Wi-Fi, Zigbee, Z-Wave, Thread, Weave. If you’re scratching your head while trying to make sense of competing smart home communication standards, then you’re not alone!
Various companies and consortia are battling for the right to connect your smart home kit (and pick up millions of dollars in manufacturing license fees while they’re at it) all of whom maintain they have the best technology available.
Sometimes, you just want to buy your tech and have it just work. That’s the idea behind GE’s range of Bluetooth Smart Switches. Forget about expensive smart home hubs and interopability. How about a switch that you can plug-in and operate with any smartphone?
GE Plug-in Smart Switch uses Bluetooth Smart (and a free app for iOS or Android handsets) to power devices. So it can be used with most popular mobile devices on the market today. Multiple switches automatically repeat the signal up to 100 feet, creating a mesh network that can cover the whole home.
Plug in to a power outlet, connect a lamp or other device, open the app and you’re good to go, with 7-day scheduling, countdowns, Sunrise and Sunset synchronisation and more. Easy!
The $39.99 GE Plug-in Smart Switch is part of a range of Bluetooth Smart enabled kit, including dimmers, outdoor switches and in-wall options.
What’s in the Box?
The compact GE Plug-in Smart Switch includes just the adapter, alongside a brief introductory leaflet. The rectangular Smart Switch itself is larger than a traditional plug – the width of a large power adapter – but it feel robust and well made, with rounded corners and mouldings ensuring nio sharp edges. As you’d expect from a power adapter, it’s fully sealed.
The top of the adapter is equipped with a manual on/off button (which also glows blue as a connection indicator), while the single Bluetooth-controlled outlet is positioned on the side, so it can be used in narrow positions, like behind a sofa, desk or chair.
Around the back, you’ll notice the power pins are positioned center bottom. That ensures the lower of the two outlets in a two-gang plate is left free for use.
Getting Up and Running With the GE Plug-in Smart Switch
Obviously, the GE Plug-in Smart Switch is able to work as a standard, manual power adapter. Plug it into a wall outlet, connect a device to its side outlet and you’re up and running via the manual switch at the top.
But once the GE Plug-in Smart Switch is connected to power, you’ll notice that the manual power button flashes blue, indicating it’s ready to connect to a Bluetooth enabled device. GE (or rather, licensee and manufacturer Jasco) has partnered with a company called Avi-on Labs whose app, cloud and firmware technology powers the Smart Switch’s internals.
Download and install the Avi-on app – free for iOS and Android devices – from Avi-on.com/GetApp and you’ll be able to connect to the Smart Switch following account registration and the simple step of “claiming” the device.
While the lack of branding consistency is a negative – I’m sure the guys at Avi-On are great, but customers putting their trust in the GE brand will wonder who they are – I found that the Avi-on app did a great job of instantly locating the Smart Switch and connecting registering it without too much delay.
Once you’re connected, you can use the giant On/Off button to manually toggle power to your device. I found that response to the command was instant and the range was impressive. I could easily control the Smart Switch, which was located in the Attic, all the way down in the basement. So, if you’re concerned about the traditionally short-range of Bluetooth connections, you can rest assured (or add more Smart Switches to create a mesh network).
Aesthetically, the Avi-on app isn’t the greatest, with a reaosnably dowdy blue, teal and grey palette, but it’s functional and does the job. From a features perspective, alongside manual toggling you can set action timers up to 24 hours in advance to switch power on or off (handy for evenings you’re going to be away). Simply slide the timer to the required duration, tap the action you need and hit Start. Once a countdown has triggered, you’ll receive a push notification on your device, keeping you in the loop.
In my tests, the timer worked really well and was far simpler option for one-off events than adding to a schedule.
That said, schedules are available on the app. The dial-inspired UI looks a little confusing at first, but you simply slide your finger to denote on and off times, or tap the sunrise and sunset icons to synchronise accordingly. Avi-on calculates sunrise and sunset based on the geographic location of your devices at the beginning of every month and updates the schedule accordingly. OK, it’s not a daily update, but it’s a good enough option for most.
You can configure varying schedules on a daily basis and a shuffle button neatly provides a random timing option to keep potential burglars guessing.
Overall, it’s simple stuff but it works reliably and that’s what counts. There were a couple of issues to be aware of however. While the app did a great job of locating the Smart Switch instantly on registration, I found subsequent attempts from a “warm start” could take between five and ten seconds. By “warm start” I mean when your phone’s screen has switched off in its power saving mode. Switch your screen back on and you’ll need to wait for the Bluetooth connection to fire back up. Obviously, that’s good for your mobile battery life, but can be frustrating if your mobile’s power saving profile is strict.
Secondly, I was a little annoyed that a device grouping option – included on most smartphone platforms at no additional cost – required an upgrade to an Avi-On “Premium” app. Yours for an additional $4.99 – nickel and diming of the highest order. Tut tut.
If you like the sound of a smarter home, but really don’t want to get into the depths of competing networking standards, the GE Plug-in Smart Switch is a well-built solution that’s easy to control and works reliably. It top-slices some of the more common smart home features to allow basic automation of lamps and other devices, but the $4.99 add-on fee for multi-device grouping and controls is poor form indeed.
At $39.99, it’s certainly an investment over traditional plug-in timers you’ll find at your local DIY store, but it’s certainly a more modern approach to automation that offers simplicity and convenience.