Brilliant Smart Home Control: Our Review
When we first started our DIY automation journey back in 2013, we started replacing a lot of things in our home with Wi-Fi gadgets with companion smartphone apps.
Affiliate Disclosure: This page contains links that may earn us a commission from Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. We received the Brilliant Smart Home Control Panel as part of this review. Opinions and conclusions are our own.
Controlling your smart light bulbs and your garage door from your phone is great if you are away from home, but at home, it is silly to whip out your phone to turn a light off when you could just get up and flip the switch, and even more ridiculous to open up your phone inside your car instead of pushing the button on your remote.
As we added more and more devices and smart home hubs to control them all, we got smarter by adding sensors and timers so we didn’t need our phones. Then Alexa came on the scene and changed everything – we could now turn everything on and off just by asking.
Drawbacks to Voice Control
Voice control is great, but it’s not always practical. It’s not great for checking the status of things then taking an action, for instance, if you’re not sure you left the light on in the attic, you can’t really ask Alexa, you can only ask her to turn it on or off.
Naming things can also get complicated – for us, we have so many things that we forget what we called them – especially for things like an attic light that we don’t use a lot. We also have rooms with multiple smart switches (Alexa turn on Breakfast light…..A few things share the name Breakfast Light, which one did you want?)
Finally, it can be awkward for guests. Not all of our guests are down with Alexa, and some think she’s just plain creepy. The guest room is one of the only rooms in our house without an Amazon Echo and we don’t want to have to train our guests in our complicated Alexa language.
The Smart Home Display
Home automation companies have been installing display panels in smart homes for decades. Over the years they’ve become touchscreens and have become much more sophisticated for some high-end platforms, with the ability to see all the cameras outside the house, know the temperature in every room, and control the whole-house sound system. Home integrators make everything work together and set it up so everyone in the house can have a simple way to control what they need.
Until recently, this kind of easy-to-use smart home display was out of reach for most DIY smart home consumers. Sure, there are a lot of ways to take an old iPad or Android Tablet, mount it up and use an app to control it, but while those are great, it takes a special kind of geek to want to spend their weekend setting that up. We are geeks ourselves and while we’ve tinkered, we’ve never gotten around to installing one in all the years we’ve used home automation.
Enter the Brilliant Smart Home Control Panel
In 2018, Brilliant announced their solution for DIY smart home control for everyone, the Brilliant Smart Home System. We got to see it in action when they first launched it in San Diego at the CEDIA conference, a convention for those high-end home integrators, and we loved the concept from the very beginning.
The Brilliant smart home control replaces one or more switches in your home with a touch screen that can control a huge range of DIY consumer smart home products from one interface and companion app. And if you are replacing 2 or more switches in the same box, it even includes touch sliders to control them.
Popular brands like Ring, Sonos, WeMo and TP-Link generally use Wi-Fi and each require a separate app, and while this makes them easy to install and support, consumers quickly get tired of having a bunch of apps to run their house. Brilliant lets homeowners control all these different apps and more from one screen, and even lets you do things together, like see who’s at your Ring Doorbell and let them in via your Kwikset or Yale smart lock.
Making sure everything works together
In our early days of using smart home technology, one of the things we really liked about our first Wink smart home hub was that the company really worked hard to make sure that other company’s smart home products worked with their platform.
Products at Home Depot had little stickers that said “Works with Wink” and if you had a problem, you could call their tech support and a real human would help you troubleshoot your smart bulb, switch or other compatible product. Wink even had a Wink Relay, an in-wall mounted display that looked a lot like a Brilliant Smart Home Control.
Lately it seems smart home hubs have pushed these integrations and support calls back onto the companies who make the other products or onto the consumer to follow complex procedures and download drivers to make them work.
Brilliant certainly doesn’t support everything out there, but for the products they do, they spend a lot of time making sure it works out of the box and providing great instructions and support for their customers. And they respond to their customers’ needs by focusing on the products their customers ask for.
Works with (Google) Nest
A great example of this is Brilliant’s newly announced integration with Google Nest Thermostats. About a year after the Brilliant smart home control launched, Google discontinued their Works with Nest program and made it more difficult for consumers to use their Nest Thermostats with other devices. Only Brilliant customers who had set up their accounts before August 2019 were able to control their Nest Thermostats with their smart home displays.
We too have been frustrated about this program, since we have several products in our house that worked under the original Works With Nest program to integrate with our HVAC system to help keep our room temperature consistent and our house comfortable.
Brilliant knew that Nest was important to their customers, in fact, about half were unable to control their thermostats with their Brilliant smart home control. So they worked closely with Google to do the technical work they needed to make the products work together again. We are happy that our Brilliant panel and phone app can now access our two Nest Thermostats.
Great for New Home Builders and Buyers
There are a lot of new home developments in our area and we love to go and walk through them and see what kind of smart home technology they are installing. Over the last few years they’ve started adding some optional packages that include smart locks, doorbells and voice assistants, but rarely do these packages seem well thought-out and when we ask questions, the sales people quickly run out of answers, hand us a flyer and move on to easier customers.
We understand that the builders are hesitant to include technology as part of a standard package with a new home, and generally like to avoid things that incur more costs or warranty calls from new homeowners. But as more and more consumers not only want, but expect smart home features, these products can be great selling features for new homes.
Brilliant has recognized that and designed their smart home control with builders in mind. It’s got a great, shallow-box, easy to install design, and it allows the Brilliant to be installed easily with the rest of the electrical switches in a new home without extra steps. Without the front panel, the electrician can install the box and test the switches with a simple button to make sure they work. Then when the homeowner takes over they can install the front panel and the app on their phone and get started.
How does it work?
We recently got the opportunity to install our own Brilliant Smart Home Control, after they sent us our own unit to test.
Since we have been using smart home hubs for years and have a lot of different things set up, we weren’t sure how useful it was going to be for our situation.
However, late last year, Brilliant added support for SmartThings to their system, so not only are we able to use all our Wi-Fi devices in our house with Brilliant, we were able to easily add our SmartThings controlled devices as well, especially devices that use Z-wave and Zigbee. It turns out we have almost 100 different bulbs, outlets, switches and more connected to SmartThings, and this gives us another easy way for us to access them.
Brilliant also works with Alexa, so any switch physically controlled by your Brilliant panel can also be controlled via Alexa. And, it has an Alexa speaker built-in, so you can activate it from the panel itself.
And a nice touch to the Brilliant is the ability to add photos to the display so you see them instead of some boring scene. You easily add them via their phone app.
Installation and Set-up
The hardware installation was pretty straightforward. We chose a two-gang outlet (replacing two switches) that is near our kitchen and family room, the main hub of our home. There have been a lot of different things installed in there over the years so we know it well. Brilliant sells systems that work with one, two, three or four-gang outlets, and you can also use them in three-way switch configurations.
As we mentioned before, Brilliant did an amazing job making a product that’s easy to install. We’ve installed dozens of different brands of smart switches and we don’t find that many that design for easy installation.
In our case, we only have one active switch in the box, and it controls our living room fan, which we usually leave on all the time. But most users would likely use both switches through their panel.
Setting up the Brilliant App
After we installed the panel, turned the breaker back on and tested the switches, it was time to add the face plate and set up the system.
We expected we would do most of the setup from the phone app, but it turns out that you need to do a lot of the configuration on the panel itself. This wasn’t too hard, but it is annoying to have to type in your Wi-Fi password on the screen and it was awkward to hunch over it while we completed the process. We wound up bringing a chair over and that made it a lot easier.
As you get the devices installed, you put them in rooms. You can use room names they provide or add your own. Don’t worry if you don’t have them in the right rooms, you can move them later. You can also set up scenes, which you can do via the panel or the phone app.
Once everything is installed, you can control most all of the devices from either the panel or the phone app. Though you can’t watch Ring video devices from the Brilliant app, only the panel.
Using the Brilliant Smart Home Control
Once it’s set up, you can control the devices connected to your Brilliant smart home control panel several different ways. For the attached switches, you can turn them on and off with the included sliders, and if the attached lights are dimmable, you can also easily adjust them as well.
On the touch screen, there are several devices you can access right from the panel, including attached cameras, the garage door, or your thermostat. You can customize this screen to your liking and add Brilliant Scenes here as well.
If you click on lights, it will bring up all the different rooms and you can turn on or off each light individually, or the whole room.
Across the bottom, there are buttons to access scenes, turn the Alexa on and off, control the settings and use the Brilliant as an intercom if you have more than one installed.
One of the more powerful functions of the Brilliant smart home control is the ability to create scenes to control multiple actions with attached devices. This was something that was not easily accessible to smart home users with these products before, as they don’t often talk to each other, especially without a smart home hub.
These scenes are simple and easy to set up – you can turn multiple things on and off and set up timers with sunrise, sunset and day of the week. You can add up to four scenes on the main screen and access more from the menu along the bottom.
It would be great if these scenes toggled on and off – in our case, we had to make two scenes for our kitchen lights – all on and all off. It would also be nice if we could assign the scenes to the slider controls.
The Brilliant app comes with two scenes pre-installed – All Lights On and All Lights Off and these can’t be edited or deleted. In our case, these are dangerous – we have so many things connected and not all of them are “lights.”
Suggestions for improvement
The Brilliant smart home control panel is a great device for controlling the home, but there is some room for improvement. Here are a few things we noticed.
Home Kit Support
The Brilliant claims to support Apple HomeKit, in beta. We were excited about this at first until we learned more. It turns out that the included switches inside the Brilliant itself are HomeKit compatible.
This means we can control the two switches in our box with Apple HomeKit. So, in our case, we can ask Siri to turn on and off our living room fan, which we actually never turn on or off.
We expected Apple HomeKit compatible to mean that the Brilliant could access and control all our other Apple HomeKit devices. Unfortunately, right now, that is not the case.
The Brilliant smart home control panel itself has an Alexa speaker built-in. It works fine, but it definitely doesn’t respond as quickly as the other Echos in our house, and since we have two others nearby they sometimes fight for control.
We’re not sure how valuable it is to have Alexa inside since the panel itself is so powerful and if you’re an Amazon household, it’s so cheap to add more Echo Dots if you need them. And if you don’t like Alexa, you are just going to disable it.
The Brilliant has a built-in camera on the panel, which you can use on the intercom to communicate with other Brilliant panels in your home. It works, but we were surprised at the low quality. We can see where this would be especially useful in apartments or other multi-unit dwellings, and maybe it’s good enough for that.
We have been surprised how much we like having the Brilliant smart home control panel. It has created another user interface for us to control our lights and when we forget what something is named, it’s much easier to look for it on the Brilliant panel than to keep asking Alexa. And having the rotating family pictures is a real bonus.
We think adding more integrations, especially with popular products like Google Nest, will be key for Brilliant to remain valuable to homeowners and builders alike. We look forward to seeing what they add next.