Smart home company Aqara has released its retrofit curtain solution in the US and Europe. Previously available in China, the Aqara Curtain Driver E1 starts at $89.99 and mounts onto an existing curtain track or rod to automatically open and close your curtains. It works with Aqara’s own ecosystem as well as with Apple’s HomeKit, Amazon’s Alexa, Google Home, and IFTTT. Aqara says it will also be compatible with Matter when the new smart home standard arrives later this fall.
Automating shades, blinds, and curtains is one of the smart home’s coolest and most useful tricks. Smart window coverings can be set to open every morning and close every night based on a set time or at sunrise and sunset, controlled with a voice command, and automatically operate based on your location or even the weather. Paired with a smart home system they can also react to motion and temperature sensors as well as other triggers
Aqara’s retrofit Curtain Driver can do all these things plus has a built-in light sensor so you can set the curtains to open and close based on ambient light. An adjustable speed setting in the Aqara app will also allow you to program the curtains to open slowly — over up to an hour — to simulate a natural sunrise. This reduces the noise from the motor, making it a better fit in a bedroom. Noise is generally the biggest drawback to motorized solutions to window coverings, as the motors that control the opening and closing can be loud.
The Aqara E1 is a relatively large battery-powered device that works by attaching to an existing curtain rod or rail. There are two versions of the Zigbee-powered device: a rod version for $99.99 that attaches over the curtain rod and a track version for $89.99 that hooks into U-rails and I-rails.
If you have curtains on the same rod that open in opposite directions, you will need two devices, which get pricey quickly. (Both models are on sale on Amazon today, July 11th, for 20 percent off with the promo code USCURTAIN or CURTAINUKEU.) No wiring is required, and the 6000mAh battery should last up to a year and can be charged with a USB Type-C charging cable.
The Aqara Curtain Driver does need a compatible Zigbee 3.0 Aqara Hub (starting at $30). Its main competition in this space, the SwitchBot Curtain, costs the same but doesn’t require a hub for local use (it works over Bluetooth). However, it does require a $40 SwitchBot Hub to operate your curtains when you’re away from home or integrate it with a smart home system. (It’s compatible with Alexa, Google Home, IFTTT, and Siri Shortcuts but not with HomeKit natively.) Interestingly, Aqara says that, when paired to its Camera Hub G3, its curtain driver can be controlled with hand gestures.
The Aqara version claims to shift fabric loads up to 26 pounds / 12kg, whereas the SwitchBot tops out at 17 pounds / 8kg. Both SwitchBot and Aqara have smart buttons that can be paired with the smart curtain devices to act as a physical remote control for your drapes. We plan to test both curtain drivers in the coming weeks and will report back with a full review.
Jennifer Pattison Tuohy