Meet the New Aqara M2
When Aqara accidentally announced its M2 smart home center in May 2019, there was no big fanfare. Nevertheless, at the age of three, Aqara has already begun to make a splash in the smart home industry.
But the release of M2 is a mystery. Mainly because of how Aqara revealed the device. After Aqara updated its Aqara Home app, some Android users reported unexpected images of the next hub on the gateway selection screen. This was considered an internal error of Aqara, but soon after, M2 images began to appear in the iOS version of the Aqara app.
At that time, there was already a media fire, and problems arose. Will this mysterious hub support HomeKit? Will M2 be launched outside of mainland China? Will it be compatible with Zigbee 3.0? Aqara fans everywhere began to lick their lips, waiting for the official release of M2.
Then in August 2020, with the official launch of M2 in China, this hunger pang was finally satisfied. In December 2020, Aqara will add Europe to the M2 Availability Zone. Now, in early 2021, M2 is ready to launch in the United States.
Aqara concentrators are not new to the smart home industry Aqara’s previous ZHWG11LM1 concentrator model has received much praise. The model is also HomeKit compatible. Unfortunately, some commenters found the center’s setup challenging and also reported frequent disconnections.
M2 aims to change most of the negative news. Aqara has now redesigned the center from the ground up. Aqara also tried to make M2 the most forward-looking center of its sales. ( Check Latest price at Amazon. )
What Makes the M2 Different?
There are only a few major differences between Aqara M2 and previous iterations. The first and most obvious is that the M2 has an RJ45 Ethernet port, which is used to wire the device to the router. Second, the hub power cord is detachable, it does not end at the wall socket, but rather ends at the USBA connection. This change opened a wide range of power to the concentrator.
Third, there are additional aesthetic elements. The M2 is glossy black and there is only one button on the side of the device. The LED ring of the old Aqara hub has disappeared and the perforated speaker grill on the top of the old hub has been moved to the bottom of the device.
Finally, the M2 also comes with a USBA port that Aqara only marked as “reserved”. I assume that users can access this port for manual firmware updates or other hardware connections. Aqara did not confirm this suspicion.
Like the previous version, M2 is compatible with HomeKit, but now it also offers compatibility with Amazon Alexa and Google Home. In addition, the hub includes an internal alarm system for home security, a 360-degree infrared transmitter for remote control of devices, Zigbee 3.0 and Bluetooth LE 5.0. The inclusion of Bluetooth LE 5.0 is a bit strange, because at the time of writing, Aqara does not sell any Bluetooth LE devices.
Another new feature of M2 that many people will like is IFTTT compatibility. This support means that child devices can trigger IFTTT automation and can be controlled by IFTTT. So, if you want to use the Aqara motion sensor to activate the Meross garage door controller to open the garage door, then you can. IFTTT is a powerful service, and the addition of M2 opens up many additional automation possibilities.
Regarding children’s devices, Aqara said that M2 supports up to 128. In most cases, this is true. However, we will talk more about child-friendly devices later, because there are a few things you need to know before you exceed this limit.
Unboxing and Configuring the M2
Inside the M2 packaging, you’ll find:
- The M2 Hub
- A USB-A to Micro-USB cable
- The Aqara M2 Quick-Start Guide
That’s it. Unfortunately, you’ll have to find a USB adapter to plug the hub into the wall, but if you’re anything like me, you’ve probably got a few of those lying around the house.
Installation is a simple process. Connect the hub to a power source, connect the hub to your network via a 2.4 GHz wireless connection or RJ45 connector (this is the method I use), download the Aqara Home app, and pair your accessories. In this evaluation, in addition to the hub, Aqara also sent us various accessories, but these accessories are usually purchased separately.
I mentioned these accessories for two reasons. First, if you want to connect the Aqara hub to your smart home, you need accessories. Unless you’ve used Aqara in the past, having a hub alone won’t be able to connect to existing smart accessories.
If you have just started using your smart home and have not added any sensors, switches, etc., you will find that the Aqara M2 hub is the core of your smart home ecosystem. That is, if you already own several other smart home accessories, adding another separate hub and app might not make you feel warm and confusing.
The second reason I mentioned accessories is that you must include them in the total cost of this hub. However, Aqara products are some of the cheapest smart home accessories that I have come across. Many are around US$15 or US$20, and you can buy them when you need them. My suggestion is to create a list of smart home projects and add them one by one until everything in your home is automated.
I also want to point out that setting up these accessories is very simple. I installed seven of them in less than an hour and used the Aqara app and HomeKit at the same time. If prizes are presented for convenience, Aqara will definitely get my vote.
Who Is the M2 For?
After several weeks of testing the M2, I can confidently say that this hub is for smart home users who don’t want to waste a lot of time setting up the perfect home. The affordable and easy-to-use Aqara ecosystem is perfect for smart home beginners and people looking for plug-and-play accessories that are compatible with Apple HomeKit.
On the other hand, I would not recommend this center to those who are already entrenched in the smart home field. For someone like me who has a lot of smart home accessories and controllers, adding another hub will only complicate things.
However, the excellent HomeKit support provided by the Aqara center alleviates these complexities. HomeKit connectivity is the main draw of the M2. Of course, you have to configure everything in the Aqara Home application, but once you configure all the accessories, the application becomes redundant.
During my use of M2, I don’t think I use the Aqara application much. Most of my interaction with the device is through HomeKit.
The Aqara Home App
As for the Aqara Home application, adding devices is relatively simple. If you have used other smart home applications, you will not be unfamiliar with all the functions of Aqara. Click the + icon in the upper right corner of the app’s home screen to add a new device, and then select your device from the menu.
In addition, the Aqara application provides a scene creator and an automation creator. Both of these features are useful, but I prefer to use HomeKit to set up automation. If you are not a HomeKit user, this app may be more useful to you.
Testing the M2 Smart Hub
When testing M2, I had two main problems. First, I want to know if this hub is vulnerable to external attacks, and second, I need to find out if this hub is sending data to a third party. Obviously, the security of any IoT network is essential, because you don’t want hackers to access your stuff.
Since I am a networking novice, I figured that if I could find a way to access this hub using readily available tools like OWASP Zap and IoT Inspector, then the M2 might possess some high-level security issues. So, I fired up a copy of both applications to see what would happen.
The first is OWASP Zap, which mainly looks for vulnerabilities in web applications. However, you can point Zap to an IoT device on the network by entering the local IP. So this is what I did. Unsurprisingly, despite using several standard “attack” options, Zap was unable to connect to M2.
This message means that some external attempts to access the hub will cause the connection to be refused. Does this mean that M2 is completely immune to external attacks? Probably not, but I believe the center will not be an easy target.
The next one in the list is to use Princetonbuilt’s IoT Inspector utility to see if M2 is making a call. IoT Inspector uses AP spoofing to record outbound data transmission from various devices on the network. Although I am not too worried about the possibility of my IoT network traffic being logged, I think it might be a good idea to see what happens behind the scenes of M2.
After a painful setup process for the IoT Inspector command line interface, I recorded the web traffic from the hub to the external server. In about 15 minutes of working with IoT Inspector, I found that M2 had contacted Aqara.com many times, and the unit had also contacted 114DNS, a Chinese DNS public service. Does this mean that the hub is “calling home”? Yes. Should this be a problem? This is debatable.
As I said, I am not a cyber security expert, so these outbound contacts may be perfectly reasonable. However, if safety is important to you, you need to do your homework before deciding to choose this center.
What We Love About the M2
The best aspect of M2 is its ease of use, installation and configuration. In addition, the ability to expand the system to support up to 128 devices is a boon. Users can effortlessly add doors, windows and motion sensors to the system.
This reminds me of the number of potential devices that can be connected. Although these numbers can make people think that this hub can handle 128 outdoor devices, but this is not the case.
To use more than 32, you need some type of Zigbee repeater, such as a light bulb or other wired smart home device. Aqara stated this restriction in the fine print of his M2 document.
However, the good news is that most beginners may not exceed the initial limit. 32 devices is way too many, even with the same smart home setup as mine, I don’t have access to that many accessories. ( Check Latest price at Amazon. )
Finally, I think what I like the most about M2 is that it disappears once it is up and running. I contacted him a few weeks ago, and since then there is no need to interact with him. It will not hinder me, for me it is a sign of a great smart home product. The connectivity of Aqara M2 is also very good.
What’s Not to Love?
As for the negatives of this center, there are only four that I can immediately determine. The possibility of security issues has been discussed. Then there is the built-in speaker.
If you want to set up other smart devices with sound prompts or use the hub as an alarm clock or buzzer, this speaker is perfect. However, this speaker is also part of an important function of this hub: the on-board security alarm.
The problem here is that the M2 speakers are not very loud even at maximum volume. Along with the strange alarm sound (there is a “sniper” that sounds like a video game recording of a sniper rifle), the alarm function seems very novel.
Although the volume can be increased by adding additional components, doing so again means additional costs. This is why, in our opinion, if you are looking for a dedicated alert feature, then you will have to look elsewhere.
In addition, the Aqara ecosystem will restrict the use of certain people. Before you want to expand your setup to include more complex products and automation, you can install a limited number of motion sensors and light switches in your home.
Of course IFTTT is an option here, and Aqara also includes a programmable If / Then control sequence in its application. However, relying on the Aqara app to control everything in the smart home will lock you further in the ecosystem. If you plan to be bigger and stronger in home automation, you may want to look at a more powerful hub from one of the three major manufacturers.
Finally, although Aqara made the future-oriented M2, the service life is questionable. However, this is not necessarily M2’s fault. If you have been following the smart home industry, then you know that technology is changing rapidly. An obvious example of this rapid transition is 2.4 GHz single frequency support.
Today, many high-end smart home products are forgoing single frequency in favor of dual frequency. To make Aqara face the future, we hope to see dual-band support on this device.
Can you Repair the Aqara M2 Smart Hub?
That’s a big negative. Like many electronic smart home products, the M2 cannot be taken apart by the end-user.
Should You Buy the Aqara M2 Smart Hub?
M2 is a perfect starting axis. It is easy to set up and has a minimal learning curve. For smart home beginners and those who want to test the waters, this hub is their favorite. HomeKit support means that even if you decide to expand your system, as long as you are using an iDevice, you can keep your Aqara accessories.
A la carte accessory options can also allow you to expand your smart home as you like. Many of Aqara’s products can be purchased through Amazon ( Check Latest price at Amazon. ) and other places.
However, if security is a major issue, you may need to choose other options. In addition, if you consider complex automation, we think you will be satisfied with the center of the ecosystem with more functions.
In other words, Aqara M2 is among the best in our list of smart home hubs. For those who appreciate flexibility and ease of use, this is an excellent value.