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Soma Smart Shades review

A great retrofit - but not the perfect solution

​Soma Smart Shades
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If you don’t want to chuck out your shades in favour of getting a bit of home automation, Soma is one of the few retro-fittable smart blinds options out there.

The unit itself fits onto the wall and feeds through the existing link chain on your shades, to automatically open and close your blinds.

It’s battery operated and easy to fit – but is it any good? We’ve been testing Soma to find out.

Soma Smart Shades: Setting up

Soma smart blinds review

The Soma unit itself is pretty simple – so much so it’s almost a little baffling to set up. First it requires charging using an odd bespoke cable that resembles a 3.5mm jack. Then you need to pair with the Soma app, which is anonymously called Smart Shades in the Apple App Store and on Google Play.

Once charged – there’s no indication of when that might be – you tap the front to start a Bluetooth pairing process, after which you hook it up to your Wi-Fi. There’s no physical button, and you’re instructed to tap on the front (there’s no indication quite where) until the pairing starts.

We fitted the Soma Smart Blind onto our dining room window, one we often neglected to close due to its awkward location. Feeding the cable in was easy – just take the front panel off the unit to reveal the mechanism, and feed the cable around. There’s a handy guide online which helps you check your blind cable is compatible – if not, it might be best to stay clear.

There are adhesive pads on the rear of the unit which are more than capable of keeping the unit in place – but you can also screw it in. The final step in the process is to calibrate the blind, which just involves matching the height of the blinds to that within your app and telling Soma when the shades are at maximum and minimum heights.

Soma Smart Shades: In use

So how does it work in practice? Very, very slowly is the answer. If you raise/lower the blinds via a voice assistant (more on that shortly), or using the app, the motor starts inside the unit, essentially doing the pulling for you.

However, the speed is almost comically slow and it's worth checking out the video below. It can take between four and eight minutes to close our window shade – perhaps exasperated by the heavy fabric. It’s painfully slow – and if you’ve summoned a closure, it can feel like an age to stand there and wait.

Inside the app is a Triggers section, and we ended up using this to open our shades around 6am and close around dusk. This worked a lot better, not having to think about the blinds, nor endure a daily opening/closing ceremony.

And the Soma motor is noisy, too. When your blinds start closing, everyone in the room is going to notice – and while it’s not drowning out the TV or anything, the sheer length of time is a little irritating.

But it isn't all moans. Battery life lasted around two months between charges and there’s a solar panel add-on, but it’s pretty unsightly and we’d much prefer to live without the extra cable.

Also it worked robustly, with no problems over a few months of testing. We had a pretty seamless experience using the Soma smart blinds, contrary to some reports we read about the system needing to be reset – no such issue here.

Soma Smart Shades: Integrations

The Soma smart blind works with Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri – although you’ll need the Soma Connect accessory, a paid-for extra that plugs into your router for $99.

This was far more problematic to set up, with super vague instructions and less-than-slick set up process. It can also take ages for your blinds to connect to the app via Soma Connect; although voice control was 99% reliable, sometimes we had to ask twice.

We rarely ended up using Alexa control, once the shades were put on timers. If it’s a shade you need to close to stop glare on your screens, for example, then voice control will be really useful – if not the triggers should do just fine.


Soma Smart Shades
We have a slightly love/hate relationship with the Soma smart blinds in our home – and speeding up the motor has to be a priority in any version 2.0. Friends come round and ask to see the blinds go down, chortling over the slow speed. But with Soma working on Triggers, we barely notice them working – and it’s a delightfully simple installation that’s worked seamlessly. We’d love to add two for our bedroom blinds to automatically wake us with morning sunlight, but it’s the grind of the motor that would stir us into consciousness – and that’s not the appealing smart home utopia Soma was gunning for.
PROS
  • Easy to install
  • Easy to use
  • HomeKit, Alexa, Google Assistant
CONS
  • Very very slow
  • Quite noisy
  • Expensive Soma Connect

TAGGED    smart home

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