I have been using Umbrel at home for the past year and a half. Previously I used a Raspberry Pi 4 to power my Umbrel server, but I recently upgraded to the new Umbrel Home which includes everything pre-built and ready to go. 2023 has been the year where I really thought hard about where my data is, which companies have access to it and how I can better control my costs. Having spent a few weeks with Umbrel Home, I highly recommend it as a streamlined smart home hub for Homebridge, while also allowing you to build your own personal cloud.
HomeKit Weekly is a series focused on smart home accessories, home automation tips and tricks, and everything related to Apple's smart home framework. Why Umbrel Home vs Build Yourself? You can certainly build your own Umbrel with off-the-shelf tools, and it's worked fine for the past year and a half, but it wasn't the kind of hardware I wanted to build my personal cloud on. Having a pre-built and supported device is much more ideal for extended use. Umbrel Home is powered by a 2.9GHz quad-core Intel N5105, 16GB dual-channel RAM, 2TB NVMe SSD and gigabit Ethernet. It is extremely powerful yet fits in the palm of your hand. Yes, you can build it cheaper with a Raspberry Pi kit, but if you're ready to dive deep into the idea of a home server, I think the purchase price for Umbrel Home makes it a more attractive product overall.
Why Umbrella for HomeKit? Until Matter is in every product you want to use with HomeKit, Homebridge is still one of the best ways to get all your smart home products — whether they support HomeKit or not — on the Apple platform so you can use with Siri, HomeKit scenes, and HomeKit automations. Homebridge is a very versatile platform that can run just about anywhere, including macOS, Windows, in Docker, etc. However, Umbrel Home is one of the easiest ways to use Homebridge. Via Homebridge, you can go from unpacking to adding a smart home to HomeKit in about 20 minutes. I love that Homebridge is a simple but maintained app on the Umbrel app store, so you have an easy way to upgrade your instance as new releases come out. The bottom line is that Umbrel is the fastest yet easiest way to use Homebridge in your HomeKit environment. Matter is a fantastic protocol, but I think it will be several years before it is included in every product that comes out. It's still a bit buggy in different products, while other manufacturers have walked away from it. Building a stand is a challenge, and most of the time you end up here.
Why Umbrel at all? After spending nearly a decade of my life in the public cloud and letting others manage my data, I'm less and less confident that this is the route I want to take. There are a few reasons. The first is the cost. I pay for multiple cloud services and it starts to add up over time. Many of them are also starting to see subscription price increases. With Umbrel Home it is possible to store all your documents (Nextcloud), photos (PhotoPrism), passwords (Bitwarden), movies/TV shows (Plex), social media updates (Nostr), recipes (Mealie) and much more. to hit. Do you see the trend here? Instead of having to send your data to a repository that you have no control over, you can store it all locally with hardware that you control. Owning and controlling your data is, I believe, a major trend in the next decade. I'm not yet at the point where I've abandoned services like iCloud and Google Drive for my data, but I'm slowly moving in that direction.
What's next? I love everything about Umbrel Home. It's a self-contained box that can act as my Homebridge server for HomeKit, manage my passwords, store my documents, sync my passwords, and much more. What I want is a way to encrypt the data and back it up either to another location or to another Umbrel in another location. I don't want the only copy of my data in my house. I wouldn't mind a one-way encrypted sync with Backblaze as a flawless backup, but I'd also settle for an option to sync multiple Umbrels together in separate locations. I want to own and control my data, but I also want to make sure there are multiple versions of my data in multiple locations.
I originally came to Umbrel because I had a full Bitcoin node in my home. Then I started tinkering with it as a Lightning Node. Eventually I came to realize that it was so much more! It is designed to be the center where you take back control of your data. I highly recommend Umbrel, even for just a rock-solid Homebridge implementation, but there's so much more to it when you dig into the product that I think it will become the standard in home servers for the next decade or so. It's a fantastic product at a fantastic price. I haven't canceled all my cloud subscriptions yet, but that's the end goal thanks to Umbrel.
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