Installing smart shades or blinds is a complex and expensive task. The Serena by Lutron smart wood blinds we reviewed in November 2020 cost $ 17 per horizontal inch, not including the bridge needed to connect to a Wi-Fi network. Now modernization solutions are coming to take some of the pain out of the process. The $ 119 Sunsa Wand promises to “make your blinds smart in minutes” by replacing the tilt rod that is common on many horizontal and some vertical blinds.
The Sunsa Wand can’t open or close your blinds (and neither can the Serena product, for that matter), but you can adjust the slat tilt, from fully open to fully closed. First a word of caution: Sunsa Wand is an Indiegogo project that was initially scheduled to ship in February 2021. I received a “final” version of the product, which is now scheduled to ship in December 2021, but it is unknown if this is the version to be shipped or whether the product will continue to update. For what it’s worth, my sample arrived in production-level packaging and looks completely out of the box, although the quick start guide was just a folded sheet of paper prompting you to install the Sunsa mobile app.
This review is part of TechHive’s coverage of the best smart shades, where you will find reviews of competing offerings, as well as a buyer’s guide on the features to consider when purchasing this type of product.
The Sunsa wand is exactly that – a squat wand that clips onto the shaft mechanism that your existing wand uses. If your blinds rely on ropes to adjust their tilt, this device will not work. It’s a bit fatter and a lot shorter than the typical wand, but mostly it looks good. Different types of hooks and accessories for different styles of blinds are included in the box; the standard hook worked out of the box for my blinds. Four AA batteries (included) are charged at the bottom of the wand for power; Sunsa says batteries should last about a year before they need to be replaced.
The trick with any wand, of course, is that it requires leverage to turn. When you do it yourself, you provide that advantage. With Sunsa, the system needs something to “hold on to”, which comes in the form of an adapter that is taped to the blind rail. A small tab connects the Sunsa Wand to the adapter, giving it the necessary lever to rotate the hook when the motor is activated. It’s a necessary design feature but not always the most convenient, as you have to unhook the tab from the adapter if you want to control the blinds manually, and even then the tab tends to get in the way, colliding with the adapter or the blinds themselves. .
Sunsa claims that it only takes 2 minutes to install the system, and that’s true for the wand itself, but allow another 5-10 minutes to position the adapter correctly. From there, the real-time engagement begins: configure the Sunsa application. The company has clearly spent a lot of time on its hardware, but next to nothing on its primitive and undercooked mobile experience. Sunsa Wand easily connected to my Wi-Fi network (only 2.4GHz networks are supported), but after that things got tough.
The calibration process was particularly annoying, requiring you to use the app to open the blinds fully, then close them (slats up), then close them again (slats down), using the system to rotate the wand just a fraction of a rotation by one moment. That’s fine for getting the slats exactly in the right position, but it’s bad for getting the job done.
Each motor movement can take up to 15 seconds to register within the app, and if something goes wrong, you will need to start the whole process over from the beginning. Calibrating the Sunsa Wand took me more than three hours because the system would inevitably lose its wireless connection and be dead at some point: twice on the last turn before he was about to complete the process.
The good news is that I was finally able to complete the process, at which point I was able to use the device normally. (Cannot be used at all until calibration is complete.) The system is intuitive to use on demand: open the blinds, close them by tilting them up or down, or drag the slider somewhere in between, the motor quickly buzzes into action to get the job done, but its programming system is not. the best. Is it really necessary to specify the time zone for each scheduled operation? Or could it at least be the default in the time zone that I am currently in? Wouldn’t it be helpful when setting a schedule to select at least one of my Sunsa devices to apply by default, rather than none? The Lutron product mentioned above has very sophisticated programming options, including a sun tracking option that adjusts the slat tilt based on the position of the sun in the sky.
And after configuring the schedule, could it be helpful to set the schedule to active, rather than off? Users of Sunsa’s scheduling system who discover that their schedules are not working as configured have likely made a mistake on one (or more) of these parameters, which are difficult to immediately understand and are not documented anywhere. On the plus side, Alexa and Google Home are supported to give the blinds voice control features, but otherwise the smart features of the device are limited.
Sunsa Wand is a great idea that feels long overdue, but like many crowdfunded smart home products, it’s still a bit rough around the edges. The good news is that most of those benefits seem to be in the software, and a little time and attention through version updates should help improve things considerably.