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Lutron hasn't been a very vocal partner of Apple's HomeKit home automation system, but all that changed with this week's retail launch of the $230 Caséta Wireless Lighting Starter Kit. It comes complete with a Siri-enabled Smart Bridge hub, two plug-in light dimmer modules, two remote controls and an iOS app for your phone, tablet and Apple Watch. (UK and Australian availability has yet to be announced, but the US price converts to around £150 or AU$295.)
Although this is just the first piece of HomeKit hardware to see the light of day, it's surprisingly full-featured, responsive and simple to use. I was able to control plug-in lamps with dimmable LEDs using Siri, the mobile app and the Apple Watch with only a couple of minor setbacks. From setting up the hardware to telling Siri to "Turn on the lights," the entire experience was a true pleasure.
$230 is a lot to spend for a couple of dimmers, but Lutron's streamlined HomeKit solution is recommended if you're an iOS adherent looking to dive into home automation.
Lutron's hardware works exceptionally well, but it's the least interesting thing about this kit. We already reviewed the original Lutron Smart Bridge last year with the same two-outlet plug-in dimmers and remotes.
This new HomeKit-exclusive hub looks pretty much the same as, if not identical to, the original. It's a slab of white plastic that connects to your router and helps translate Clear Connect to lighting accessories, so you can dim your LED, halogen and incandescent bulbs, set schedules and more via the companion Lutron Android or iOS app. That's where things start to get interesting.
You can still find the original Smart Bridge hub on Amazon for $120 as a standalone device (although it will be phased out soon) and plug-in dimmer and remote kits for 60 bucks each. That's $240 for the original hub and the same accessories -- $10 more than this new kit with the HomeKit-specific hub, two dimmers and two remotes. I really liked the original hub, but this second generation one offers a lot more features (but only if you're an iOS devotee).
Lutron told us that this kit would be in Apple Stores throughout North and South America (with the exception of Brazil) as well as on Amazon starting June 2, but we were unable to find them in our local store in Louisville, KY. It wasn't available in any other stores in the surrounding area, nor even in the NY Apple stores as of this writing. The company ended up sending us a kit directly instead. That means that you may not be able to find this kit right away, but it should be en route to an Apple Store near you soon.
Although Lutron has updated its app to account for Siri integration since I reviewed the original hub and accessories, setting everything up works roughly the same as it did before. Connect the Smart Bridge to the router and follow the instructions on the app to pair any accessories. Since this kit comes with two plug-in dimmers and two remotes, I followed the instructions to pair those specific products.
This was really straightforward, with one small exception. To pair the dimmers and the remotes, you have to press and hold their "off" buttons until the LED indicator starts blinking rapidly (as pictured above). If you don't press it in exactly the right spot and in exactly the right way, it won't work. And if you want to reset one of the accessories, you have to follow a series of overly complicated rhythmic button presses that border on ridiculous. Setup was simple otherwise, though.
There are a lot of ways to approach this system, but it's very basic at its core. You can plug up to two lamps into a single module and each module has its own built-in controls. So where you can only control a Belkin WeMo Insight Switch from the WeMo app (or through another software platform, like IFTTT), you can actually turn your lamps on or off and even dim them from the Lutron plug itself. The paired remotes act as an extension of that functionality too.
Then, you have the Lutron app. Forgetting any of the HomeKit features for the moment, the app is very comprehensive, allowing for a whole host of custom schedules and scenes as well as standard on, off and dimmer capabilities. This gives you the opportunity to interact with your lighting whether you're connected to your home network or on a distant cellular or Wi-Fi network.
I particularly liked its geofencing feature; it worked flawlessly. You can set it to automatically turn your lights off when you leave and on when you return and even adjust the distance threshold. There's also an option you can set that will only turn your lights on if you return home after sunset. In general, though, accessing the lights from the plugs, the remotes and the app all work remarkably well. They are reliable, responsive and straightforward, even when I tested with a handful of different dimmable LED brands and models.
The new hub diverges from the original because of its HomeKit exclusivity. It offers Siri integration as well as additional remote access via the Apple Watch.
Depending on your smart home interests, that could seem limiting, but voice control and wearables integration add a lot of functionality that you just can't get with the original -- or really with any other smart home product that we've reviewed. Still, these are bonus features that wouldn't matter nearly as much if the Lutron hardware and app weren't already so solid.
Beyond Lutron's general impressiveness, Siri was similarly responsive when I queried her to turn on, off or dim one or both of the lights, which I was able to customize by room (bedroom, living room) and zone (upstairs, downstairs). Unfortunately, that didn't extend to remote Siri access. You can access the Lutron app outside of your home network, but you need a third-generation Apple TV for Siri to communicate with the devices remotely. So, while you could turn a light on from a cellular network using the app, you must have the Apple TV for Siri to turn a light on via your iPhone.
An Apple support page confirms all of this: "If you have an Apple TV (third generation or later) with software version 7.0 or later, you can control your HomeKit-enabled accessories when you're away from home using your iOS device. Sign in with the same Apple ID on your iOS device and Apple TV, and you'll be able to use Siri commands to remotely control your accessories."
I grabbed a $69 (£59, AU$109) third-gen Apple TV and tried it out. After logging in with the same Apple ID, it worked flawlessly. At first. Then, it stopped abruptly. I checked that there was nothing wonky with the Wi-Fi network and that all of the firmware was up-to-date, but saw no obvious issues. Interestingly, logging out and signing back in caused the functionality to return sometimes, but not consistently enough for it to be a legitimate fix.
The Apple Watch version of the Lutron app has fewer features, but you can still access various lighting settings with ease. You can also use Siri on the Apple Watch, although this process was a little more involved than I would like.
The Siri that lives on the Apple Watch can promptly reply to weather inquiries and handle basic commands, but certain questions are too complicated and must be "handed off" to an iPhone; the feature is literally called "Handoff." Lutron-related commands fall under this category, so asking Siri to "Turn off the bedroom light" returns a little text block that reads, "I can help you control your home when you use Handoff on your iPhone."
In this case, Handoff manifests as a tiny Siri icon on the bottom left of the iPhone lock screen. Simply swipe up from the icon and Siri will complete the command. Since the iPhone and the Apple Watch need to be within close proximity of one another for most watch features to work, this isn't a huge complication. But it's still way more complicated than it should be.
We have reviewed several plug-in modules (some of which can control more than lights, like Belkin's WeMo switches), but none of them have had dimming capabilities or Lutron's level of responsiveness. Add on the Siri voice control and Apple Watch integration of Lutron's new HomeKit-compatible Smart Bridge and this $230 kit's superiority becomes apparent.
Even so, I still have some questions about using the Apple TV for remote Siri access and really wish the Handoff feature wasn't an Apple Watch necessity. But, that's only a small part of Lutron's HomeKit functionality and HomeKit itself is only a small part of the dimmer kit's overall value. I highly recommend this product if you're an iOS user in search of a solid smart lighting solution.