Review: Aquara M1S Hub And Aquara Door And Window Sensor

As you might be aware, I am part of the HomeKit ecosystem to do some light home automation stuff in my condo. You can read about what I’ve done here if you’re interested. But one thing that I wanted to do is give myself a better alarm system. Now the Onvis CS1 Security Alarm And Contact Sensor was fine. But I wanted something that responded quicker as the Onvis CS1 is Bluetooth based which means it reacts slower than a non Bluetooth system. Sometimes, I was seeing as much as a minute or two delay when I tried to do anything to arm or disarm the system. Or getting alerts about a door being open. Thus I did my research and I decided to go with the Aquara M1S Hub And Aquara Door And Window Sensor to power my alarm system.

Let’s start with the M1S Hub which is at the bottom. The hub uses the Zigbee 3.0 protocol to communicate to what are called “child” devices. It connects via 2.4 GHz WiFi to your network. It also has a built-in RGB light made of 18 powerful LEDs and a light diffuser and a 2W speaker. It can be used as an alarm, doorbell, or night light, and has a configurable brightness and colour. I’ll be using the alarm functionality as that is exposed in HomeKit. It directly plugs into your wall or something else as you will see in a bit.

The Door And Window Sensor is a Zigbee battery powered sensor that comes with a CR1632 battery that lasts two years. It’s attached via adhesive stickers and even comes with extra stickers should you need them.

So, why did I go with a hub and a door window sensor that is on the Zigbee protocol? Simply put, up to 128 child devices can run on their own private network to the hub. Then the hub connects over WiFi to your HomeKit hub. Which in my case is one of my four Apple HomePod Minis. The net result that inside or outside my condo, everything will be instant. As in Instant arming or disarming of the system. Instant alerts about the door opening. And most importantly, instant alarms. Another reason why I went with Zigbee is that I could connect other Zigbee devices if I were so inclined.

Setting this up was simple. Other than the fact that I had to send back a defective window sensor to Amazon and I had to wait a few days for a replacement, here’s what I needed to do.

I started with the hub by plugging it into an uninterruptible power supply that is out of sight in my living room. Once it was powered up I put my iPhone onto my 2.4 GHz Wifi and downloaded the Aquara app and used it to put it onto my network and add it to HomeKit. Once that was done I needed to update the firmware before I could move on to the next step which was to setup and install the door and window sensor.

Using the Aquara app, I added the door and window sensor as a child device. That was pretty much instant as all I had to do was press and hold the button on the bottom of the sensor until it blinked blue five times. This process also adds the sensor as part of the hub in HomeKit. Once that was done I could install it on my door. Here’s what that looked like.

Installation was easy as all I had to do is stick the sensor onto the door and the magnet onto the door frame using the supplied adhesive stickers. And there are even lines on each part to help you to line everything up correctly.

Now, the next part was to program the system. Again, this is done using the Aquara app.

I’ll use the “Away” mode as an example. I have it set up so that when the door and window sensor detects that the door is opened, it will instantly sound the alarm. And by the way, you can’t upload your own alarm sounds which is a bit of a #fail. Setting this took about 2 minutes to set up and anybody should be able to do this. And this setup is automatically downloaded into HomeKit. Which is handy as once I fully set up the system, I logged out of the Aquara app and clicked on this item which is circled:

This makes the hub and door sensor essentially a HomeKit only device. If I need to update firmware, I can open the app, click on HomeKit Mode and update the firmware. But if I want to tweak any the setup, or add other devices like sensors, cameras and the like to the setup, I’ll have to log in again. The reason why I am going this route is as follows:

  • If you leave the Aquara app logged in and running, you effectively get double notifications. For example, if a door opens you’re going to get notification from HomeKit and the Aquara App as the latter communicates with their servers. That of course is not ideal.
  • I am also trying to limit how “chatty” these devices are to servers outside of my network. Now Aquara is a Chinese based company and there is a certain level of mistrust of a Chinese based company creating gear that sits on your network and potentially communicating who knows what to China. Something that because an issue a couple of years ago where Aquara was rumoured to be wanting to remove HomeKit only mode from their products. But the company walked that back after customers complained. Now I don’t believe that Aquara would do something nefarious. But you never know so I am going to go the safe route and use their HomeKit only mode.

I did take this one extra step because I am the paranoid sort. I blocked Internet access for the Aquara hub to make sure that it is forced to route all traffic through my home hubs and keep it from talking to anything that it shouldn’t be talking to. I just have to remember to unblock it if I need to do a firmware update.

In my testing of this setup, I’ve had instant responses from the system in terms of arming, disarming, triggering the alarm, and getting notifications on our Apple Watches and iPhones with no issues. Speaking of the alarm is loud but not eardrum destroying loud. It hit 87 decibels on my Apple Watch and my wife and could hear it anywhere in the condo that we live in as well as outside of it. This means that it will draw some attention and perhaps scare away a burglar which is the whole point. But if you want to make sure that the alarm can be heard in a larger space, you could get multiple M1S hubs, or you can also get any of these hubs with the exception of the Hub E1 as they all have built in speakers.

So what will this cost you? Here’s my bill of materials from Amazon with all prices in Canadian Dollars:

  • Aquara M1S Hub: $64.99
  • Aquara Door And Window Sensor: $25.99

This is a very low cost way to set up an alarm system in HomeKit that’s very easy to do. If your HomeKit setup could use an alarm system, this should be on your list to look at. Just be aware of the HomeKit only mode aspect to this product and you’ll be good to go.

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