We’ve been excited about MySmartBlinds since we first learned of the company that made them. [We’ve kind of given up on keeping track of what the company is called or what branding they’re using this year, though.] The bottom line is this: they make a great DIY retrofit kit that can control your blinds. As long as your blinds are 2 inches wide or more (so no mini-blinds, which you probably should have purged 10 years ago anyway…), MySmartBlinds can open and close the slats on schedules, based on temperature, manually, or by voice—more on that last one in a minute. Note that it doesn’t raise or lower your slatted blinds. They’re far too heavy for a battery-operated motor to manage, and people rarely do that anyway.
We Love MySmartBlinds[If you already have ’em, you can skip right down to the next section.]
The MySmartBlinds Automation Kit takes about half an hour to install the first time—it can take a while to figure out how everything works. Convert enough blinds, though, and you’ll have that down to 15 minutes. The kit comes with a solar charging bar, so you don’t have to worry about replacing or recharging batteries. You’ll want to download the installation instructions from the web, because the printed copy included in the kit is clearly intended for much smaller people with x-ray vision.
Once you’ve installed the kit, you can hang the blinds back up with their original hardware. Everything conceals inside the headrail of the blinds (except the solar bar, of course). The kit fits most popular brands. We’ve tested it with blinds from nextdayblinds.com and selectblinds.com with no difficulties. Frankly, we don’t understand why this product isn’t sold in every retail outlet where you get blinds. (You can get it on Amazon through our shameless affiliate link.)
Once your installation is complete, it’s pretty easy to pair the blinds via Bluetooth to the MySmartBlinds app on your smart phone. From there, you’ll probably need to download some firmware updates [insert chuckle about downloading an update for your blinds here] then go through a quick calibration process. Assign the blinds to a room, define some schedules and defaults, and you’ve probably added another 10 minutes or so to the process.
Over two years ago, the company behind MySmartBlinds Kickstarted a hub. It’s actually a bridge, and they’ve since renamed it accordingly. The idea was that by integrating with other control systems around your house—HomeKit, Alexa, Google Assistant, and SmartThings—you could use voice to easily open and close your blinds or control them as part of your other home routines.
It hasn’t quite panned out that way. HomeKit has been all but expunged from the record, and we’re still waiting on SmartThings integration. But Alexa and Google Assistant support does exist—just not through their respective smart home interfaces. So you’re left tripping over cumbersome commands like
“Alexa, ask MySmartBlinds to close in the Guest Bathroom” or
“Hey Google, tell MySmartBlinds to open Master Bedroom“
If you’re the geek in the house, maybe that’s no big deal. But for normals, it’s a mouthful. And because MySmartBlinds doesn’t use either Amazon’s or Google’s smart home APIs, you couldn’t add these to groups or routines to make your family’s tech life a little easier. Until now.
Routines Bridge the Family Acceptance Gap
Luckily, Amazon and Google are constantly working to improve voice control, even if the smaller companies aren’t. As a result, you can now include MySmartBlinds in routines on the Alexa and Google Assistant platforms.
Neither provides perfect support yet, but Google goes the furthest to get this right, so let’s start there. To create a Google Assistant routine, open the Google Home app on your device. Tap Routines, then tap Manage routines at the bottom of your screen. If you want to add blind control to an existing routine (like your “Good morning” routine), then select it from the list. If you want to create your own custom commands to open or close your blinds, tap the Add (+) button.
Creating a new routine is where Google Assistant really shines. Tap Add commands, then type what you want to say. If you have blinds in just one room, it could be as simple as “open the blinds.” But you can add more than one command here to account for different ways you might make this request. So if the blinds are in the bedroom, maybe also add “open the blinds in the bedroom” and “open the bedroom blinds.” [Aside: Amazon desperately needs to add this feature to both routines and groups.]
Now whether you’re creating a new routine or adding to one already controlling your home, tap Add Action and type out the Google Assistant command your phrases should trigger. In this example, you might type, “Tell MySmartBlinds to open bedroom.” Save, and voilà! Nobody needs to remember that convoluted command structure anymore.
Alexa’s MySmartBlinds Routines Aren’t As Smart
Amazon’s support is far more limited. If MySmartBlinds exposed itself as a smart home device, you could add it to a group and just say “open” or “close” followed by the group name. That’s how Lutron implemented its shade control. But we can’t use that here. The best you can do with Alexa is to have a routine trigger the MySmartBlinds skill, but you can’t specify the parameters the skill needs—it’s going to prompt you for those when you run the routine.
In the Alexa app, tap the “left-justified” icon Amazon has inexplicably chosen to represent its hamburger menu. Then tap Routines. Tap the Add (+) button, tap When this happens, then tap Voice and enter the phrase you want to use to control MySmartBlinds. Maybe something like “control the blinds.” Then tap Next.
Now tap Add action and select Skills. Select Your Skills, then choose the MySmartBlinds skill (assuming you’ve already installed the skill). Tap Next. Finally, you need to tell it which Alexa-enabled device will respond. Usually, you just want to select The device you speak to. Tap Save. Utter your command to Alexa, and you’ll be prompted with “please say ‘open’ or ‘close’ followed by the room name.” You’ll need to respond with something like “open in the bedroom” to complete the action. Again, it’s not ideal, but it’s easier than having to remember the precise, clunky syntax.
You Need the Bridge, but Don’t Buy the Bridge
For these routines to work, you need to have the MySmartBlinds Bridge. But if you don’t already have it, don’t go out and buy it. It’s way overpriced at $90. That’s about as much as you’ll pay for the new Wyze lock that includes its own short-range to Wi-Fi bridge. It’s more expensive than your smart speaker and even more expensive than a SmartThings hub, which does a whole lot more than just bridge two radios.
Then there’s the issue with its range. It’s terrible. In our first-gen unit, we found it had to be located in the same room as the blinds it controls and couldn’t connect to blinds in a room right across the hall. The web site promotes that it now has much better coverage. That’s good to hear. But if that’s true, they should be sending out replacement units to everyone who helped fund the inferior product they originally shipped.
But that’s not the worst of it. As we discussed above, the skills don’t work with Alexa’s or Google Assistant’s smart home ecosystem—they just let you bark commands. And with HomeKit presumably off the table and SmartThings still outstanding after all this time, they’ve just never delivered on the promise of the bridge. Oh, and get this: if you also have and want to connect with their MySmartRollerShades product, you need a second bridge!
It’s Fine All Alone on This Island
The reality is that you probably don’t need the bridge at all. Sure, you won’t be able to control your blinds by voice command or integrate it with everything else in your home. But the MySmartBlinds product is great on its own. The app lets you open and close the blinds based on schedules and relative temperature. Those settings are stored locally on the shade controllers. Plus, you can easily control them “manually” by yanking on the pull cord or wand that originally controlled the slat pitch.
We don’t often recommend products that are their own “island,” disconnected from everything else in your home. But in this case, we think it’s better that way. If we gave out stars here, the MySmartBlinds Automation Kit would get 4½ stars. The bridge would get 1.
Updated 9 June 2020 to reflect changes to MySmartBlinds command syntax to use for Google Assistant routines