The first generation of smart light switches is good, but do little more than let you control your lights through your smartphone. Ecobee's Switch+ represents new thinking about these in-wall switches; with built-in motion sensors, it can turn your lights on and off without you even lifting a finger. What's more, it also has a temperature sensor, a speaker and Alexa, so it can do much more than just control your lights. However, Ecobee’s Switch+ ($99) is twice as expensive as other smart switches. Is this future worth the expense?
It definitely looks different than a traditional wall switch, but the Ecobee Switch+ won't look out of place in any modern home. More important, the actual switch is obvious enough for anyone who isn't technologically savvy, so they'll know what to push to turn on the lights.
Instead of a rocker or toggle switch, the Switch+ has a rounded section running the length of the plate. The top quarter has a small, perforated section for the Switch+'s speaker, while the bottom section is solid white; pressing this part turns your lights on and off. When Alexa is listening, a small, blue LED strip lights up along the top of the Switch+.
Installation and Setup
Swapping out a traditional wall switch with the Ecobee Switch+ wasn't too difficult, and I like that Ecobee's kit comes with several wire nuts. However, the Switch+ itself is much larger than your standard switch, so for older houses with small junction boxes — like mine — you could have a harder time cramming it in.
In all, it took about half an hour to install the Ecobee Switch+
Two other things to note: The Switch+ requires a neutral wire, and cannot be used in a setup where more than one switch controls a single light.
Credit: EcobeeOther than that, the setup went pretty smoothly. After installing the Switch+, I turned the power back on from the circuit breaker, and the Switch+ started up. I then opened the Ecobee app on my iPhone (an Android version is also available) and completed the setup process, which involved connecting the Switch+ to my Wi-Fi network, and connecting Alexa to the Switch+. In all, it took about half an hour.
Ecobee sent me a beta version of its app to test the Switch+; however, customers will simply use the same Ecobee app as they would the thermostat.
The Switch+ worked as well as a switch should. Pressing the button turned my lights on and off instantaneously. But why press a button when you don't have to?
From within the Ecobee app, you can enable several features of the Switch+ that set it apart from other smart light switches. Smart On will turn on your lights when you walk into the room; even better, you can set it so that this feature activates only when it's dark, so as not to waste electricity. (If you use the Switch+ to control an outdoor light, you can set it to automatically turn the light on at dusk.)
Smart Off will automatically turn off the lights in a room after 15 minutes if it doesn't detect anyone. The last feature is the Night Light; when activated, a small LED shines downward from the bottom of the switch when the lights are out, so it's easier to find the switch in the dark.
These are all clever features, but they need refinement before I'd be willing to use them fulltime. For example, you can't set a schedule for Smart On, so if you happen to get out of bed in the middle of the night, you (and whoever else is sleeping in your room) will be shocked as all the lights turn on.
Another feature Ecobee should consider is something you can do with Philips Hue bulbs; from within the Hue app, you can set lights to turn on, but to a specific brightness, between certain hours. That way, if you need lights to see in the dark — like a dim hallway — you can have the Ecobee turn on your lights to 10 percent brightness.
The Smart Off feature will automatically turn the lights off in a room after 15 minutes if it doesn't detect anyone.
For the Smart Off feature, I wish there were a way to change the timer, so I could set it to either less than, or more than, 15 minutes.
Finally, I wish there were a way to manually press the Switch+ button to turn off its Night Light. If I have it installed in a guest room, I want to give them the option of turning it off, without having to go through an app.
Ecobee already built Alexa into its smart thermostat, so why not a light switch? This is the future to which we’re heading, where voice assistants aren't separate, discrete speakers, but rather built into our homes' very infrastructure.
The Switch+ supports Alexa's ESP and far-field voice recognition, so that it should hear you from across the room, and will not activate if you're closer to another Alexa-enabled device. In my testing, it responded quickly and accurately to my commands. With the Switch+, you can use Alexa pretty much like any other smart speaker; you can set alarms for timers (which would make the Switch+ handy in the kitchen), listen to podcasts, play games and more.
However, the speaker in the Switch+ is on a par with the Echo Dot; it's good for getting news and weather updates, but it's not something that you should use to play music on regularly. Bruce Springsteen's "Glory Days" came through clearly, but there was very little in the way of bass.
You can use Alexa pretty much like any other smart speaker; you can set alarms for timers, listen to podcasts, play games and more.
Like many third-party Alexa devices, the Switch+ does not support some of the features built into Amazon's Echos. Namely, the Switch+ does not support voice calls and Alexa's Drop-In features. It also lacks Spotify integration, but an Ecobee representative said the company is working to add that.
Fortunately, there is a tiny) button on the Switch+ itself to disable Alexa; when Amazon’s assistant is inactive, the blue LED will glow red.
Ecobee plans to enable two new features in the Switch+ this summer. The first is Vacation Mode, which will turn your lights on and off to make it look like you're home. The second is a temperature sensor, which can be linked to an Ecobee thermostat to ensure the room the Switch+ is installed in is heated or cooled to the appropriate temperature.
One of the benefits of smart-home devices and voice assistants is that you can easily customize your environment by simply speaking a few words. However, the future lies in embedded sensors that can do your bidding without you even asking. With Alexa — as well as motion and temperature sensors — the Ecobee Switch+ addresses both the present and the future. Not only can it turn your lights on and off automatically when it senses someone in the room, but, when linked to Ecobee's thermostat, it will be able to regulate the room's temperature, too. Yet, there needs to be more done on the back end for it to be as useful as its promise. I like where the Ecobee Switch+ is headed, but it's not there yet.
Credit: Mike Prospero/Tom's Guide