My editor says the Switchmate is “100 percent ridiculous.” To be honest, he’s not wrong. In an era when humanity is rushing headlong into the smart home, the Switchmate says, “Whoa, hold up there fella. Let’s think about this. Maybe all you really need is a fancy light timer.”
And fundamentally, that’s what the Switchmate is: a ridiculous yet surprisingly compelling way to put some basic automation into your lighting without having to actually rewire anything. In fact, the Switchmate doesn’t even require you to plug anything into a wall socket.
The system couldn’t require much less brainpower to install. You load up an app on your smart phone and place the two-AA-battery powered Switchmate on top of an existing light switch. Literally this is a smooth hunk of white plastic that sticks to a light switch cover thanks to the magic of magnets. It doesn’t matter that the switch cover is plastic. There’s metal inside the wall, so it sticks. Inside the Switchmate, a small motor turns the light on or off. You can push the button on the front of the Switchmate to flip the switch—or (better yet) use your smartphone app to do it. Just pair the app to the switch, and your dumb old light switch is suddenly much smarter.
So now you’ve got a smart light switch, and you didn’t have to remove a single screw. The Switchmate app is more than a remote control. It can do the usual tricks that more sophisticated lighting products can do, including setting up automatic light timers or turning the light on automatically when you come into range. It’s Bluetooth-based, so you can’t turn lights on manually when you’re not home, but any timer settings are persistent once they are set.
Why not install a true IoT switch that you can manage with much more granular detail? Switchmate is up front that its product is for tech novices, but I’m of the opinion that it makes sense in a variety of settings outside of grandma’s house. For me, the Switchmate is a perfect light timer for when I’m on vacation. No, not for lamps inside. I’m using it to manage the outdoor lights, which are controlled via a decorative switch in my foyer. This is my entry hall, where a utilitarian smart switch would be unseemly, but when I’m on vacation, I can pop the Switchmate on for a spell. There’s really nothing else on the market exactly like this.
I recognize—and I would argue that Switchmate also recognizes—that this isn’t the most elegant solution, but it’s not a particularly compelling problem to solve in the first place. The drawbacks to Switchmate are myriad, of course. It’s not a permanent fix, it means dealing with AA batteries that have to be replaced, and while you can move the Switchmate around the house as the need arises, you have to by separate models for toggle-type and rocker-type switches. At $35 per unit, it’s significantly more expensive than a plug-in light timer—though it’s on par with a typical Bluetooth smart switch.
Is it ugly? Well, if I only break it out when I’m not around and it keeps the bad guys away, who cares?
7/10 – An easy and painless way to wade into the IoT abyss.