It's the 100th anniversary of the toggle light switch this year. It seems fitting on this centennial that we look at a new era of controllers to light our homes, play our music, and do our chores.
It's the dawn of the smart home age--and as Internet of Things (IoT) gadgets start to populate our homes, the question of how best to control them arises. Our suggestion: Do it with pizzazz. We rounded up a handful of the sleekest, sexiest smart home controllers you can buy. And they're pretty affordable, as well.
Nuimo is one classy dial. Often, when something is well-made, it's likened to German engineering. In this case, the comparison is particularly appropriate, since it's the first product from Senic, an actual Berlin-based company.
Nuimo is roughly five inches in diameter, comes in a two-tone white/silver or black, and the top is made of dual-layer acrylic. The analog ring is bead-blasted aluminum. I tried it at January's Consumer Electronics Show, and loved the feel of the product. There's nothing lightweight or cheap about it; it has surprising heft.
Nuimo packs in four different control options. There's a touch control on top, a capacitive touch pad, a rotary outer ring, and there's gesture recognition as well.
All of these control options allow Nuimo to work with over 30 smart home devices. It's compatible with most music systems, smart lights, and other gadgets as well. Nuimo runs a full month on a single charge and rretails for $199.
Unlike Nuimo, which is shooting for "elegant," The Button (from home automation company Fibaro) has more of a "fun" vibe. In fact, one gleefully colored button was on display at Fibaro's booth at CES, and it had a story behind it: The CEO's kids got a hold of The Button and painted it. So the company decided to display it as is.
The Button is just under two inches in diameter and an inch high. It's made of plastic and comes in a variety of bright colors. It's quite versatile in terms of what you can control--everything from lights to window shades and robotic vacuums. And you can assign more than one device to a single button. Fibaro, which clearly is a company with a sense of humor, offers up an idea of just how much The Button can control in this entertaining two-minute video. The Button retails for $50.
Another controller worth considering--also from Fibaro--is Swipe. It's a gesture pad that watches for a wave of your hand. It even recognizes combinations of waves. Want to turn on the alarm? Swipe left and right. Want to turn on your Sonos speaker? Rotate your hand in a circle.
It felt like magic when I tested it, though it does require you to memorize gestures in order to control your devices properly.
The Swipe's signal is strong enough that you can hide it behind drywall. Commanding your electronics into action with a swipe along a seemingly nondescript part of your wall is sure to impress friends. Swipe retails for $150.
Bixi is a smart home controller for when things get messy. No one wants to touch their tablet when their hands are covered in chicken grease. And that's a problem when you're following an online recipe for Chicken Kale Risotto. Bixi tries to solve the problem. Swipe over it and your tablet that went to sleep at just the wrong moment turns back on. Best of all, your tablet remains chicken-free.
Bixi can also be incorporated into cars so you can control things without having to take your eyes off the road, like when using apps on your smartphone.
It works with numerous brands, from Sony to Sonos. It will be available in June but you can pre-order it now for $80.
Flic is a tiny smart button that you can take with you. You can literally stick it anywhere. Put it on the wall, on the counter, on your clothes. It has a special removable adhesive backing that you can use and reuse. The adhesive is even washable.
Flic recognizes three commands: A click, double-click, and press-and-hold. It can control many devices -- lights, music, door locks, coffee pots--but it also acts as a smartphone controller. Flic claims to work with over 40 apps and features on your phone.
A single Flic retails for $33, and four-packs are available for $100.
Amazon's Echo Dot is a diminutive version of Amazon Echo. The second generation of the Echo Dot debuted in May; upgrades include better speakers and a lower price; it now retails for $50. But the important thing to know is that it is essentially identical to the $180 Amazon Echo, only with a much smaller speaker.
Echo Dot will work with a long and growing list of smart home devices, from Philips Hue lights to Nest thermostats. If you think of it as a smart home controller first, you're getting the added bonus that you can ask it questions about life, the universe and everything while also ordering milk. That's hard to beat.