The Eton Blackout Buddy Connect Charge, which I believe holds the crown for longest HomeKit accessory name, is one of those HomeKit devices that I have always been curious about, but not enough so to actually purchase it, until just recently. As I posted about just a little over a week ago, Amazon ran what looked to be a blow-out sale on Eton’s accessory, dropping the price all the way down to $10. At that price, it was essentially a no-brainer, regardless of how bad it could be, just for the sheer joy of trying a new piece of HomeKit hardware.
It also didn’t hurt that the Blackout Buddy was marketed as an emergency preparedness device, which is something that always plays in the back of everyone’s mind as being nice to have type of stuff. The Blackout Buddy boasts an on-board rechargeable battery to power USB devices, an automatic light that turns on in case of power failure, and works as a portable flashlight, covering a lot of the emergency essentials. Finally, while not directly related to emergencies, there is also a built-in motion sensor, which allows it to work as a path-light and more using HomeKit accessories. So was this jack of all trades device worth the price of admission? Let’s take a look.
The Blackout Buddy Connect Charge came neatly packed in a combination of an inner plastic tray and an outer cardboard box. Upon opening the packaging, I was immediately struck by how large the device was, even with having previous knowledge of the exact measurements. The entire accessory is large enough to cover a standard dual power outlet in its entirety, blocking even the most slimmest of plugs from being used on the second receptacle. The Blackout Buddy does have a neat swivel plug feature, allowing it to work in a wide variety of positions, however, the bulkiness of the device pretty much negates its usefulness. The Blackout Buddy’s housing is a glossy plastic, which is certainly not the most premium of looks, and it does feel rather cheap in the hand, but it will most likely be a device that you set and forget, unless you need it for a power outage.
The front of the Blackout Buddy consists of a lot of branding, including Eton “engraved” near the top, a large America Red Cross logo below it, and the accessories namesake at the bottom. Along the top of the device is the flashlight portion, which comes in the form of a shiny, chrome-like finish, complete with visible LEDs and reflectors. Below that is a toggle button for the flashlight, which makes perfect sense if it will be used in that manner. Just below the midpoint of the device is a large window for the motion sensor, and rounding things out is the nightlight at the very bottom, covered by a white diffuser.
Around the left side of the Blackout Buddy are 2 USB-A ports, used for keeping your devices topped off in case of emergency or power failure. Both ports are labeled iPhone/iPod, which suggests that it won’t charge an iPad at full speed, although we did not test to confirm this. You may have noticed that I said “topped off” with regards to these ports, and that is because the internal battery is rather small, rated at just 2,000 mAh, which pales in comparison to most modern battery packs. Further down the left side of the unit is a toggle switch that sets the behavior of the light when it detects power failure. The back of the device is rather plain, with just the power prongs, and the same goes for the right-hand side, which does not have any switches, labeling, or design features at all.
Setting up the Blackout Buddy Connect was quick and easy as it worked out of the box with the Home app. Plugging in the Blackout Buddy brought the nightlight portion immediately to life, but surprisingly, not the flashlight. It appears that the flashlight is somehow powered by the internal rechargeable battery, and in this case, needed to charge before it was able to be turned on, which took around an hour.
The pairing process was pretty much par for the course as far as HomeKit devices go, with a quick scan of the HomeKit code and assigning room and names being the only required interactions, and the whole thing was ready to go in less than 5 minutes. I will note that the Eton Blackout Buddy, like all HomeKit Wi-Fi devices, requires a 2.4ghz connection, and the setup process will fail if you try to connect it to a 5ghz access point.
Here’s where things kind go off a predictable path though. Upon searching the App Store for Eton’s app, I was actually presented with 2 options. Each app description stated that they were for the Blackout Buddy Connect Charge, and were both published by Eton Corp, which was quite confusing. Naturally, I went over to the Home app for guidance, and it reported that the Eton Home app was the one to go with, despite it having an interface that looked much simpler than that of the Eton Smart app, and the app’s update description featured broken English.
Now, when it comes to apps from accessory manufacturers, I generally prepare for the worst, and yet the Eton Home app was still surprisingly bad. The app asks for access to your Home data after opening, and once granted, it brings up an account screen where you gives the impression that you need to have one to access your new device. This isn’t the case though, as you can simply hit the back button, and then acknowledge that you know that you need an account for it to work with Alexa and the Google Assistant.
After escaping potential privacy hell, you are sent to the “Home” tab, where a bunch of empty space is located, as in most cases there will only be your HomeKit home listed and the option to “Add Home”. The Home tab in the app is also home to a creepy picture of a what appears to be a child in the top right hand side of the screen, which gave me the feeling that it was a punishment for skipping the registration process.
The next tab within the app is the “Device” section, where an ugly list of all your HomeKit accessory is displayed. Basic good user interface design aside, this list displayed almost all of my accessories next to a picture of a generic smart plug, which would undoubtably confuse those not accustomed to terrible accessory manufacturer apps.
Keeping the trend of oddity alive is the “Scene” tab. This screen presented me with a list of all my scenes next to a picture of someone holding a pencil in front of a laptop. To make things worse, there are two icons displayed on each scene, one of an “X” in the top right, and one on the top left, which features three circles, two connected to each other by a line, and the other on its own. I honestly have no clue what these buttons do, and I never intend to find out as their potential to destroy my HomeKit setup is certainly a possibility.
Ok so this wonderful portion of the app gives us 4 icons to tap on: a question mark, an exclamation mark, an upside-down exclamation mark, and two people. Conjuring up all of my strength, I tapped on each one… The green question mark, just a FAQ/Help section. The blue icon with 2 people, just a screen that shows Eton’s icon and name. The yellow icon with the upside-down exclamation mark, just a screen that looks exactly the same as the previous one, with the app version displayed. And finally, the red warning looking icon brought me to, well I am still not quite sure. This screen consisted of the same icon with inverted colors shown, and the words “Support US standard“, and “TIPS” with nothing below it and it didn’t lead to any support pages or anything.
Needless to say, I promptly deleted the Eton Home app after grabbing some screens to share the horror. Moving over to the Home app, the Eton Blackout Buddy Connect shows as 3 accessories, either as one tile by default in iOS 13, or separate if desired. The motion sensor, nightlight, and flashlight are all available to use with HomeKit automations, with the 2 lights also controllable with a tap or with Siri. What is surprising though, is that both lights are an all or nothing affair, meaning that there is no dimming feature, which could limit its usefulness if used as a nightlight as it may be seen as too bright. In my case, this device is situated in a hallway, acting as a path-light during the night hours so the brighter the better.
Since the Blackout Buddy Connect utilizes Wi-Fi for commands, toggling the lights on and off via the Home app was extremely fast, pretty much responding instantly. The motion sensor portion however, was a slightly different experience. While the motion sensor generally worked within a second or so of movement, I found that the sensitivity was kind of hit and miss. There were times where a slight movement would set off the sensor, whereas other times required more deliberate actions to get it to recognize that something was happening in front of it. This inconsistent behavior would definitely keep me from using it as something critical such as making it the primary way that you turn on and off room lights, but it is fine for minor tasks.
On the positive side of things, the Blackout Buddy has been rock solid as far as reliability goes. Over the course of my first week with the device, I have yet to see an instance of “No Response” in the Home app, and have not had any issues where the device failed to respond to manual controls. I am also happy to report that the Blackout Buddy performed as stated when it comes to power failure, as a small power dip caused its lights to kick on instantly, even though the situation only lasted for a second or so. This definitely gave me some reassurance that it will indeed be ready if needed for longer events in the future, and made it worth the low price that I paid for the entire package.
The Eton Blackout Buddy Connect is one of those accessories that can definitely go either way as far as recommendations go, and it hinges entirely on its price. Yes, the Blackout Buddy is reliable, responds fast to taps in the Home app, and worked as advertised for the blackout portion its name. However, Eton’s accessory is bulky, the rechargeable battery is tiny, the motion sensor seems to take a break every once in a while, and the flashlight is about as bright as your iPhone’s flash.
So would I recommend it at its suggested retail price of $39.99? No, as there are better alternatives for motion sensors and lighting. Would I recommend it at a price of $20 or less? Yes, I would, especially if you tend to use it strictly for emergency purposes. At the end of the day, getting what you pay for may not necessarily mean that its a bad thing with the Eton Blackout Buddy Connect Charge.