Battle of the S-witches
(A Review of the Leading Smart Switches Available Right Now)
***Warning – I am not an electrician. Also, shut off the power at your breaker box before attempting any electrical wiring yourself. I highly suggest that if you do not feel comfortable dealing with wiring in your home to contact a licensed electrician to help you install your smart electrical devices.***
Let’s first familiarize ourselves with a few definitions
- 1 Gang – a single switch on the wall not in the same box as any other figures
- 2 Gang – 2 Switches or fixtures in the same box
- 3 Gang/4 Gang etc – you get the idea.
- Single Pole – one switch operates one fixture or group of fixtures
- 3-Way – 2 switches can operate one fixture or group of fixtures
- 4-Way – 3 switches can operate one fixture or group of fixtures
- Ground – Usually green coated or bare copper
- Neutral – Usually a white wire. (be careful paint overspray can sometimes make any wire look white)
- Hot – Usually black coated and is the wire that comes from your electrical panel
- Lead – Can be black or red and goes from your switch to your fixture
- Traveler – can be yellow or red/yellow and goes from switch to switch for 3-way or 4-way operation.
Over the last 2 weeks I have been testing six of the top HomeKit enabled smart switches on the market. To be clear all of these switches are only on/off function and cannot be dimmed. Below are the findings of my time with these products. Or you can click the link below to go straight to the Head to Head Comparison Chart.
Koogeek KH01 Light Switch with HomeKit
(to save time this counts for both 1 gang and 2 gang switches)
Price is the driving factor behind this switch, and as long as it functions appropriately, this switch would be a great addition to any HomeKit smart-home. Unfortunately, I uncovered a glaring problem with these switches, and it is one that I was not expecting. (More on that in a bit.)
Installation was quick and painless. Once installed, anyone could replicate the process and incorporate many of these switches into their home. The app quickly recognized the switch and configured it to work with HomeKit promptly and as expected. Mechanical operation is brainless. If you have ever operated a light switch before, there are no tricks or learning curves to overcome. HomeKit/Siri operation was great during my testing. A simple command such as, “Turn on the light, Siri,” or taps in the Home app on your favorite Apple device yielded expected results I would say about 95% of the time with few hang-ups.
The Bad… The switch will not fit a normal switch cover! Look, I get it. It comes with one, but how many “single” switches do you have in your house that are not 3-way? Basically, if you have a single switch on the wall that is not a 3-way application, and you can use the cover that comes with it, then you are all set. However, if your switches are all lined up, and you have to try to fit this into a box of 3 or more switches, you will not find a cover that can go over it. Koogeek says that they work with 2 gang USA style swtich covers, but I was unable to find even a two gang cover that works.
Lutron Caseta Switch
I can never say enough great things about these products. The ease of installation doesn’t stop at a single switch. 3-way or 4-way installation is even easier than installing the first switch. Mechanical operation is effortless, borrowing its design and function from pervious non-smart switches that Lutron has been making for years. The Caseta product line also provides the most compatibility, boasting major platform integrations such as Homekit, Alexa, Google Home, and more. On top of all this, the entire Lutron Caseta line is ultra reliable due to its proprietary connection technology “Clear Connect,” and since I use the dimmers in my home all the time I can vouch for that. Within the Lutron Caseta application, you gain numerous integrations with thermostats like Nest, Carrier, Ecobee, and Honeywell, and even smart window treatments and Sonos Sound Systems are about to be paired up. Another great feature the app allows is based around security. With Lutron’s “Smart Away” scene enabled, your Lutron Caseta devices will randomly turn on and off while you are away to create the illusion of presence deterring would be criminals from attempting a break in.
The Bad…I guess you can call this bad since the rest of the switches we tested don’t require it, but the Lutron Caseta switch does require a Hub. If you’re like me, and you already have the Hub, no big deal, but if you want to just add one switch, it becomes expensive because you have to purchase the switch and the Hub together. Price for the switch is also a downside. The switch by itself retails for $64.95 which I find a bit odd because you can get the equivalent dimmer switch for $54.95. Fewer features should not cost more money, in my opinion. Look at what you gain though from dealing with a small hub that you will set up one time and never think about it again. Peace of mind with reliability and responsiveness, and integrations far beyond the field of its competitors.
Leviton Decora with Homekit
In true fashion, the Leviton Decora with HomeKit was easy to install and pair using the company’s native application. It integrates easily with Apple’s HomeKit and looks and feels just like any other switch you have operated in abodes of yesterday. For the most part, this switch operated mechanically as expected. The touch and feel of the product is something that you would expect from a leading company in the field of switches. However, when crossing into the the smart world, it’s hard to be satisfied with a product that looks and feels exactly like previous non smart products. We tech folks have become accustom to beautiful products made of materials such as shatterproof glass and unibody aluminum, which allows for a high-end feel when spending the money for smart products. Through the Leviton Decora application and Apple’s Home application, I found the product to be slightly less reliable than the top contenders in the field, sometimes taking a bit longer to react or stalling for a while before finally turning on and off and on again because you hit the button too many times.
The Bad… It feels a little bit cheaper and was the only product that I had to purchase some wire for in order to complete the installation. The other contenders had all wires integrated into the housing so replacing an old switch that didn’t have a neutral wire, but did have one within the box was easy. Not so much with the Leviton Decora, and just a heads up: you will need to purchase some white neutral wire to connect it to your splice inside the box. You have been warned.
Elgato Eve Switch
Typical easy installation, and pairing was a snap. Mechanically, this is the type of product that I was speaking about in my previous rant about the desire for a high-end feel in a smart product. I was in love at first tap. It feels like a captive touch screen, and its sleek minimalistic look screams “Look at me” while whispering “I’m not here.” If we were judging on appearance alone this one would hands down be the champion. It’s simple and elegant, yet has a highly functional design. Sans the green LED behind the switch to indicate the power state of the switch, most users won’t know it’s different until they touch it. Once you do, though, you know instantly that this is something special. It feels more like a smartphone than a switch which almost makes you want to do more on it, like open Angry Birds or send a text message. Elegato’s application is much more robust than most of its competitors as far as automation grouping and customizing, but it misses the mark a bit by being a slave to only one platform and fails to integrate with any other devices or platforms outside of the HomeKit arena.
The Bad… I had a few delays here and there while interacting via Homekit or Siri, and even in its personal application, a few snags and sputters occurred. This was nothing crazy, but just not as responsive or reliable as some of the other switches I tried. While the app is more robust, it is also not as user friendly as some of the other apps. I expect that at some point in the future they will make some design changes to remedy this, but I also feel like I’m being a bit nitpicky here.
Holy price, Batman! This thing had better make my breakfast in the morning! Sure, It’s new and it’s shiny, it’s hubless, and it has energy monitoring. Ultimately, though, it is a on/off switch. Yes, it can do 3-way applications, but at the price of $99.00 a switch, times two switches, does the company really believe that people will pay nearly 200.00 to operate one light? Enough of the rant, though. The switch does pack quite a punch in terms of features, and it also comes in a distant second place with integrations by combining platforms like Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Homekit, and Google Assistant. Their application is by far the most user-friendly and comprehensive, as it can control and automate much of the other products that I use in my home, and you can separately control and customize the nightlight feature to change the color or dim for better ability to locate the switch at night.
The Bad… Price, price, and more price. I used to think of IDevices as a leader in their field by adapting Homekit so promptly, working across platforms, and being a real-world, affordable option. However, recently I think they are pricing themselves out of existence. On price alone, I would not purchase this product. You would be better off duct taping a three gang switch plate over the Koogeek Switch, in my opinion. That said, if the company ever decided to fall on their sword quickly and reduce the price to even $60.00 a switch, I think we would be having a very different conversation right now.
A Few Notes of Interest:
“Clack!” A lot of these switches talk back.
Many of these switches make a noise when switched on and off, both Mechanically and through Homekit/Siri. Some are less pleasing than others. You can review which ones made the least desirable sounds and more in the head-to-head comparison chart below. Only the Lutron Caseta made nearly no sound when being turned on and off. This may not be a big deal to you, and most likely my sensitivity to it was amplified by repeated tests on multiple products, but some of them really started to annoy me.
It’s good to stay neutral – because you pretty much have to.
All of these switches require a neutral switch to be installed. If you don’t know what that is, call your electrician so that they may better help you. Most modern homes have neutral wire running throughout the house. It’s better to check, though, before you buy one to save yourself the frustration later.
3-Way, 4-Way, Oh My!
Only 3 of these switches will work in a 3-Way or 4-Way installation situation. If you don’t know what that is, scroll back up to the top and read the definitions that you skimmed over. The switches that will work are: Lutron Caseta, Leviton Decora, and the IDevices Switch. To save you some frustration, I have indicated what you will need in order to install these in this type of application in the Head-to-Head comparison chart below. (Yes, it will cost you more money.)
Whats all the Hub-bub about?
All of the switches except the Lutron Caseta Switch are Hub-Free designs. That means one less piece of hardware that you have to toss in your closet. I will say, oddly enough though, the Lutron Caseta is hands down the most reliable and responsive of the switches that I tested. I wonder if that is a coincidence?
Click the Link to below to view the Smart Switch Head to Head Comparison Chart!!!
Side by side these switch will pretty much all do the trick in one circumstance or another. If you want to tailor your smart home lighting to the capabilities of the product you select then just go ahead and pick any one of them. However, if you want to be able to install a switch in any location, utilize that switch for 3-way or 4-way set up, and have the ability to work across many platforms, Then Lutron Caseta is the best switch for the job. Not to mention that this switch was the most reliable during my testing and boast a natural feel and look for your home. My only real suggestion here is that instead of purchasing the Lutron Caseta switch referenced in this article go ahead a purchase the dimmer switch that they offer. It’s cheaper and offers you the ability to dim your lights as well. I must admit even I am a bit shocked at my findings. Not so much because Lutron hasn’t been and excellent product for me, but because most of the other switches are newer. Having been released more recently I would have expected them to benefit from newer technology. After all I’m sure while in development these other companies would have torn down Lutrons existing product and tested their own against it. All of this goes to show the dedication and thought that Lutron put into its initial product and because of that I can not wait to see what Lutron comes up with next.
Elegato Eve Switch
Elegato narrowly misses top mark and was able to accomplish this because its look and feel are incredible. Nothing like you have ever seen on the wall before. Elegant and Futuristic all at the same time. What slowed it down was is small responsiveness issues and incompatibility with other platforms. This is something I think consumers should truly desire. Its not that we should want to use these products on multiple platforms at the same time but that we should want the option to change platforms without having to toss all of our existing products. You may see that both the Elegato Eve Switch and the Idevices Switch attained the same score so as far as deciding on the runner up I made the rule that the tie goes to the least expensive device.