Review: iDevices Switch HomeKit and Wi-Fi enabled plug
iDevices' new Switch ($59) was one of the first HomeKit accessories we encountered earlier this year at CES, a connected outlet that allows you to control a standard 120V appliance such as a lamp or fan from your iPhone, with the added twist of integrating with Apple's new HomeKit ecosystem, thus providing Siri voice control and unified control of other HomeKit accessories, regardless of manufacturer. As with other HomeKit solutions we've looked at, iDevices provides its own app for setting up and controlling the Switch — although like other HomeKit solutions we've looked at, any HomeKit app capable of controlling outlets can be used with Switch — and adds in a couple of other useful features that take it a notch beyond a simple power outlet.
iDevices’ Switch offers basic capabilities similar to the iHome iSP5 SmartPlug we looked at earlier this year, and essentially works in much the same way. You plug it into an appropriate 120V home electrical outlet, and then plug in a device such as a lamp, fan, or any other appliance that you’d like to control — iDevices notes that Switch supports resistive loads of up to 1800W (15A), tungsten loads of up to 600W (5A), and 0.5 HP motors.
To provide a more compact form factor, iDevices has placed the AC outlet on the right-hand side of Switch, rather than the front. This reduces the distance that you may need to leave in front of your outlet to accommodate Switch, but it’s worth noting that the right-hand outlet position is fixed, as Switch uses a three-prong plug which, despite appearances, cannot be rotated. A button on the left side, opposite the outlet, allows for manual control of the connected appliance.
The main feature that sets Switch apart from other outlets we’ve seen is the addition of a multi-colored LED “night light” on the front of the unit, which can also be controlled separately through the iDevices app or as a separate device via Siri commands. The LED light essentially appears as a separate “light” in HomeKit applications, and can be given a name to refer to directly via Siri. This actually creates some initial confusion when first setting up Switch for use with HomeKit and Siri, since by default the night light is the “light” while the power outlet remains generic — if you plan on connecting a lamp to Switch, you’ll need to specifically go into the iDevices app (or your HomeKit app of choice) and tell HomeKit that it actually represents a lamp, otherwise Siri commands such as “turn on the lights” will only affect the LED night light. Note that the front LED light can only be controlled via your iPhone — the single side button on Switch only controls power to the outlet.
Setting up iDevices Switch remains similar to other HomeKit accessories we’ve looked at: Once you plug it in, the iDevices Connected app should automatically detect Switch nearby and go through the standard HomeKit process of connecting it to your Wi-Fi network. From there, you either scan the HomeKit code with your iPhone camera, or key it in manually.
iDevices has provided a more robust HomeKit-compatible app than we’ve seen from other manufacturers such as iHome, with the Connected app allowing you to configure your accessories into rooms, scenes, zones, and service groups. It can also rename devices, update firmware, and assign roles to them such as “lights” or “fans” that can be used for voice control. In addition, Switch also provides the ability to monitor power consumption of a connected device. This particular feature is only available from the iDevices Connected app, as it doesn’t appear to be a standard HomeKit feature, but you’ll be able to check how much power your connected device is using, as well as average daily use, average time used, and average estimated cost. The latter is based on the U.S. national average for power cost by default, but can be customized to use any per-kwh value you enter.
You’ll be required to use iDevices’ own app for initially setting up Switch and installing firmware updates, but once that’s done, other HomeKit apps such as Elgato’s Eve app can be used to control Switch, so you’re given a choice of using whichever HomeKit app works best for you. Sadly, not all apps yet support all types of devices, which makes things tricky — for example, iDevices’ Connected app sees Elgato’s Eve Room and Weather sensors, but can’t actually display any useful data from them (an update to the iDevices Connected app that arrived this morning claims to add “compatibility for new HomeKit services and sensors like blinds, door sensors, and air monitors” but nothing appears to have changed following the installation of the new version).
Options for controlling Switch include the ability to toggle the outlet on or off, turn the night light on or off, and set its brightness or color. Different apps will provide different interfaces for doing this, however iDevices’ own app provides a color slider allowing you to select a wide variety of shades. Siri commands also work here, from the simple ones such as “Turn the lights on” to the more specific such as “Set the night light to purple.” If you’re using Switch to control a lamp, however, you’ll quickly find that a command such as “turn the living room lights off” will affect both the connected lamp and the night light, which often won’t be what you want to do.
Fortunately, HomeKit provides an easy way around this by allowing you to configure scenes, which are basically sets of predefined states that can be applied to multiple HomeKit devices with a single command. This can be done in the iDevices Connected app, and Siri even works quite well with certain keyword scenes such as Good night, Good morning, I’m leaving, and I’m home, allowing you to literally say just “Hey Siri, Good night!” while laying in bed and have it execute that scene for you — which, for example, could be set to turn the connected lamp off while turning the night light on and adjusting it to whatever color and brightness is appropriate. Other scenes will require more specific commands, such as “Hey Siri, set the evening scene.”
It should be noted that the first iDevices Switch we received appeared to have a defect in either hardware or firmware that caused it to lose its connection to HomeKit and the iDevices Connected app on a semi-regular basis –—usually after about 24 hours — requiring it to be unplugged and reconnected to return to operation. Whether this represents a quality control issue, simple growing pains for a new product, or something unusual in our particular testing configuration is hard to say, but it’s worth noting that Switch was configured alongside HomeKit devices by three other manufacturers, none of which have exhibited any problems. iDevices’ Thermostat also had issues, suggesting a problem specific to iDevices’ hardware or firmware. iDevices was quick to ship out a replacement unit with newer firmware, and the new unit has remained in daily use for over two weeks without any issues.
Home automation accessories like smart outlets and smart light bulbs are a challenging category to work within; there’s always a tradeoff between providing a low-cost accessory that does the basics as opposed to a more expensive one with extra bells and whistles. An inexpensive HomeKit accessory can get the job done and is more cost-effective if you want to widely automate your home, while a more expensive one provides more features, but limits how many of them you can deploy.
There’s no doubt that iDevices’ Switch is a higher-end accessory as smart outlets go — you’re paying a $20 premium over the more basic iHome option in exchange for a night light and power monitoring features, and you can buy three iHome outlets for the price of two iDevices Switches. However, this is also one of the biggest advantages that Apple has brought to the table with HomeKit — you can now mix and match accessories to achieve the desired results. The night light and power monitoring on Switch are definitely nice features if you have a use for them, and may easily justify the $20 premium in this case.