Review: iHome iSS50 SmartMonitor HomeKit-enabled Sensor

Review: iHome iSS50 SmartMonitor HomeKit-enabled Sensor 1

We’ve seen a number of environment sensors designed for Apple’s HomeKit home automation platform in the past couple of years, with most typically designed to monitor temperature, humidity, or motion, and while some include obvious combinations such as temperature and humidity, iHome’s new iSS50 is the first we’ve seen that actually ties together five different environment sensors into a single device; it’s capable of measuring temperature, humidity, and motion, as well as light and sound levels.

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Unlike just about every other sensor we’ve seen, the iSS50 plugs into an AC outlet rather than being battery powered, and connects to HomeKit over Wi-Fi instead of Bluetooth. A USB power adapter and USB-A to micro USB cable is included in the package, along with a quick start guide. Although the need to plug in the iSS50 may limit the places where it can be used, it’s definitely more of a tabletop unit than something that you’d tuck into the corner of a room or hang up on a wall anyway, with a more appliance-style industrial design as opposed to the sleeker minimalist look of something like Elgato’s Eve Degree. The iSS50 has a distinct look that isn’t going to appeal to everyone.

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A large backlit LCD dominates the front of the iSS50, displaying temperature and humidity front and center along with status indicators for Wi-Fi, sound, and motion detection. A dimmer button on the rear of the unit allows you to adjust the LCD brightness between five settings: off, automatic, low, medium, or high. As a standalone temperature and humidity monitor, the iSS50 is basically ready to go out of the box, but like most HomeKit devices, the real power lies in its ability to report not only temperature and humidity but also motion, sound, and light level status to HomeKit or iHome’s companion Control app.

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The iSS50 pairs with HomeKit in the usual manner — a HomeKit pairing code is found on the back of the unit, as well as in the quick start guide — and once paired will appear as four distinct HomeKit sensors for temperature, humidity, motion, and light level. Sound sensing capabilities are not yet supported by the HomeKit framework, so you’ll need to use iHome’s own Control app if you want to take advantage of that feature. For HomeKit purposes, the iSS50’s sensors work in the same manner as any of the other sensors we’ve seen, reporting information back to HomeKit that can be viewed through any HomeKit-compatible app or used as triggers or conditions in automation rules. The four supported sensors on the iSS50 work well with HomeKit, with temperature, humidity, and light levels reported quickly and accurately, and a very responsive motion sensor — although recent HomeKit enhancements have reduced the latency issues with Bluetooth motion sensors, the use of Wi-Fi on the iSS50 avoids these issues entirely.

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iHome’s own Control app, however, does have a few extra tricks up its sleeve. Most significantly is support for the sound level sensor on the iSS50, which can be used to trigger notifications or control other iHome-branded devices whenever sound is detected nearby. iHome’s own app also incorporates an “occupancy” feature that combines information from the sound and motion sensors to determine whether a room is currently occupied, allowing notifications to be sent out or other iHome devices to be controlled when occupancy changes — such as turning off the lights when nobody is in a room. As with other HomeKit accessories, the iHome Control app is also used to update the firmware on the iSS50 and adjust more specific configuration settings, which in this case is basically setting the temperature display to either Celsius or Fahrenheit. The iHome Control app also includes support for connecting to Nest, Wink, Alexa, SmartThings, and Google Assistant, however the iSS50 itself doesn’t work with all of these services.

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Unfortunately, as interesting as these features are, the iHome Control app is still a silo for iHome’s own devices — despite connecting to HomeKit, non-iHome devices don’t appear in the app and rules created in the Control app aren’t shared with HomeKit — so you’ll be limited to creating rules that control iHome Smart Plugs. Further, although the iSS50 does report more precise light levels to HomeKit, iHome’s Control app only offers three pre-defined thresholds for light and sound triggers. We can see some value in creating notification-only rules or very specific automation rules within the iHome Control app in some cases, but for the most part HomeKit rules will be far more useful for all but the simplest of applications. It’s also worth noting that unlike Elgato’s sensors, the iSS50 and iHome Control app do not provide any way to log or store the monitored data, so you won’t be able to view temperature or humidity trends over time.

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iHome’s iSS50 SmartMonitor is an interesting and somewhat versatile device, although it suffers from more of a split personality than most home automation devices we’ve seen. From a purely HomeKit perspective, the iSS50 is simply a four-in-one environment sensor with the advantages of a nice display, Wi-Fi connectivity, and battery-free power, and we think it offers good value for that purpose alone. However, while the iSS50 offers a bit more than what HomeKit allows for, it comes with tradeoffs and additional complexity, requiring that you limiting yourself to iHome devices or branch into other home automation services. The lack of data logging capabilities and the physical appearance may also be deal-breakers for some, but as a basic environment sensor, the iSS50 works well and the price is very reasonable for what you’re getting here.

Our Rating


Company and Price

Company: iHome

Model: iSS50 SmartMonitor

Price: $80

  1. For Homekit, the motion sensor timeout is also capped at 45 seconds. it’s not configurable like the Elgato Eve motion sensor.

  2. Good point, and thanks for mentioning that, as I missed it. Hue’s motion sensor also has a similar issue with HomeKit. The good news is that it’s less of a problem in iOS 11 for most users now that a “Turn off” time can be set for motion detection rules, but there are obviously more than a few special cases where it would still be useful to be able to specify it.

  3. The software based time is fine if all you wan to do is turn the lights off after a certain amount of time, But if you want to trigger additional things when there is no motion, and you want to use a different timeout, this breaks those use cases.I contacted iHome about this and asked them if they can make the timeout configurable like the Elgato Eve motion detector, and they flat out told me no. They consider the software done and this would be more of a feature request. They will fix bugs, but not add more features. I consider this a bug. The motion sensor sensitivity is also not configurable for Homekit either. They didn’t want to fix that either.

  4. Yeah, I agree completely, and that’s what I meant by “more than a few special cases.” I think like many of iHome’s products, this is targeted at the lowest common denominator of “average consumer” but I think it’s going to work well enough for those folks.The question of firmware updates is also completely typical of iHome’s usual approach, and they had the same thing to say regarding the addition of data logging capabilities, which is an omission that by itself prevents me from wanting to use the product personally as compared to Elgato’s Eve sensors (I also think it’s ugly, but that’s just my opinion).

  5. The motion sensor is pretty broken as well. When motion is sensed, they start the 45 second timer. But they don’t keep resetting that timer as motion is being detected like the Elgato motion sensor. So, once the 45 second timer expires, it restarts at the end of that period. So, the lights may turn off and then back on as motion is detected again. iHome has verified my findings, but again, won’t fix this issue either.After my experience with this product, I’m completely soured on any iHome product. Elgato and iDevices products may be more expensive, but you get better engineered products, with effective product support. I’ll think twice, and then 3 times, before buying another iHome product.

  6. I agree with all of your points, but I’m also not surprised by any of them. iHome’s products have always been typical “Joe Consumer” products that don’t cater to anybody with even slightly more advanced needs. It’s the same with their Smart Plugs — you get basic on/off features, but not energy consumption monitoring — although again that’s fine for most users, especially for the price they’re asking.The motion sensor is probably the most typical example of that mentality. Even the lack of resetting when new motion is detected (something that I didn’t encounter in my testing, but went back and confirmed after you pointed it out — thanks!) isn’t going to be a deal-breaker for most average users, who really just wants lights to turn on when they enter a room, and turn off automatically a few minutes later.Granted, it would be an issue if iOS 11 hadn’t addressed it in the HomeKit framework, but it’s reasons like this that I’m glad Apple has as it’s a much more logical way of handling it anyway — even with good motion sensors like Elgato’s, it means you only have to create one rule rather than two, and you can also create multiple rules with different timeouts, since you’re not relying on a static setting on the motion sensor itself.That said, I agree completely that it’s a non-starter for anybody with even slightly more sophisticated requirements. I have an Elgato Eve in my kitchen that’s expressly designed to turn OFF the lights after no motion is detected, but I don’t want it turning ON the lights when I walk into the room. Neither the iHome nor Philips Hue motion sensors will work for that purpose.I’ve read other complaints about the light sensor as well, but I wasn’t able to reproduce those problems on the unit I have here. It is noticeably more sluggish than Philips’ Hue Motion Sensor (which has added HomeKit support since our original review), but not as slow for me as the reports I’ve seen elsewhere — about 5-10 seconds in my case.

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