how they can save you money and much more, click on the video above to view the guide.

Compatibility Issues With Smart Products

When it comes to choosing what type of smart device you want for your house the first thing to consider is what type of protocol the device uses.

The protocols that are most commonly used in smart devices are the following:

In order for all of your devices to smoothly communicate with each other they all have to be using the same one. For example, if english is the only language you know then talking to another person who speaks english is easy. If that same person begins to say something to you in spanish, that's when things start to get complicated.

In this situation you have no idea what the person is saying because of the language barrier, and that's the reason why smart devices with different wireless protocols can't understand and communicate with one another.

Which Wireless Protocol Should I Use

Choosing which wireless protocol to use can be daunting at first, but the easiest way of deciding which one to get is to base your decision on the brand of products you want to buy. Every device will have certain protocols it works with and others it will not.

Generally, if a smart device offers multiple wireless protocols inside of one product, it comes at a higher price. Another thing to consider is your living space, things such as walls and router location can play a big role when it comes to choosing the right wireless connection for your devices.

Remember this, you are not limited to only using one wireless protocol, you can use multiple ones if you need them. For instance, if you want your smart home to have support for both Zigbee and Z-Wave products all you need is a smart hub that supports both of them.

Zigbee vs Z-Wave vs Wifi vs Bluetooth Comparison Chart

Here’s a wireless protocol comparison chart that will show you the strengths and weaknesses of each protocol.

Zigbee vs Z-Wave vs Wifi vs Bluetooth Comparison Chart
NamePower EfficiencyData SpeedsFrequencyMax Indoor RangeInteroperabilityMax Devices
Zigbee★★★★★20-250 kbps2.4 GHz~ 50 Feet★★★65,000+
Z-Wave★★★★★9.6-100 kbps908.42 MHz~ 100 Feet★★★★★232
Wifi11 Mbps2.4/5 GHz~ 150 Feet★★★★★250
Bluetooth★★★3 Mbps2.45 GHz~ 33 Feet★★★★7

Power Efficiency

Starting with power efficiency you can see that Zigbee and Z-Wave protocols have a distinct advantage against Wifi and Bluetooth. Zigbee and Z-Wave are designed to be extremely power efficient and this means devices that are powered by these two protocols will use less power than those devices connected to Wifi or Bluetooth.

This is very important when using smart devices that run on batteries since devices using Zigbee and Z-Wave will last much longer before the batteries need to be changed.

Data Speeds

Data speeds is what determines how fast these protocols can send data to other devices. Wifi and Bluetooth can send a lot more data than Zigbee and Z-Wave, but that speed comes at the price of higher frequency and power consumption.

Zigbee on the other hand sends data faster than Z-Wave, but this increased speed comes at a cost. Zigbee has to have a higher frequency in order to get this speed, and a higher frequency means lower range.

Frequency

Frequency is what each of these protocols operate on. This chart displays the most common frequencies for the US since some of these protocols may be using different frequencies in different countries. The main thing to pay attention to when choosing your wireless protocol is if the frequency it uses will interfere with any of your other devices that use the same frequency.

For instance Wifi is most commonly used on the 2.4 GHz frequency and using a protocol such as Zigbee that operates on 2.4 GHz can potentially cause problems with both your Zigbee and Wifi devices.

Max Indoor Range

Max indoor range is an estimation of how long each of these signals can broadcast their data in an indoor setting. While it's hard to find exact data on the indoor range of these wireless protocols, this chart will give you a good estimate of what to expect.

One thing to keep in mind is that when you add walls and other obstructions between your devices these ranges will be smaller. Wifi has the largest indoors range of the four wireless protocols while Bluetooth has the shortest range.

Z-Wave is considered have a somewhat larger range than Zigbee, but it depends on if you have line of sight with your hub and other devices. The benefit of Zigbee and Z-Wave is that most devices act as repeaters or extenders that increases their overall range because these protocols use a technique that is called a mesh network.

A mesh network is essentially a way that each of these devices can send and receive data from nearby devices that might be farther away from your smart hub. This means that the more Zigbee or Z-Wave devices you have in your home, the farther you're able to extend the range of these protocols.

In my opinion, although the range of Wifi is almost double that of Zigbee or Z-Wave, having a built in extender via a mesh network makes these two wireless protocols ideal for smart homes.

Interoperability

Interoperability like I described above is all about devices being able to understand each other when sending and receiving data.

Wifi is commonly used in tons of devices that need networking connectivity, so for this reason it receives a perfect 5 stars.

Bluetooth's interoperability is close to having a perfect score for this category, but in some cases older versions of Bluetooth won't work with newer ones and for that it gets a 4 star rating.

Zigbee recieves a 3 star rating just for the fact that not all Zigbee products will work with one another. The main issue comes from Zigbee being open source and with this power brings some challenges and problems.

Different companies trying to make products using their own version of Zigbee can make it not play so nice with other devices. Overall Zigbeehad a rough start when it was first created without interoperability in mind, but most devices nowadays will work with one another without any issues.

Z-Wave also manages to get a perfect 5 stars in regards to interoperability, as this is a main selling point of this protocol. Z-Wave is owned by a private company and is not open source.

This lack of open source code means the company controls the future of connected devices, but in return you can rest well knowing that all of your Z-Wave devices will be able to communicate with each other without any problems.

This is because the founding company built Z-Wave with interoperability in mind from the start and since they are the ones that own the code, no one can deviate from it.

Max Devices

Max Devices is the max number of connected devices that each of these protocols can support. By far the winner is Zigbee, being able to simultaneous connect up to 65,000+ devices at the same time. Although this is big number, the downside is that by the time you reach this number you would be having bandwidth issues so it's a little impractical and unrealistic.

Z-Wave and Wifi are close to each other with each one supporting 232 and 250 connected devices respectfully.

Bluetooth comes in at last place only supporting a max of 7 devices, making it a really bad choice for multiple smart devices using this protocol.

Learn More About the Zigbee and Z-Wave Wireless Protocols

Zigbee and Z-Wave are considered to be the best wireless protocols when it comes to smart devices due to their mesh networks and power efficiency. My tutorial will teach you everything you need to know about these two protocols and help you pick the right one for your smart home based on your needs. Click on the video above to view the tutorial.

Conclusion

Each of these protocols have their own set of strengths and weaknesses and you usually chose one that matches what you are looking for. An easier solution for beginners of smart homes is to buy a smart hub that supports multiple protocols such as Zigbee and Z-Wave.

This way you can spend less time on the technical details and more time deciding what products you want to use.If you're looking for a smart hub that supports both Zigbee and Z-Wave, I recommend the Samsung SmartThings 3rd Generation Smart Hub on Amazon. I personally use this smart hub and it makes it easy not worrying if a smart device is going to work with Zigbee or Z-Wave since it supports both of them.

About Me

My name's Charles and I love how technology is making life easier and more convenient. I created this website to share everything I've learned about smart devices and show off cool ways to automate your life. If you're looking for in-depth information, tutorials, reviews and ways to make your life smarter, not harder, then you've come to the right place.

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