There are many places where HomeKit needs more apps (video doorbells being a common’ favorite’), with some types of items completely totally absent. Another class that currently has only another choice I know of is standing fans, with the only confirmed HomeKit compatible fan being the Airmate SA35195R Smart Fan, which is very expensive if you can.
With that in mind and expanding its capabilities in iOS13 with Siri Shortcuts and the Shortcuts app, one obvious solution is devices that are part of the Xiaomi ecosystem. The Xiaomi Home app (also known as Mi Home) works very well with Siri Shortcuts and as part of its smart system, it has many smart standing fans. Such fans can be sold in many parts of the EU as well as in Asia and in foreign stores such as AliExpress, GearBest and Banggood. Although the very same model has a few variants out there, with slightly different names depending on where you are, many of them look the same and have the basic functions.
Some come with an integrated battery, but basically do the same job and have the same app interface in many instances. The one we are testing today is simply known as the Mi Standing Fan in Hong Kong and can be purchased here for just US$ 65.00, although from the above listed foreign stores you can expect to pay more. So, how does Siri Shortcuts work, and more importantly, is it good? To find out, read on.
Because this is quite a large unit, even if it is dismantled, the packaging is quite flat, so there’s nothing to worry about in this regard, although you’ll be pleased to know that the fan is really well packaged and should easily withstand overseas shipping without any problems.
THE FAN AND COMPONENT PARTS
There are quite a few different parts when you open the box, but a quick look at the manual and everything starts to look much easier to put together. The parts for the fan itself consist of the seven-blade fan, a fitting screw for holding the fan in place when connected to the standing fan’s stem, and a cap for holding the fan in place to prevent it from flying off when in motion.
The fan and the fan cage which comes in two halves link to the fan engine that is connected to the fan’s base. The stem also links to the standing fan’s foundation.
The fan’s stem attaches with a wide bolt to the foundation, so putting together is really quite straightforward.
The base of the stand has a cutout for the port to connect the power cable type C7, and the cable also has a non-polarized type A plug on the other end (in the case of our version).
The base has a connector that links the fan’s stem to the base. The base’s underside has a hole to insert the bolt to hold the fan stem and base in place. The fan’s base has nothing but a small indented marker to indicate where the fan’s front should be. There’s also nothing on the front of the fan cage except for a basic front Mijia logo, so the whole package is really very minimalist.
Although the fan can be controlled through the app or through voice control (which we will get to later), you can also control the fan with the four buttons at the top of the fan motor housing. Five small green LEDs are also available to show different states:
- If the fan is on and linked to your wifi network, the single LED at the top is solid red.
The four LEDs in a row have three main functions, but the fan has a ‘ ordinary ‘ fan mode, capable of four different speeds, and a ‘ natural wind ‘ mode, which attempts to mimic a gentle breeze with an ebbing and flowing speed applied to the fan, by way of a quick explanation of the functions I should mention:
- The LEDs glow slowly to show the active ‘ natural wind ‘ mode. If you had the speed set to the maximum in the normal fan mode, then the four LEDs would glow in the ‘ natural air ‘ mode, with only LEDs flickering at the lowest speed, etc.
- LED will turn on, in turn, to signify the speed of the fan, so if one LED is on, it will be at its slowest speed, with four LEDs at the top speed.
- As in the previous point, if you push the oscillation key, each LED will turn on to reveal the oscillation angle at which the fan is set, so if one LED is switched on, the fan will be set to an oscillation angle of 30o, with four LEDs at an oscillation angle of 120o.
After the LEDs there are four buttons:
- The first button turns the fan on or off when you press and hold it. a simple short press will alternate between ‘normal’ fan mode and ‘natural wind’ fan mode.
- The second button allows the fan to rotate in a horizontal fashion, with options for an oscillating angle of 30º, 60º, 90º, 120º or off. Each subsequent press rotates through these different options sequentially.
- The third button is for turning the timer function on or off. Timers are set in the app.
- The fourth button controls the speed of the fan in ‘normal’ fan mode. Each press cycles through the four different speed steps in sequence.
While the fan rotation can be controlled remotely from the device in the horizontal plane, the fan motor can be physically modified with a 100o field of motion in the vertical plane, but not remotely.
The fan is mostly rubber, with a metal stem pipe. The fan is 900mm/35 in from the base up to the top of the fan cage. The base is 330mm/13 in long and the fan / cage is 340mm/13.4 in high. The version I need is 110v @ 50/60Hz, but other versions would also cover 220-240v, which I think this model does.
IN THE MI HOME APP
You will need to attach it to the Mi Home app to initially power the fan from your iPhone. If you don’t use it already, it’s safe, but to do so, you need to register an account with Xiaomi. You can switch the fan on or off on the main screen of the Mi Home app without having to go into the control panel, but you can also allow a’ Shortcut Card ‘ feature within the Mi Home app settings–which is completely separate from the Shortcuts app and functions. All of the shortcuts cards do is provide you with access to additional system functions. In the case of the fan, you can adjust the fan speed, turn on or off the oscillation and turn the fan on or off.
In the control panel for the fan, you get full access to all the settings. At the top is a nice (but probably unnecessary) little animation. Below this you have four buttons:
- Turn on/off
- standard fan mode
- natural wind fan mode
- Fan speed
The colour scheme will change from blue to green if you select the ‘Natural wind’ option. Below these four buttons is a slider bar that allows you to steplessly control the speed of the fan (from off to 100). Then below that, you have individual buttons for the oscillation angle – off, 30º, 60º, 90º and 120º. A nice touch is a couple of rectangular buttons that allow you to move the fan left or right in small steps, should you want to move the fan in a slightly different direction, as opposed to setting the oscillation option on, and trying to stop it when it reaches the desired direction.
You get some simple preference controls after this, so you have a timer slider that allows you to set a time for the fan to count down before it turns off. 8hrs is the limit from which it is more than necessary for most circumstances to count. You can disable both the alert (or confirmation sounds), which can be a bit loud late at night, and change the LED’s brightness. The final two choices are an alarm when a malfunction occurs, and a parental control lock that locks the physical buttons on the phone, leaving the app as the only way to control the fan.
CONTROL USING SIRI SHORTCUTS
- Starting off in the Mi Home app you start by creating an automation – so click on the Automation tab at the bottom of the home screen and click on the ‘+’ icon in the top corner
- in the ‘IF’ section, select ‘Complete manually’ – you need to do this with any automation that you plan to use with a Shortcut
- In the ‘THEN’ section, scroll down until you find the Mi Standing Fan and select it.
- Select the automation you want to ultimately control via with Siri Shortcuts
- Once you have, the complete automation will be displayed.
- You then just click ‘Save’ and name the automation.
- The new automation will appear at the top of the list of automations you’ve created, with an ‘add to Siri’ button at the top
- When you click on the ‘Add to Siri’ button, a list of previously created automations will appear in a list, with the most recently created one at the bottom, with another ‘Add to Siri’ button.
- Once you click on this button, the ‘Add to Siri’ screen will appear, asking you to create a phrase in order to trigger the automation.
- once you’ve added your unique phrase, click on the blue ‘Add to Siri’ box to complete the Shortcut and you’re done.
- If you look in the Shortcuts app, a tile relating to the automation has also been created, which in iOS 12 didn’t happen.
You can now trigger your automation via Siri or by pressing the newly created tile in the Shortcuts app. With the expanded abilities for Siri Shortcuts, there are a lot more possibilities, but I’ll leave that for another article for now.
AUTOMATIONS VIA HOMEKIT…?
In some ways, this is kind of a trick question, but with two distinct responses – first, if you’re familiar with HomeBridge or HomeAssistant, then the fan can be added to HomeKit and is fully functional as if it were a normal HomeKit unit.
Although the fan itself can be operated with a HomeKit compatible device, the other option is not, strictly speaking, HomeKit. If you are fortunate enough to own the Aqara hub and have either Mijia or Aqara temperature or motion sensors, you will know they are compatible with HomeKit. If you use the Mi Home app as well (unfortunately not the Aqara app) and have the fan mounted alongside these sensors, you can create automations to activate the fan with them.
Admittedly, the automation is not generated in the Home app as such, but if, for example, an Aqara temperature sensor is the main sensor in a given room in your home, then basically the temperature sensor will track and report from within HomeKit the conditions in your house, but also regulate the fan when it is necessary to do so via Mi House – if the temperature in the living room is the same as that in the living room.
Ideally we will soon be able to build automations via the Shortcuts app that will allow any HomeKit compatible sensor to activate the Mi Fan, but as it stands, this is either very complicated or simply not possible right now, even though IFTTT may be able to accomplish this kind of thing using Webhooks.
IN DAY-TO-DAY USE
I’d love a HomeKit-compatible fan, but I can do without such a thing for now for the price of these. Apart from that, is the fan great at all? The response is “Absolutely!””. There are some products that are part of the Xiaomi ecosystem that really stand out in many ways, either because of their layout, their feature list, and not ignoring the value you continue to get for cash. The Mi Standing fan is one of those tools, along with an automatic vacuum cleaner recently purchased from Roborock S6, which we will test in the near future.
In reality, the fan is quite quiet because of the amount of air it pushes out, and while not as strong as some fans we have here –all Taiwan households seem to have a range of fans–the ratio of noise to power is good enough for me. The Mi Standing fan uses Wifi to connect to your network and has been very stable until recently –the Fan itself is reliable, but some Xiaomi ecosystem phones seem to have weak wifi connectivity despite being close to the router for some reason. This has also been mentioned by other users, so I know that this is not a particular issue for my home, and I hope that it will be resolved with an update to the Mi Home app, which I think is the culprit in this case.
Because of this, it does not influence the fan in any way, and the fan has always excelled either through the app, automations, or through Siri shortcuts. It also looks good too, and regular fan cleaning is not a challenge, as it is actually quite easy to take it apart to clean the relevant parts (as can be seen in this analysis in the video earlier).
I have no bad word to say about it in all honesty. If it could only get help from HomeKit, I think Xiaomi could do really well, because there is really no meaningful competition in the HomeKit arena out there. Now I’ve already said that there are a few different versions of this fan, with one particular model including a cordless power pack, but in general, the variations, including the different names (such as SmartMi instead of Mi for instance) are mostly cosmetic.
I’m pretty sure some would say that a cheap smart plug with a cheap and powerful fan would be just as great, but that kind of configuration would bring you on and off, and nothing more. A smart plug won’t be able to adjust the fan speed or allow or disable an oscillation function–if the fan even has one –so this solution doesn’t come close to what can be done with this fan and the device. If you’re in the fan market and satisfied with Siri Shortcuts for your voice control, this is one of the best options right now, at least until somebody makes a version compatible with HomeKit.