How to get started with smart blinds: Top brands and options for your shades

Automating your blinds isn't easy – but here's what you need to consider

The real Slim Shady: Smart blinds explained
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When it comes to visions of the smart home, your smart blinds rolling up to reveal the new dawn is pretty much peak future living. And smart blinds are just starting to take shape. Even Ikea is getting in on the action.

There are now a host of different options open to those looking to control blinds remotely – and as you’d expect, compatibility with the latest voice assistants including Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri via Apple HomeKit is the hot topic.

However – smart blinds aren't an easy fit. If you're doing it properly, you'll need to speak to some of the brands below and really get a bespoke option – and we're not just talking about colour and size, and whether it fits inside your window frame, or over the top.

A lot of the big players are still pretty old school in terms of the tech - so bear with us while we try to unpack that. Also, in many cases prices depend on so many factors, you'll need to dive in and explore.

What are your options?

You can go out and order made-to-measure electric blinds – but that’s the expensive option from the likes of Lutron and Somfy. There are always boutique options out there for home automation, but increasingly, older, analogue blinds can be reverse engineered into being smart.

Taking advantage of these generally means having a roller blind with a chain mechanism. There a handful of motors on the market which can be used to automate the process – which you can then start integrating with your smart home tech.

Finally, you can do this yourself from scratch. With a motor, a couple of sensors and a controller you can effectively make your own smart blinds as a weekend project. More on that later. In the meantime, here’s your smart blind picks.

Somfy smart blinds

Buy now: nextdayblinds.com (US) / Powered Blinds (UK) | $Varies

Somfy is a giant name in smart blinds on both sides of the pond - the French company is actually a motorised motor specialist. This means you it will sort the mechanics and you can choose from hundreds of designs, sizes and materials from a large range of suppliers Somfy has partnered with.

We've tested the Somfy Roll Up Wirefree; a battery powered quiet drive motor, along with an all-in-one grey roller blind. The motor is part of Somfy's RTS range and doesn't have to be smart at all. There are a range of Somfy RTS controllers that can be used to move the blinds up and down, and you will also find an up/down remote control boxed with the blinds. Somfy also has a huge array of of sensors that can be paired up to move the blinds - movement, sunlight and more.

Things get interesting when you start controlling the blinds with connected apps and voice assistants.Alexa is a bit of a slug as Somfy Tahoma devices don't support natural language from the Alexa skill. Rather than Alexa seeing the Somfy motorised blinds as a device, and saying something like, "Alexa, open the blinds in the bedroom", you'll have to instead create a scenario in the Tahoma interface, and then ask Alexa to carry out that scenario. For example, "Alexa, turn on open the blinds in the bedroom".

The workaround - meaning natural language like the video above - is adding a Tahoma scenario into an Alexa routine, and creating your own custom commands.

IFTTT recipes can also be found to combine to open and close the blinds depending on geolocation, sunrise/sunset, motion detection and more. You can also use IFTTT to get Google Assistant involved.

the ambient verdict
Somfy smart blinds
Somfy-powered smart blinds offer a great smart shade experience. The blinds themselves - well, the motor powering them, at least - are brilliant quality, with a great motion and a wide range of radio controlled operating options. Alexa and IFTTT add some smarts but you will have to rely on the annoying Tahoma interface to get things going.
PROS
  • Huge range
  • Vast control methods
  • Easy to install
CONS
  • Tahoma platform is bad
  • No Assistant or HomeKit
  • Alexa skill needs work


What’s the deal with smart blinds

Soma Smart Shades

Buy now: somasmarthome.com | $149.99

If you’re looking for a retrofit option, Soma is the avenue to explore. These little units attach to your wall, and chow down on your blind’s link chain, essentially replacing your hands in the equation.

We've been testing them and they're so easy to fit – and once the unit is charged up, it took next to no time to hook it on and use the sticky pads to mount to the wall. There are also holes to screw in the unit too for a more sturdy fit.

Once Soma is fitted you can control the blinds from your smartphone – but there's no button control on the unit itself, which is a shame.

While we had no issue with the SSoma unit itself, we did find it comically slow to raise and lower blinds. It's far better to set up schedules and triggers in the app, rather than do it manually – as one small blind took around 5 minutes to fully open or close. You can trigger around sunrise and sunset, which is pretty neat.

Soma has the complete suite of smart integrations, with Alexa, Google Assistant and HomeKit in the line-up. This requires the Soma Connect $99.99 module to be plugged into your router, which is in turn connected to your chosen Assistant.

While the Soma set up was seamless for the main, Soma Connect was more fiddly. We got Alexa to use the "Alexa, ask Soma to open/close blinds", but blinds don't appear as a device in Alexa's list, so it can't be implemented as a Routine. We also found the Connect to be a little flakey, and the first time we went on holiday we were rendered unable to connect.

the ambient verdict
Soma Smart Shades
An interesting an easy retro-fit option for your existing blinds - Soma works well in the main - even if it is comically slow to raise and lower. However, the iffy Connect module makes us slightly hesitant and we feel that Soma could improve the connected experience substantially with little new hardware. But if you have one pesky blind you want to smarten up, Soma will see you right.
PROS
  • Easy to fit
  • Easy to use
  • Alexa, Assistant and HomeKit
CONS
  • So slow to open and close
  • Soma Connect is expensive...
  • ...and unreliable


What’s the deal with smart blinds

Lutron Serena

Buy now: serenashades.com (US) / Bollo Store (UK) | $Varies

Controllable via Amazon Alexa, HomeKit and Google Assistant, Lutron offers smart blinds off the shelf. Its website has a tool that enables you to design your blinds, window by window. It’s surprisingly easy and you can select any size of window, colour and roll-type - there's both honeycomb and roller available - before getting to the all-important tech choice.

You can choose the company's own remote control, the smart home option which requires the purchase of the Lutron Smart Bridge, or both. The Smart Bridge works with Nest, SmartThings, Wink, Logitech Harmony and Sonos – so you can really get your home working together. Want your blinds to go down at sunset? It’s all possible.


How to get started with smart blinds: Top brands and options for your shades

Velux Active with Netatmo

Buy now: Home Depot (US) / Velux Blinds Direct (UK) | $315

If you're looking for something incredibly fancy and smart, this new partnership with Velux and Netatmo is where you should set your gaze. However, be warned that it could be very expensive.

That's because you first have to purchase and install Velux Integra roof windows, blinds or shutters. This itself varies on the style of window you want, the type of blinds, the color, the motor options and the rest.

Once you do all that, you can get the Velux Active starter pack - which is now available in the US. It monitors humidity, temperature, and CO2 via sensors and takes care of ventilation all by itself. So if it needs to air out your home, it'll open the windows. The Active also makes all of this compatible with HomeKit, so you can get Siri in on the action too.


How to get started with smart blinds: Top brands and options for your shades

Luxaflex

Buy now: luxaflex.com.au | $Varies

If you're down in Australia, Luxaflex is your best option. Not only does Luxaflex offer a whole host of shutter and blind options to choose from, making it easy to find a style that best fits your decor, but they can integrate a host of third party services and brands to make it happen.

There are a number of motorisation options, for instance, from PowerView to QMotion to another option on this list, Somfy. There are even motorised blinds that are powered by the sun. Most of Luxaflex's options work with Google Assistant, Zigbee systems and IFTTT, so there are plenty of smart control options too.


The Week in Smart Home: Ikea delays smart blinds launch

Ikea smart blinds

Ikea was supposed to launch its Kadrilj and Fyrtur smart blinds in the US in April 2019. Originally, the blinds were going to launch, with the smart portion landing later in the year. Now they'll be smart as soon as they launch, with Ikea confirming it delayed the release to work on firmware a little more.

We don't quite know what sizes they'll be available in, but Ikea typically sells five different sizes of dumb blinds. The pair are essentially battery-powered blinds that interact with the Trådfri gateway, and that also means they'll be ready to sync up with Alexa, Google Assistant and Apple HomeKit. From what we now so far, it appears that both Kadrilj and Fytur will look fairly similar to your regular blinds - not a shock, obviously - with the differentiator coming in the form of a small compartment for the battery


What’s the deal with smart blinds

Do It Yourself

Approx $800

No, that’s not the name of a cool SF startup, we literally mean DIY. Earlier on we mentioned the option of making your own smart blinds and we weren’t lying. We’re going to get our spanners out and give this a go for a proper how-to in the coming weeks – but in the meantime, we’ll leave you with this handy guide.

All you’ll need is a power adapter, some blinds, some tape, an RF device, a motor and an ‘Android Box’ and you’re away. Good luck.



TAGGED    smart home

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