SwitchBot Curtain vs Zemismart Curtain DriverNovember 18, 2020
Today on the hookup we’re going to take a look at the SwitchBot Curtain and the Zemismart Curtain Driver two products that I predicted would be massive failures, and I’m am going to show you how incredibly wrong I was about both of them.
Back in July 2019 SwitchBot, a company known for their little button pushing robots, launched an indiegogo campaign for a new type of curtain motor and it raised over a million dollars via crowdfunding. Having tried and failed to DIY a similar product just a few months earlier, I was skeptical that SwitchBot would be able to deliver, and a little irritated that they choose to use the wildly unreliable Indiegogo to raise money for their launch. A little over a year later, I’m still not thrilled about the concept of established companies using crowd funding websites that offer no guarantee of delivery, but I was WAY OFF about the functionality, not only does the switchbot curtain work, but it spawned some copycat devices that also work surprisingly well. In this video we’re going to put the $89 switchbot curtain up against the $51 Zemismart Curtain Driver in categories like Versatility, Ease of Installation, Setup Process, Strength, Speed, Noise, Battery Life, Control, Integrations, and accessories, and then I’ll give you my final verdict. Full disclosure, both of these products were provided to me by their manufacturers for a review, but I don’t do sponsored product reviews, so I have no obligation to say anything positive about either of them.
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First, lets talk value. The switchbot curtain sells for $89, and the Zemismart Curtain Driver costs $51. Neither of them can currently be ordered on Amazon but hopefully that will change soon. The zemismart definitely doesn’t feel like as premium as a product out of the box, because the plastic shells are thin and don’t line up exactly and inside there are some other notable differences. First, the switchbot has a single internal 18650 lithium battery that is not easily user replaceable compared to the external dual 14500 lithium batteries in the Zemismart. The Zemismart also has the batteries in series meaning the motor has double the voltage available to it, which will be noticeable in some of my tests later. The zemismart drive mechanism is a pretty standard small DC motor and gearbox with two hall effect sensors to keep track of the distance that the curtain has moved, and while the drive mechanism on the Switchbot looks like it’s had some series R and D put into it, at its core it’s still a DC motor with two hall effect sensors. Also notable is the fact that the Zemismart motor has an internal spring mechanism to put tension on the roller wheel, while the SwitchBot is rigidly mounted and relies only on the external mechanism to provide tension. Other than the slightly thicker and more premium feeling plastic, there’s not a whole lot of difference in the cost of materials in these two motors, so I’m going to give the initial value point to the Zemismart which costs roughly 40% less.
Next lets look at versatility: The physical characteristics of your curtain robot will vary based on your curtain type. The switchbot needs to be ordered in a specific type either the rod, u-rail, or i-rail variety while the Zemismart curtain comes with 3 adapters to fit the three rod types: rods, u-rail, and I-track. When I disassembled the switchbot unit, it’s obvious that there is a central module that is the same for all versions and the side rails can be swapped out for different curtain types, but as of right now I don’t see the ability to purchase just the side rails without the motor if you decide to change your curtains. I only tested the rod style for both, and the switchbot’s system was much better, allowing it to fit curtains with rod diameters from around .6 inches to 1.8 inches vs the zemismart which only works from a minimum of .85 inches to a max of 1.25 inches. I’ve also read that the switchbot is better for traversing expandable curtain rods that have a bump in them, but I wasn’t able to complete that test since my middle rod was too thin for either motor to travel along. It’s nice that the Zemismart includes all 3 adapter types right in the package, but I think I have to give this point to switchbot for supporting a larger variety of rod diameters.
When you go to install these things, the switchbot process is really well thought out and should result in you getting the perfect amount of tension on the spring rails, but you probably aren’t going to figure it out without reading the instructions. Basically you flip these little legs up into the case, then place the top slider over the rail and clamp it down by pushing on the legs until the clips automatically flip up. Again, I think this is an elegant solution to make sure you don’t over tighten or under tighten the switchbot which would negatively effect it’s performance, so kudos to the switchbot engineers for including this.
The zemismart isn’t as refined, but it’s so simple that you won’t need any instructions: Just pick the right adapters, install them on your curtain rod and then slide them into the slots on the side of the curtain driver. Just like the switchbot the adapters are spring loaded, but since they don’t have a ratcheting system like the switchbot the zemismart driver is significantly less adjustable. Still, for me with my curtain rod made from 1” EMT conduit, they worked perfectly and immediately without any modification. The only bad thing I’ve seen with the Zemismart is that if the curtains get caught on anything the rod adapters on the zemismart can unclip, which doesn’t stop the motor from working, but does make a rattling sound until you can reattach the clip. After completing my testing there’s no question that the design of the switchbot is better so even though both of them work, I’m going to give the ease of installation point to the switchbot for removing user error from the equation as much as possible.
Once your motors are installed you’ll need to get them setup in their respective apps and set up their limits. The switchbot app is super easy to use and guides you through the process with thorough and clear on screen instructions. Start to finish it took me less than 5 minutes to get my switchbot curtain installed and configured.
The zemismart app setup is a bit more fiddly, but ultimately offers all the same functionality. If you just want to use the RF remote, the setup couldn’t be easier: Put the batteries in the motor which automatically puts it into pairing mode and then press any button on the remote to pair it. Next press the Zzz button on the remote, which is actually the programming button, and then using the remote, move the curtain to the fully open or closed position and press pause. Then using the other direction on the remote move the curtain to the opposite position and press pause again. Your motor now knows what positions to move to for fully open and fully closed.
To pair the wifi bridge, first download the Tuya app on your phone and create an account. Then select add device and choose curtain under “small appliances”. Next is the tricky part: Your phone must be connected to a 2.4 gigahertz wifi network. If your wifi networks are separated into 2.4 and 5 gigahertz SSIDs then this will be easy, but if you have a single SSID for both radio types the inclusion process will fail every time since your phone is likely going to default to the 5 gigahertz network.
For me, the fix for this is to temporarily disable the 5 gigahertz network while I’m adding new products, but I can’t tell you specifically how to do that on your system.
Once the bridge is added you’ll remove a battery on your motor to put it back in pairing mode, and then press the open button on the app to pair this remote. It is possible to pair both the app and the handheld remote at the same time.
To set the limits on the app you’ll click the more icon and then select logic curtain distance. Then, using the open command you should move your curtain until it is fully open and press pause button, the move it to fully closed using the close button and press the pause button to load in those stop points. In addition to fully open and closed the app can go to any percentage.
As far as functionality within their apps I would say both the Zemismart and Switchbot are pretty equal, but the Switchbot has a much smoother and more well thought out setup process that doesn’t require you do mess with your wifi network, and I think more people will be able to complete it successfully, so this needs to be another point for Switchbot.
At this point if you’ve gone through the setup process you already know if these motors worked for your curtains. But, if you want to know whether they will work for you before you buy them, here’s an easy test: Grab your curtain at the top by the last loop or grommet and attempt to pull them closed. If your curtains bind up to the point where you can’t move them any further, then these motors aren’t going to work without modification to your curtains. Switchbot hints at a bunch of accessories that will eventually be available to fix this issue, but it doesn’t look like they are ready at the time of making this video. In my case, I had already modified my curtains to work for a previous project by using a needle and thread to limit the amount that each pleat could seperate, which prevents binding.
The other possible issue would be if you have very heavy curtains. So to test the strength of each motor I used bottles of water to add weight to the curtains until the motor failed to go to the correct fully opened or fully closed position. In this test the Zemismart powered through me adding six bottles of water or roughly 6.6 pounds to the end of the curtain, while the Switchbot was only able to handle 4 bottles or 4.4 pounds. The zemismart also didn’t slow down with a larger load like the switchbot did and it’s very likely that the additional torque is a direct result of the increased voltage available from having two batteries in series rather than a single battery, so mark this point for the zemismart for overall strength.
I would have also expected the increased voltage to lead to an increase in speed, nbut their actually pretty similar, and the switchbot actually takes the point closing in just 22 seconds vs the Zemismart’s 25 seconds. This probably isn’t enough of a difference to justify buying on motor over the other, but we’ll give credit where credit is due. The switchbot also has a quiet mode that slows down the motor to reduce noise and ends up more than doubling the time to close to about 48 seconds.
Which brings me to the major downfall of both of these motors, noise, especially compared to all in one solutions.
For what it’s worth my wife says the sound of the switchbot is “less offensive” than the sound of the zemismart motor, and I tend to agree, but both of them are noticeable even from the next room. As I mentioned the switchbot does have the option to use quiet mode, which trades off speed and strength for quieter operation, but for me this lower power mode sometimes failed to close the curtains all the way, so I’m not sure the decrease in noise is worth the lack of consistency in operation. Either way in the noise category the switchbot is quieter in both performance and standard modes, so another point for the switchbot.
Next, lets talk batteries: As I mentioned before The switchbot has a single built in 18650 battery that gets charged via a USB-C port on the back, while the Zemismart uses rechargeable lithium ion 14500 batteries that are charged with a micro USB but also could easily be replaced if need be. Because the Zemismart uses two batteries in series the motor runs off of roughly 7.4 volts compared to the 3.7 volts for the Switchbot. This is the likely reason that the zemismart motor was more powerful because increasing the voltage supplied to a DC motor will increase its torque, but it also means that the motor will be less energy efficient, so to test their capacities, I set up an automation to open and close the curtains every two and a half minutes and recorded them to see when they would finally run out of battery.
In my test the Zemismart opened and closed continually for a little over 40 hours before the curtains stopped closing 100%, this represents an impressive 480+ open/close cycles before there was a noticeable decrease in performance. The switchbot? Well, after the same 40 hours the switchbot app still reported 53% battery and the stupid thing took a total of 4 days of continuous opening and closing before finally failing to close the curtains all the way, 4 days! Lets take a quick second and recognize my family for putting up with the curtains opening and closing every two and a half minutes for 6 days straight. The switchbot EASILY takes this category with well over 1000 open close cycles on a single charge of a single 18650 lithium battery.
Also, because there’s no power hungry wifi chip in these devices there should be very little day to day standby battery drain, so even with fairly heavy usage I can’t imagine needing to recharge either motor more than once a year, which is great.
So if there’s no wifi chip, how DO you control these things? Out of the box the SwitchBot curtain is controlled via Bluetooth by directly connecting to it with your phone. Using just the switchbot app you can set up schedules that are stored directly on the device, but other than that control is somewhat limited. To enable cloud services you’ll need a switchbot hub, either the hub mini, or the hub plus, and to control it with a physical remote you’ll need the switchbot button. This means that to get the full range of connectivity you’re going to need to spend $147.
By contrast the Zemismart driver uses RF433 for control and in the box you get an RF remote and a WiFi to RF bridge that uses the Tuya Smart Life app for cloud connectivity. The only downside is that RF is a one way protocol so there’s no easy way for the Zemismart driver to report things like curtain position or battery percentage like you can get with the switchbot’s Bluetooth protocol. Still, the Zemismart gives you 99% of the possible connectivity of the switchbot, for a third of the price. If you already use switchbot products or you’re going to buy more than one curtain motor the switchbot becomes a little more competitive and convenient since you’ll need to have a separate wifi to RF bridge for each of your Zemismart motors that you want to independently control, but there’s no question that the Zemismart delivers more value when it comes to connectivity, so mark up another mark another point for Zemismart.
Once you’ve got the switchbot and zemismart motors connected to the cloud, you can use that connectivity to enable other integrations. Both curtain motors connect to Amazon echo, google home, and IFTTT, though in both cases the IFTTT integration is bad and inconsistent and probably shouldn’t be relied on, but what else is new with IFTTT.
The switchbot uses the switchbot app and skills for these integrations while the Zemismart uses the tuya smart life app and skills. The switchbot is controllable via smartthings once you connect it to a switchbot hub, but unfortunately even though some Tuya devices are controllable via smartthings I can’t tell why some devices show smartthings compatibility while others don’t and unfortunately the Zemismart Curtain Driver is one that doesn’t have the smartthings icon so it won’t show up in the smartthings integration.
If you’re like me and you prefer completely local integrations, Switchbot devices have been able to be directly connect to home assistant via Bluetooth in the past, but no such control exists for the switchbot curtain yet, and I don’t know enough about hacking and decoding the Bluetooth protocol to say whether one will be possible in the future. As for the Zemismart, unfortunately the Tuya RF to WiFi bridge won’t be able to support Tasmota since it uses the new tuya WR1 chip instead of an ESP8266, but the good news is that the Zemismart motor can easily be controlled with a Sonoff RF Bridge with Tasmota, by just capturing the codes from the included remote. The integrations section is a bit of a tie for me and neither of them are perfect. But I’d say if you’re a home assistant user you’re going to have an easier time adding the Zemismart controller to your smart home, and if you use smart things, you’ll want to go with the switchbot curtain and hub combo.
The last thing to talk about are the extra features and accessories for these devices. Both the zemismart and switchbot have light sensors built in that can theoretically be used to control the motor. For the Zemismart your only option is to turn on “night sleep mode” in the tuya app which I think it supposed to automatically close the curtains at night when light levels are low, but I never actually got it to work, so maybe this is planned for later. In the switchbot app you can set up different actions for different light levels, so you could close them if it’s very bright or very dark, but open them if it’s moderately bright. This is a much better implementation of light sensing, but still semi limited in usefulness in my opinion. As for accessories, I mentioned earlier the Zemismart motor comes with a wifi bridge and remote in the box, while those are optional accessories with the Switchbot. The switchbot does have one accessory that might set it apart: For $25 you can add a solar panel to keep your switchbot curtain charged as long as your window receives some direct sunlight. Unfortunately when my curtains are open they don’t get any sunlight, so the solar panel really isn’t effective for me, but I can definitely see it’s use case since even a small amount of available sunlight would likely be able to keep the motor charged indefinitely based on it’s super low power consumption. Other than the accessories in the box, there aren’t any compatible addons for the Zemismart motor so the Switchbot definitely takes this last point in this competition.
So look, based strictly on the points, the switchbot is a much better device but they both work surprisingly well. When I started these tests I was fully expecting the Tuya motor to be significantly inferior to the Switchbot, but as far as performance goes, the Tuya motor performs pretty similarly for a third of the price if you’re also buying the switchbot hub and remote. The switchbot does look, feel, and sound like a more premium product, which it is, and if you need smarthings integration it’s the obvious choice. If you already use switchbots in your house and already have a switchbot hub, I think it’s probably worth the $30 difference in price, but if you just need a single motor and want the ability to integrate it with google home or amazon echo right out of the box the Zemismart provides undeniable value.
I know this video was long, but if you’re looking for a way to automate your existing curtains without adding a pull cord or replacing the existing rod, both of these products get my full stamp of approval. Like I said, I was kind of expecting both of them to suck, but turns out I was totally wrong and they are both actually really good. If you end up getting one, let me know how it works for your curtains down in the comments.
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