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Matter over Thread on Eve via HomeKit

Posted on Friday, November 18th, 2022

Dave!This is Part Deux of removing all the dead INSTEON smart home crap from my home and replacing everything with Thread smart home devices.

Back in the day INSTEON was the best fit for my smart home setup. It was clunky and weird and didn't always function as expected, but it was cheap and mostly worked (or not... turning my bedroom lights on and off also turned my living room lights on and off, and I never got that figured out in six years). The bad thing about it was that interacting with it was awful. I had to buy a pricey programmable ISY-994i hub to replace the INSTEON hub that barely worked. THEN I had to buy a modem to connect it to my network. THEN I had to pay for a service which would allow me to use Alexa for voice control and interact with my devices remotely from my phone. THEN I had to write literal programs to get everything working as I needed.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Apple's initial efforts with home automation was something they called "HomeKit" but it was actually "HomeShit" because you couldn't do shit with it. And there weren't many devices that worked with it anyway. I frickin' hated it so much that I completely scrapped the test gear I bought and started over with INSTEON.

But that was 2016, and Apple has come a long way in six years. Most importantly, they joined the Matter Smart Home alliance which will allow all Matter devices to communicate with each other (so it doesn't matter than HomeShit can't get automations working to save their life). And the network behind Matter is something called Thread.

Thread is actually pretty great, because it does all the work by itself instead of relying on a central router hub to handle everything. Devices designate themselves as either router leaders, routers, or endpoints to build a self-propagating, self-healing mesh network. And that's it. Except if you want to access your Thread network from outside your local network (such as the internet), you also need a "border router." Apple's HomePod mini works for that, so I'm good to go.

Any device that's connected to wired power routes traffic, which includes all 26 switches in my home. Needless to say that with so many routers my Thread network is rock-solid.

Which brings us to Eve, the company making most of my devices, including my light switches.

Eve Switches on my wall.

Pros...

  • The design is really nice. All the switches are capacitive touch with no moving parts. You just tap them on and off. It's really nice.
  • They're built on Thread. But not at first! When I first installed my switches I was mortified to see that they were using bluetooth as the "network carrier." But then after a few days they switched over to Thread and all was well. I think that they are Bluetooth to start for configuration purposes.

Negatives...

  • THEY ARE NOT DIMMABLE! This is absolutely bonkers. I ended up having to buy some of my switches from Brilliant for those lights I wanted to dim. I would have preferred to have had all my switches by Eve since Brilliant isn't built on Three.
  • Because the switches are flat with no protruding rocker, it's very difficult to camouflage that you may have outlet boxes that are uneven or at slightly different depths. Very few of my switches are flush with the faceplate which doesn't bother me too much... but I sure wish they had the ability to self-level by screwing a spacer out or something.
  • These switches are massive. I'd have thought that technology would have gotten smaller as time goes on, but these are every bit as huge as the INSTEON units they are replacing (technology that's decades old). The Brilliant switches I bought are a much smaller profile.
  • You get a single-gang faceplate with each switch, and it's great quality. But Eve doesn't sell matching 2-gang and 3-gang faceplates, so you have to look elsewhere. And I looked a lot. I even wrote to Eve to say "Hey, which brand of screwless faceplates matches your switches?" Only to be told "We dunno." That's kinda bad. I ended up just re-using my old INSTEON switch plates until I find something that works better.
  • There's an LED light on each switch which can be configured to be "Never On" or "On when On" or "On when Off." I decided to have the light be "On when Off" so that people can find them in the dark. Unfortunately, the LEDs could have been better. First of all they are an annoying and attention-seeking green color when they should have been a more unobtrusive soft white. Second of all, you can dim them a bit, but they are still very bright and I wish I could have dimmed them further.
  • You can't just run power to the lights and automate them to perform other tasks, something which would be very handy (some of my INSTEON switches were used this way). If the power can't physically turn something off connected to them, then there is no "off." They're just on all the time. This seems incredibly weird given how smart homes work.
  • The HomeKit QR code is on the faceplate... not the switch itself. Considering that most of my switches won't be using the faceplates since they are 2-gang and 3-gang switches, this is a pretty bizarre move. The electricians were so concerned about it that they copied the last four digits of the code, wrote it on a Post-It tab, and stuck it to the side of the switches so I wouldn't be completely lost if I ever have to pull them out of the wall for some reason. I also wrote the switch location on the HomeKit code booklet and filed them away just in case.

And so I guess we'll see how it goes over the long haul. Hopefully the little quirks with HomeKit will work themselves out as I attempt to get my home "smart" again.

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