Looking at the pictures it’s not immediately obvious what Sonoff iHost is. It looks like a wireless router or a security system, it definitely has a resemblance to a smart hub as if Sonoff ZB Bridge and Sonoff ZB Bridge Pro weren’t enough! In reality, Sonoff iHost is neither, it’s all and it’s more than that. What’s more important, it has an opportunity to change the way we automate our homes.
Let me explain…
Looking just at the marketing materials, it’s not obviously clear what Sonoff iHost suppose to be. The description flaunts words like Security, API, ZigBee even NodeRED – without explaining anything properly. I got shipped one early, and I was confused at first until I received full documentation. I sincerely hope that this will change by the time Sonoff iHost launches – so you don’t need a full article like this to realise its potential.
It resembles one of these awesome routers released by GL iNet. The white design features an RGB ambient light in the front, 4 interface buttons at the top and intriguing I/O at the back: micro SD card slot, USB-A, USB-C (power) and Ethernet (10/100). The box contains power and a short Ethernet lead. That’s about it.
To get a better grasp of the hardware inside, I’ll open one up (note there is very little about it online and I had to fight my rep for every bit of information.
I can safely say, that Sonoff iHost isn’t just a hub. It’s a computer. What kind of computer? That’s what I’m going to find out next. My JimiHome toolset comes in handy. Two screws are hidden under the rubberised pad at the bottom. Removing that panel reveals the speaker and – a coin cell battery slot (CR2032) – my experience tells me, the battery is used for RTC support – to keep the internal clock synchronised.
The side panel takes more finesse to open, and I work the prying tools around the edge to expose the PCB. What I haven’t anticipated is the inclusion of a compute module in removable sockets. Looking at the module enclosed from both sides in metal shielding and the fact some of the traces are wobbly (a sign of impedance matching), the cage shields the computing elements from interfering with wireless components.
Let’s check the main board first, as there are some interesting IC chips on it:
- RTL8201F – Realtek 10/100 Ethernet controller
- EFR32 MG21 – ZigBee IC Silicon Labs
- FN-LINK 6223A-SRD – 2.4G Wi-Fi BT4.2
- YC1175 – Bluetooth 5.2
We are familiar with EFR32 ZigBee IC used previously on Sonoff Coordinators. It’s ZigBee and Thread compatible. That’s promising, but not indicative of the future Matter support just yet. The next IC evidently points in that direction. FN-LINK is used to provide 2.4GHz WiFi as well as Bluetooth capabilities, but the presence of another, more modern Bluetooth IC (Bluetooth 5.2) can only be explained by plans to support Matter. Otherwise, FN-LINK would be perfectly capable of handling Bluetooth pairing – an exciting investigation.
The board is generously sprinkled with dev pads surrounding the ZigBee and WiFi chips. I would be more optimistic about custom firmware if it wasn’t for my next item on the agenda. The compute module.
Usually, Sonoff devices use ESP32/8266 to handle logic and cloud controls, but as Sonoff iHost is all about local control, computing has been outsourced to a dedicated machine featuring Rockchip as the CPU of choice.
- Rockchip RV1109 – Dual-core Arm Cortex-A7 @ 1.5 GHz
- SEC210 KLM8G1GETF-B041 – Samsung 8G eMMC memory
- SEC210 – K4A8G165WB-BCRC – Samsung 8GB RAM
It’s not the most powerful SoC, (roughly matches what Raspberry Pi 4 has to offer) but from the CPU/RAM stats in the operating system, the unit is more than capable of handling several containers and running your home automation. I’m genuinely impressed with what ITEAD is proposing so far.
Sonoff iHost – hardware configuration
The hardware above is one of 2 configurations available at launch. The pricing and specification will depend on the model selected for purchase.
|Rockchip RV1109||Dual-core Arm Cortex-A7 |
@ 1.5 GHz
|Rockchip RV1126||Quad-core Arm Cortex-A7|
@ 1.5 GHz
Don’t ask me why the IC models were pointing me to a different RAM specification – perhaps I have a dev unit on my hands. Considering the hardware inside, Sonoff iHost isn’t very expensive. It comes with a decent ARM chip, ZigBee coordinator capable of 128 connections, Bluetooth and probably support for Matter.
If you are quick to make your mind up, ITEAD also offers a 15% discount for the first 200 units sold which brings the prices above even lower.
Sonoff iHost is your automation centre. It’s ITEAD’s take on stand-alone, local automation where cloud integration is just an option. If you use NodeRED or Home Assistant, you’ll be very familiar with the concept. Sonoff iHost brings SBC and ZigBee coordinators together in a single package.
Once plugged in, I visited
ihost.local. What’s at the surface looks like the desktop version of the eWeLink app for premium users is their take on a locally hosted automation dashboard for eWeLink devices. Right now, the main focus is on ZigBee devices and IP cameras with ONVIF or RTSP support (including ESP32-based cameras). But as Sonoff iHost supports local controls over LAN – it’s fair to imagine support for WiFi-based devices soon.
I promptly added the latest Sonoff Temp & Humidity sensor (ZigBee) and older Sonoff ZigBee Sensors I covered in the past and their IP camera with RTSP stream – Cam Slim to populate my dashboard with devices.
It was a simple enough process, but until one of the firmware patches, I could not see the history of my sensor. As Sonoff iHost works cloud-free, you can pair any number of devices without a need for an eWeLink cloud or even an account. It’s nice for once to simply create local automation without sharing your data online.
You can however bring your eWeLink devices via eWeLink API integration. Importing your cloud devices isn’t straightforward. More about this in a moment.
Cast – a dashboard?
Do you remember my rather unflattering coverage of NS Panel Pro – an Android-based Sonoff automation panel? This is where I came across the Cast logo for the first time. It’s a widget-based UI builder which allows you to display a custom dashboard composed of eWeLink widgets. You could set these in the eWeLink app and display them on your NS Panel Pro.
On Sonoff iHost, it works slightly differently as the Cast UI builder is included. Navigate to
ihost.local/cast and you can configure your dashboards. “Cast” is a rather unfortunate name for what essentially is a dashboard with UI builder. It’s practical and quick in creating web interfaces for your mobile, tablets and computers.
You can create multiple dashboards, each populated with widgets and options associated with devices that you already have in your ecosystem. Unfortunately, the number of widget types is limited, and right now graphs showing power consumption or temperature history are not present. The widgets you can add are limited to switching things on and off.
We also have a dedicated security panel. As the Sonoff ecosystem comes with ZigBee sensors like Sonoff Contact and Sonoff PIR – you can build a completely wireless security system to monitor your smart home. Sonoff iHost provides a dedicated security panel and security integrations in Cast dashboards.
Additionally, a built-in siren and buttons to arm/disarm the system come in handy. The security suite offers 3 modes: Home, Away, and Sleep – which you can customise to your liking.
With clever manipulation of groups, you can create multiple zones and automate the security of your household further using the Automation panel (Scenes).
Before I share all the awesome things that you can do with Sonoff iHost, I have to share my worries. I had the device for testing for about 2 weeks. In that time, I installed firmware 3 times – each time a new ability was added to the device.
The launch day is upon us, and not everything is working or is implemented yet. eWeLink devices are hit or miss – as there is no list of compatible Sonoff devices. It’s a little sketchy that some of the issues I found while testing Sonoff iHost were addressed a day before the launch (literally as I was filming it) – so it’s not exactly confidence-inspiring.
It reminds me of the doomed launch of Sonoff NS Panel Pro – where the device had the potential, but most of the advertised features were just points on the road map rather than things that you can use at launch. I worry that Sonoff iHost will repeat the same mistakes and drive customers away.
It would be a shame because this device comes with something special.
Go nuts with dockerised automation!
This is where things get wild. Pop a micro SD card in, and visit
ihost.local and you should see a blue whale icon on the left-hand side. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the Docker icon as one of the options.
My first thoughts were very negative: is it really Docker or did someone just “borrow” the icon? is the Docker implementation allows for all containers to be run, or is just Sonoff approved? and finally: What is this madness?
I completely ignored the default container pre-installed on Sonoff iHost and did what any respectable Automator would do – find a NodeRED container to try. It just worked! It took a couple of minutes to pull the container, install it and run it, but after a moment I had a fresh NodeRED 3.0 instance interface on my browser. It doesn’t even use any significant resources.
It’s fantastic, but also opened up more questions than answers. How do I make it all work with the integrated ZigBee coordinator, what else can I do with it?
If you enable
ewelink/ewelink-smart-homein the Docker panel, you’ll also enable an API link to your eWeLink account. Your compatible devices will show up here and in the Sonoff iHost interface.
I made the effort to add almost every single eWeLink-enabled Sonoff device which isn’t running Tasmota (I don’t have many for obvious reasons) Initially, my experience was not the best, all devices I tried to add were not compatible, but the day before the launch an update dropped down which enabled some of these for use.
These presumably, would show up in the Devices tab so you can include them in Automation, Cast Dashboards and in NodeRED. I asked about the ability to link WiFi devices directly to Sonoff iHost but the answer was vague.
If you use palette manager in NodeRED, you can download
node-red-contrib-ewelink-cubean API wrapper designed to work with Sonoff iHost. Instead of trawling through the API documentation (which I had early access to) and trying to figure out all the REST calls to interact with devices linked to Sonoff iHost, you can use this node to do this for you.
To enable eWeLink Cube, you have to obtain a token. In the node settings, you can do so with a single press of a button – once used, you have 5 min to log back into iHost and you should see a popup in
ewelink/ewelink-smart-home container. (see Web UI).
After that, you can simply select your actions and configurations from dropdown menus.
If NodeRED isn’t for you, REST API is available too, so you can interact with Sonoff iHost from any device that supports HTTP requests. That alone opens up a lot of possibilities for custom automation. For a while now, I’ve been asking ITEAD to add Sonoff DIY mode to more products. This is similar but better!
While Docker provides the framework for anything you wish to run locally on your device, the iHost API enables your containers to speak to the ITEADs ecosystem, essentially replacing the need for a dedicated SBC like Rasberry Pi, Home Assistant Yellow and others.
Moreover, Sonoff iHost combines the hardware to run an automation server, with ZigBee coordinator (and likely Matter down the line via Thread) to satisfy any DIY home automation enthusiast with their own automation panel, accessible by anyone who simply isn’t tech savvy and is looking for simple automation.
Shop with Sonoff
Take a look at the ZigBee and WiFi range of the devices compatible with eWeLink:
Why it’s a big deal?
I have not expected a move like this from ITEAD. For years, they were tied to eWeLink following the home automation mantra “cloud first”. The introduction of Matter may change things for the better, but there is no doubt in my mind that the move from cloud automation to local services is not going to be made by big players that care more about your data than selling you smart home gadgets (Google, Amazon, Apple).
Just like Shelly, ITEAD steps up the efforts to do the home automation your way. It recognises the needs of many (eWeLink cloud, Automation Panel) with the wishes of few (Docker, API). Should it succeed, it will lead the way and encourage other brands to do the same. I want them to be successful and Sonoff iHost has a huge potential to showcase that.
There is only a handful of companies that I would expect to take this approach. Shelly and SwitchBot to name a few, but now I’m pleased to mention Sonoff as a brand among them for completely custom home automation. It looks like we are living in gold times after all. Despite some clear shortcomings, Sonoff iHost could be a hit. Especially now, where Raspberry Pi boards are hard to find, and iHost isn’t terribly expensive for what it offers. Let me know your thoughts in this Reddit thread.
🆓📈 – See the transparency note for details.