The Peq hub: You want me to pay $10 a month for this?

The Peq smart home system from SmartHome Ventures went on sale at Best Buy stores and on the Peq web site late last month. The system combines hardware with a service that costs $9.99 a month, making it one of two mainstream smart home systems that come with a monthly fee (the other is the Lowes’ Iris platform).

After a few weeks living with the system I can safely say that while it has an attractive interface, it doesn’t offer a lot of extra value for that $10 service fee, at least compared to other well thought out products from competitors such as [company]Staples[/company] Connect or even [company]Revolv’s[/company] system. After testing six of these hubs, maybe I’m weary of how they all seem to blend together, with few offering any really awesome features that put them above the others.

That being said, each system comes with support for different devices and radios, so depending on your goals or the equipment you have in your home, you might like one over the other. The Peq’s highlights are a high-quality indoor/outdoor Wi-Fi enabled camera, thoughtful explanations for rules and incredibly complete rule-making options. The downsides are the service fee, the limited devices for now and a web-focused interface that prevents you from setting up new devices and making rules on the app. However, an update later this week should allow you to add a device from the app.

Setup assumes you know nothing

Setting up the Peq hub can take a bit of time, although you can do it piecemeal quite easily. I installed my devices over a period of a few days because I tended to get to it late at night. The hub plugs directly into your router, so make sure you have a spare port or a switch. It offers support for Wi-Fi and ZigBee devices that sport the Peq brand as well as those certified under the Icontrol OpenHome Device Certification Program. There are few devices to choose from so far, but that list should grow over time.

The Peq open/close sensor that comes with the hub.

The Peq open/close sensor that comes with the hub.

Each hub comes with an open-close sensor, and I also installed a camera, a motion sensor and a lamp module for purposes of testing. The total cost of all of that gear would be about $325. The Peq system goal is to make home automation so approachable that any mainstream consumer can do it and will feel they get so much value from automating their home that they don’t mind paying that monthly fee.

With that in mind, the setup offers a key that tells you if the device you are about to install is easy, moderate or difficult to connect and offers a video showing you how. Most people probably will skip the video for the open/close sensor and just follow the written instructions, but when it comes to replacing a light switch or thermostat, those videos are actually pretty good. Setup and pairing on the open close sensor took about 7 minutes (including taping it to the door) while the camera setup took about 15 minutes.

I had one issue where my motion detector (seen below) wasn’t registering motion or even a signal after I installed it, but a Peq support call with a suggested reset of the sensor and then re-pairing it to the hub fixed the problem. Even in home automation, troubleshooting starts with a reboot. The service person was helpful and I got to a live person within 15 minutes. While I would have liked him to stay online to make sure the fix worked, it also seemed like a common problem whose solution wasn’t in doubt.

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Rules and working with the app

This is where the Peq app does well. As you can see from two screenshots below, the options for setting up rules are comprehensive — letting you choose both sensors that can trigger an event and time-related related events.


peq rules

It also lets you set up a notification for things that don’t happen, which is smart. It might be fun to get a text and a picture every time your kid comes home from school at 3:30pm, but over time it gets harder to tell the signal from the noise. So in that case it may be more valuable to get a text if no one comes in through the front door between 3 and 4 pm, suggesting you should start looking for your child. The app makes those options very clear from the get go.

I found it frustrating that I couldn’t make rules or set up the devices from the app, but [company]SmartHome Ventures[/company] CEO Ted Schremp assures me that functionality is coming. In the meantime, you have to handle the hardcore programming on a web site and leave the checking in on your home to the app. One other note. On my Android handset — admittedly an older Samsung Galaxy 3– the Peq app crashed every single time.

What’s missing

For a system that wants to charge me $10 a month, I expect a lot, but so far Peq isn’t delivering. The user interface is pretty and great for distinguishing what devices you have at a glance thanks to the color palate. Greater personalization will come along with this week’s update, as well as a white background. I also appreciated the thought and care that went into explaining how to set things up and what rules might be good to use.

The Peq dashboard.

The Peq dashboard.

But when it comes to the hardware, there’s no backup power or internet connectivity, which seems kind of silly if you want to use it to replace your security systems. [company]Lowe’s[/company] Iris can offer people both. There’s also a pretty limited number of features so far. For example, I have a rule that takes a video when a motion sensor by my dog’s door is triggered. The camera points at the back yard where my dog likes to make a break for freedom.

But there’s no way to delete or save the videos the camera takes, or to increase the amount of time a video will record. So if my dog wanders out and decides to wait a few minutes before busting out, I miss it. However, I like that the camera grabs a few seconds of activity before the motion sensor triggered which means it is certain to snag the event you are hoping to capture.

I’d love to see more devices on the system, as opposed to having to buy all new devices, but can appreciate that most people don’t already have highly connected homes. I’d also like to see some defining feature or take on the smart home that puts the Peq above the others already on the market, but I can’t so far. Maybe that will change.