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Best smart shades and blinds 2020: Buying advice, in-depth reviews

Motorized window treatments that can open and close on command, on a schedule, or even based on room occupancy are the ultimate finishing touch for any smart home. Like smart lighting, smart window treatments offer a host of benefits in terms of convenience, security, and energy conservation. There’s a safety angle, too: There are no pull cords that pose a strangulation risk to children and pets. But the wow factor they deliver also renders them a luxury item—even deploying them one room at a time can cost thousands of dollars if each room has a lot of windows.

We’re using the term “shades” in the headline above, but we’ll cover blinds here, too. What’s the difference? Shades are a soft window covering, typically made of fabric. They roll or pull up to allow light in, and they roll or drop down to block light and provide privacy. Blinds are a hard window treatment consisting of vertical or horizontal slats, typically made of wood, metal, plastic, or a composite material. The angle of these slats can be varied to admit or restrict light, or the slats can be closed tightly to block light and provide privacy. The slats in horizontal blinds can be pulled up in a stack to fully expose the window, while the slats in vertical blinds are pulled and gathered to the left or right for the same purpose.

Here are our top picks in a couple of categories, followed by an explanation of the terms you’ll encounter and the features you should consider when you shop for smart shades or smart blinds. You’ll find a list of all the products we’ve reviewed in this category at the bottom of the page. It’s a relatively short list right now, but we’ll add new product reviews and additional product categories as time goes on.

Best cellular smart shades

These are beautiful shades, but being geeks, we’re particularly enamored with their battery compartment. The compartment is integrated into the headrail, so you need only tip it down to access and replace the batteries (D cells in the unit we reviewed). Lutron’s five-button Pico remote is also very cool, though it costs extra ($25), with dedicated buttons for fully open, fully closed, lowering, raising, and a memorized “favorite” position.

You’ll need to also buy an $80 Lutron Smart Bridge to connect the shades to your Wi-Fi network, since the shades rely on a proprietary wireless protocol, but Lutron’s app is very good and the bridge can also manage the company’s excellent Caséta smart lighting products (dimmers, switches, and smart plugs), ceiling-fan controllers, and it has some hooks into third-party products, ranging from Ecobee smart thermostats to Sonos multi-room audio systems. Serena by Lutron shades are also compatible with Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and Apple HomeKit.

Runner-up

Graber’s Virtual Cord cellular shades are every bit as pretty as Lutron’s, but their motors are slightly louder and their battery compartment needs to be removed from the headrail when you need to swap them out. They come with simple two-button remote controls, or you can spend extra to get more elaborate ones that can control multiple shades at the same time. These shades rely on Z-Wave technology, so you’ll need a bridge to connect them to your home Wi-Fi network. That can be Graber’s own Z-Wave bridge and app, or you can incorporate them into most any smart home system.

Best roller smart shades

We don’t have a lot of experience with this type of shade, yet, but we dig the Powershades TruePoE for its innovative means of integrating with a home network. Instead of relying on disposable batteries, the motor in these shades receives both electrical power and command-and-control messages over an ethernet cable (power over ethernet, or PoE). Having hardwired access to power makes the motor in these shades more than twice as fast as the battery-powered models we’ve reviewed. DIYers take note: Powershades does not sell direct to consumers; you’ll need to talk to a professional installer if you want one.

Shopping for smart shades and blinds

Shade types Shades can be divided into four broad categories: roller, Roman, cellular (aka honeycomb), and pleated. There are other types, but those are the most common. A roller shade operates just like it sounds: A motorized roller spins to unwind a sheet of fabric to cover your window, and the roller reverses direction to pull the sheet back onto the roller, exposing the window.

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