Hidden GemsInsteon (often written as INSTEON) has been in the home automation business for a few years, going back to 2010. The company has apps on iOS and Android, but starting a few weeks ago, they released a universal app for Windows Phone and Windows. Even more, they teamed up with Microsoft to sell special kits in the Microsoft Store, complete with Windows Phone branding on the package.

Whether it is controlling your temperature, dimming the lights, watching the world through a Wi-Fi camera or getting an alert when your door opens, Insteon does it all. Because of the completeness of their system, their partnership with Microsoft and the overall coolness, Insteon is today's Hidden Gem. Watch our video review to see it all in action!

Remember, by leaving a comment on this article, you stand a chance of being one (of two) winners to earn your own Insteon Home Kit ($299) as seen in our review!

Insteon – What is it?

Home automation is finally hitting its stride in 2014. With the abundance of smart devices (phones, tablets, computers, watches), Bluetooth 4.0 LE, and ubiquitous Wi-Fi signals, having a connected home is no longer limited to programmers or those with abundant incomes.

Insteon (www.insteon.com) makes a huge line of various accessories that you can purchase for your home to control or monitor the behavior of appliances and services. The Insteon system all starts with the Insteon Hub (~$100 USD), which connects up to your router through and Ethernet plug and is powered by plugging it into your wall. Once enabled, users can then connect up the Insteon app on their phones or tablets to the Hub. Of course, the Insteon Hub is useless without sensors, so you need to pick those up in order to start building your automated empire.

Insteon has no monthly service fees. You simply buy the hardware, and that is it.

When you setup the Insteon network, you can leave it local or setup your router for to port-forward the Insteon Hub. The latter option allows you to monitor and operate your Hub remotely from your phone or tablet.

Insteon Kits and parts

Although you could buy Insteon parts bit by bit, the company has created numerous starter kits to give you all the basics. At the Microsoft Store, they come in three different levels:

  • Starter kit ($199 – Link) – INSTEON hub, on/off module, motion sensor, Wi-Fi camera
  • Home Kit ($299 – Link) - INSTEON hub, on/off module, motion sensor, Wi-Fi camera, plus thermostat and open/close sensor
  • Business Kit ($499 – Link) - INSTEON hub, on/off module, 2 motion sensors, 2 Wi-Fi cameras, thermostat, 2 open/close sensors, 3 leak sensors

If, however, you do not want to go through Microsoft, Best Buy and even the Home Depot sell all the parts and other starter kits, including $119 'Start Here kit' that features the Hub and 2 Dimmer modules. The modularity to me is the beauty of Insteon: you buy what you need, and for just over $100 you can get a pretty snazzy kit to start the process. Do you have an extra $60? Now you can pick up an extra sensor.

Indeed, Insteon has accessories for everything, including in-line wiring if you really want to customize your house. Such optional sensors include:

  • Ceiling Fan and Light Control
  • Garage door kit (open, close, monitor)
  • Insteon bulbs
  • Smoke Bridge monitor for First Alert
  • Water leak sensor
  • Wireless phase coupler
  • Plug-in Appliance On/Off Module
  • Wireless Outdoor IP Security Camera with Night Vision
  • Sprinkler Controller

…and the list goes on and on. The point is, with Insteon you can wire up virtually anything in your home to fit your needs. You can spend $200 or run it up to $5000, depending on how many items you add, but the modularity is certainly impressive.

INSTEON for Hub app – Windows Phone and Windows 8.1

Insteon has two apps for Microsoft produ cts, including Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8.1. The app is universal, so the similarities between them are not by accident. The apps are, of course, free and I have had little issues with them. The Windows Phone app on occasion makes a popping noise and it does not resume so well when sitting in the background (I presume it needs to reconnect to the server). However, both apps are easy to operate and work very well, especially with the wireless camera. Considering they are 1.0 versions, I am satisfied with them so far.

Cortana is coming

As we previously reported, Insteon and Microsoft are bringing Cortana support to their app later this summer. The Cortana integration allows you to tell the Insteon system various commands, including:

  • Ask Cortana to dim the lights for movie time based on specially created scenes - "INSTEON, turn on 'Movie Time."
  • Instruct the thermostat to reduce the temperature to ensure that the house is cool upon returning home from work - "INSTEON, adjust 'Living Room Thermostat' temperature down."
  • Tell Cortana that you're ready for bed - "INSTEON, turn off all of the lights."

Adding Cortana to the mix is sure to make Insteon even more fun to use.


What about setting up the Insteon system around your home? From my experience, installing Insteon is a lot easier than I anticipated. The door open and close sensor was "installed" within three minutes, and the Hub required even less time. Any problems I ran into were usually my own fault i.e. skimmed over the directions, ahem.

To set up each sensor, the user launches the app, picks the room (or creates one) and adds items from the pre-selected list of available Insteon sensors. The app then walks you through the process, including helpful videos. Overall, Insteon could not have made it simpler. If you do run into a problem, there is tech support to walk you through the process.

My only problem to date is the thermostat. My thermostat is a 4-wire system whereas Insteon's is 5-wire setup (the Insteon thermostat gets power from the AC unit, not batteries). The problem is allegedly solvable by picking up a $35 Venstar wiring kit from Amazon, which is arriving this week. Alternatively, Insteon Hub does work with the Nest thermostat too.

Additionally, you have 'Scenes,' which you can think of batch scripts for Insteon. In other words, you can set it up so that when you walk through the front door (open and close monitor) the lights come on (on/off module) and the HVAC system sets your desired temperature (Insteon thermostat). Although they are fun, Scenes do take some thinking ahead to plan out, but they do offer plenty of customization for the tinkerer.

Wrapping it up

Watch our video tour of the Insteon Home Kit to see some of the system in action. Overall, I am very pleased with the Insteon system. It does not break the bank, lets users configure their system according to their needs (and budget), and it is a lot of fun to setup. Seriously, grab a kit and take a few hours on a Saturday and have a blast.

What do you think of Insteon and home automation? Is it there yet or are you still waiting for it to get better? Let us know in comments and don't forget to check our other Hidden Gems!

Thanks to Mark Guim for the work on the video review