Monday, April 11, 2016

Building a Smart Home on a Budget - Hook



Today the internet of things is everywhere and in anything yet it has no defined protocol or standardization of any type. This lack of conformity has led to an increasingly growing issue that of incompatibility. This issue mixed with the cost of investing in one manufacturer over another with no guarantee of product life or growth makes for a very precarious technology moving forward.

The group from Hook has decided to challenge this by removing one of the variables in the complexity equation. They have decided to make other manufactures devices the main extension of their own technology. This allows for a end user to choose the device of their choice at the price point of their choosing with only one requirement, it has a RF connection. This is infact Hooks motto “Hook - Smart home on a Budget”

Why test this product

This product was chosen to be tested based on its claims and that it offered the potential to integrate many home automation devices into one system at an affordable price. Every few weeks there is a new home automation system on the market by a new group looking to do something innovative. The issue of incompatibility and cost is constantly growing and with the often included RF link the Hook holds the potential to link all of these devices.

First Impressions  

The Hook is a clean and unobtrusive device that does not take up a lot of space. With the power coming from a provided USB charger the Hook can easily be used in different regions. The LED lighting combinations are a low cost and easy to understand way of letting the user understand what the device is doing.

When I opened the box for the first time, granted the beta release had no housing or casing of any type, I was unsure what I was really looking at. But after plugging the unit in and getting it up and running it becomes clear very quickly that this is a device with no complexities. The Hook is a device that is made to control home automation devices and do that one task well.

Hook  Setup and Usability

The Hook has two methods by which devices can be controlled, the phone app (Android and iOS) and a web app. This combination allows for the Hook as well as the automation devices to be easily configured whether you have a compatible phone or not. The interface is also intuitive and suggestive in that it walks you through the steps needed to setup the Hook and add devices without making the user feel ignorant.

In the web app logging into your account presents you with your dashboard where you can add Hooks, devices as well as other do other actions such as create groups and turn devices on and off.

Hook Android app dashboard

2016-04-04 17_13_21-Program Manager.png
Hook web app dashboard

Adding a Hook

Adding a Hook starts by clicking “Add Hook” which takes you to a page where the steps needed to connect your Hook are clearly outlined and well explained.

2016-04-04 17_04_29-Program Manager.png
Adding Hook using the web app

On the side of the Hook press the button until the LED flashes blue, connect your PC to the Hooks WiFi hotspot add a name and press next. The Hook will then look for WiFi connections around it and ask you to choose one and input the password for that network. After reconnecting to the original network (wait for your PC to connect automatically after the Hook has closed its hotspot) press save. If successful a popup window will let you know.

The last step is a bit of an issue as not waiting long enough before disconnecting has caused the setup to fail a number of times hence the suggestion to wait for the hotspot to be terminated. After bringing this to the attention of the Hook team they have resolved the issue by only allowing the Save button to be active once the device that is used to set up the look is back online. The other issue is the duration between pressing send and the pop up window informing you the setup was or was not successful. With no indication to inform the user that something is infact happening the casual user will press the send button a number of times potentially causing the setup to fail. Again after bringing this to the attention of the Hook team they have decided to look into it and potentially solve the issue by disabling the save button after pressing it the first time.

Once these two pitfalls where discovered and pointed out to other users I was testing the Hook with, the ability to add the Hook to their environment was incredibly simple.

Adding a Device

After the Hook is added devices or end nodes need to be added. This is done also from the dashboard and is just as simple. Clicking on “Add Device” presents the you with a screen to choose the Hook you want to add the device too.

2016-04-04 17_17_42-Program Manager.png
Adding a device to Hook using the web app

Once you have chosen the Hook and named your device all that is left to do is to press the buttons on the RF remote and the Hook will remember the RF frequency and sequence needed to mimic that button. Each button can be named to better explain its functionality when adding a device that may have multiple buttons.

2016-04-04 17_37_26-Hook _ Add Device.png
Naming a device and its related actions using the web app

The one downside to this method of adding controls is the need to be physically close to the Hook during setup. This is due to the lack of sensitivity in the receiver used by the Hook to record the RF sequence. As this is a one time deal this is really a non issue as the setup can be done with the hook plugged in close to the point of setup and then moved once the setup is completed.

Devices added to the Hook on Android

2016-04-08 14_37_35-Hook _ Devices.png
Devices added to the Hook on web app

After all the devices you would like to add have been added you can group devices into groups. Currently this is an issue with devices that use the same button twice. The only workaround is to add that device twice (not the full remote but each device) calling the one device On and the second Off, this method is untested but should work according to my understanding of the system. The Hook team is aware of this issue and will have a fix (toggle switches) rolled out shortly.


The Hook works with IFTTT (If This Than That) which allows for simple devices to be used in ways well beyond what they were intended for. Without a dedicated IFTTT action (this is in the works) the Hook team has provided a REST API to use with the Maker action. This allows various stimuli to affect any one of the devices connected to the Hook. With dozens of possible stimuli the options for automating your devices seem almost endless. The steps to accomplish this are provided in a blog entry by the Hook team.

2016-04-08 13_09_28-Hook _ Devices.png
REST command to use with Maker Action

2016-04-08 13_07_12-Recipe 35292043 - IFTTT.png
Setting up IFTTT to trigger a Hook device

Another feature currently in Beta is the Amazon Echo, this would extend the use of your simple RF devices beyond what some expensive WiFi modules can currently do. Amazon Echo along with IFTTT have the potential to truly help your low cost devices make your home a smart home.

Using Hook with Amazon Echo

Power consumption

As a device that is used to both automate the home and as well as make it smarter it is important to see what the true cost and smarts of such a device are. Part of this cost and intelligence is the amount of power the unit consumes on a daily basis. Since the Hook is used to control other devices and needs to be on at all times the overall power consumption needs to be low for it to be worth its constant use.

For this the Hook was plugged into a PA1000 (generously lent to me by Tektronix specifically for IoT device testing). The Hook was then left to run for a short duration in various modes. It was this data that was then used to determine the overall power consumption on the Hook. After taking the average the Hook only uses 1.12W, which for a full year is approximately 9.8kWhrs. While this may sound like a lot, it's approximately half of a timer used to turn on and off appliances in your home.

Hook vs Timer.jpg
Hook Power Consumption vs Timer Power Consumption


The Hook has been tested over an extended period now and in various conditions. There has been little issue with the Hook in all cases. The only issue found was rapid repeated power cycling (more than 5 times) which cause the Hook to lock up temporarily. This is by no means normal use and should not be done with electronics but it was an issue that was noticed.

Other tests included extended durations unpluged to simulate power outages, moving between WiFi networks and adding to new network (after deleting from account). In all of these cases there was no issue noticed with the Hook. Range has also been tested in a standard home size for Canada. Once a decent spot in the house was chosen, somewhere close to the middle (vertically and horizontally) there were no issues with range or having a previously responsive node not respond.

Setup issues

The setup procedure for the Hook I was given had some issues as it was a beta unit that had been added to another account. Once this was discovered and was added to my list of known “issues” it was easy to move the Hook between accounts.

The big issue was adding the Hook to my account this was found to be impossible after numerous attempts due to an issue on my side. The router I use for testing has connection issues. That is a device can connect to the router but can't always access the internet seemingly due to overlapping IP addresses or its in ability to allocate valid IP addresses. Once I moved to another router that had no such issues the Hook setup and connected to my acount first time with no issue. Based on this I would recommend if any issues are discovered first attempt to use a different router or check the router setup to be sure it is correct before looking at the Hook.  


There is little of concern with the Hook other than the usual privacy. I have not looked at what is passed between the PC setting the Hook and the Hook itself. I would assume it is encrypted and secure but this will need to be looked at a later date.

The only issue that stood out was the account security from the backend. During the troubleshooting with the Hook team, where I finally realized it was my issue and not theirs, they were at one point able to add the Hook to my account. This did make me wonder what access the Hook team has to my account and devices and their usage. They were also able to determine that the Hook was not online at one point.

What security is on the backend and how passwords are stored (both account and WiFi networks) I am not sure but this is not just an question with Hook but with all IoT devices used both in the home and out. If any information is passed on from the Hook team or from my own testing, I will add it at a later date.

Answers From Hook

Regarding secure communication between the Hook, the PC and the cloud Hook responded: all communication between the Hook and the cloud uses AES-128 bit encryption and those between the PC and the Hook use HTTPS ensuring all data is kept secret.

Regarding passwords and WiFi details Hook Responded: account password has to be stored on cloud, so that you can use same account across devices. WiFi credentials are saved locally on Hook. They are not even not available to read through a physical connection.

Lastly regarding adding HooK to my account and knowing it is online Hook responded: We used the hook sharing feature to add the Hook to your account, it's a standard supported feature where a user can share the hook with another user. Also each Hook pushes a heartbeat to our servers thus we know if it is online or not.

Moving Forward

Having used the Hook for over a month now in both stand alone mode as well as with IFTTT overall I am very happy with it. I have incorporated other devices I have (Sonoff and Slamphor) with it to bring everything to one central environment. I am looking to integrate with this, through IFTT, environmental sensors to turn on fans when CO2 or humidity levels get too high in my home. This is currently done with a device called LiV Pi but Hook will also be releasing a sensor API sometime in the summer (~June -  August).

Another step currently being looked into is the integration with X10. For those not in North America this should work out of the box as 433MHz is already supported. Unfortunately for those in North America X10 uses 310MHz (closer to 312.85MHz when tested). Since both X10 and the Hook use the same protocol for communication, if a 310MHz RF module that is compatible with the Hook can be located, this integration will also be attempted and tested.


The Hook is an interesting and useful idea that when used with all its abilities can truly bring the home or office to life. This with its intuitive interface and availability from both a phone or browser makes for a truly easy to use and convenient system. Adding in the IFTTT extension, the Hook really allows anyone to set the environment to react and behave in away that works for their unique situation. Lastly knowing that the Hook team has shipped all the Hooks promised to their backers gives me confidence that this is a viable product that has great potential and the ability to keep moving forward in its space of both home automation and IoT. Also having taken every issue I have mentioned seriously and fixing them promptly, Hook is a product that wants nothing more than to be easy for you to use so sign up for the next round of orders and get yours today.

More pictures here:
Upcoming reviews and info here:

No comments:

Post a Comment