January 28, 2023

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Hands-on with the first Matter-compatible smart home devices

12 min read

It’s here: we have Matter devices and the platforms to use them on. Well, three of each, but still — progress. So, after three years of reporting on the development of the new interoperability standard designed to make the smart home easier to use, I finally got my hands on Matter-enabled gadgets to test.

Apple, Samsung, and Google all now support Matter, and I had three Matter devices from Eve to test with. The good news is I got all three devices to work with all three platforms. The bad news is it was anything but simple to get there and involved jumping back and forth between a Google Pixel and iPhone 14. It’s not currently possible to do without both.

But I successfully paired the three Eve devices — an Eve Energy smart plug, an Eve Motion sensor, and an Eve Door & Window sensor — to all three smart home platforms. I controlled each device with each app on either iOS or Android (but obviously not Android for Apple Home, which doesn’t exist). I could use each voice assistant — Google, Siri, and Bixby — to control the devices.

I set up basic routines and automations on each platform — using both Matter and non-Matter devices. And, once set up, everything worked quickly and reliably. At some point, I’ll be able to test with Amazon Alexa, too — which just announced its Matter over Wi-Fi rollout. But Alexa doesn’t support Matter over Thread yet, and all Eve’s Matter devices are Thread only.

While a smart plug and sensors working with multiple ecosystems isn’t noteworthy at face value, what’s exciting here is the back-end connectivity. There’s no cloud integration happening, no account sharing needed, and no passwords entered. The smart plug and sensors are talking directly to each other and to the Matter controllers.

The Eve devices are also Thread-enabled. Thread is a mesh-networking protocol designed to be faster and more reliable than current protocols. It works alongside Wi-Fi as the main protocols Matter runs on and requires a Thread border router. I tested three Matter controllers that are also Thread border routers: a HomePod Mini, Google Nest Hub Max, and Aeotec SmartThings hub. But I don’t need all three controllers — just one could talk to the devices and to the other platforms.

I had to do everything using two phones — an iPhone 14 and a Pixel 6

However, the process of getting to this nirvana of interoperability was quite painful. In all fairness, I was testing partially on beta software, with some preview apps, on a newly upgraded Apple Home architecture, and on platforms that aren’t fully compatible with Matter. Neither Google Home nor Samsung SmartThings has Matter-enabled iOS apps yet, so I had to do everything using two phones — an iPhone 14 and a Pixel 6. This made the process more complicated, but it shouldn’t be an issue once those platforms’ Matter iOS apps arrive.

After updating all my hardware and software to the latest operating systems and software versions and signing up for an Eve Early Access program, I could then upgrade my existing Eve devices to Matter using an Apple HomePod Mini and an iPhone on 16.2. If you buy a device that’s Matter compatible, this won’t be something you have to do — but they aren’t shipping that way yet.

The process was straightforward and worked on the first try. I had to use Eve’s iOS app (there’s no Android version) to upgrade the firmware on each device, which took about 20 to 30 minutes each. If you have a lot of devices to upgrade, this will be an entire weekend project. 

You need to use the Eve app on iOS to upgrade Eve devices to Matter. Once upgraded, they can be added to any Matter platform using an Android phone.

You need to use the Eve app on iOS to upgrade Eve devices to Matter. Once upgraded, they can be added to any Matter platform using an Android phone.

Once upgraded, the Eve devices became Matter devices, a non-reversible process that means these formerly HomeKit-only plugs and sensors can now only be paired back to Apple Home through Matter. The little HomeKit codes stuck to their sides are now useless. But with Matter on board, they can work with any Matter platform. That means Eve’s devices now work with Google and SmartThings for the first time.

After the upgrade, I successfully paired the Eve Motion and Eve Door & Window sensors back to Apple Home by scanning the Matter code generated during the upgrade process. You are warned to print the code out or save it so you can access it on another device — as you have to scan it with your phone.

I saved it to Files on my iPhone, so I could pull it up on my iPad to scan. (Just as with HomeKit codes, you’ll want to keep this somewhere safe as you’ll need it if you ever reset the device.) This is a clumsy process, but again, it won’t be an issue when you buy something already Matter-enabled. 

The Eve plug and sensors can only be paired back to Apple Home through Matter

The good news for any Apple Home users thinking of upgrading is that part of Eve’s migration process to Matter does a backup and restore of your settings for that device. This makes the upgrade take about 20 minutes for each device, but the payoff is worth it: all my automations stayed in place when I re-added the Eve devices to HomeKit. They were toggled off, but once I turned them back on, everything continued to work exactly as before.

You also won’t lose any functionality — Apple has enabled third-party apps like the Eve app to access custom functionalities on top of the basic Matter functions, so the Eve Energy smart plug retains its energy monitoring, but only in the Eve app.

With two shiny new Matter devices, I could now pair them from the Apple Home app to the Google Home app. The first time using Eve devices on an Android platform. This is where the two phones came in. There isn’t a Matter-capable Google Home app on iOS yet, only on Android. So I had to use a Pixel 6.

The pairing process was fiddly and lengthy. You have to go to the device’s settings in the Apple Home app, scroll down and tap Turn on Pairing Mode; an Accessory Ready to Connect dialogue box appears with a code in it. You can tap to copy the code and, in theory, open your other smart home app and paste it there. But as there’s no Matter Google Home app on iOS yet, I had to write the code down and then type it into the Google Home app. 

Now using the Pixel 6, I opened the Google Home app, went to add a device as normal, and after selecting add New Device, a new option for Matter Device appeared. I then chose Enter Setup code rather than Scan QR code, typed in the 11-digit code, and waited — about 45 seconds. 

Sharing a Matter device from Apple Home to Google Home requires copying and pasting a numeric code.

Sharing a Matter device from Apple Home to Google Home requires copying and pasting a numeric code.

Every time I paired a device to a new platform, it took up to a minute to transfer, which is a long time when you’re staring at your phone, waiting for it to do something. Finally, it moved on to the familiar process of adding a device to Google Home.  

What is Matter?

Matter is a new smart home interoperability standard that provides a common language for smart home devices to communicate locally in your home without relying on a cloud connection. It uses Wi-Fi and Thread wireless protocols and, in its first rollout, includes smart sensors, smart lighting, smart plugs and switches, smart thermostats, connected locks, and media devices, including TVs. 

All this means that if a smart home device you buy has the Matter logo on it, you should be able to set it up and use it with any Matter-compatible device and in any Matter-compatible platform. Matter-compatible devices should start to become available toward the end of this year.

Amazon Alexa, Google Home, Samsung SmartThings, and Apple Home are some of the big smart home platforms signed on to support Matter. Apple, Samsung, Amazon, and Google have updated their compatible hubs to be Matter controllers, and we expect to see updates arriving on other platforms shortly.

Both devices now appear in the Google Home and Apple Home apps on iOS — while you can’t add a Matter device using the Google Home app on IOS, once it’s “onboarded” to Matter, it will show up in the iOS app. So, I could now see the Eve devices, but neither the motion sensor nor the contact sensor showed up as triggers in Google Home Routines, so there wasn’t much I could do with them.

Next, I tried adding them both to Samsung SmartThings, which has broader support for sensors in automations. I followed the same process, this time pasting the code the Apple Home app generated into the SmartThings app on Android. While it recognized the code and tried to initiate the process, it kept failing to add the device.

Trying the process again with my last device, the Eve Energy smart plug, did not make things better. The smart plug refused to pair with the Apple Home app after the Matter upgrade. I reset it by holding its button down for 10 seconds and tried adding it to the Google Home app directly by scanning its QR code. No luck. 

Next, I reset the smart plug again and tried the SmartThings app. This time, I didn’t even have to initiate pairing; the SmartThings app popped up a dialogue immediately saying would I like to pair the Eve Energy Matter device. A pleasant surprise and something I thought all the platforms were going to offer, as it makes it a much easier process. The plug paired the first time.

The Eve smart plug refused to pair with the Apple Home app after the Matter upgrade.

From SmartThings, I could generate a pairing code to pair it to Google Home and then again to Apple Home, and for the first time, I had one device on all three platforms, and it only took about five minutes to get it there.

Only now, the other two Eve devices were showing an unresponsive in the Apple Home app, and while they were in Apple Home and Google Home, I hadn’t gotten them into SmartThings yet. I had tried multiple times from both apps, and the SmartThings app just wouldn’t accept a pairing code. 

Now, the only way I could get the devices into SmartThings was to start there. So, I reset both sensors and set them up directly in SmartThings. And from SmartThings, I could then pair them into both Apple Home and Google Home.

Finally, about 5 hours later, I had all three devices in all three platforms working and responsive, and they’ve stayed online since then. I’m on day four.

SmartThings was the only platform that automatically found the Matter device as soon as I opened the app.

SmartThings was the only platform that automatically found the Matter device as soon as I opened the app.

I set up automations in Apple Home and SmartThings to turn the Eve Energy plug on when the Eve Motion detected motion or the Eve contact sensor was opened or closed and added non-Matter devices to those automations as well. I could also control the smart plug with all three voice assistants, Siri, Google, and yes — even Bixby.

This interoperability is the main promise of Matter, and it looks like it’s working. Nothing broke, and I could use the devices’ basic functions in each platform. The automations worked almost immediately and consistently. Occasionally, the voice assistants were slightly slower but overall much faster than pre-Matter. 

Interoperability is the main promise of Matter, and it looks like it’s working

If you set up these Matter devices in your own home, the benefit right now is that Eve’s three products — which were once HomeKit only, now work with two new platforms. So, when your brother comes to stay for the holidays, he can control the Eve smart plug in the guest room with his Android phone.

The benefits going forward are that any Matter device you buy for your smart home (as well as any existing devices you upgrade) will work with any app, platform, smartphone, or voice assistant you want. You shouldn’t have to worry about compatibility when you buy a new product.

But the process today is anything but simple. The pairing process between platforms is clunky and unintuitive, and there are still bugs to work out. For example, I never could pair any device to SmartThings from another platform, and SmartThings kept thinking the contact sensor was a thermostat when I added it. I also couldn’t pair the Eve plug back to Apple Home without using a different platform to get it there — that will be an issue for any Apple Home users without an Android phone on hand.

You need an iPhone to upgrade Eve devices to Matter today.

You need an iPhone to upgrade Eve devices to Matter today.

A few other early notes and thoughts from my initial testing: 

Once a Matter device is onboarded to one platform, you can’t just add it to another platform as a new device. You have to go through the pairing process from the original app. This is not clearly explained anywhere, and the settings for “Linking Services” are buried deeply in all three apps.

This is where Google and SmartThings “enhanced Multi-Admin partnership” starts to make sense — an easier way of adding Matter devices to multiple platforms at once. SmartThings has also announced a similar partnership with Amazon Alexa. But why do we need these partnerships within the big Matter party? It’s a shame this easier pairing feature wasn’t built into Matter from the start for all platforms.

Google Home was the least reliable of all three platforms. It “dropped” devices the most, and every time I added Matter devices to the Google Home app, it forgot the name and room I’d given it, and I had to go back in and add each device to a room and name it again. While Google Home recently enabled motion sensors as triggers for its routines, the Matter device didn’t show as an option, and it doesn’t support contact sensors.I could start to onboard a Matter device just by scanning the Matter QR code with the camera on both a Pixel phone and an iPhone. On Pixel, it gave me the option of which app I wanted to onboard with. On the iPhone, it went straight into the Apple Home app. While I ran into some bugs here, too, this does make the setup process simpler. Especially as — thanks to restaurants and the pandemic — pretty much everyone knows how to use QR codes now.There is a lack of consistency between platforms. All these companies worked on this standard together for three years. You’d have thought they could agree on naming conventions and app flows. When you link to another platform, Samsung calls it “Share with other services,” Apple calls it “Turn on Pairing Mode,” and Google uses “Link other services.” Not confusing at all.We’re still not sharing. All three platforms show you which other “services” the device is linked to using a numeric code, 0x110A, for example. Sometimes it shows which platform it is — i.e., SmartThings Hub — but mostly, you just see a code, which is entirely unhelpful. Removing devices from multiple services at once didn’t work. In all three platforms, the option to unlink all services from a device is there — which I went to do when I had to reset the Eve sensors. But it only seemed to remove it from the app that I was using; I still had to manually remove it from the other apps.  

There is still plenty of testing I want to do. In particular, I’m interested in comparing how well Thread devices (which Eve’s are) compare to Wi-Fi devices on a Matter network (there aren’t any Wi-Fi devices available yet). I also want to look at how the Thread network is set up and how it handles multiple border routers (once those are enabled). Currently, none of the Matter Thread devices or Thread border routers are showing up in the Eve app’s Thread Network page. 

I also want to put some stress on the Matter network, test how it handles controllers going offline or Thread routers / border routers dropping, and how it works when there’s no internet connection. Matter’s local control is one of its big selling points. But much of this infrastructure is still being built out, so I can’t put Matter properly through its paces just yet. 

Still, it’s worth taking a step back to appreciate the moment here. While things are not perfect (far from it), something monumental has been achieved. There’s now a universal, open protocol that any platform or device can adopt, and that — so far — appears to be working as designed. Using Matter on three devices is a small step now, but once more products are updated or released, it will hopefully be the giant leap for the smart home that we’ve been promised.

Photos, screenshots, and video by Jennifer Pattison Tuohy / The Verge