One of the biggest challenges facing smart home gadgets is the light switch. Light switches are dead simple. They work instantly. And everyone knows how to use them. No smart home gadget can make all of those claims — and so far, there’s no object as dead simple as the light switch to control all of our smart devices.
The company Brilliant has sprung up to fill that gap. Brilliant CEO and co-founder Aaron Emigh, who was previously CTO of Shopkick and a VP at Six Apart, says he started the company so that he could make a device for his own home. “I realized pretty quickly I was going to hate having to use my smartphone all the time in my house,” he says. “It’s just the wrong interaction paradigm.”
His answer is the Brilliant Control — a small touchscreen tablet that replaces a light switch and is meant to control everything from lights (smart or otherwise) to music to smart ovens and sprinklers and whatever else you can hook up.
The device has a 5-inch screen and is just a bit bigger than a traditional light switch. Emigh’s hope is that it’ll approach the simplicity of a light switch, too: there’s no main interface — you just swipe up to turn on the lights and swipe down to turn them off. Swiping slowly in either direction lets you dim the lights instead.
Brilliant Control also includes Amazon’s Alexa, so that you can use voice control instead of touch. It’s a good option to have, since sometimes you’ll want to issue a command from across a room or do something that’s actually faster by voice. But Control focuses on touch, rather than voice, because Emigh thinks the immediacy of a light switch-like response is critical in the home.
“If you want to turn on the lights in a room you’re just walking into, [voice is] terrible,” Emigh says. “It takes about 15 seconds.”
Brilliant has built Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connections into Control. But it can only connect to “a dozen or so” devices directly, so it seems like most people who buy this will want to hook it up to a smart home hub, like Smart Things, that can patch through a number of other devices. On one hand, that’s a weakness of this device; but this gadget is really meant for people who already have a complex setup and are looking for a better way to tie it all together.
I was able to play with the Control briefly during a demo, and while swiping takes a touch more dexterity than flipping a switch, turning lights on and off by touch happened quickly and easily enough. Dimming was a bit trickier, since you had to get the speed just right for it to register as a dim adjustment and not a flick on or off.
If you don’t know how Control works, tapping anywhere on the screen will bring up a tutorial on how to use the lights. That screen also includes a series of options for controlling music and other gadgets. The fact that this is all buried makes it pretty clear that Control is primarily meant for quickly activating preset scenes, rather than diving deep into the settings of other devices. That’s fine though, since you wouldn’t want to spend a ton of time playing with your light switch replacement anyway.
When Control is idle, it’ll cycle through a series of wallpapers that look like they could have been ripped off any cheesy stock photo gallery — many are animated, too. Emigh says that Brilliant’s testers have loved these, though I found them to look pretty tacky and distracting and can’t imagine having them up in a home. Fortunately, you can replace them with your own photos, or even just make the screen blank if you’d prefer.
The screen itself is also a weak point of the Control. At 5 inches, its 720p resolution doesn’t look fantastic up close — it’s a bit washed out, and it’s clearly not as neat and sharp as modern smartphone screens. That might not be a big deal at a distance, but it’s definitely noticeable up close and sure to age poorly.
Brilliant plans to begin shipping the Control sometime late this summer, but it’s beginning to take preorders today. A single switch will sell for $199 (some early preorders will be available for $149); Brilliant will also be selling units that fit in 2, 3, and 4 switch outlets, which’ll each add another $50 to the price. Rather than including a larger screen, those models include shallow strips you can swipe to command additional lights.
That’s really pricey for a light switch replacement, but Emigh is right that one is needed in the home. Brilliant’s Control is certainly not the first of its kind, but it is one of the first that works with a lot of devices — not just other things sold by Brilliant — and wouldn’t look awful on your wall.
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