Aqara and Opple have also developed a trio of wireless ZigBee switches which take things a little further in terms of options, with one of the three switches offering six programmable buttons on one phone. We’ll look at this particular change today.
The packaging for these switches is pretty basic, but compared to the old packaging for Aqara goods, it’s a step up, if only for the line drawing showing the change itself, which I think takes it from’ traditional’ to’ minimalist’ maybe… Every model has the correct drawing on the front so you know what you’re purchasing if you’re lucky enough to pick one up in person (now only China). The box’s rear gives you simple specs, though in Simplified Chinese it’s all. All we know about it is:
- Each switch uses a standard CR2032 coin battery
- They use ZigBee 3.0
- The operating temperature is -10ºC ~ +50ºC / 14ºF ~ 122ºF
- All switches have the same basic dimensions – 86 x 86 x 15mm / 3.4 x 3.4 x 0.6in
The sides of the box feature a few icons explaining the basic functions, features and use cases for these switches, of which many are fairly standard or obvious if you’ve used a smart switch before.
- However, two things to remember before we go any further; a two-year battery life is stated by one of the bullet points on the side. That sounds pretty good for a coin battery and a ZigBee turn, if not absolutely uncommon. The point at issue is that these batteries are NOT replaceable, as someone at Aqara told me. On the flip side, someone who speaks Chinese has told me that the batteries are replaceable by their customer service line. So, what the deal is here seems to be some ambiguity. But, if the batteries can’t be replaced, I’d stick my neck out and say it won’t be too common!
The first thing you’ll see in the package is the switch itself. Under the switch, you’ll find a Chinese manual, three double-sided adhesive strips, and a few long screws, if you’re planning to position them over an existing switch box. As is obvious, they are intended for use in the EU, UK and China, but as they can be mounted anywhere, it is not an issue to use them in the US, as long as you don’t mind the different dimensions of regular US switches.
We’re looking at the 6-button option, but the other switches are the same in every other way apart from the number of keys. The switch actually comes in two parts, similar to the Philips Hue Dimmer Switch, in that the main wallplate sticks to the wall, or other surfaces, with the button snapping inside the recessed area of the wallplate, which has magnets inside. Interestingly, the toggle has a small hole in the upper right corner which houses a tiny LED that blinks each time you click one of the buttons.The back of the plate has two rubber strips designed to prevent the plate from slipping around if you choose to use it instead of a wall on a table or other horizontal surface. If you want a more durable fitting instead of the supplied double-sided adhesive strips, the rear also shows two cutout holes for screws.
The wall plate on its own is only 11mm/0.43in deep and only another 3mm/0.12in more when the switch is added, bringing it to 14mm/0.55in in total. This is on a par with the current Aqara wireless rocker switches.
The switch is 12mm/0.47 in deep on its own, and since it contains magnets, it can be fixed to any appropriate metal surface without the wall plate being included. Nevertheless, as already described, 75% of that depth is’ absorbed’ into the wall plate once the change is connected to the surface. The switch’s rear has two cutouts that suit the plate’s pieces. It means that you put the switch on the right side upside down, because even though you might have it positioned upside down in theory, there is a tiny notch at the bottom of the switch that has to fit a cutout on the bottom part of the plate recess, so there’s no way you can unintentionally place it upside down.
The rear of the switch also has a small button marked ‘C’ which you need to press when pairing or resetting it.
Each switch has a circle on it to show the key, so there are six circles on three different rocker switches in this example. The plate has a slight branding of Aqara on the rim.
INITIAL SETUP – VIA AQARA HOME
Although these switches are built for the Chinese market and are intended to work with the Chinese server, if you use the Aqara app, unlike the Mi Home app, you can actually add them to any hub and server. When you look at the first screenshot above, there is not much option with the US server in terms of wireless remote switches and controllers, and the Opple switches are nowhere to be seen. Once you sign out of your account and choose HomeKit Mode, anything that is available can be connected to your Aqara portal, regardless of which template it is. So you can see the Opple switches are now available as an option in the third screenshot.
I have three hubs in my house–two are Chinese, and both are connected to the Mi Home app, connecting the app to the database on the Chinese Mainland. The third center is the U.S. version, connected to the U.S. server-set Aqara app. If I’m signed out and set to HomeKit mode, when attaching the Opple switch, all three hubs will show up as available, and as much as I prefer the Mi Home app in general, that’s something you can only do in the Aqara app. This means you won’t be able to monitor them if you have loads of devices connected to the Chinese server in your Mi Home app.
I just want to use these switches in HomeKit through the Home app in my case, so it’s not a big deal. However, although these switches are not intended for the U.S. as such, these switches are now available after you sign back to your account in the Aqara app. So if you only use the Aqara app for all of your Mijia / Aqara phones (as opposed to the Mi Home app), you can also build automations with these switches and use them in HomeKit.
If you are signed out of the Aqara app (HomeKit mode), after the change has been made, it will appear along with all of your other Aqara or Mijia phones, regardless of whether they are in Mi Home or Aqara Home. One thing to note is that this approach would initially apply it to the default room before you change it, even if you choose a room for the switch. When you sign in to the Aqara app, the top of the display will reveal all six keys.
IN HOMEKIT AND THE HOME APP
The switch will automatically be shown to HomeKit after you have attached the switch to the Aqara server, although it will be connected to the Standard room again until you change it. You may already have worked it out, but what’s amazing about the Opple Switches in general is that they support single, double and long clicks, as you can see in the seconds screenshot. Now if you apply that feature to the 6-button Opple Switch, you’ll get a remarkable 18 different button combinations, all in one switch. In the screenshot you can only see three keys, but just look at the top of the screen say “there are 6 unconfigured buttons.” Impressive!
If you are using the Mi Home software, these switches can now be officially added here. When the Opple switches first started, you couldn’t connect them to Mi Home, but since December 3rd, Xiaomi added them to the app’s long list of apps, which is why I prefer the Mi Home app to the Aqara app. The reason I add them to the Aqara app is because my US hub is connected to the app, which means I don’t have to change servers to just access the switch settings. There are also other benefits, but they don’t have to be mentioned here.
THE SUBJECT OF BATTERY REPLACEMENT
Credit: Images above courtesy of pabl33 via Imgur
When I first got the switches I couldn’t see any way to access the battery to replace them when the time came to do so, although I had found out that the battery was kept within the switch itself. Yes, there is no reference in the Chinese manual of how to remove the battery. I called Aqara, as mentioned earlier, who then informed me that the batteries were not supposed to be replaceable. That’s a little treat! It’s not unusual for some items, such as smoke alarms, to have this kind of arrangement. But then, smoke alarm batteries continue to last about 10 years, so you should switch the smoke alarm anyway.
Whether that’s all because of the change model, or a way to generate extra sales, I’ll leave it to you to say, but for the former reason I’d like to believe it’s. Either way, if you want to hold on your sticks, arm yourself with the right tools–in this situation, a guitar pick would seem to have come in handy.
IN USE / SUMMING UP
Putting the problem of the battery to one side, it must be said that these switches are really very good. If you’ve already seen the Aqara rocker switches, then while the buttons being pushed are similar to the Hue Dimmer switch, there’s no doubt about their accuracy. You should thank Zigbee for this, because the speed and low power use of devices using ZigBee is hard to beat, especially when you compare them to Bluetooth-based switches.
The Hue Dimmer has four buttons, and they are all programmable as well, but you may also be aware that when it comes to HomeKit, each of those buttons only has a single click, so these switches go far beyond the Hue option’s capabilities in this regard. It is also noteworthy that they have been able to cram six switches in the same space as the version with two or four keys.With the same kind of silky matt finish that they use for the Aqara rocker switches, the feel of the entire unit is also quite satisfying. It’s a small detail, but still significant. In contrast to the Aqara Rocker switches, the’ speed’ when pressing the switches is very low, and unlike the Hue dimmer, there is practically none of the’ wobble’ you get from these types of buttons, which are simply free-floating around the edges. The shift click feels solid without being too difficult to push.
While I prefer to keep switches in one place–it’s nice that these can be removed with the plate and used as a’ remote’ if you want, which is a bonus point over the original Aqara rocker switches. In terms of aesthetics, I really love the design of the Aqara rocker switch, which makes the entire front of the system a switch, and perhaps the Opple versions are a little smoother in some respects, with the shallow border running around the recess edge where the switch resides. Nonetheless, if you consider the advantages of these switches over the other two devices listed, it is only a minor thing.
If you’ve already dipped your toes into the smart home ‘ river ‘ of Aqara / Mijia, then these are one of the best devices out there, in terms of choice – 2, 4 or 6-button models, but also because these switches can comfortably straddle the Mi Home / Aqara and HomeKit worlds, making them a very versatile tool to have at your fingertips.