Lutron's $150 Smart Bridge gives traditional products a smart-home makeover.
The $150 Lutron Smart Bridge turns Lutron's un-smart dimmer products into Wi-Fi-enabled home automation pros. While the Smart Bridge and corresponding app work incredibly well, $150 feels excessive for light-dimming capabilities. Tack on an additional $55 for a single, two-outlet dimmer plug and you've spent over $200 to control a maximum of two lamps.
Yes, $205 is a ridiculous sum to pay for a smart plug-in lamp dimmer, but Lutron is one of the only companies offering this functionality. Right now, the hub is only compatible with Caseta Wireless dimmers and Serena battery-powered window shades, but Lutron has plans to add Honeywell Wi-Fi Smart Thermostats , and a new line of GE LEDs to its cache of integrated products. As this list expands, it will be much easier to recommend the Lutron Smart Bridge.
The Lutron Smart Bridge is a small square gizmo that you connect directly to your router using the included Ethernet cable. There's also a power adapter that you plug into a regular two-prong outlet and into the micro-USB port on the Smart Bridge hub. A ring of LEDs around the perimeter of the hub will let you know when it's powered on. Press the button on the hub to add new devices to the app.
The app won't be available until June 30, so I used a beta version on an iPhone 5 and a first-generation Asus Nexus 7 tablet. Even in beta, the app was very thoughtfully designed. Download the app on your Android or iOS device and follow the instructions to connect your Lutron-enabled devices. Lutron sent me two Caseta Wireless plug-in lamp dimmers, one Pico remote, and the Smart Bridge for testing.
The plug-in dimmers have four buttons. The top button turns the lamp on, the bottom button turns it off, and the two arrow buttons in the middle allow you to set the level of light for dimming. The Pico remote has the same exact design, except for a "favorite" button in the middle that lets you program a frequently used light level.
First, I had to install the lamp dimmer. This plug-in module has two outlets, one on either side, and works with LEDS, CFLs, incandescents, and halogens; I focused on LEDs and tested six different dimmable brands during the review. To install, simply switch the lamp you want to control to the "on" position and unplug it. Then plug the lamp or lamps into the dimmer and then into the wall outlet.
I connected two table lamps to one of the modules and one floor lamp to the other. Then, since I also had a Pico remote, I paired the dimmers with the remotes by holding the off button for 6 seconds until the LED started blinking. Then I pressed and held the same button on the remote control for 6 seconds until it flashed three times, meaning it was successfully paired. To adjust the favorite setting (its default is a 50 percent light level) you set the desired level of light on the dimmer and then hold down the favorite button for 6 seconds until it blinks twice.
Once that was set up, I was able to go back to the app and complete the setup process. I created a username and password for the app, plugged the Ethernet cord and power adapter into the Smart Bridge, and paired the single floor lamp and the two table lamps with the app. Then, I sent the Pico remote to control all three lamps at the same time.
From there, you can start playing around with light levels and setting schedules based on your preferences. Setup takes roughly 30 minutes, but is very simple. I like that you can adjust the lamp via the plug-in module itself, on the Pico remote, or on the app. The app has the most features, though, since you can set several different schedules.
I tested it out by adjusting light levels, switching out different LEDs from brands including Switch, Utilitech, Cree, Philips, and GE, and setting a variety of schedules. It consistently performed well, but a couple of potential usage problems did stand out. If you plan to control more than one lamp at the same time, they might not all turn on, off, or dim at the same rate. Also, one out of the six dimmable LEDs I tested (the Switch Infinia bulb) had a noticeable flicker when it transitioned away from off on the dimmer scale, although that's more a function of the LED than the dimmer.
While it did a fantastic job overall, the $150 price for the hub, plus an additional $55 for a single dimmer or $60 for a single dimmer plus one Pico remote, is too high. For $200-plus I think it should have more features and more third-party integration. And I'd like to see the ability to opt into scheduling notifications. That way, you could receive an alert when your light turns on at a certain time.
An alarm feature would also be quite useful. If you can program a lamp and a battery-powered window shade to turn on and open at a certain time, an alarm seems like a logical addition to round out the whole morning routine. IFTTT compatibility might make sense here, too, since you could set custom recipes that adjust lights and blinds based on weather reports or other useful triggers.
Excluding smart LEDs like Philips Hue bulbs that incorporate dimmer features, there aren't many smart dimmers available today (particularly of the plug-in or wall-mounted variety). A startup called Plum is now accepting preorders for $89 Wi-Fi Lightpad dimmers, $89 Wi-Fi smart plugs, and $89 Wi-Fi duplex electrical outlets. The dimmers are more expensive than Lutron's, but Plum's products don't need a hub to work. The same goes for Belkin's WeMo switches and the D-Link Wi-Fi Smart Plug , but none of them offer dimmer functionality.
Lutron is one of the only big-name brands offering a smart dimmer solution that goes beyond a bulb with built-in tech. It's also making a clear effort to move toward a more comprehensive home automation package. So, if you want a smart-home setup complete with dimmers, battery-powered window shades, smart thermostats, and LED bulbs, Lutron is working toward that goal. But it isn't there yet.
Once that happens, this $150 Smart Bridge will be a lot easier to justify. The Smart Bridge isn't even available until September 1, so I'd suggest buying a $60 plug-in dimmer and a Pico remote kit (you can also buy the dimmer and remote separately for $55 and $15) to see how you like the functionality and then consider adding the Smart Bridge later if you want more advanced scheduling features and the option of adding other Lutron-compatible devices.