Note: This accessory is only compatible with Siri Shortcuts, and does not support HomeKit.
Kickstarter success story SwitchBot recently hit the spotlight again with the introduction of their newest product, the SwitchBot Curtain. This latest announcement caught my attention as it looks to be quite the clever device, one that rolls along a curtain rod to open and close the attached curtains on demand or via scheduling. Naturally, their original SwitchBot, a device that essentially acts as a “finger” to push a button on older devices that do not have smart home capabilities, also piqued my interest as I had not heard of it beforehand. Looking over the device, I eventually found that it supports Siri Shortcuts (with an additional hub), which is enough to fulfill one use case for my home, so I decided to give it a shot. The SwitchBot and SwitchBot Hub Mini are both currently available on Amazon, so it’s long past its crowd funding days, and both retail for $30 each, but can be found cheaper every once and a while. So how does this unique little device perform? Let’s take a look.
The SwitchBot and SwitchBot Mini Hub both arrived in tiny packages, which while expected, were still somehow smaller than I imagined. Starting with the SwitchBot itself, the device was neatly nestled into a small removable plastic insert, on top of its related paperwork. Included along with the device were an extra adhesive strip which is used for mounting the SwitchBot onto whatever your application is for, as well as some small attachments that allow it to work with light switches. The attachments are clear plastic and allow the SwitchBot’s finger to pull a toggle light switch down to turn it off as its main function would only be capable of pushing the toggle on direction without them. In my case, I didn’t have a need to use them, so I can’t speak to just how effective they are, but they look like they would get the job done.
The SwitchBot that I ordered was black (it is also available in white) as I intended to use it on a black electric fireplace, that I have tried a few ways to make smart over the years, including using the Harmony Bridge macOS app that I reviewed earlier this year, which while great, I wanted to move to something that didn’t require my Mac to be on all the time just to use. The unit itself is a compact plastic square, with a pre-attached adhesive strip on the back. While the adhesive makes installation easy, I would have liked to have seen an option for mounting it “permanently” using screws, as with most adhesives, it will eventually fail. In its default state, the retractable “finger”, which is also comprised of plastic sits neatly inside of the device, and only makes its appearance when it is called upon.
As previously mentioned, in order to make the SwitchBot work with Siri Shortcuts, an additional hub was required. SwitchBot actually has three different hubs available, which is confusing to say the least, but I eventually settled on the SwitchBot Mini, which as its name suggests, is the smaller option. The SwitchBot Mini is a pretty basic white box, which looks similar to Lutron’s Caseta Wireless Hub, only smaller. Like Lutron’s hub, the SwitchBot Mini is powered by Micro-USB which was perfect for my use case, as the outlet that I was plugging it into had some unused USB ports. A small LED indicator light rests near the top of the hub, as well as a tiny button used for pairing the device to the SwitchBot app. I will mention that even though I have no use for it, the SwitchBot Mini Hub also includes the ability to act as an IR “blaster”, capable of controlling IR devices, which could be handy for some, especially considering how cheap it is ($30) when compared to Logitech’s Harmony line of products.
Setting up the SwitchBot was an extremely simple experience, which was nice to see, it was also kind of strange. After attaching the device to my electric fireplace, I downloaded the SwitchBot App, and to my surprise, found the SwitchBot right after opening the app. There was no pairing process at all, the app simply scanned for available units using Bluetooth and had it appear in the device list. There was also no account set up to be had, which is really nice, but this just screams potential security issue, as it looked like anyone can download the SwitchBot app, and gain control of any devices around it if you just set it and forget it without turning on a password. While I don’t believe that I need to worry about anyone that happens to be in my home, or just outside my home, having access to turning my electric fireplace on and off, it is something to keep in mind if you plan to use it for something a like having it push a garage door opener switch, so be sure to set that password option found in the SwitchBot app.
Adding the SwitchBot Mini Hub to the mix was a more “traditional” experience, as it involved creating an account, adding it to your home’s Wi-Fi network, and finally, pairing the hub to your account. The pairing process consists of holding down the small button on the hub for a few seconds until the indicator light flashes rapidly. While the process was ultimately simple, my first pairing attempt failed for no apparent reason, with the app going through all of the steps, before it eventually just went back to the app’s home screen. My second attempt at pairing worked just fine, which took around 2 minutes when it worked properly.
Like most smart home device apps, the SwitchBot app is good enough to get the job done, but it isn’t the prettiest around. Typically for HomeKit accessories, I take a look around the manufacturer’s app, ultimately find myself annoyed by navigation issues or visuals, and promptly delete it in favor of using Apple’s Home app. This obviously won’t be the case with the SwitchBot as it doesn’t support HomeKit, but I don’t have to rely on it often as our main use case will be via Siri through our HomePod. SwitchBot’s app is pretty sparse, with a theme consisting mainly of white and light gray, with a few touches of red here and there. The “home” screen of the app somewhat mimics the aforementioned Home app, with tiles for your devices front and center. As expected, tapping directly on a device tile activates your SwitchBot. Also on the device tile is a small signal strength indicator which only displays when the device is just being used with Bluetooth, and when a hub is involved, an icon of a cloud takes its place.
On top of the device tile is a small settings icon that brings up a list of 5 additional actions. The first, and most important setting is for establishing a password for accessing your SwitchBot. For some reason, a potentially critical “long press” setting is also found on the password screen, which sets how long the SwitchBot will remain extended when activated. This setting is designed to accommodate devices that don’t quite turn on or change settings with a simple single press, and it can be set to keep extended for up to 60 seconds. Another useful option found buried under the password settings area is a toggle for enabling the SwitchBot to work with the light switch attachments mentioned earlier.
Moving back to the device settings panel, an option for setting a timer or schedule is listed, the name of which depends on if a hub is involved. In my particular set up, I do not plan to use it with timers or scheduling so I skipped this portion, which looks to be pretty standard stuff. Another setting that I skipped is “Pair with a Remote”, which as you may have guessed, is for setting up its IR functionality. Moving along, a small toggle switch is near the bottom of the list which keeps your SwitchBot on the main device screen, which I assume would be useful if you have a ton of them deployed. The last item on the list is a small setting for viewing the battery level and firmware version of your SwitchBot, but oddly there is no area to check for updates.
Setting up the SwitchBot with Siri Shortcuts can be found in the menu labeled “Cloud Service”. Inside of this menu is a toggle for turning on and off the hubs connection to the cloud, as well as a list of services that the hub works with as well as an option for creating “scenes”. With the hub, the SwitchBot can be linked to Amazon’s Alexa, Google Assistant, and IFTTT in addition to Siri Shortcuts. Setting up a Shortcut followed a familiar process, with selecting your SwitchBot, and then naming your Shortcut. This process was simple and fast, and for my use case it just required entering in “Turn on the fireplace”, and then selecting “Add to Siri”. Now since this is for my electric fireplace, and that others will be using Siri via our HomePod in the living room, I also needed to do a little extra work to make it perfect for the family. This involved jumping over to the ShortCuts App, duplicating the newly created shortcut, and then naming the duplicate “Turn off the fireplace”. Also, because iOS 13.2 for the HomePod added voice recognition, I had to share the shortcuts with everyone in my home, as the HomePod would only run the shortcut for me.
Rounding out the app side of things, is the SwitchBot Apple Watch app. Just like its iOS parent, the watch app is simplistic, consisting of a small heading and a giant button for toggling your device with its associated name. The watch app worked as advertised, but we could see its design becoming cumbersome to navigate if you have multiple units, which would require lots of scrolling. One final thing to note on the watch app is that the device button has an icon that somewhat looks like the word on, but it is just the SwitchBot logo, which may confuse some, and it should be removed as it doesn’t add to the experience in any way. In fact, the only reason why I knew that this was the company’s logo was that it was included in the company’s press kit for the device, without it I would have assumed that it was a typo or graphical issue as it doesn’t look related to the company at all.
Since the SwitchBot relies on Bluetooth for commands, response times can, and will vary. This is the case even when using the hub, as it simply acts as a relay to the SwitchBot. In most cases, commands sent via the SwitchBot iOS and Apple Watch apps took between 3-5 seconds. However, using it via a Siri Shortcut and HomePod, response times took were longer, with most instances taking right at 10 seconds. Even though I am using the Hub Mini in my setup, I did notice that the SwitchBot had a somewhat smaller Bluetooth range than I am used to, causing it to fail to function or show as available within the SwitchBot app if my iPhone was located a room away, which I estimate it to be around 100 foot in distance, with just 1 wall in-between. Obviously, the hub negates this range issue as I have my hub located about 3 foot away in the same room, but it is something that you may need to keep in mind if you decide to give it a go without it. With that being said, I have yet to run into any failures or lack of availability with the hub installed, and has been going strong for just a little over a week.
During the actual operation of the SwitchBot, it does make “mechanical” noise, but it isn’t over-powering. The sound itself is reminiscent of a small motor on a toy or electronic, and lasts for about 2 seconds, along with whatever click the device that it is pressing makes. For the sake of the review, I went ahead and tested its sound level using the built-in Noise app on the Apple Watch, and found that it was around 5 decibels. Staying with operation, the portion of the SwitchBot that extends does so in one clean, motion, at least with the default 0 second long press setting. I did notice that the SwitchBot itself tends to move a little more than I would have liked to have seen during operation, as the extension seems to have quite a bit of range of motion (135 degrees) which is likely to ensure that it is able to press buttons on a variety of surfaces. Unfortunately, the range of motion is not adjustable, which could be an issue over time, as the extra stress created by a single set motion will no doubt cause the adhesive backing to fail over time, especially when used in a vertical position.
As far as battery life goes, the SwitchBot is powered by a 3v CR2 lithium battery and is rated for up to 600 days by the manufacturer, which is based on activating the device just 2 times a day. Since it has been just over a week since installation, we haven’t been able to confirm these claims, but we will update this review when we have to change the included. The battery change process looks to be simple, with just popping off the back of the device without the need of any tools, and the company has provided a handy YouTube video showing off the process.
In the end the SwitchBot ultimately accomplishes its task of acting as a “finger” or “button pusher” and does so in an affordable package that is easy to recommend. However, the device does not support HomeKit, at least not natively, and only supports Siri Shortcuts, which while improved with the advent of iOS 13, is still not a full-fledged replacement. Some potential downfalls that keep the device from being perfect are its requirement for the Hub to enable Siri Shortcuts, which we can see as being accomplished just via software, as well as Bluetooth response times which are a little slower than most people are used to if they have experience with Wi-Fi or hardwired devices. The SwitchBot is certainly one of those devices that isn’t essential, but it is a convenience item that bridges the gap between legacy devices and smart devices that may or may not be available for your platform or choice, or available at all. So if you have a need for such a device and can deal with just having Shortcuts for voice control, then go for the SwitchBot, you will definitely get your money’s worth while you wait for newer, more integrated options.