VeraSecure: A Powerful Hub For Automation & SecurityBy - 06/11/2018
If you’re looking for a smart home hub, Vera may not be at the top of your list. Frankly, their smart home controllers look more like routers than hubs, and the Vera companion app isn’t exactly intuitive. However, Vera offers features that are attractive, like the ability to run offline. So if you haven’t given their products much thought yet, now’s might be a good time to do just that.
Comparing Vera Controller Models
Vera offers three hubs: VeraEdge, VeraPlus, and VeraSecure. They all offer the same basic features and they all use the same app. The difference lies in the hardware.
|Processor||600MHz MIPS SoC||880MHz MIPS SoC||880MHz Dual-Core MIPS SoC|
|RAM||128MB DDR2||256MB DDR3||512MB DDR3|
|Wi-Fi||802.11 b/g/n||802.11 a/b/g/n/ac||802.11 a/b/g/n/ac|
|WAN Port||10/100 Ethernet||Gigabit Ethernet||Gigabit Ethernet|
|Cellular Backup||Add-on||Add-on||3G Embedded (Requires Subscription)|
|Number Of Devices That Can Connect Simultaneously||Up to 100||Up to 200||Up to 200|
|Check Latest Price||Amazon||Amazon||Amazon|
Today, we’ll focus on VeraSecure as it’s the most powerful among the three hubs with its dual-core processor and 512MB RAM. Also, it supports more protocols than the other two. In addition to Z-Wave and Zigbee, it supports VeraLink and can connect with up to 200 devices at a time.
Also, VeraSecure has built-in security features. First, it has a battery backup that will keep your hub running for up to 8 hours. VeraSecure can continue to monitor security sensors even without power. Second, the cellular module is built into VeraSecure. If you want to add cellular backup, you will need to subscribe to VeraProtect (requires an optional monthly fee); no additional hardware required. On the other hand, VeraEdge and VeraPlus lack battery backup and require an external cellular chip. Third, VeraSecure comes equipped with a siren to potentially ward off intruders. Finally, it has built-in microphones and speakers that you can use for two-way talk. All of these security features make VeraSecure worth its higher price tag.
VeraSecure For Home Automation
Vera smart home controllers are primarily for home automation. To start automating with VeraSecure, you first need compatible devices, which shouldn’t be a problem as VeraSecure works with the major smart home standards including Z-Wave Plus, Zigbee HA 1.2, Bluetooth Low Energy and Wi-Fi. It also supports the proprietary VeraLink standard, which is mainly for connecting with security sensors. We’ll discuss VeraLink in the security section below.
Pairing Devices With VeraSecure
Once you’ve gathered all the smart home devices you need, the next step is pairing them with Vera. Pairing can be done using the companion smartphone app (iOS and Android) or web browser app. However, Vera strongly recommends that you use the web app when pairing devices and setting up automation features.
The setup process varies per device. Some devices are natively supported, such as the Remotec ZTS-100 thermostat. To add natively supported devices, first navigate to the “Devices” tab, click “Add Device,” and select the type of the device you’re trying to pair, which in this case is a thermostat. A drop-down list showing all natively supported thermostats will appear. Just click on the model of the one you own and the interface will launch the Device Wizard.
In case you can’t find the specific model of your device on the list, you can still pair it with Vera as a Generic Device. Generic Devices function the same way as natively supported devices, but without the Device Wizard, pairing them might require extra effort and customization. Any Z-Wave and Zigbee device can be linked to Vera via the Generic Device pairing process.
Finally, there are devices such as the Nest Thermostat that don’t support Z-Wave and Zigbee but can still connect to Vera via a cloud-to-cloud connection. Pairing Nest Thermostat requires the use of Plug-Ins, sort of like mini-apps that enable Vera do things not supported otherwise. In this case, the Nest Thermostat plug-in gives Vera the ability to connect with Nest Thermostats. From the Vera web app, head to the “Apps” tab, click on “Install Apps,” and search for the plug-in you’re looking for. Once found, you will install it and follow the on-screen instructions.
The fun part begins after you’ve paired all of your devices with VeraSecure as you can start controlling and automating your home. There are three ways to interact with connected devices, all of them requiring the use of the Vera smartphone app.
1. Manual App Control
The first way to interact with your smart home is by manually controlling your smart devices. From Vera app’s dashboard, you’ll see all connected devices. If you tap on a specific one, you’ll gain access to multiple control options. For example, if you select a smart light, you’ll have the option to switch it on or off, dim or brighten the light, or change the color.
However, the whole point of owning a smart home system is so you can automate your home. To do that, you need scenes. Scenes are automation rules that specify what should happen if a trigger event occurs. For example, what do you want your smart home to do when the clock hits 6:00 PM? Turn on the lights? Adjust the thermostat? Play some music? With scenes, you can program Vera to perform those actions for you automatically.
Creating scenes is best done using the web app. Just go to the “Scenes” tab and tap on the ‘+’ icon, which will launch the Scene Wizard.
First, the Scene Wizard will ask you to select a trigger. A trigger could be a schedule (like the example above), another device (e.g., sensors), an action on a device (e.g., adjusting the temperature), or geofencing (your phone’s location). You can also set the scene to trigger manually, which means it will show up in the Vera App’s dashboard and only activate if you manually trigger it.
The next step is adding actions. Actions are what you want your devices to do if the trigger event occurs. To select actions, simply browse through your connected devices, select the ones you want to include in the scene, and customize what you want them to do.
The final step is selecting conditions. In this step, you can further customize your scenes. For instance, you can program a scene to run only if the trigger occurs while VeraSecure is in Home Mode, Away Mode, or Vacation Mode. You can also program whether you want it to notify you every time the scene runs or not. And finally, you can name the scene.
Once you’ve created and activated all the scenes you need, they will run indefinitely until you delete or pause them. The good news is that you don’t need the web app to interact with scenes. You can pause/unpause and manually trigger scenes using the Vera smartphone app.
Another way to automate your smart home is through the use of plug-ins. Earlier, we discussed how plug-ins enable VeraSecure to work with devices it doesn’t natively support. This time, we’ll talk about how plug-ins improve VeraSecure’s features.
Plug-ins are like apps for smartphones. You can download them from the Vera App Store and install them to your VeraSecure. Each plug-in does different things. For example, there’s a plug-in that lets you set a minimum and maximum temperature setting for your thermostat to prevent guests from setting the temperature too low during summer or too high during winter. There’s also a plug-in that can make it seem like your home is occupied by randomly switching on smart lights throughout the day.
There are a wide variety of plug-ins in the Vera App Store. You can browse Vera plug-ins here.
VeraSecure For Home Security
Besides automating your home, VeraSecure can also make it more secure. But first, you need security sensors.
VeraSecure is compatible with Z-Wave and Zigbee security sensors. To be fair, VeraEdge and VeraPlus both support Z-Wave and VeraPlus supports Zigbee as well. What sets VeraSecure apart is its built-in VeraLink compatibility.
VeraLink is a proprietary wireless standard (345 and 433MHz) designed specifically for pairing VeraSecure with Nortek’s 2GIG Radio Frequency devices. Here’s an interesting fact: the security system manufacturer Nortek owns 25% of the Vera company. As such, they made it possible for VeraSecure users to pair their existing Nortek 2GIG security sensors with the hub. Using VeraLink, a total of 14 2GIG sensors can connect with VeraSecure, including door/window sensors (regular, slim, and recessed), motion sensors, glass break sensors, garage door sensors, flood sensors, smoke sensors, and CO sensors. If you want your VeraSecure system to have a more traditional feel, you can also connect keypads, panic buttons, and key fobs.
Once you’ve paired all the right pieces of security equipment with Vera, you have two options for monitoring: professional ($) and self-monitoring (free).
Let’s talk about the free option first. Self-monitoring VeraSecure requires nothing but the Vera app. You can use modes (Home, Away, Vacation) to arm/disarm sensors or simply create a geofencing-triggered scene that automatically arms your sensors whenever you leave your home.
If something out of the ordinary occurs, VeraSecure will send you push, email, or text alerts. You’re ultimately responsible for taking actions and responding to the alerts. That said, if you’re self-monitoring VeraSecure, I recommend creating automated scenes triggered by security sensors that can potentially ward off intruders or help you during an emergency. For example, you can create a scene that turns all your lights on if your smoke sensor detects fire so you won’t have to fumble around in the dark. You can also create scenes that trigger the siren built into the hub.
If you want the added peace of mind of having trained professionals monitor your security system, you can subscribe to VeraProtect for $19.99/month. For that price, VeraProtect adds professional monitoring. If something happens, trained professionals in Vera’s partner central station will look into the alert, verify it with you, and call your local police, fire department, or EMS if necessary.
VeraProtect works the same way as traditional security monitoring except that you’re not required to sign a contract. Instead, you can pay on a month-to-month basis, opt-in, and stop the service anytime you want.
The $19.99/month VeraProtect plan doesn’t include anything else besides professional monitoring. However, you can choose to pay annually and gain another security benefit: cellular backup. To transmit alerts to the central station, VeraSecure needs an internet connection. But because internet connections are often unreliable, it’s recommended that you add cellular backup. Cellular backup uses the built-in module to communicate with the central station using cellular signals. It’s a more reliable method of transmitting alerts and is often used by high-end security companies. With it, even if your internet fails, VeraSecure can still send alerts to you and the central station. If you can shell out $240 upfront for a 1-year VeraProtect subscription, I highly recommend that you do.
Working With Cameras
Aside from security sensors, VeraSecure works with security cameras. The catch is that it only natively supports VistaCam (a Vera-owned product line of cameras) and a couple of dome-type cameras from Bosch and Panasonic. In theory, you can pair other IP cameras with VeraSecure, but Vera warns that they do not guarantee that all features will work.
Adding cameras to VeraSecure unlocks new features. For one, all of your cameras will share 1GB of cloud storage courtesy of Vera Cloud. They will also be able to stream live videos and generate motion and sound alerts sent to the Vera app. If you want more, Vera offers a paid subscription called VeraSentinel. This subscription is specifically targeted at those who want to integrate security cameras fully.
VeraSentinel comes in two-tier plans: Gold and Platinum. Gold, priced at $4.95/month, offers 2GB of shared storage, simultaneous streaming of up to 6 cameras using the web app, and cloud connection, which lets you store event videos to your own personal Google Drive or OneDrive account. Platinum offers a similar set of features for $9.95/month, but instead of 2GB of shared cloud storage, you’ll get an unlimited storage capacity.
Also, if you subscribe to either the Gold or Platinum VeraSentinel plan with a VistaCam 700 (indoor Wi-Fi HD camera), VistaCam 900 (indoor Wi-Fi FHD camera), VistaCam 1000 (weatherproof HD camera), or VistaCam 1101 (weatherproof FHD camera), you’ll be able to create Hot Zones. Hot Zones are customizable motion zones that let you determine which areas within your cameras’ frame you deem important.
Like VeraProtect, VeraSentinel is contract-free so you can opt in or out anytime.
Vera’s Ultimate Weapon: Working Without The Cloud
So far, we’ve discussed how VeraSecure drives home automation and security systems, including their premium security offerings. However, we are yet to discuss Vera’s strongest feature: it’s ability to work cloud-free.
For the past year, we’ve been maintaining a list of home automation and security devices that are cloud-free, meaning, they will continue to work even if your internet fails. A reader’s comment on that article pointed our attention to Vera and inspired us to write this review.
Most smart home systems use the cloud for processing, which isn’t a bad thing. As we explain in the article linked above, cloud processing helps reduce the hardware cost of smart home products and helps companies create smarter solutions. However, this becomes problematic when devices rely too heavily on the cloud.
Let’s take SmartThings, for example. SmartThings is a smart home hub like VeraSecure. It connects with Z-Wave and Zigbee, lets you create automated scenes, and gives you smartphone control. Because SmartThings connects with Z-Wave and Zigbee devices directly (and locally), you would think that you would still be able to control your devices without an internet connection, right? I thought so too, at first, but SmartThings will only run locally-run SmartApps when your internet is out.
VeraSecure and the two other Vera controllers are different because they are not heavily cloud-reliant. Granted, some features require an internet connection, but most of Vera’s features will continue to work locally and offline.
Let’s start with smartphone control. While offline, you can’t control VeraSecure if you’re not home. But if you’re home, you can still interact with the Vera app and most connected devices like normal thanks to VeraSecure’s built-in Bluetooth module. Why “most connected devices?” Because some devices, like Nest Thermostat, connect with Vera using a cloud-to-cloud connection, thus requiring internet. Zigbee and Z-Wave devices, however, connect to Vera directly using wireless frequencies so you can control them even offline.
Another feature that works offline is scenes. When creating and customizing scenes, an internet connection is required on both the hub and your computer. However, once they’re set up, scenes will continue to run even offline. That’s because Vera stores all of your customized scenes on the device itself (VeraSecure), not in the cloud.
The ability to run scenes offline improves VeraSecure’s ability to protect your home. While offline, VeraSecure can’t send alerts but it can run your scenes to help ward off intruders.
VeraSecure’s ability to offer control offline is why we wrote this comprehensive review. It’s not a system for everybody, but if you’re particularly concerned about controlling your smart home and security system offline, VeraSecure is one of the stronger options available. Ultimately, we still recommend abode for self-monitored home security, but if you feel Vera is for you, you can check VeraSecure’s pricing on Amazon.