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Switchmate review: This light switch installs fast, but Bluetooth holds it back

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Switchmate is a $40 AA-battery-powered magnetic light controller that clings to the screws holding up your existing switch plate. Snap it on and you're done with the installation. The sheer simplicity of setup is intriguing -- who wants to deal with a big mess o' wires when you can just enlist magnets to do the heavy lifting?

The Good

Switchmate units cost just $40 each, they couldn't be simpler to install, and the related Android/iPhone app is very intuitive.

The Bad

Amazon Alexa integration is forthcoming, but Switchmate doesn't currently work with any third-party smart home products/platforms. Remote access is limited to Bluetooth range, the switches are loud, and they're too big for side-by-side installs on 2-gang+ switch plates.

The Bottom Line

Switchmate's no-fuss installation is intriguing, but some significant limitations hold it back from greatness.

It's a snap: This magnetic light switch installs in no time

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But because it isn't hard-wired, Switchmate relies on batteries. And because it relies on batteries, it uses low-power Bluetooth tech rather than Wi-Fi. That means you can only control your lights from the related Android or iPhone app when you're standing within a limited range of roughly 150 feet.

Switchmate also doesn't work with dimmers or have any third-party integrations (although an Amazon Alexa skill is in the works). If circuit breakers and electrical wiring aren't your cup of tea, the easy-breezy Switchmate would serve you well -- just keep in mind that it can't actually do a whole lot.

Up close with Switchmate

Switchmate measures 4.9 inches tall by 2.5 inches wide, with a 1-inch depth. It weighs 4 ounces and is powered by two included AA batteries that the team claims can last anywhere from 8 to 12 months (I wasn't able to test this out, but I imagine it would vary a lot based on usage). It looks fine, but it's quite bulky compared to a standard switch plate.

Switchmate started out as an Indiegogo campaign with a couple of different color finishes, but the final version, available on Amazon, comes in white or beige for either toggle or rocker switches (these are sold separately, as the adapter on the back is different). Configuration is as simple as inserting the batteries, picking out a light switch to control and snapping it on. Fortunately, the magnets are strong and I can't see someone dislodging it easily by accident.

Note: Switchmate is only compatible with 1-gang switches. It can attach to multi-gang plates, but Switchmates are too wide to fit side-by-side. I really wish the team offered 2-, 3- and 4-gang options, since standalone 1-gang switches aren't incredibly common (in my house, at least) and it looks a little odd as a standalone 1-gang controller on a multi-gang panel.

Once you've attached Switchmate, download the Switchmate app and follow the steps to use your light switch -- it should only take a minute or so to connect. There wasn't a plus/minus battery indicator on my review units, so I installed the batteries upside down the first time -- if you're having trouble connecting, you might need to rotate your batteries, too.

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Chris Monroe/CNET

The app itself is extremely bare bones, but simple to use. You can have up to 12 Switchmates installed on one account -- and the home screen displays all of the controllers you've installed. I tested two units, one toggle model and one rocker model, labeled Hallway and Living Room.

Touch the icon to manually turn a light on or off when you're within Bluetooth range or simply press the switch itself for the same on/off control. The back of each Switchplate has an adapter piece that fits to either a toggle or a rocker. When you turn a light on or off, the batteries power a motor that moves the adapter up or down. This worked reliably, but was loud -- almost loud enough for someone in another room to hear. Not great.

There's also a timer function so you can schedule lights to turn on and off when you're at work or away on vacation. Just make sure you program these in advance -- you won't be able to access them on the road. The good news is that Switchmate has internal storage that keeps track of the programmed timers so they will work even when your phone isn't close enough to pair to the device.

Switchmate also has a Welcome feature that will turn on your connected lights once a day when you enter Bluetooth range.

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Screenshots by CNET

The timers and the Welcome function both worked very well, but Switchmate is limited in terms of features. It doesn't send you notifications when a timer-enabled light turns on (something I'd like to have on an opt-in basis for peace of mind during travel), keep a log of activity, let you group switches by room, or attempt to estimate energy consumption. It doesn't work with dimmers, and it doesn't have any integrations with products/platforms/services from other manufacturers.

That puts Switchmate behind competitors like the $50 Belkin Wemo Light Switch or Lutron's $60 Caseta in-wall dimmer switch. Yes, you have to install them, but they also work remotely over Wi-Fi and the proprietary Clear Connect standard -- well beyond Switchmate's 150-foot maximum range. They also boast integrations from Amazon, HomeKit, and other smart home leaders.

The verdict

Switchmate may only cost $40 and be ridiculously easy to install and control, but it also has a lot of limitations. I want a connected light switch that integrates seamlessly into an existing panel -- or replaces it entirely. I also want to be able to control it beyond Bluetooth range, have dimming capabilities, and the option to connect it with third party products.

Switchmate says it's developing an Amazon Alexa skill and its original Indiegogo page says it's working "to expand the range of Switchmate so that it can be used from anywhere you have an internet connection." This product is decent today (especially if you want to stay away from the wires lurking behind your current light switch -- a definite bonus), but those few updates would give it more appeal.

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7.0

Switchmate

Score Breakdown

Features 5Usability 9Design 6Performance 9