Looking like a USB Wi-Fi adapter for a notebook, the Aqara Hub E1 squeezes a lot of smart home functionality into its small case. At just 4.3 x 1.2 x 0.3 inches (LxWxH), it’s about a tenth the size of Aeotec’s Smart Home Hub. One of the smallest smart home hubs of all time, it is also very easy to hide.
Unlike other hubs that are square and have an AC adapter cable, the E1 is dominated by its integrated USB-A jack. Just plug it directly into a USB port or USB AC adapter and the hub will start immediately; there is no on / off switch. The E1 hub can rotate more than 180 degrees to straighten its internal antennas, but it doesn’t come with any stand to stand upright, either – as is increasingly the case with smartphones. – their own AC adapter.
This review is part of TechHive’s coverage of the best smart home systems, where you’ll find reviews of competing offers, plus a buyer’s guide to the features you should consider when shopping for this type of product.
It may be small, but the Hub E1 is powerful enough to bolster the various devices of a smart home, but with a twist. An island of compatibility in itself, the E1 works directly with dozens of Aqara Zigbee-based devices, such as lights, switches, cameras, locks and a variety of sensors. There are even devices for rolling and unrolling windows.
The downside, the hub does not connect with generic smart home items. Instead, you need to set up an action using third-party software, such as Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, or Apple HomeKit, and then use the E1 hub to trigger that event. You can also create IFTTT applets. It’s a little awkward, but it works. The company is working with the Connectivity Standards Alliance’s Matter initiative to reinvent smart home hardware and software as something more universal.
E1 relies on Wi-Fi to connect to the internet and does not have the wired Ethernet option offered by Aeotec Smart Home Hub. This allows it to be configured in the middle of a house or apartment for the best coverage, but the E1 only works with 2.4 GHz networks, and a dual-band router can cause problems. It also lacks a backup battery and an LTE radio to keep it running during a broadband outage.
When everything is connected and working, the small LED of the E1 is solid blue, but flashes when it does not have a live internet connection. When ready to set up, yellow flashes.
Inside the Aqara Hub E1
Made by Lumi United Technologies in Shenzhen, China, it would be hard to find a smaller smart hub, but it can control up to 128 Zigbee devices.
Tip: If you have a dual-band router, turn off the 5 GHz band before doing anything else. The E1 hub only works with 2.4 GHz signals and is sensitive to stray 5 GHz transmissions. When you have finished configuring the hub, you can restart the other radio on the router.
At $ 30, the price of the E1 is as low as the unit itself. It’s a quarter of the cost of either the $ 135 Aeotec Smart Home Hub or the $ 130 Hubitat Elevation. It includes a one-year warranty and lifetime technology support, although, as with Aeotec and Hubitat, no telephone support is available. A technician answered my email in two days. The technical support section of the site has a downloadable user manual and an introductory video, but the FAQ section did not have specific information for E1 when I checked.
Configuring Aqara Hub E1
Getting the Hub E1 online is simple and easy, but it can be frustrating. If all goes well, take a minute or two and start getting the Aqara Home app for Android or iOS. Unlike Hubitat or Aeotec, there is no way to use any connected browser or Windows 10 application.
After I created an Aqara account and agreed to its license terms, I had to allow the app to use my location. Then I connected the E1 to a generic USB power adapter and pressed the small button on the top for 10 seconds. The hub LED changed from flashing blue to flashing yellow. Ready to configure, I chose the hub from the application list.
The app then found the hub and showed me the local Wi-Fi networks to connect to. However, I had trouble finding where to put the password. After a few tries, I realized that the Chinese characters under the network name were where it went.
That was, it took three minutes to set up the hub, even with the kerfuffle password. All I had to do was give her a room to live in. Ready to add accessories, I started with an Agara Smart Plug. I chose it from the list on the screen and the configuration was done in about a minute. I followed this by installing a Mini Switch and TVOC Air Quality Monitor.
Using the Aqra Home app
The Aqara Home app is the center of attention, and its home screen is organized on cameras. He placed the results of the environmental sensor (temperature, relative humidity and levels of volatile organic compounds (VOC) on top) and the rest were displayed on plates arranged below.
While the smart socket setup screen didn’t have the one-hour shutdown option offered by Aeotec, its timer has 10, 30, and 60-minute presets, or set any custom value. There is also a power meter that tracks electricity consumption for the day and month.
You’ll also find setup screens for event automation, as well as for certain scenes in the room. The application can manage simple or complicated IFTTT programming and anything can be controlled with Alexa voice control, Apple’s HomeKit or Google Assistant.
The downside, after updating the E1’s firmware, the drive would not automatically reconnect to my accessories. After going through the hub setup routine, everything was back to normal. Fortunately, I didn’t have to start over and reinstall all the accessories.
Aqara Hub E1 in the real world
Aqara Hub E1 uses the Zigbee 3.0 protocol, but the company’s documentation and marketing materials emphasize its compatibility only with Read Zigbee devices. On the other hand, it can be embedded in the Alexa, Google Assistant, and Apple HomeKit ecosystems, and then you can use voice commands spoken on those devices to control Aqara products. It is also worth noting that the documentation provided for connecting an Alexa ability is based on an older version of the Alexa application.
Despite its size, the Aqara Hub E1 pulled most of the smart home hubs out of the water, with a superb range of 95 feet. This is about 25 percent farther than the 70-foot range of the Aeotec hub or the 75-foot radius of the Hubitat. This makes it usable in all but the largest mansions.
There’s one more thing E1 does: it can be a Wi-Fi repeater to fill dead zones with wireless data. The setup took about two minutes, but – as was the case with his smart home business – it only works for the 2.4 GHz band.
Even when controlling a room full of equipment, the E1 consumed only 1.3 watts and remained cold to the touch. If you pay a national average of 14 cents per kilowatt-hour for electricity, it should cost $ 1.60 a year to operate.
Cheap to buy and use, the Hub E1 is quick and easy to set up, while adding a lot of add-ons that those living in smart homes will appreciate. It’s a great way to connect a lot of Aqara devices throughout the house. but it would be even better if it could directly control the wide range of generic smart home devices.