Editors’ Note, January 31st, 2019:with all service ending on March 31, 2019. The original review from 2016 remains below.
On paper, Iris by Lowe’s handled the transition from the first to the second generation of the company’s smart home system well. Iris took note of the problems with generation one, and promised faster response time, easier device pairing, and more robust app controls. The company even offered existing customers a free upgrade to the $60 next-gen hub along with a migration tool to help with the transition.
Take a look at the comments in the iOS app store, in Google’s Play store, or even on the new hub’s page on Lowe’s site (at the bottom of this page, too) and you’ll notice lots of customers unhappy with the upgrade. The migration tool wasn’t ready at launch, and the second-gen system wasn’t fully compatible with all first gen devices. Lots of customization options were lost in translation. Many of these details have been added back in through updates since the second-gen launched in November, but customers who relied on a web interface instead of the app to interact with the system are still out of luck. Rightly, they’re pissed.
Transition issues aside, Lowe’s Iris generation two doesn’t hold up on its own merits as a good smart-home system. It is more responsive, but using the app is tedious and counterintuitive. Some pieces of hardware don’t work consistently. Worse, you still have to pay a $10 monthly fee just to use some of the basic features of the system. Wink, SmartThings and Insteon all have similar features for free, and all are a better buy than the second generation Lowe’s Iris system right now.
What does Lowe’s Iris work with?
For the review process, I primarily looked at the devices contained with the $130 Iris Automation Pack — the hub, two contact sensors to detect when a door opens and closes, a smart outlet you can use to automate a lamp or anything else with a plug, a button you can map to rules or use as a panic button, and a motion sensor.
The $60 hub has antennas for ZigBee, Z-Wave and Bluetooth wireless radios — covering the bases for typical smart-home connection standards. In theory, Iris should be widely compatible with third party devices. You plug it into your router so you can control your devices from anywhere over Wi-Fi. And it uses four AA batteries as a backup in case power goes down — Lowe’s has on optional cellular backup plan for $5 a month so you can access the system even when your router is offline.
Other first party Lowe’s devices include a garage door controller, a range extender, an indoor and outdoor camera, a keypad and a water sensor. The hub works with third party devices like GE plugs, First Alert smoke detectors, Honeywell thermostats, Osram lights and locks from Schlage, Yale, and Kwikset. In all, it’s a lineup competitive with SmartThings, Wink, and Insteon. Though Wink and SmartThings get lots of additional interoperability via integration with IFTTT — the online rule maker. Iris doesn’t have that.
You can buy the Lowe’s Iris hub, the Automation Pack, the $100 Security starter pack, and any other Lowe’s Iris accessory, as well as a number of compatible third party devices now from Lowes.com and in Lowe’s retail outlets.
Lowe’s Iris only officially supports the US, but according to the company, does have customers using the system overseas. The price of the hub converts to approximately £40 and AU$80 for our readers in the UK and Australia respectively. The $130 Automation Pack converts to £90 and AU$170. The $100 Security pack costs roughly £70 and AU$130.
What can you do with Lowe’s Iris?
With the first generation, we were annoyed by how little you could do with the app. For the most part, you needed to control the system with the Web interface. That isn’t a problem anymore. Anything you control with Lowe’s Iris, you control via the app. In fact, now the Web interface is bare-bones. You can use it to manage your billing, though Iris Vice President Mick Koster promised that core services are coming back to the web later this year.
Between rules, schedules, scenes, and managing alerts and alarms, you can do a lot with the app to make your Lowe’s Iris smart home pretty smart. For instance, the hub comes with a built-in alarm, and you can set up your motion sensor or contact sensor to trigger the alarm and send you a push notification when the system is armed. Unfortunately, a lot of this functionality sits behind a paywall. By comparison, with SmartThings, you can use IFTTT to create a wide variety of recipes using a large catalog of interoperable devices and platforms for free. To do something similar, even with first-party Lowe’s Iris accessories, you need to pay $10 a month. Here’s the breakdown of what’s free and what’s not in the app on IrisbyLowes.com.
That could all change in the coming months. Lowe’s Iris will offer contract free monitoring as an optional add-on soon. At that point, a $20 monthly fee will include professional monitoring and the premium version of the app, plus cellular backup of the hub. That price feels much more worth it, given that monitoring alone costs $25 a month with SimpliSafe. AT&T’s Digital Life charges as much as $65 a month for monitoring.
Plus, once monitoring becomes a reality for Lowe’s, Koster assured me the company would start looking at the basic to premium breakdown, and moving some premium features to the other side of the paywall. But I can’t give any credit now to a smart-home system based on how good it might be in a couple of months. As it stands, that $10 monthly fee is dumb.