Unlike devices with higher visibility, such as the newest tablet, connected shades can be difficult to learn about. What are the options? Which ones are the best? They might be cool, but how much is "cool" worth?or
Let's get one thing straight right away: smart shades are luxury items. After matching their style to the décor of your home, and buying enough units for a whole space, you can expect to pay thousands of dollars for a full set of smart shades.
But they aren't just expensive decorations. Besides being a great gadget to show off for friends, smart shades can change how you interact with your home's natural light. I use the shades at themore than any light switch. Opening the shades is more efficient -- especially when you can just issue Siri a voice command to operate them. If you're really ambitious, you can even control home temperature more economically, by scheduling the shades to open and close at specific times.
If you've got the cash and you want the shades, the question is: Which ones should you buy? To help with the decision, I conducted a head-to-head comparison between Somfy's motorized shades and Lutron's Serena Shades -- two popular contenders in today's market.
Shades are easy to set up if you have the time and tools, but both Somfy's and Lutron's products have design features that make installing them a pain. Unlike standard shades, automated ones have battery packs or power cords. I opted for the battery packs for both shades, because power cords are inconvenient and often look tacky.
Battery packs have a problem, too: they make the shades heavier and require extra space. Somfy's battery tube is separate from the shade itself, requiring you to secure it to the molding of the window behind the shade fixture. If that sounds complicated, it is. On many windows, the shade and battery tube just won't fit.
Lutron has batteries in the body of the shade itself, which makes it much more standard to install. Of course, for the roller shades I was using, I had to drill holes through the mounting plate -- yes, you read that right -- which took more time, tools, and cleanup than I would've liked.
For installation, Somfy and Lutron are both inconvenient -- so we'll call it a tie.
The raison d'être of of smart shades is automation. By getting your shades online and linking them to your phone, you can set them all to move according to a schedule, to the weather, or in some cases to the temperature in your home. You can also control them manually, either via a dedicated remote control, a mobile app, or even using voice commands.
Both Somfy and Lutron shades include a remote control. Somfy's remote looks fine, but only has three buttons -- Open, Close and a personalized My setting. Lutron's remote is smaller, and thus easier to lose, but it has one-touch OPEN and CLOSE buttons, as well as up and down buttons to find the perfect setting.
Remotes aside, both devices allow for app control -- although they both also rely on a hub for that control (see next section for pricing). Lutron works with HomeKit, meaning you can command your shades with Siri. Both shades can be used with Amazon Echo with a little extra setup time (and in the case of Somfy, an extra expense).
While Somfy has quite a few options for control, all of them require extra hubs or bridges. Lutron wins by a landslide when it comes to control, thanks to more out-of-the-box options.
It's difficult to compare Lutron's and Somfy's pricing for a couple reasons. First, Somfy produces motors and control systems, but you use them in combination with shades designed by other companies. Practically, when it comes to ordering, consumers buy shades through a local retailer, and elect to add Somfy motors for about $270 each. That puts the most affordable Somfy Motorized Shade package at just over $300.
Lutron by contrast sells through its own website, with prices starting at about $350, plus an $80 bridge. Lutron designs the motors and all the shade styles. So if you purchase Somfy Motorized Shades, you can potentially get a more affordable price.
Oh, you'll also have to get batteries for both shades -- AA for Somfy and D for Lutron. That might seem like a small point, but for 12 Lutron Shades, I had to buy nearly $200 worth of batteries.
So Somfy wins the price category, right? Not exactly. Sure, you can use Somfy's gadgets without a hub, but that just means you get remote-controlled shades. Want app connection or voice control? You'll need both a $100 Somfy MyLink Bridge and a smart hub like the $70 Wink.
While Somfy gets a slight nod for price, it's only because its shades have fewer smarts out of the box. Want better integration? Lutron is the cheaper option.
While this might seem obvious, automated shades need to be quiet. It keeps them unobtrusive -- which is exactly how you want background smart home gadgets to be. Again, I compared battery-powered shades, but both Lutron and Somfy offer options with power cords.
Lutron's shades, whether roller or honeycomb style, are extremely quiet. While filming them, it was actually challenging to get a good sound sample to hear much of anything while they operated. On the other hand, Somfy's shades emit a moderate buzzing every time they open or close. It's not airhorn-level loud, but it's enough noise that it would wake me up from a nap on the couch.
Lutron wins with quieter shades.
Somfy Motorized Shades aren't bad. In fact, they're reliable and helpful for that hard-to-reach window or two. But if you're taking the plunge with smart shades -- and want all the cool features that comes along with that investment -- Lutron Serena Shades are the way to go. That's why we installed them at the CNET Smart Home.
Sure, buying them takes money and installing them takes time. And yes, for a big install, the batteries alone will probably cost over a hundred bucks. Plus, getting Apple's HomeKit to come through with Siri support will be a headache until that platform improves. But at the end of the day, most of these issues are just part of installing any smart shades. And Lutron's products look awesome, control well, and bring tons of possibilities that Somfy's simply don't.
Want to see more smart home showdowns? Tell us which devices you want to see face each other next.