Connected home items are becoming more and more common, from light bulbs to doorbells and so on. Since the beginning of it all, I've really wanted to join in the smart home thing, mostly because I am lazy and want to control my house with my voice. Cost to entry has been rather prohibitive and I've always rented places, so I figured most of my options would be limited.

To help alleviate the first problem, cost, Nvidia and Samsung teamed up to bring us the SmartThings Link for the Shield TV. It's a USB dongle that plugs into the back of the Android TV box which, when combined with its companion app, turns the Shield into a full-on SmartThings hub. Best part is that it's very inexpensive for those of you who already own a Shield TV. This was my first foray into the smart home space, so here are my thoughts on the Link.

Specs

Measurements 81.9 (3.22) x 26.5 (1.05) x 7.9 (.31) mm (in)
Communication protocols ZigBee, Z-Wave
Range 44.81 m/147 ft

The Good

Use It's super easy to use. Just plug in the dongle, install the companion app on the Shield, and do everything else from your phone.
Value At time of writing, the SmartThings Link is on sale for $14.49 for Nvidia Shield Rewards members. That's a crazy good deal.

The Not So Good

Aesthetics I know it's kind of a stretch, but I do not like how the Link is white as compared to my black Shield TV and black entertainment center.
Size The Link will block your other USB port on the back of the Shield. Luckily, Samsung includes a USB extender, but it's not a pretty solution.

Hardware

The SmartThings Link reminds me of a USB WiFi adapter I had many years ago. Like most SmartThings products, it's a stark white, which I found odd considering that it's designed specifically for the Shield TV. When you pull off the cap covering the USB plug, I suggest finding a safe place for it (if you care) because it does not fit on the back of the Link — after realizing this and setting it down to deal with later, my cat decided the small cap was his new favorite toy.

Being like that old USB WiFi adapter from so many years ago, the Link has plenty of width to it. While this isn't something I'd normally even notice, it does have an impact here. The USB ports on the back of the Shield TV (both 2015 and 2017) are close together like you'd find on many computers. This isn't a problem if you just have cables plugged in, but the width of the Link prevents you from using your second port. Knowing this, Samsung included an extender cable (that's entirely too long for my liking); just insert the extender into your USB port of choice, then plug the Link into it. This allows you to use the controller charging cord, for instance.

It's just fat enough that you can't use the other USB port

That minor inconvenience aside, I do not like the look of the Link. Its shiny white plastic stands in strong contrast against the black of the Shield TV. My unit sits on top of my entertainment center (which is also black), so the Link is very obvious. I also learned that letting the Link and its extender dangle off the rear edge pulls the Shield TV back, so there it sits beside the black box. I do realize how miniscule this seems, but I know that it will bother some people.

In case you didn't see the (small) specs sheet up top, the Link supports both ZigBee and Z-Wave communication protocols, meaning that you have access to a wide variety of products to use.

App Experience

With your Shield TV on, plugging in the Link will open a prompt for you to install the SmartThings Android TV app. There's a link that will take you to the Play Store for you to download it. Once done, sign into the app (either as a current SmartThings user or a new one) and you have a smart home hub.

  
Right: This was horribly frustrating

As a new SmartThings user, I had to sign into the app on my phone, which then made me go back to the TV and get an authorization code to create and link my new account. It was all very clunky and not seamless, especially since Samsung kept telling me to install its Android browser, set it as my default, and then sign into SmartThings — best part about that was the browser was incompatible with every device I have.

Once I got over the bumps, everything worked out fine. My Shield TV is set to go to sleep after twenty minutes of inactivity, but the Link (and hub) stay active regardless. The Android app itself has a great UX and design, making it extremely easy to set up routines, add new stuff to SmartThings, see notifications, and a host of other things. This was especially important to me as a newbie to this whole smart home thing and it didn't take more than a few minutes to figure out everything that the app had to offer.

One of my favorite pieces to all of this is the Assistant support. I linked SmartThings to my Home and suddenly became very lazy. "Hey, Google, turn on/off the bedroom lamp," it's like I was a kid with a new toy. It worked well on my phone, too, letting me mess with my wife while she was in the bedroom and I was in my office, because I'm a mature adult.

In the SmartThings phone app, there's a section called the Marketplace where you can find all kinds of compatible smart home equipment. Whether you need more lights, want to see which security cameras will work, or just check out all the cool stuff you can do, the app guides you each step of the way.

I mentioned at the top of this review that two things held me back from jumping into this smart home stuff: cost and the fact that I've always rented my home. The former is definitely a concern for many, what with buying the hubs and peripherals. The latter seems silly to me now, because there are smart home elements that don't require you to change any of the fixtures in your home. Nvidia and Samsung sent me the Lighting Kit, which includes two Sengled Element Classic bulbs and the SmartThings motion sensor. Fifteen minutes later, I had everything set up without doing anything that I'd have to repair before moving out (just need to remember to take the bulbs with me).

 

Having once been a very avid Tasker user, I really liked the concept of the routines that you can set up. Since I live in an apartment, and I'm ridiculously paranoid, I installed the motion sensor outside my door and created a routine that will alert me via a push notification if it ever detects motion. While some may think such a thing would make paranoia worse, I have found it's actually quite helpful. Obviously, there are more ways you can use the sensor, especially in tandem with the included light bulbs, but these routines have that Tasker vibe where you decide what works best for you. Want the lights to turn on when you come home? Go for it.

Conclusion

I could not think of much more to say here, which is why this review is more a hands-on. I wanted to talk about my experience with the SmartThings Link from the perspective of a completely new smart home user. While I do take pride in my ability to tackle steep learning curves, I was very appreciative of how easy (other than the initial account hiccup) it was to get things going. I installed the light bulbs in a couple of lamps, added them to the SmartThings app, and started having fun. Same goes for the motion sensor, but with the added step of creating my alert routine.

If you already own a Shield TV and want to jump in on all of this, then I heartily recommend the Link. Samsung is offering two bundles, one with just the Link and two bulbs, and the Lighting Kit that I received (Link, two bulbs, one motion sensor). The problem that I foresee is that this product is very limited — it's much cheaper to buy a SmartThings or Wink hub then it would be to get a Shield TV (the $179 version) and the Link. However, if you're already wanting a Shield TV, and want to get in on this, Nvidia will be offering a bundle that includes the Link for $214.98. Better yet, Nvidia Shield Rewards members can pick up the Link for $14.49 (includes shipping), or the Lighting Kit for $49.99. Just use the codes SHIELDLINK and SHIELDBUNDLE, respectively, at checkout. If you buy three Links, you also get free shipping.

All that price talk aside, I loved my time with the Link. It made the already insanely-awesome Shield TV even better and more powerful. When this was pitched to us, Rita said: "You're going to need a shield for your Shield TV soon," which I found apt. More importantly, I am going to have to invest in a USB hub for my Android TV box here soon.

You can get started on buying your SmartThings Link at the link below. I cannot stress enough how easy and fun it was to use. And if you can handle the dongle and extender being the complete opposite color of your Shield TV, then I recommend checking this out. When looking to expand your connected devices, just look for the "Works with SmartThings" badge.

Press Release

SmartThings Link is now available, unlocking SHIELD TV as the hub for your total AI home control by incorporating SmartThings’ hub core technology. When paired with a SmartThings Link, SHIELD works as a SmartThings Hub, integrating with hundreds of Works With SmartThings certified partner products on the market. SHIELD is the only media streamer that integrates this technology, allowing you to monitor, control, and automate a wide range of connected devices in your home.

Google Assistant also integrates with SmartThings on SHIELD, so you can use your voice to control SmartThings capabilities.

Routines can be set up in your smart home, letting you instantly trigger customizable actions at different times you choose, like when you’re asleep, awake, on vacation, at the office, out shopping or back home. SmartThings will remember all the actions you’ve personalized and perform them exactly when you say so. automatically, with a single voice command or with the SmartThings app. SmartThings is also capable of automating home control. For example, you can set connected lights to turn on and off at the same time each day, when you open doors and windows, or when motion is detected in your home. You can also set SmartThings to send you video alerts if there’s unexpected activity or warn if you there’s a water leak while you’re away.

SmartThings Link is now available on SmartThings.com (standalone) for $39.99. SHIELD Rewards members will receive two email offers: SmartThings Link (standalone) for just $14.49 shipped or SmartThings Link with a SmartThings Motion Sensor and two dimmable Sengled Element Classic LED Bulbs for $49.99 shipped. SmartThings Link will be available on BestBuy.com and other retail websites starting October 29. It’ll also be available as part of a bundle with SHIELD TV for $214.98.

For a list of Works With SmartThings products, visit https://www.smartthings.com/products.

Buy: SmartThings