Turn Any Light Into a Smart Bulb
Smart wall switches are not your average lighting controls; they are connected to your home Wi-Fi network and make it possible for you to control your lighting either by flicking the switch on the wall as you stroll by or by using your smartphone from thousands of miles away. But which switch best fits the needs of your smart home? We put several switches to the test to find out.
Based on our testing, the best smart switch you can buy is the Leviton Decora Smart in-wall switch. At $50, it's neither the least nor the most expensive of the switches we tested; it supports three-way switches (so it will work in rooms with more than one light switch), has a robust app, works with Alexa and Google Assistant, and doesn't require an extra piece of equipment to connect to your network.
If you have Philips Hue lights, then the Philips Hue Dimmer is your best bet. Not only is it the least expensive option, but it's also the easiest to install, as you merely attach it to the wall — no wiring necessary. Plus, you can pop it off and use it as a remote control.
Leviton Decora Smart In-Wall Switch with Wi-Fi Technology
Leviton's switch won't win any design awards, but we like its no-nonsense approach: a large paddle switch, with a smaller toggle on the right, which lets you dim the lights in increments. A row of LEDs shows you the brightness level, and a small status LED on the bottom lets you locate the switch in the dark.
Unlike Lutron's switch, Leviton's connects directly to your Wi-Fi, so there's no bridge needed. It also supports three-way switches, which is helpful for larger rooms.
The Leviton app is pretty robust. You can set how long the status LED and the dimming LEDs remain on, specify the type of bulbs you're using, and adjust the rate at which they dim and brighten. The app also lets you create schedules for the lights to turn on and off, such as at sunset or sunrise.
Overall, though, Lutron's Decora is the best bet for homeowners looking for a great all-around smart wall switch.
Philips Hue Dimmer
For those who have spent the scratch on Philips Hue bulbs, the Philips Hue dimmer is a handy little device. It can be used as a wireless remote or as a wall switch, but this switch doesn't need any installation apart from peeling the covering off the adhesive on its back.
This switch works with only Hue bulbs, though it's almost magic when it does. Just turn on the light containing the Hue bulb as you normally would (even if it's via a traditional wall switch); then, start using the Philips dimmer, and it will automatically work. And don't worry — there's no interference or conflict between the Hue Dimmer and your normal wall switch. The magic in the dimmer lies in the Philips Hue bridge, which is required ($59) for the dimmer to work (and is required for any Philips Hue system).
The Philips Hue app is full of fun controls and creative themes for your Hue bulbs. You can set schedules for your Hue bulbs, which can be controlled by your voice through Amazon Alexa, Google Home and Apple HomeKit. It's also compatible with a host other smarthome platforms.
Lutron Caseta Wireless Dimmer Kit
Lutron's smart starter kit comes with one in-wall switch, one wireless remote and one smartbridge (hub), which can also be used to control Lutron Caseta fans and shades.
The switch itself looks hi-tech, with several buttons laid out to control the numerous options Caseta offers. Lutron has gone for function over fashion for the most part with this dimmer, as the white and grey buttons are front and center, not hidden by touch-sensitive controls, as is the case with other dimmers in this category.
The Caseta line of switches from Lutron offers an impressive list of features: geofencing, which means your lights will automatically turn on or off when you leave or arrive at home; the ability to schedule your lights to turn on or off at particular times or days; dimming capabilities; and compatibility with a long list of smart home platforms. You can also control the system using your voice through Amazon Alexa and Google Home, among many others.
The only downside is that the switch, like all of Lutron's products, must be linked to the Smart Bridge (you can get it packaged with the switch for $99). The bridge itself must be plugged into your router so that you can control it from your smartphone.
The WeMo dimmer looks cool, with its glowing LED status lights, but remembering what each light means (there are seven different statuses, each with its own special LED color) is virtually impossible. One standout feature of the switch is that it calibrates to work with any kind of light bulb for maximum dimming and minimum flickering.
WeMo has included a number of small, but nice touches that put the switch at the forefront of this genre of switch. For example, just run your finger along the gutter in the middle of the switch and you can dim or brighten the light the switch is hooked up to. There's also a clever night mode that keeps you from blinding yourself with full-on bright lights when you're headed to the bathroom after hours.
The WeMo app supports numerous smart products from Belkin and has lots of features, including light scheduling and various lighting modes. You'll also be able to review power-consumption data and to control multiple WeMo devices with a single swipe. It's not compatible with a ton of smart home systems, but the WeMo dimmer does work with Alexa and Google Home, which should be enough for many users.
iDevices Wall Switch
The iDevices wall switch is handsomely designed and features a bright, LED, colored display in its center, so you can easily find the switch day or night. Controls for this switch are limited to on and off, but the customized lighting-scheduling helps make up for the lack of dimming capabilities. This "rocker-style" switch also has a night-light LED feature and the ability to customize the color of the LED. It also has a simple one-touch device-reset button.
The iDevices app comes with a somewhat-intimidating dashboard, but that's because it can be used to control numerous systems in your home, including your thermostat, outdoor switch, lamp socket, fireplace, shades and shower speaker. The ability to insert photos of your home and its rooms into the app is a nice touch.
Elgato Eve Light Switch
The Eve light switch by Elgato has the most attractive, almost artsy design of any wall switch we reviewed; its snow-white panel consists of a rectangular control panel inside a rectangular wall panel, and that's it. No lights, no buttons, no switches. The control panel is touch-sensitive and doesn't click. You just touch it for on and touch again for off — there's no dimming. (iDevices makes a dimmer switch, too, which also costs $99.)
The Eve is easy to use and does not require a hub— sort of. If you want to control the device with your iPhone or iPad beyond its Bluetooth range (about 40 feet), you'll need to either have Apple TV or use an always-on iPad as a hub. However, Eve doesn't work with any other smart home systems, so you're locked in to using HomeKit and HomeKit alone.
How We Test Smart Switches
Why You'd Want a Wall Switch Instead of Smart Lights
There are a ton of smart light bulbs on the market that you can control using your phone, so why would you need a smart switch? Smart switches make the most sense when you have a room, or rooms, with many ceiling lights.
Adding a smart switch can be much more cost-effective than adding four or more smart lights, each of which can cost as much as a single switch.
How to Install A Smart Switch
Unlike most smart home devices, which merely require you to plug them into an outlet, installing a smart switch involves replacing a current in-wall switch. Since few, if any light-control products include professional installation as part of the package, you will need a basic understanding of electrical work, which includes turning the circuit breaker. For full wireless access, you then replace the entire existing unit with the smart switch by attaching all the wires to the new switch, including the neutral wire.
Smart switches are often bulkier than their traditional counterparts, so if they don't fit in the electrical box properly, you may need to get a new box, which is probably a job for an electrician. Similarly, some older homes don't have the right wiring, so an electrician is a good idea here, too. Finally, some smart switches won't work if you have multiple switches controlling a single light (which is called three-way or four-way lighting).
How We Test Smart Switches
To test smart switches, we first had them installed (by an electrician) in our house. We then evaluated the switches based on the following criteria:
- Design: Is it an attractive switch? The best will come in multiple colors to best match your decor.
- Functionality: Does it support three-way or four-way connections?
- App: How easy was it to use the app that works with the switch? What sort of features do you get, such as scheduling when lights turn on and off?
- Smart Home Compatibility: How many other smart home devices and systems does the switch work with?