If whole-home voice is the future of the smart home market, then Toronto-based startup Ecobee wants to turn up the volume early.
With Tuesday’s release of its new Ecobee Switch+ product, Ecobee now has two devices that provide the convenience of smart home automation with Amazon’s Alexa Voice Service. Its first was the ecobee4, a smart thermostat with a small speaker and microphone that provided the Alexa capability.
The speaker is even smaller on this light switch. Rather than focus on providing the best-sounding speaker quality that consumers have seen a lot of so far from vendors selling smart home assistants, Ecobee seems focused on providing the most lightweight footprint to deploy voice control to every room of your home. Consumers could accomplish that by plugging in an Echo Dot device, but using the light switch is an even cleaner way to do it, plus it brings the benefits of having a smart light switch as well. (If you currently use Alexa or Google Home and haven’t installed smart lighting, I highly recommend it as a killer feature.)
I took part in Ecobee’s pilot program and installed the Switch+ in my guest room. Watch the video in this article to see the unboxing ritual and my installation of the switch. Installing this switch was a very similar experience to other smart switches that I’ve installed (TP-Link). Ecobee has really thought out how to guide its customers through the process with its smartphone app, which includes clear diagrams and instructional videos in a step-by-step process.
After finishing the wiring job, you use the app to register the switch with Alexa Voice Service. When that’s done, you can talk to Alexa through the switch just as you would on any Echo device. The volume isn’t very loud, of course, since the speaker is so small, but it’s adequate to hear the response in a small room. You can play music of course, but I don’t really recommend it.
The smart switch can be turned on and off with an Alexa voice command of course. Setting this up also requires the Alexa app on your smartphone. You’ll need to register your Amazon account, add the Ecobee skill, and then do a scan for smart home devices. You don’t need any smart home hubs or the Echo Plus to enable voice features.
There’s other handy smart features on this light switch aside from the voice control. A motion sensor can automatically turn the light on when you enter the room, and likewise turn it off after no activity has been detected for a certain period of time. (Which you can determine in the Ecobee app). A night light provides a dim blue glow on the underside of the switch, just enough so it’s easy to find in the dark.
You can control the light from the Ecobee app, where it appears alongside any other Ecobee hardware you’ve installed. The app now divides hardware into thermostats and switches with icons at the bottom. If you use Google Home, as I do, as your main method of controlling your smart home equipment, you can also control this switch by issuing voice commands to that smart assistant. (But you can’t talk to Google Assistant via the Switch+).
The nice thing about having a light switch that’s connected to the Internet is that it can receive software updates. Ecobee says its bringing new capabilities to the Switch+ this summer, adding a Vacation Mode that will turn on your lights to give the appearance you’re at home even while you’re away for an extended period. Also, the switch will double as an added room temperature sensor for those that have an Ecobee thermostat.
Ecobee’s Switch+ is available for pre-order today and will ship March 26. It retails for $119.
After installing the Switch+, at first I couldn’t control it with voice. Neither the onboard Alexa or my Google Home unit could see the new switch. It’s possible I experienced this problem only because I’m using the beta version of Ecobee’s app. In any case, a quick inquiry to the Ecobee team revealed the solution which is sort of like the software equivalent of turning it off and turning it back on again. Just go into your Alexa app and disable your Ecobee skills. Then search the Skills store for Ecobee and enable it again. Similarly with Google Home, go into the Google Home app and remove your Ecobee account. Then add it again and your new light will be visible.