The future of the voice-controlled home isn’t in putting Echo Dots or Google Home Minis all over your house, it’s in integrating voice assistants into the appliances and electronics you already need. That means putting Alexa, Google Assistant, Siri, Cortana, or whatever comes next into your thermostat, oven, microwave, TV, or even a light switch.
The company that’s at the forefront of this tighter integration with your home is Ecobee, which already has integrated a full Alexa-enabled speaker and voice control system into its flagship thermostat, giving you another voice access point wherever your thermostat is installed. Now Ecobee is branching out into light switches, and its new Switch+ similarly includes a full smart speaker and voice control access point. The Switch+ sells for $99.99 and is available for preorder starting today, with in-store availability starting on March 26th.
Like the Ecobee4 thermostat, which combines a connected, smart thermostat with Alexa, the Switch+ combines a smart, internet-connected light switch that can be controlled with an app with a full Alexa speaker. Just like an Amazon Echo speaker, you can talk to the Switch+ and have responses spoken back to you, to confirm your request, tell you the weather, read news headlines, play music, or whatever else Alexa is capable of at the current moment.
The Switch+ will allow you to control whatever light fixtures are controlled by the dumb switch you replace with it. (Installation note: it’s very easy to install the Switch+ if you’ve ever installed an outlet or light switch before, but it does require a neutral wire, which older homes may not have.) It can then turn the lights on or off via the Ecobee app, or whenever it detects motion in the room. It has smart features like an integrated nightlight, auto off after 15 minutes of no motion, automatic on and off at sunset and sunrise when used with outdoor lighting, and ambient light detection to turn on only when the room is dark enough to warrant light.
There’s also a basic button on the front to manually turn the lights on or off from the switch itself. Unfortunately, it doesn’t allow for dimming of lights, which seems like an obvious thing you’d want a $100 connected light switch to do. (Ecobee says you can use smart bulbs in the fixtures that the Switch+ controls to gain dimming features, but that sort of defeats the purpose of putting the smarts in the wall switch.) The Switch+ can be voice-controlled by Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, or Siri via its HomeKit support. It also integrates with SmartThings and IFTTT for more advanced smart home integration.
Those are all fairly common features for connected light switches, which can be easily found for less than $50 each, so what sets the Switch+ apart is its smart speaker. Like the Echo Dot, the Switch+ has microphones and a speaker built right into it, so you can bark “Alexa” from across the room to wake it up and issue a command. The speaker is surprisingly loud for its size, and while it’s rather terrible for listening to music, it is clear and crisp for Alexa’s responses or hearing spoken word content. An LED light glows the familiar blue when Alexa is listening or responding to a command, and then glows red when its mics are disabled (which can be done via a button on top of the switch itself).
The Switch+ does support Alexa features like Echo Spatial Perception (ESP), which allows it to work in rooms or areas that have multiple Alexa speakers without triggering all of them at once. But like many other third-party Alexa devices, it doesn’t support Alexa calls or messaging. It also doesn’t yet support Spotify, though you can use it to listen to music, podcasts, or audiobooks from Amazon Music, Audible, Pandora, and others.
Ecobee says that other features, such as a vacation mode to automatically randomize your lights when you’re not home and temperature sensing support that integrates with the Ecobee smart thermostats are planned for release later this summer. It’s possible that other features could be added to the Switch+ via software updates, as well, as Ecobee has improved the Ecobee4 theremostat’s feature set and performance considerably since it launched.
The Switch+ is an interesting product, and a harbinger of things to come, when all of our powered devices also include a smart assistant ready to listen to our commands. If you’re considering putting an Echo Dot in a room that already has a wall switch, and you don’t mind not having the ability to dim your lights, the Switch+ is a compelling alternative that doesn’t require you to give up a power outlet. The Switch+ isn’t perfect, but using it makes it feel like the truly connected home isn’t far off.