As a follow on to my SwitchBot Bot review I wrote a few weeks ago, I have finally had a chance to have a play with the SwitchBot Hub Mini that SwitchBot were kind enough to send me to review. In this post, I’ll give you a quick run through of the unit itself, so you would know what to expect, how it works, where it shines, and maybe where it falls a little short. Let’s get started.
The unit itself seems well made. It’s light but doesn’t feel flimsy. In the box you get an instruction booklet, a micro USB cable to power the device and a 3m sticky pad which should be more than strong enough to attach it to a wall or surface (there is a provision to hang it on a screw if you wish). There is no power block included, so if you don’t have something that knocks out 5V/1a then you’re going to need to purchase one separately. I have a smart blitzwolf shp5 that has a pair of USB ports so I just hooked it up to that.
I already had the SwitchBot app installed as I’d been playing with the ‘bots previously. Within a few moments, the Hub Mini’s white LED started to shine and the app adopted the hub (I needed to long press the button for 3 seconds for it to pair).
Once found, I needed to add my Wifi credentials (I stuck it on an IOT vlan). It connected up without any issues.
Adding an IR device
In order to add an IR device, you need to click on the Hub Mini icon and then click the Add remote control button at the bottom. Choose your Appliance, Brand and model, and then follow the instructions on screen.
In an ideal world, the app would detect what remote you’ve got via the button press and then it would be a case of just clicking add. In reality, I struggled to find something that married up to the Hub immediately. I wanted to add a Yamaha sound bar that we have (YSP-5100). It didn’t recognise the device initially, so I opted to Search by Brand. I selected Yamaha, but unfortunately my model wasn’t listed (nor was there anything similar). I said that the model wasn’t listed and then was presented with a generic Yamaha template. Some of the buttons worked, others didn’t and needed a custom learn.
It was very easy to do. You literally point on the button you want it to learn (i.e. rewind), press the rewind button on the actual remote whilst pointing at the Hub Mini, wait for the Hub Mini’s LED to blink and you’re done.
The app asks you to test, and then assuming it does what you want, to accept/save. Rinse repeat and in about 5 minutes, you’ll have the whole remote copied and ready to work. If you actually had a model of an appliance that was actually listed in the app, then I think literally, it would take seconds. I assume you would be importing the whole remote control in one go once you selected that model in the app. The range of appliances is pretty decent and it covers the majors. I.e. select TV and you’ll be looking at all the usual makes (LG, Samsung, Philips, Sony, Panasonic etc). The model numbers though appear to be somewhat random (I suspect region specific). That said, am sure if you have an LG TV that isn’t listed, you could probably choose any model there and I’d expect it to work. I mean are manufacturers that specific about their IR codes now? Once I’d finished programming the remote for the Yamaha soundbar, we decided to watch TV. The IR broadcasting worked flawlessly. I could switch inputs, change volume, mute etc. This thing didn’t skip a beat. I have an ancient NEC Plasma, complete with burn in. It’s so old, we need to let it warm up before it will acknowledge an HDMI signal! I thought I’d give this a go. I went through the steps above, only this time going totally custom. Again, everything worked as expected. My phone had essentially become a remote control. I didn’t notice any delay. I also have a broadlink RM mini and would say in terms of speed and success rate, this easily kept up with it. Next it was time to set up voice control.
Out of the box, the Switchbot Hub Mini works directly with a variety of services.
- Amazon Alexa
- Google Home
- Siri Shortcuts
I decided to test with Google Home and Alexa. I don’t use Siri or SmartThings, haven’t heard of Clova, and I deactivated my IFTTT account in protest at their dual pricing (but I digress!). Setting these up was easy enough. As per any integration with either of the tech giants, you have to link the skills to your SwitchBot account. In Google Home, you select “add” then “works with Google” at the bottom and then select Switchbot. Add your credentials and you’re in.
Alexa wasn’t really any different. You need to install the skill and again, link your account. Within a few short moments, you should be up and running.
In both ecosystems once the accounts have been linked you need to then rescan for devices and put them in the appropriate ‘rooms’ to finalise their additions.
Now this is where I’m a little conflicted. If you have something which you can use natively, i.e. a model that is contained within the appliance database, then once you rescan your devices in Alexa and GoogleHome, the “appliance” should pop right in and you’re done. You have full voice control over it. However, if you’ve had to use the learn function and essentially created a custom IR code/function (for want of a better word), then that will NOT be picked up by the voice assistants. I am not sure if this is a feature that is due to be added in the future, but given everything I own isn’t natively in the database, the usefulness of the hub mini suddenly becomes very limited.
Now for someone lucky enough to own mainstream models that are in the database, then you’re golden. Putting aside for the moment that you’re using third party servers, this is probably the easiest and simplest way I’ve ever seen to get Alexa and Google control over your devices. The app just works. The device is small and lightweight enough, and didn’t fail once. The switchbot app is well laid out and intuitive. If you want to use your phone or tablet as a remote control, then this does everything you would want and does it well.
If you’re not as lucky, (as I wasn’t) then for me, it makes sense to stay with my broadlink mini and to continue to use node-red to pass my IR control to the voice assistants. If you haven’t seen the walk throughs I’ve previously done, then you can find them here:
- Creating Custom Google Home entities for integration with Home-Assistant & Node-red
- Automating a Humidifier with Node-red and a Broadlink RM3 Mini: Part 2 Voice Control and Home-Assistant
- Voice Assistants: Working with Alexa and Google’s custom entities in Node-red
On the subject of using third party servers, I wasn’t bothered in this instance. If the internet goes down, your voice assistants (ignoring open source ones) are down anyway. I switched off mobile data and wifi from my phone and the Switchbot app was able to control my SwitchBot bots (via Bluetooth), but the hub was offline. I need to really test what would happen if the Wan connection fell over but the wifi stayed up (i.e. simulating an actual outage) but as we’re still working from home, I don’t really want to start taking down the internet just for this.
I like what SwitchBot is doing. Their app is easy to use and intuitive. If I compare this with Broadlink’s app there’s no comparison, SwitchBot wins hands down. This would be the perfect solution for someone just setting out on the path to home automation, providing they have models that are in the database. This last bit is key. The database. For me personally, not one of my appliances was listed natively in the database, essentially robbing me of voice control at this moment in time.
If you’re a reader of my blog, you’ll know that I am all about node-red and home-assistant. I wouldn’t switch from broadlink at this moment in time because I can already do the things that at present the Hub mini cannot. Also, my broadlink is integrated into a wider system, where as the SwitchBot app is still very much independent. Were broadlink able to greatly increase the number of models in its database or add the ability to add custom (‘learned’) codes to its voice control function then this would make the perfect little addition for friends and family members that aren’t already “down the rabbit hole” so to speak.
If you fancy having a look at one yourself, you’ll be able to grab one direct from the following retailers (affiliate links that won’t cost you any extra, but help to support the blog):
Huge thanks again for SwitchBot for sending me this unit to review. I wasn’t paid for it, all opinions are my own! If you’re interested in finding out more about SwitchBot and the rest of their product range, you can find more information about them here.
If you have any good ideas on how to utilise this further or any tips for getting voice control to work, then pop them in the comments below or come over to our facebook group to discuss further.
If you’re considering a renovation and looking at the structured wiring side of things, or maybe you just want to support the blog, have a look below at my smarthome book, it’s available in all the usual places (including paperback)!