Ecobee Switch+ review

I have been holding of on this review for a while – I wanted to get a true feel of what is it to use Ecobee Switch+ every day for a period of time. So here are my thoughts about this interesting device.

Concept

In the “Internet of Things” era, when a fridge has internet access, nothing surprises us anymore. But to think of it, the idea is just brilliant: why would you have a separate device taking space on your table, cluttering your room, adding wires and power adapters to your home, when you can have perfectly invisible, always-on, unobtrusive Alexa device in your switch? The concept is perfect. Echo dot looks redundant now – this is how it should be done, and how I think it will be done in the future: unnoticeable and unobtrusive.

Design

I’m a web and graphic designer, so design is important to me. US/Canada electrical code severely limits what can be done – as there is a certain very tight form factor that it’s limited to and other limits. European version can be much more designer-friendly.
However, considering that, the design is superb. White with blue LED stripe, familiar enough shape to be instantly recognized as a switch, and cool enough look to be pleasing to the eye. Nice.

Installation

The only downside is that you have to install it, but for me it’s a no-brainer. I know my way around wiring and technology, so installing a light switch it easy. Just make sure you disconnect the power for the room in question. And don’t trust your eyes – always test with your old switch that you actually disconnected the right circuit (don’t ask me how I know). When you are sure there is no power at the desired switch location – take it out and check that it has all the wires necessary – not all switch locations have all the right wires, and there is no easy way around that, unless you’re willing to break the building code, which I don’t recommend. Actually – check that before you buy the switch, to avoid disappointments. This is true for any smart switch that I know of. They all need line, neutral and ground wires in order to work and be installed according to the building and electrical codes. Otherwise, installation is easy, if a bit tight at some electrical boxes. Just put wires at the right locations and stuff it into the box, then snap the cover. Done in 5 minutes, including checking the manual.

Alexa

It can do most if not all that Alexa Echo Dot can do. In the beginning it won’t play music (as if you really need your music to be played by the light switch, of all things!) and do some other things, but looks like silent firmware updates and Alexa skill updates took care of this, as now it plays music just fine! A cheapskate like me that doesn’t have a music service subscription but is willing to do some adventurous configuration attempts can actually configure Alexa to play music from home media server running Plex. So when I say to my light switch (!) something like “Alexa, ask Plex to play music by Porcupine Tree” – that’s what it does. The only thing that I found that is not supported on this device than an Echo Dot can do is calling to a regular phone numbers or dropping in to another Alexa device (of from another device to Switch+). I don’t miss calling feature, but the “drop in” feature can be nice. Well, maybe Ecobee will add it in a firmware, this is no hardware-related.

Sound Quality

Come on, what sound quality? What do you expect from such a tiny speaker that fits into US/Canada tiny standard switch body? Actually it’s surprisingly decent for the size. I wouldn’t really listen to music from it, unless you really don’t care about quality. Then again, my PC speakers are 1.5m tall 200W 4-way monsters (plus a sub), so I’m not a typical person when we are talking about audio quality demands. But the speaker is perfectly good for voice. Volume is good for quiet rooms. A larger office or a loud room might be a problem, unless you are close, but it’s not where you want Alexa-enabled device anyway. For a typical home room it’s fine. To compare, Echo Dot speaker isa tad better, but I won’t consider listening music on it as well – I connected mine to a decent stereo for that reason. Even full-blown Echo device has very bad dull high end and muffled low end for my taste. So for a switch, Ecobee Switch+ it does just fine, unless you are somewhat hearing-impaired, so older people might want louder volume.

Microphone quality

Well, it’s decent, but not as good as Echo Dot, which has an array of 7 microphones arranged in a circle. I think the form factor was a limiting factor in this case, so it’s not as sensitive and its ability to hear keyword “Alexa” among background noise suffers as a result. I find that even in a small-ish room I have to speak loudly to activate it. While Echo Dot is usually able to get it when speaking softer. However Echo Dot also misses it occasionally, so it’s not perfect. Having said that, it’s still adequate, just not as good as Echo Dot.

Night Light

It has cool little LED light to illuminate itself (and a room just a bit) at night. It’s just enough to be useful but not too much to make it unpleasant at night. It can be turned on and off at will.

Auto activation and occupancy sensor

You can enable the light to activate when you are in the room, and turn off after a set period of room being unoccupied, in order to save energy. It works, however in my home office, when I’m sitting with mostly my back to the switch, which is maybe 40 degrees off my back, 3 meters behind me, the switch occasionally things that Elvis has left the building and turns off the light. I have to wave my hand for it to change its mind. So how useful is this feature depends on how exposed people are to the switch’s sensors. It doesn’t work perfectly for me (but not bad enough to disable – I still use it, as it’s cool that light turns on when you walk in), but it might work well for you.

Smart Switch

Funny to have this one as the last item, but I think this switch is much more valuable as Alexa-enabled device integrated to your Smart Home than just a smart switch. But it is a smart switch, so yes, you can control it with your app and do all kind of fun things you usually do with a smart switch. And it works great in that capacity.

Ecobee Android App

It’s the same app that controls my Ecobee smart thermostat. Easy to use, works fine, has easy setup walk-throughs. It has “thermostats” and “switches” sections and you go on from there. Easy.

Verdict

It’s a very good and useful device. It even helps productivity in home office or small office, as it’s faster to ask it “Alexa, what’s 3 feet in meters?” or “How much is 1920 times 2?” or “What’s the definition of  ‘malarkey’?” than type and sort out results in google. So it’s a good word-activated assistant that doubles as a smart switch. A win-win.



Roman Bershadsky of Roman Design has been the lead designer on several of our key projects for our client base over the past years. His work is innovative, beautiful and fluid. Always professional and personable, working with Roman is a pleasure. Whether creating a design concept for a project, or developing the project infrastructure and all it’s elements, I knew the finished piece would be visually pleasing, function optimally, and navigate effortlessly.

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Brenda Griffiths-Nanacsik
President, CEO CyberArt Design Group Inc.