Last year, at the Pepcom Digital Experience press event, a small booth showed off what seemed to be an entirely logical, “Why didn’t I think of that” device. The Switchmate is a small battery operated switch that sticks to your existing light switches with magnets to turn your existing lights into smart lights. The recent introduction of slimmer models, a powered socket, and web access might be just the technology you need. The promise is of a smart home without the hassle of most smart home products.
The units seem simple enough, small white plastic boxes that stick to your existing switches by way of some strong magnets. So, no need to wire new sockets or switches, just stick them on and go. Inside of the Switchmate is a chamber for two AA batteries to power the motor inside that changes the position of your light switch. This is very much a product that Rube Goldberg would love. A motorized drive to change the position of a light switch, the only thing missing is a mouse with a mallet. For those with rocker switches, they offer a rocker model. Either way the concept seems simple, use a small motor to change the position of the switch, turning it on or off, and use your Smartphone to program a timer or two.
Using the Switchmate App, you program each of your Switchmate units to turn on and off when you choose. The schedules are quite complete, you can set times for each day, including the ability to set it to greet you with a light that turns on at dusk and turning off at dawn, or anytime between that, a feature they call “Welcome Home” which also works with motion detection in the newer units.
Initially we had some problems with the early units, but the company issued firmware and software updates that solved most of the initial bugs including the inability for Bluetooth to find the units. Over the course of a few months, the unit’s dependability grew, and the bugs were squashed. Since then, they have proven reliable and a welcome addition to the connected home. Curiously, we have had issues with Android connectivity using a Samsung S7 phone, but using iOS all was well. We used our iPad to program our units. A newly updated app, with a nicer and easier to use GUI is a welcome change. It’s still a bit confusing at time, since there are so many options for the timers, including multiple timers, days of the week, sunrise and sunset options, and more. When we found our units weren’t working as expected, it was because we glossed over a missed a setting. It made us wish for a simplified mode. But once programmed the units worked splendidly.
We set a variety of the units to different tasks. For our front porch lights, we set them to turn on at sundown and turn off at sunrise. For a few different rooms, we had them turn on at sunset, stay on for an hour or two, then turn off. Not only did this mean that lights were on for us as we arrived home in the dark, but also it looked random from the street, a security bonus.
The main initial complaint we had was that like most homes, we have duplex and quad light switch fixtures, and the initial models were too wide to fit more than one of them on a switch plate. The newly introduced SWMbright Toggle is thinner, designed for multi-switch plates, and adds Light and Motion Detectors in addition to voice activation. We wondered why Wi-Fi wasn’t added to the units, since it would be handy to be able to activate or change timer settings from afar. According to the company website FAQs, Wi-Fi is currently disabled on the battery operated units due to excessive battery drain, but they don’t state it won’t happen in the future.
New this year is the SWMpower that is a dual 120-volt socket that allows you to control desk or freestanding lamps that plug into the socket. This extends Smart Home technology to just about any light we can think of. Importantly, the SWMpower also has Wi-Fi incorporated now, and during setup you link it to your network. At the time of testing we couldn’t test the remote programming, but it will be added to the app in the near future. They are also adding a device called the Zip and a range of security products that will extend the product matrix. We had some problems programming the SWMpower, until we realized that each socket is programmed separately, so you can plug in two lamps for example, and program a different timer for both of them. While there is motion detection on the SWMpower, we suspect that for many uses it won’t apply since often power sockets are hidden behind furniture or other objects. One nice feature is that there are two USB power ports on the bottom of the unit, so you can charge your USB devices without the need for a power adapter.
Last summer Switchmate issued a Press Release with the following, “Switchmate Home announced SimplySmartHome, a full line of instant smart home starter kits for security, power and lighting control. The first of five in the SimplySmartHome series, the Lighting Power Pack, debuted in July. The company plans to launch the SimplySmart Cube, a plug-and-play IP indoor/outdoor HD camera, a Security System Camera with instant smoke and carbon dioxide alert notifications, two window and door sensors, and one siren (for extended audio alerts) with motion and doorbell activation, and the Zip, an instant remote access WiFi/BLE bridge and range extender that allows users to access Switchmate lighting from anywhere, later this year.”
The SimplySmart Cube, Zip, or Security System Camera weren’t available for testing at the time of this review, but we look forward to working with them in the future. They have also announced Alexa compatiblity. There are two websites avaiable to order the units, as well as big box stores and Amazon. It’s a bit confusing, since none of the sites actually show the product matrix, so figuring out the product line isn’t all that easy. We lucked out, we had the Press Release and Product Portfolio from the Pepcom Digital Experience event, which provided information on the entire product line. We suspect that all of this will be ironed out soon, but in the meantime we hope they will simplify their sites, show the entire product line, and make it a bit easier to research their products. One thing we liked is that they now have bundles, since most users will want several light switch controls and powered sockets, so having a few SKU’s to order a bundle will make life easier for consumers, as well as save them some bucks.
We think the Switchmate is a brilliant idea, well executed, albeit with some connectivity bugs that are being worked out. Technology companies always promise easy to use, no fuss, no muss, reliable products, but most of the time, they fail those basic premises. Switchmate is the product of Robert Romano and Ashish Dua, two Stanford graduates with Master’s Degrees in engineering. In 2015, Romano and Dua met with Dean Finnegan, and together they formed Switchmate Home, LLC in January 2016.
This year, Switchmate is on track to ship more then 1.2 million units in their first year, a testament to consumers who want to automate their home life, but don’t want to hire an electrician to do so. Plus, the units are portable, so for dorm rooms, apartments, or other spaces, they make automating lights not only easy, but also easy to move to a new space.
The Switchmate series of automated light switches and powered sockets come highly recommended, and we look forward to their upcoming range of new security products.
Harris Fogel and Nancy Burlan, posted 11/25/17
For information on the Switchmate line visit: https://www.switchmatehome.com
To purchase Switchmate products visit: https://www.buyswitchmate.com/?pagesc=howitworks
To purchase Switchmate products on Amazon visit:https://www.amazon.com/Switchmate/b/ref=bl_dp_s_web_15620700011?ie=UTF8&node=15620700011&field-lbr_brands_browse-bin=Switchmate