The best smart buttons for smart home automation and scene control

Buyers guide: Push the button

The best smart home buttons

Smart home buttons are a thing. You may think that, as we move away from remote controls, switches and apps and towards a voice-controlled smart home, you'd have no need for another physical controller in your house.

However, the brilliance of the top smart home buttons lies in their simplicity, and multi-functionality from a single press. Sure, you can turn your bedroom light on with the switch on the wall like your grandma used to – but can that switch also turn off any lights you may have left on downstairs, turn on all of your security cameras, set your alarm and tune into some sleeping sounds on your smart speaker? It can not.

That's where the current crop of smart buttons come in. With a simple tap, double tap or long press you can trigger an array of smart home scenes and automations. Sure, you could ask Alexa or Siri to kick start these routines, but sometimes it's so much easier to just push a button – especially as you can strategically place them (and move them) around the house to where they will be most useful.

Smart buttons: Things to consider

Smart buttons are a fairly new idea and the market isn't exactly bursting at the seams with options. However, even if more contenders do come to the party, they won't really do much more than the current offering can. Once you go beyond a button that offers two to three scenes at the tap of a button, you're entering the realm of a remote control and that would be missing the point.

What you do need to consider though is what devices and platforms the smart button you're thinking of buying taps (see what I did there?) into. Does it support HomeKit scenes, are IFTTT applets compatible – that sort of thing. Don't worry though, we'll explain all of those things as we run through the contenders.

Onto the business at hand then, and here's our picks of the best smart buttons available right now. As stated, it's a limited group at present, but what we can say is that every one that we've listed below, we've lived with for a while now and they just work. You'll hardly ever have a click (or double, or triple, or long press) go unnoticed and, on the odd occasion this does happen, no button below is more guilty than any other of this misbehaviour – we found them to be pretty much on a par when it comes to reliability.


Logitech Pop Smart Button

The best smart buttons for smart home automation and scene control

From $39.99, logitech.com | Amazon

The Logitech Pop went live back in August 2017 and jumps onboard your smart home's Wi-Fi to scan for compatible devices it can control. Actually, its hub does. The Logitech Pop Smart Button itself is only capable of pinging Bluetooth signals to the hub; it's the hub that talks to your connected kit over the internet. The hub itself is a small plug-like device that simply slots into a mains socket – you just sync that up with your home Wi-Fi in the smartphone app and add your buttons, one at a time, to the setup.

Out of the box it'll offer up controls for Lifx, Phillips Hue, Lutron, Insteon, August and Belkin WeMo devices, and it's also compatible with an array of smart home platforms including Apple HomeKit, SmartThings and IFTTT. It can also pair up with a Logitech Harmony Remote hub for the absolute wealth of controls that offers you.

Each button offers three control options – single press, double press, long press – so you can set up an array of choices for each one. And, rather than relying on pre-set recipes, you can chain together multiple devices across different platforms to work in harmony. The great thing with the Pop, which puts it ahead of its rivals, is that once you've chosen a device to control, you can then dig deeper – e.g. choosing a Hue bulb to turn on at a specific colour or brightness, or having your Sonos speaker(s) turn on one of your favourite radio stations.

The button itself is a fairly dull looking slab of plastic that boast a "long" battery life – I'm a few months down the line with mine and it's still alive and well. There's a starter kit which comes with a button and a hub and, while the Pop buttons themselves aren't exactly expensive (at $39.99 a, er, pop), you're looking at around $80 to get started with that kit.

Now, while you can chain together your own automations, you can also sync up your Pop Button to simply play back HomeKit scenes (or, indeed IFTTT recipes). However, you can't use a Pop Button simultaneously with the Home app and the Pop app, so you need to make a choice if you're going all in with Apple.

the ambient verdict
Logitech Pop Smart Button
The Logitech Pop is the most complete smart button out there. The list of compatible brands isn’t all that big at first glance, but when you throw IFTTT, SmartThings and HomeKit into the mix, you really do have an extensive range of controls at the touch of a button. It’s also the best button for the little extras – it’s way beyond a simple on and off switch.
PROS
  • Extra functionalities
  • Simple set up
  • Compatible with lots of platforms
CONS
  • Boring design
  • Need to make a HomeKit choice
  • Hub is extra cash on top


Flic

The best smart buttons for smart home automation and scene control

$34.99, flic.io | Amazon

Flic has been in the smart button game longer than most – it first went live on Indiegogo in 2014, smashing its $80,000 target and raising almost $1 million. It's easily the most button-like smart button, measuring just 27mm x 27mm x 8mm and weighing less than 7g. But it packs a heavy punch despite its diminutive size.

The range of tech it's compatible with is huge – highlights include Hue, Lifx, Sonos, Ecobee, Ikea Trådfri, WeMo and Wink – and the gaps can be filled with IFTTT and Logitech Harmony controls and recipes as well. Like the Pop, it's a simple one, two or long tap control method – all configurable within the easy to use app, and it also allows you to string together automations featuring multiple actions from multiple brands.

The app is also jam-packed with 'fun' (i.e. naff games) and extras; the most useful being the 'find my phone' function that plays a loud alarm through the Flic app on your smartphone. In fact, the Flic button is the strongest on the smartphone control front – with a wealth of controls (think lockscreen, camera shutter, music controls and more) on offer. It's also compatible with a number of fitness platforms – you can start and stop a Strava run with it, for example. It even comes with a little belt clip so you can wear it out and about.

Back to its smart home smarts and, using Sonos as an example, unlike the Logitech Pop you can't really go beyond basic controls – on, off, toggle, next track and so on – with the Flic. However, it's much cheaper than the Pop as you don't need to fork out for a hub – it can work by just using your phone as its gateway.

Now, that has its flaws, of course – you need to allow the app to run at all times and it'll only work if it's in Bluetooth-range of your phone – and that's why Flic will soon be offering a hub to pair up to the Flic buttons. I found pairing a Flic button with an iPad, which is on my dining room table 99% of the time, was the most reliable method for stability for now.

the ambient verdict
Flic
Flic is probably the easiest of the bunch to get started with, and you’ll find that most of the major smart home players are on board and there’s always IFTTT for when they are not. The fact that you don’t need a hub makes the Flic the most affordable option, but the platform will be a better performer once its hub does start shipping later this year.
PROS
  • Compact design
  • Lots of fun extras
  • Cheapest on test
CONS
  • Needs a paired smartphone / tablet
  • Basic controls on the whole
  • No HomeKit syncing


Elgato Eve Button

The best smart buttons for smart home automation and scene control

$49.95, elgato.com | Amazon

Unlike Flic's and Logitech's smart buttons, the Eve Button doesn't let you specify individual smart tech devices, or add multiple gadgets to a tap control; it relies on HomeKit to do the heavy lifting. Living within the Elgato app, which is essentially Apple's Home App in different clothes (you can actually do all of the configuration within the Home app, in fact), your single, double or long press options are reserved to start HomeKit scenes – and nothing else.

Now, while that does sound a bit restrictive compared to its rivals, if you're living in a smart home controlled by Apple's ecosystem then it's actually a great setup. Sure, if you want to just turn a single smart light on or off, it's a bit of a faff to set up a Home Scene for that basic control but, for more advanced chains of events, it certainly makes sense.

For example, I've got mine set up in my garden-based office at home and, when I'm done for the day and want to head back to the house, a single tap starts my 'My work here is done' HomeKit scene – which powers down the various smart lights in my office, while at the same turning on the garden lights so I don't break my ankle walking back to the house.

I've described above how the Logitech has an advantage over the Flic as it always has a hub for communication, rather than relying on a phone, but the Eve is a slightly mixed bag on this front. If you have a dedicated Apple HomeKit hub - i.e. an iPad, HomePod or Apple TV – then it will work faultlessly in your house without issues. However, if you're only powering your smart home using the iOS Home app on your iPhone, you'll need that phone located nearby for things to work.

Design wise the Eve is the bulkiest beast of the bunch, although the anodized aluminium finish does look more premium than the Pop and Flic's plastic build. As it's only Bluetooth LE powering the show, battery life is as long as the coin battery lasts (i.e. a long time) so you won't need to bother charging it.

In the box you'll get some little rubber feet for a non-slip experience, and there are also some little icon stickers you can put on it – I guess to remind you what configurations you've set up.

the ambient verdict
Elgato Eve Button
The Eve Button is a great option – if you’re locked into Apple’s HomeKit world and make use of the scenes in the Home app. For anyone else looking to simplify smart home controls, take a look elsewhere. It’s a more premium build than its main rivals, but that does come at a cost, quite literally – it’s the most expensive smart button on test.
PROS
  • Configure through iOS Home app
  • Premium design
  • Brilliant with HomeKit
CONS
  • Most expensive option
  • HomeKit and HomeKit only
  • Bulky build


Special mention: Amazon Dash

The best smart buttons for smart home automation and scene control

$4.99, Amazon

It's not really a smart home button if you go by our definition above, but it is a button that lives in your home that is smart. For the uninitiated, Amazon Dash buttons are wireless branded buttons that can be placed around the house – on your washing machine, the bedside table etc – and, when pushed, will order a particular item from Amazon.

There is an ever-growing collection of brands to choose from with Ariel, Listerine, Huggies and Durex among the options.

The buttons cost $4.99, and are Amazon's way of pushing you to its retail service. They connect to your Wi-Fi via an Amazon mobile app, and all you need to do is stick them where it makes sense – i.e. not putting a button for condoms on the cooker.

Amazon recently made the Dash deal a little sweeter by offering a $4.99 discount on your first Dash purchase with each button. So yeah, the button is essentially free if you're actually going to use it. They are more useful than you think.



TAGGED   smart home

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