The Switchmate Bright is the next generation of Switchmate automated light switches. If you own one of the original or even used one of them the Bright makes some great improvements over the original. Even though the Bright makes some improvements, the technology is not without its limitations. Keep reading to find out if the Switchmate Bright will work for you.
Overall the Bright makes some great improvements in the design and function of the original. The first thing you will notice is the Bright is much slimmer then it’s predecessor. This allows it to be used on multiple gang switch plates, something I’m going to bet most of us have in our homes. The next big difference is the actual button. On the original model, it was a large push button. On this model, you get an upgrade to a touch button. The new touch button has a much better feel than the older model and improves the quality of the device.
The Bright switch has all the same features of the original with one addition, a motion sensor. Along with the timers, there are quite a few ways to automate your switch without a hub or controller. The motion sensor works as well as you would expect, and it has some great options in the app for how long the light will stay on. The biggest downside to the switch is basically a limit of the technology, you can only pair it with one phone at a time. While I don’t personally have experience pairing the Switchmate hardware with the Wink Hub 2, I have heard from several owners saying they have had an on again off (Just be glad that’s the only pun, trust me I had to show some restraint) again type relationship when it comes to firmware updates causing issues with the communication between the hub and the switch.
While neither of the Switchmate devices perform the same as a Z-Wave switch, they really aren’t even close to the same when it comes to installation. The Switchmate Bright is just as easy to install as its predecessor with a couple of added features as a bonus. If you either can’t or don’t want to replace the whole switch, the Switchmate Bright is a great option.
Budget Smart Home Rating: 9/10
A Special thanks to Switchmate for providing a review unit for BSH.
By David Casteel
When you get into reviewing products as simple as Z-Wave plugs, attention to detail is key. When you really break them down, there really isn’t much to a Z-Wave plug. You plug in a device and hook it up to a Z-wave hub and turn it on and off (or Dim it up and Down in some cases). On the surface the Inovelli plug looks fairly similar to the popular GE Z-Wave plug. It’s when you compare them side by side and dig deeper the plugs start to separate. While there are other plugs out there, it seems in my experience that GE is the 800lb gorilla and for the sake of this review I will be using that as comparison.
While much of this could be considered subjective, I’m going to say the Inovelli right out the gate is simply a better-looking unit. It’s about 1/3rd as wide as the GE unit (I’ve got the older first-generation GE outlet) and thus blends into the wall much better than other plugs, especially the GE. While the newer GE outlet has improved its looks over the first generation, it’s still as wide as the original. All three plugs have manual activation buttons but only Inovelli’s has a light that indicates the on/off state. A small detail, but a welcome difference none the less. The Inovelli plug has clearly labeled which outlet is smart and which one isn’t, something GE didn’t think was a needed feature. In their defense you don’t have to worry about this on the new model though, both outlets are smart but are only controllable together. I will let you decide how useful that really is. Another feature that again sets the Inovelli out from GE is Scene Control. The button on the front of the unit can be used to trigger a Scene or a group of devices on hubs such as the SmartThings that support this control. Even though this feature is a nice addition, it might be difficult to use this if conditions weren’t just right for the button to be conveniently located. Most of my use cases for this plug wouldn’t really lend itself to easily access that button to activate the scene.
While often overlooked by the best of us, the included documentation warrants a discussion when comparing these products. The GE documentation is standard for this kind of product. The instructions are good and explain just how to pair the device with hub and a couple basic troubleshooting steps when it comes to Z-Wave range and then the plug. When compared to the instructions included with the Inovelli, the difference becomes much more apparent. The Inovelli documentation gives step by step instructions for SmartThings, Wink and Vera hubs. And let’s be honest, if you are rocking a HomeSeer or Indigo setup and you need detailed instructions, you probably have the wrong controller. On top of that, the documentation goes into detail on exactly how Z-Wave mesh networks work, even pictures with floor plans and examples. And just in case you wanted to know how much “Red Brick” along with about a dozen other materials reduce the Z-wave wireless signal its included on the sheet (Its about 35% if you really were curious). This might sound like a small detail, but if you are new to this hobby then these things really matter and will greatly affect your enjoyment of the product and home automation in general.
Like I mentioned before, the differences in the plugs are very slight, even if a few features set the Inovelli apart (although being the information geek that I am, I would argue the documentation isn’t a small difference). But when you look at purchasing these two, you are going to notice one difference right away, the price. To compare apples to apples you really must look at the newer GE plug because it, like the Inovelli, has Z-Wave Plus. When you compare the price on those two, the Inovelli is about 25% cheaper at the time of this review. While I haven’t had to deal with the customer service of Inovelli directly, I have talked to several of their customers on our Facebook page and they had nothing but great things to say. Clearly, they are doing something right. The fact that the Inovelli plug is cheaper and has more features makes this pretty much a no brainer.
Budget Smart Home Rating: 10/10
Disclosure: The review unit used by Budget Smart Home was sent to us by Inovelli. The thoughts expressed in the article are my own and weren’t influenced in any way by Inovelli. Budget Smart Home might receive a small commission if you use the included Amazon link. We would greatly appreciate the support by using the Amazon link.
by David Casteel
Amazon has released their first update to the Echo hardware since the original was released in 2015. The Echo has changed quite a bit in the last two years, in size and price. Most users are going to love the new Echo, despite its smaller size.
The first thing you will notice about the 2nd Generation Echo is its size. The new Echo is about 30% or so smaller than the original. The size of the 2nd gen makes it blend in a bit better on the counter then its larger brother. Along with the size difference comes several different colors and materials for the outside. The one I received had the dark gray or “charcoal” fabric. I have to say the fabric looks much nicer then the plastic of the older generation. It makes it look like a much more expensive piece of electronics. I wasn’t a huge fan of the plastic look of the older model. There are two lighter colored fabric options as well as some faux wood grain and a silver plastic (although these models are more expensive). Another major change on the new model are the buttons on the top. Gone is the round volume dial and two buttons take its place for volume control. This is one of the few downsides to the new model, as the old dial for volume had a great intuitive feel to it.
Onto one of the main uses of this device for many people is going to be music. Amazon claims the 2nd generation Echo comes with “improved sound”. Depending on the music you enjoy, you may or may not notice any sound quality difference. Being a smaller speaker, it doesn’t seem to me like it has the same amount of low end as the original. But to cut the size and the price that much and keep it as close as they have is an accomplishment. If you aren’t using this Echo for music much, I don’t think you will notice much difference at all. I wouldn’t suggest trying to compare either of the Echo’s to a speaker like Sonos, you will be sorely disappointed. But at half the price (and size) of the Sonos, you really can’t realistically expect them to compete.
Microphone and alexa
The main reason to buy most assistants like Alexa is the hands-free voice activation. While I haven’t noticed any marketing on the 2nd generation having better microphones, this certainly seems to be the case. With the previous Echo I would have trouble getting Alexa to respond at anything over volume 6 or 7 while playing music. I even tried shouting as loud as I could with the volume at 7-8 only a few feet away with the 1st gen and it wouldn’t respond at all. Not the case with the new version. Volume levels of 6-8 had me barely raising my voice to get the new Echo to light up the blue ring letting me know Alexa was waiting to respond. I also noticed a much better response to my children using the device. The previous version would had about a 20-30% success rate on my child getting the initial voice command to trigger the Echo. The new Echo is seeing at least 60-70% success rate. This could also be the AI built into the backend of Alexa is getting better, the better mic’s or a little bit of both. Either way it’s a welcome improvement.
At almost half the price of the original, you really can’t go wrong with the newest version of the Echo. For about 100 bucks you get a decent music device along with an assistant that doesn’t show any sign of slowing on its quest to add features or “skills”. But if you love your music and are used to large floor standing speakers or a great pair of headphones, you might be better off looking at the new Sonos One now that it has Alexa built in. If you are like me and already have some Sonos speakers the Amazon Dot makes a great addition to the Alexa family for even half the cost of the current gen Echo.
Budget Smart HOme Rating: 9/10
Update: If you want to win our review unit of the 2nd Generation Echo, head on over to our Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/budgetsmarthome.org
Switchmate makes some bold claims on how easy their switches are to install. Minus installing the batteries their claim of “one-second installation” holds true. Pairing to the app on my iOS device was equally as simple. I was happy to see that part of the install process includes updating the firmware on the device. This is a step often missed by those not handy with technology and can help mitigate issues right out of the gate. Pairing with the Switchmate app overall was straightforward and quick (minus the firmware update which took about 5 minutes or so).
The biggest benefit of the Switchmate is the installation. If you rent or live in an apartment and can’t change out light switches, before the Switchmate smart bulbs were your only option and those come with their own set of problems. But with ease of installation comes noise and size. There is a motor in the switch that must move to turn the light on and off. It’s not quite as noisy as a Z-wave door lock but it’s close.
The Switchmate connects to your phone and/or hub with Bluetooth. This means to use the switch remotely you will need a hub connected to the internet. Currently there are only two hub’s that support Bluetooth devices, the Wink Hub 2 and the Vera hub. This could also mean that certain parts of your home your phone might not be able to communicate with the switch. But this also means the switch doesn’t require a good WiFi signal or even an internet connection to function.
Update: One thing I forgot to mention in the original review is the fact that these switches are great for those with older homes and no neutral wire run to their switches. Most smart switches and outlets require a neutral wire to power the radio in the switch for it to work, and adding the neutral wire afterwards is a large undertaking(ie. expensive).
budget smart home rating: 8/10
I’ve found that many people don’t think there is much difference between Z-Wave and ZigBee. Let’s first start off by explaining what ZigBee and Z-wave are. They are very similar wireless technologies that are used for many different home automation devices, from light switches to motion sensors, that allow your hub to talk to these different devices.
Both technologies are usually compatible with most hub’s and both use mesh networking to be able to easily talk to devices that are further away from your hub. But they have one major difference that I don’t think many people consider when choosing one over the other: distance. Z-wave travels about three times further then ZigBee in open air tests. Z-wave is rated for 30 meters in open air cases and ZigBee is rated for only 10 meters. Keep in mind that means that any walls or other objects you put in the way are going to reduce this distance, sometimes very significantly.
Z-wave also uses a frequency around 900 MHz, ZigBee is around 2.4GHz. Anyone that has had to deal with kids driving by their house with the bass of their stereo cranked up knows that lower frequencies penetrate walls and objects easier. This is also the same reason that 2.4ghz wifi signals go through walls much better than the newer 5ghz signals.
The Z-wave protocol also has what’s called “Z-wave Plus”. The Z-wave Alliance claims the following features over top the standard Z-Wave:
Whatever technology you decide to use, stick with one if possible. Because both ZigBee and Z-wave work on a mesh standard, the more devices you have the more stable and easier your devices that are further from your hub will work.
The whole reason for getting a hub like Wink or SmartThings is to be able to use one app for all your devices. If you’ve been around smart home automation for any length of time you’ve seen a few hubs come and go. Part of the downside to these hubs, even SmartThings and Wink is they rely on cloud servers to work. If Wink or SmartThings would go out of business, the app or the hub would no longer work. Z-wave to the rescue. Hub’s support a ton of different smart home technologies and companies, from Z-Wave to ZigBee, even Nest and Phillips Hue. The upside to Z-Wave is the fact that it’s a common standard. Even if Wink and/or SmartThings stop working, if your devices are Z-Wave the chances of you finding another way to control them is huge.
One of the best features of Z-Wave is the fact that all most devices have antenna’s that extend the network. So even if you have switches or other devices far from the hub, they are likely to still work well if you have a multitude of other devices in your house. Having trouble with a device not wanting to work? Chances are that if you put more devices in your home, that one that is further from the hub will work much more reliably.
Z-wave devices take much less energy than ones that need Wifi or other wireless technologies. This means any battery-operated devices like motion detectors or water sensors will have to have batteries changed much less often.
There are some definite pro’s and con’s when deciding on whether to use smart bulbs or smart switches to control lighting in your house. We’ll go over both in detail here:
This is the first part in our getting started series that will take you from a smart home novice to expert in not time! Sign up for our newsletter or like us on Facebook for more Smart Home information.
Even though I love gadgets and toys, one of the greatest benefits of a smart home is safety. One of the best ways to accomplish this is the automation built into hubs like Wink and SmartThings. There are two main reasons to have a hub, to have a central interface to control of all your devices that would otherwise have multiple apps and interfaces. The second and most useful in my opinion is automation. This is going to be a multiple part series on automation specifically focused on safety and family protection.
The first device that were going to focus on is the Nest Protect. If you haven’t read my review on the Protect you can find it here. The Protect has plenty of safety features on its own but it really stands out when you hook it to a hub. According to the American Red Cross home fires peak in the evening between 6 and 7pm. In the winter time most places are dark during these times. Home automation to the rescue.
The Nest Protect when hooked to a hub can be setup to turn every light on in the house if it detects smoke or carbon monoxide. Wink can even trigger different events depending on the Protect detecting smoke or carbon monoxide. I don’t know about you, when an emergency happens I want to be able to quickly get my family to safety.
Stay tuned for future parts of the blog when we delve into more ways to keep your family safe!
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Amazon came out swinging today with a bunch of new devices that expand their hardware line even further. They announced a few new devices, though one of them doesn’t even have a release date or a FCC approval. As well as the new devices they also made some huge price drops. Well lets go through them one by one:
2nd generation Echo
The newly announced Echo Plus looks like it basically takes the original Echo and stuffs a smart home hub inside. Not really much to report on this one at this point other than the fact that even this model is cheaper than the original Echo at $149. Only time will tell if Amazon can get compatibility for devices for this to be a viable hub rather than going with Wink or SmartThings, the two leaders in the hub space.
Think of the Echo Spot as an Echo with a screen. This joins a lineup that already includes the Show for video calls but it looks like this will have a bit more functionality. It looks like this will be handy to check out compatible video feeds like doorbells and other video functions like an alarm clock and video calling.
The install is probably a huge reason to buy any Nest product. With amazing tutorial videos and a great app, it pretty much doesn’t get any easier than this. I highly recommend the hard wire unit if you can, but it is a bit more difficult to physically install, especially if you’re not used to dealing with electricity. You basically just open the app, sign into or create a Nest account and then tell it you want to add a Protect, it walks you through the rest.
battery vs wired
There are a few slight differences between the battery only and the wired plus battery backup Protect’s. The main difference is in the Pathlight feature. On the wired model you have the option to keep the Pathlight on when it’s dark in the room. The battery-operated model only allows motion operated 5 second burst of the light. The other minor difference is the fact that the wired version updates the Home/Away feature for the thermostat more frequently.