EARLIER THIS YEAR, I asked a friend to dog-sit for us while my family was on vacation. I lured her in with the promise of access to our fully-equipped smart house. She could peruse the full extent of my Apple Music subscription on our Sonos, or watch Netflix on our Apple TV. She could fiddle with the Hue lights. She could even start the robot vacuum, if she wanted! No pressure or anything.
That afternoon, I got a call. I had accidentally packed the iPad mini, which serves as our house’s smart control panel. Without it, she couldn’t use… well, anything. In retrospect, we were lucky that she was even able to operate the front door.
If you have a smart home, you most likely control it with your smartphone or personal tablet. Toggling between multiple apps is annoying, and so is sitting in your house for anyone who isn’t you. The concept behind tech start-up Brilliant is therefore—excuse me here—brilliant. It takes control of your smart house out of your pocket and drills it into the wall with a panel that anyone can use.
The Brilliant panel is a simple computer, rather than an upgraded smart switch. In addition to providing Amazon Alexa services when connected to your Amazon account, it has a microphone, a camera, a motion detector, and an alarm. It integrates an astonishing number of smart home devices, like the Nest and Ecobee thermostats, the Ring doorbell, the Phillips Hue bulbs, and Sonos speakers.
I was excited to test the Brilliant two switch panel (Brilliant also offers one-, three-, and four-switch panel configurations). At the moment, it’s still a little too clunky to substitute for my iPad, but I’m optimistic that that will change in the very near future.
The two-switch panel is 4.76 inches wide and 5.3 inches tall, with an LCD touch screen that has 720 x 1280 resolution and two indented sliders that work as dimmers. It’s only a little bigger than a regular light switch panel. I chose to install the Brilliant by my front door. You need a 120-volt double switch gang box that is grounded and wired in compliance with National Electric Code.
That’s easy enough; a double switch gang box and compliant wiring is what you find when you unscrew the panel for most double light switches. And when I watched Brilliant’s clear and simple installation video, installation seemed easy. But when I unscrewed our panel, a rat’s nest of cords popped out at me. My husband rewired our house himself, and I needed to enlist his help to figure out which cord was what.
Shutting off the breaker and manipulating live wires isn’t hard, but it is nerve-wracking, and I was grateful to be able to do it with someone who had done it before without burning our house down (yet). For anyone who doesn’t have experience with electrical wiring, Brilliant will soon be announcing an installation service. A licensed electrician will come install one panel for you, starting at $199, with tiered pricing for multiple panels.
The Brilliant has both Wi-Fi connectivity and Bluetooth capabilities. Once installed and online, the possibilities made me a little giddy. I downloaded the Brilliant app, where, obviously, the first order of business was to upload pictures of my kids from my camera roll to roll continuously whenever the Brilliant was on. I also linked the Brilliant to my Amazon account so I could use Alexa. The panel walked me through how to do it.
Adding our smart home devices to the Brilliant was annoying, in ways that were both predictable and unexpected. In theory, it’s as simple as touching the panel, selecting a room, and tapping the Add Device button. I did predict, and dread, the tedious back-and-forth between my husband and me as we tried to remember who had registered for what device, which email address they’d used, and what all the long-forgotten passwords were.
But I had other snafus. The Hue lights and Sonos didn’t show up immediately, so I reset the router. That brought the Hue lights online, but to get the Sonos, I had to contact the team at Brilliant. They said they’d discovered a bug with the Sonos’s new API and rolled out an update that evening. The Nest didn’t show up, either. Although Brilliant says that any user can connect to any Nest thermostat, their director of product management did have to send me an email that let me log into my Nest account, in order to authorize the Brilliant to access it.