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Editor's note: This review has been updated since it was originally published to account for a software update that expanded its features, including adding remote access functionality. The rating and recommendation have changed accordingly.
The season of untangling orange masses of extension cords and balancing on icy ladder rungs is almost upon us, and you might be wondering if lights are even worth the effort this year. Even in warmer climates, outdoor lighting setups often involve one brave family member climbing to the roof and the rest watching and worrying. And after the setup, people in colder climes have to pull on their boots and a coat, traipse through the snow and manually plug in the lights to turn them on every night.
Enter the new smart Outdoor Switch from iDevices, a HomeKit compatible gadget that the company hopes will make outdoor lighting, whether for the holidays or just for your patio, a little easier. Of course, the Outdoor Switch won't string up your lights for you, but it can schedule or toggle them anytime using the iDevices app, so showing off your handiwork will only take the swipe of a finger.
The iDevices Outdoor Switch, available this November for $80 at select Lowe's locations and on the iDevices website, is a welcome addition to the smart-plug market. The new offering from the company that brought you the iGrill and the Switch will fill the niche of outdoor home electronics that few other smart switches are trying to fill. Many remote switches are already on the market, though, and with Black Friday approaching the question is, why is iDevices asking for 80 bucks? Turns out, between remote access and energy consumption tracking, this Outdoor Switch is worth its price tag.
The good news is you can get this smart plug up and running within minutes. It connects to the free iDevices app, a smart-home device integration app that connects HomeKit compatible products in one place. Although that list of products is not long right now, the app works well with them, subtly guiding you through its interface to various command options, from turning the Switch on and off to scheduling its activation ahead of time.
As we saw with the first iDevices Switch, the app is simple and slick, and within fifteen minutes you'll have a great handle on how to use the Switch to its full potential.
The iDevices Outdoor Switch's design cleverly mixes aesthetic with function. The black outer shell of the Switch's body is weatherproof. Power outlets themselves are nearly impossible to keep completely insulated from the elements, but iDevices includes simple directions for fastening the Switch to the side of your house or an arbor post with an included screw -- an approach that seems to successfully avoid any of the problems common to operating electricity outside.
The Outdoor Switch includes the external nightlight I liked on the original iDevices Switch, and this one creates a similar effect, making what could just be another black plastic utility box by your house glow with more style. I wish you could control the nightlight colors like you can with the indoor iDevices Switch, but most buyers won't sweat it. The Outdoor Switch is too bulky to scream intelligence, but it certainly won't detract from a modern home exterior.
The design element I like the most on the new Outdoor Switch, and likely the explanation for the size and price hike over its indoor equivalent, is the dual outlet. Here iDevices isn't just repackaging an indoor switch for the great outdoors -- it is providing the amperage and dual outlet to power 2,500 incandescent holiday bulbs, let alone more efficient LED bulbs, porch or pool lights. I was a little disappointed that you can't toggle these plugs individually, so plugging in two products for distinct purposes (like floodlights for the yard and LEDs for the porch) doesn't work. iDevices does seem sensitive to the greater needs of outdoor electronics, though, and two plugs will help.
The Outdoor Switch, though certainly not pushing the envelope on features, does rectify some of the early problems of the original app. Of course you can turn your Switch on and off, which is nice when frigid temperatures and 10 feet of snow-covered lawn separate you from the outlet, but now the Switch can also monitor your energy consumption -- a feature that is critical for consumers who love holiday traditions but don't want to break the bank celebrating. You won't get the detailed data organization of the Belkin WeMo Insight Switch, but the information most consumers care about, like daily consumption and estimated costs, are covered.
The iDevices app works well for the most part, and its greatest strength is its organization. As with most HomeKit products, the app allows you to divide your home into rooms, zones (groups of rooms), and products. Then you can tell Siri to control a whole room, like "the dining room," or a whole zone, like "downstairs." This method of organization would come in handy if your home were outfitted with dozens of HomeKit devices, but for now this aspect feels like potential for the future more than a feature for the present.
The most practical feature on the Outdoor Switch is the Scenes function. A firmware update means you can now send commands to your Switch even if you are off the home Wi-Fi. For an Outdoor Switch, this is a big feature: it means holiday lights will follow whatever schedule you create, no matter if you're on the property or not.
Any smart outdoor switch needs to perform two functions well to deliver on the claim of being "smart": it has to turn things on and off remotely, and it has to work on a schedule. The iDevices Outdoor Switch experienced some latency problems when I used it right after opening the app: once or twice it took my lights a full ten seconds to turn on. Besides this issue, the Switch can power electronics on and off.
Although the Outdoor Switch originally didn't include remote functionality, the problem has now been patched. So even if you're away, your holiday setup will light up -- a big holiday stress-reliever for customers.
Short answer: it depends if you want to spend the money. You can get dumb remote switches for a fourth of the price, and although the Outdoor Switch has quick setup and chic design, those don't justify the price. Now that the firmware update has fixed remote functionality, I'd recommend the Outdoor Switch to anyone who wants to string up their holiday lights, set them on a schedule, and forget about them for two months. You can even adjust the electricity usage to reflect your budget. This sort of experience is only possible with a smart switch like the iDevices Outdoor Switch. You'll just have to decide if it's worth the price.