This promises to connect your smart home seamlessly, via the Matter system

Other devices will be converted over to Matter next year, some through firmware updates and some through replacement, giving Aqara what it says will ultimately be 160 different Matter-compatible devices to add to the thousands of Matter devices that should be flooding the market in coming months.

Matter promises to be the thing everyone has been waiting for in the smart-home industry: the unified standard that makes everything work together with everything else.

If all works to plan, you should be able to buy, say, a cheap Matter-compatible water-leak sensor from Aqara, and have it work seamlessly with your Samsung, Google, Apple or Amazon smart-home automation system (they’re all part of the Matter consortium) as if it was purpose-built for that system, sending you alerts or turning off taps the moment a leak is detected.

We didn’t review it, but Aqara’s Roller Shade Driver can open and close your blinds when it gets hot or dark or when you get home, or according to any automation trigger you set. 

Or, if it all works to plan, you should be able to buy a low-cost Aqara temperature and humidity sensor and an Aqara door lock, and have it turn on your Samsung air-conditioner the moment you get home, with the setting tweaked according to the weather and/or the cost of electricity.

Admittedly, there’s a big “if” in the clause “if it all works”.

Smart-home devices are the least reliable, most error-prone and annoying category of gadgets we have ever reviewed, and for a laboratory that’s been reviewing gadgets since the pre-Android days when Samsung started making flip phones that would brick the moment you turned them on, that’s saying something.

For Matter to fail just as the whole smart-home project has hitherto failed would be unsurprising.

Still, we’re hopeful Matter will be at least part of the solution, not just to the interoperability problems that plague smart-home devices, but to the reliability problems, too.

Our hope is that, starting next year when everyone will be making devices that are essentially fungible at the connectivity layer, manufacturers will seek to differentiate themselves by making the most secure, the most reliable, the most frequently patched versions of those devices on the market.

And while we wait for that blessed day to dawn, we may as well start collecting gadgets that are Matter-compatible, or have a pathway to Matter compatibility, just in case the grand plan works.

Which brings us back to Aqara’s system, which – despite what I just said about smart-home technology – has proved to be reasonably reliable, and which could make a valuable (low-cost) contribution to a Matter system.

Some of the quirkier features of the Camera Hub G3 haven’t proved exactly solid. That gesture-recognition system, which lets you trigger automated responses when you show a peace sign or an “OK” gesture to the G3’s camera is a bit hit-and-miss, for instance. But the thing that interests us most about Aqara – that is, the broader ecosystem of sensors and devices – has behaved very well so far.

The cookie-sized Hub M2 will be the first Aqara device to get Matter compatibility.  

As the name suggests, the Camera Hub G3 isn’t just a home security camera with cat/bat/rat ears, it’s also a hub, through which you can connect Aqara sensors such as magnetic door and window switches.

There’s also another, even more affordable hub known as the M2, which is the device that’s getting the Matter update this month. We used the M2 and the G3 hubs for this review, and found them equally reliable and easy to pair with sensors.

The hubs use a wireless technology known as “Zigbee” to pair to the Aqara remote sensors, and they then relay any information coming from those sensors to whatever home-automation platform you’re running, which then controls devices around your home based on those Aqara inputs.

Aqara does provide an automation platform of its own. But we wouldn’t recommend it, especially given the likelihood you’ll have devices from other manufacturers on your home network that will need to work with the Aqara devices.

In general (and especially in this case), we think it’s best to steer clear of device-specific automation platforms, and use something as industry-wide as possible, such as Google’s Home, Apple’s HomeKit (which, by the way, is miles better than Google Home), or better yet, the superb, technology-agnostic Home Assistant software platform, which is what we used for this review.

In the absence of Matter interconnectivity (which hadn’t been added to either Home Assistant or the Aqara M2 hub at the time of writing), we took advantage of the Apple HomeKit compatibility Aqara has added to its hubs to connect all its sensors to our Home Assistant platform.

For the record, the connection we used looked a little like this: Aqara Sensor => Zigbee wireless => Aqara Cat/Bat/Rat or M2 Hub => Apple HomeKit => wifi => Synology home router => ethernet cable => Synology NAS => Ubuntu server running on NAS => HomeKit plugin in Home Assistant => Home Assistant.

The cute little Aqara Camera Hub G3 could well be part of the furniture soon. 

And that’s only the inbound half of the system! From there, Home Assistant has to go through a similarly convoluted path to control the devices we’ve automated based on inputs from the Aqara sensors.

It’s not hard to see why Matter is urgently needed. Gadget gods willing, it should replace four or five of those arrows with a single standard.

But despite that ridiculous complexity, it’s pretty good even without Matter, and the best setup we’ve managed in years of reviewing this stuff.

The very moment the front door to our labs opens, for instance, the Aqara door sensor sends a signal to Home Assistant, which turns on the lights near the door. Response times are sub-second, much faster and (as far as we can tell so far) more reliable than if you tried to do the same thing using Google Home or the web-based If This Then That automation platform.

Similarly, the moment the humidity/temperature gets too high, on comes our Daikin air-conditioner, all thanks to the Aqara sensor … and of course Zigbee, and Apple and HomeKit, and Synology and ethernet and Synology again and Ubuntu and Home Assistant and that HomeKit plugin, and not to forget the little Wi-Fi dongle we installed in the Daikin.

Next year, we hope to just thank the Matter consortium.

Aqara Camera Hub G3

  • Likes | Promising set of very affordable sensors and devices for a Matter-based system.
  • Dislikes | Quirky features aren’t reliable. Apps are poorly written. (Luckily, you need them only to set up the devices.)
  • Price | Motion sensor $39; door sensor $34; water-leak sensor $34; Camera Hub G3 $194; M2 Hub $99.

More gadget reviews from John Davidson

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