Turn me on! Switches, switches, switches

three ge Z-wave switches
GE Z-Wave Switches with Lutron Claro Cover Plate

Spending time to get the right switches was necessary for me, I felt like a switch should always be a switch. I mean that even if I didn’t hook it up to a smart hub, app, or WiFi, it should still work as a switch. I did have a concern with some smart switches on the market I’d be flooding my local WiFi network with too many devices, so I bought into the Z-wave concept, you don’t need to connect each Z-wave device to your WiFi router. Instead, a single Hub can coordinate the communication with the Z-Wave’s radio frequency (RF) network. With that said Z-wave is for people who like to tinker as well, you can get into the dregs and interact with some devices on a very intimate API level, but others are just designed to “plug-and-play.”

Controlling lighting is central to home automation, it seems so basic but provides a useful day to day experience. Pondering my top switch options:

  1. WeMo ($44.00 per switch) – relies on WiFi connection too much for my taste
  2. Insteon ($44.00) – Works great within the Insteon world, but not the best for interoperability
  3. GE Z-Wave (~$35.00 per switch) – The price is right, and the Z-Wave’s mesh network was a plus for me.

There are many other options, but these are the three I focused on for my switch investigation. After reading the reviews and looking at the price, and the technology the winner was GE Z-wave switches for my house. I didn’t buy and try other brands, but I have chatted with a few people who have, and when I gather some more data from my friends, I’ll expand upon this post.

WeMo is only an ON/OFF switch when you physically press the switch it will turn the light on and off but nothing more. The app that comes with WeMo does offer some more control, but in reality pulling out your phone to control the lights isn’t the best option.

While I didn’t list this in my top three for initial investigation, I have been looking at more Wink options lately. A few friends have bought a substantial amount of Wink equipment, and they enjoy the experience. With that said I don’t think I’ll be using their switches, but this Relay + Switch option looks interesting.

I am intrigued by the Wink Relay Touchscreen Controller switches – this necessarily equates to having a smartphone running the wink app permanently mounted to the wall. But I don’t see the Wink ecosystem quite as vibrant as the SmartThings, I am considering using the Wink Relay for a simple intercom solution, but there are other options I am considering. While this seems appealing, throwing down the money doesn’t make sense, most of the youtube video’s I’ve watched show a low-quality screen, and I don’t think the interface is that efficient. It feels like a SmartPhone mounted to the wall.

Still, it is appealing that you could get two of these for ~$150.00 and have a “cheap” intercom system.

How have I been using these switches?

I use these switches by a mix of 50% voice control, 40% using the switch, and 10% using an app. Most of this depends on having an Alexa device in a particular room.  I have 2 Echos and 2 Echo Dots, 1 in my living room, kitchen, bedroom, and office area respectively. So when I am in a room where Alexa is listening, I use voice control, unless I am right next to the switch when entering. I will go more into Alexa specifically in another blog post.

What do I enjoy?

  1. They easily add to my SmartThings hub
    • some people have seen problems, but for the large part I’ve not hit any of the described issues
  2. They are still switches! I mean nobody has to know they are smart
  3. They have a blue light, which is helpful in the dark and can also be configured to be off by default.
  4. Press and hold up or down on a dimmer and the lights dim, let go and they stay at that level
  5. The smart things app is easy to use
  6. I added them all to Alexa with one Skill!
    • I didn’t have to train anyone on how to use Alexa after they heard me use it once they were able to quickly navigate turning lights on/off and dimming them by just asking…
  7. Z-wave doesn’t need each switch to connect to my WiFi and take another IP address!

Anything weird?

  1. Getting the right LED bulbs is important
    • If you don’t go with LED, you’ll likely be using enough wattage not to notice issues I saw
    • Not all LEDs are of the same quality, I found my favorite so far, only before I bought three different brands.

What about the others?

Since I am not covering the other switches in detail, yet, I wanted to leave a few links to some great reviews:

  1. http://thewirecutter.com/reviews/best-smart-switch/
  2. http://www.toptenreviews.com/home/smart-home/best-smart-lighting-controls/

Let me know what you think!

Please feel free to leave comments, ask questions, or even suggest areas where I can improve. I don’t even mind the jab or two if you think I have wrong information 🙂