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The smart shades I’ve reviewed to date have been battery powered and wireless, so you might think that Powershades’ product would enter the competition at a deficit by virtue of its being wired. This shade isn’t my top pick in this category, but it’s not because it’s wired—just the opposite: I found the wiring to be a benefit.  

How could that be? The wire this shade relies on is an ethernet cable for both command and control and for power—as in power over ethernet (PoE). So, not only do you never need to worry about replacing batteries, the shade’s motor operates much faster than the ones in both the Lutron Serena and Graber shades that I’ve evaluated previously. Where each of those shades took about 24 seconds to fully open or fully close (38 inches of travel either way), the Powershades product completed the operation in less than 10 seconds.

The Graber and Lutron products do offer the option of operating on AC power, but it’s highly unlikely that you have AC outlets in the heads (the top horizontal strip) of your window frames. Installing an outlet there means hiring a licensed electrician to do the work, after which you’ll need to hide a bulky AC adapter.

powershades truepoe stub cable Michael Brown / IDG

A stub ethernet cable emerges from the end of the shade’s roller, where the motor is located.

Power over ethernet

PoE is a low-voltage tech, so anyone can string an ethernet cable from your router to your window (the cable can be up to 100 meters long). Should you need to cover more distance than that, a secondary power source can be provided mid-span. Since it’s DC power, you don’t need an AC adapter to power the shade’s motor. For a more polished look, you’ll want to install a plate with a female RJ45 jack in the window frame, but all you really need to do is drill a hole large enough for the RJ45 jack on the shade’s stub cable to pass through.

I didn’t even go to that much trouble for this evaluation. Since I didn’t have any ethernet cables terminated in female RJ45 jacks, I stuck an RJ45 coupler on the stub cable, plugged a longer ethernet cable into that, and left it trailing down the side of the window frame. You might find the multi-colored LED on the motor side of the roller to be annoying, as it constantly flashes red and green. The manufacturer tells me the flashes are used for status reports and troubleshooting purposes, but the end user shouldn’t need to be concerned about that. If you buy these shades, have the dealer rotate the motor so that the LED faces the wall and is out of your line of sight. If the installer is covering the roller with a valance or a curtain, on the other hand, that should cover the LED.

What you will need is a PoE switch to inject voltage into the cable. You could try to get by with a PoE injector and a standard ethernet switch (or the switch built into your router or broadband gateway), but Powershades recommends using a purpose-built PoE switch. Thankfully, such devices are relatively inexpensive. I used an eight-port TP-Link T1500G-10MPS gigabit switch for the job (about $150 on Amazon, last I checked) based on the IEEE 802.3af/at standard and offering a total power budget of 116 watts. It’s overkill for this job, but it did deliver the added benefit of providing wired ethernet connections to two desktop computers, a laptop, and a multi-function printer. I have ethernet in my walls and take advantage of the speed and reliability of that infrastructure wherever I can.

powershades pinnacle style Powershades

In the Pinnacle style, the shade’s roller mechanism is hidden behind a fabric cover.

A few manufacturers of smart window coverings, including Lutron with its Serena brand shades, offer their wares directly to the public in addition to selling via dealer and installer channels. Most distribute their product through custom installers. Powershades is in the latter camp, but they supplied a 5 x 4-foot shade directly for the purposes of this review (note that that is an approximate measurement. Shades are made to order and fabricated to fit a customer’s precise window measurements.) This atypical process led to a couple of hiccups during installation related to enrolling the device with Powershades’ cloud-based service—steps that a dealer would normally perform—but nothing major.

Powershades specializes in roller shades and doesn’t offer the honeycomb type of shades that Lutron and Graber provided for my previous reviews. The company offers two types of PoE roller shade: single and day/night (two shades stacked at a slight offset, where one shade is deployed during the day and the second is rolled down at night for even more light blocking and privacy).

You can choose from three styles: Affinity, which exposes the motorized dowel that rolls the shade up to open and down to close;  Concord, which snaps onto the roller’s brackets and hides the working part of the shade inside a metal or plastic fascia that’s the same color as the shade; and Pinnacle, which is similar to Concord except that it has a fabric front and you mount the shade brackets to it instead of to the window frame. You then mount the whole assembly inside the window. It’s worth noting that you can’t order a double shade in Pinnacle style.

powershades concord style Powershades

A Powershades TruePoE shade in the Concord style, which hides the shade’s roller behind a plastic or metal fascia.

Once you’ve decided the type and style of shade you want, you’ll need to choose a fabric type and color. Powershades offers three types of fabric: Solar is a relatively sheer type of fabric that provides some privacy while letting lots of light pass through into the room, Light Filtering is a more dense weave that provides more privacy but less light, and Light Blocking is the best choice for home theaters and other rooms that you want to darken as much as possible. Light Blocking also provides the most amount of privacy. Your local dealer will provide fabric swatches so you can choose the color, texture, and privacy level you want to achieve. I installed the Powershade in my home office and dubbed it “Office Shade.” Since that window has a due north exposure and never gets direct sun, I selected a light-filtering fabric.

Powershades sent an Affinity shade (see the top of this page for a full view), which gave me an opportunity to examine the shade mechanism more closely, but that’s not the type I would purchase because the design leaves everything exposed. It’s fine if you’re going to mount your own valance or something similar—and in the real world, your installer would guide you through the choices or suggest some other way to cover the roller part of the shade.

powershades roller Michael Brown / IDG

The roller mechanism and the mount to which it attaches leaves a .75-inch gap on either side of the window, and a 1.25-inch gap at the top.

You will want something there, because the 1.25-inch gap between the top of the roller and the window frame lets a lot of light through. But no matter what you pick, there’s no way to block the light bleeding through the .75-inch gap between the edges of the shade and either side of the window frame. The honeycomb-style shades from Lutron and Graber fit much tighter inside the window.

Integrating Powershades TruePoE into a smart home

This is the area where you’ll need an installer the most. Since Powershades isn’t a DIY product, you’ll need to have the installer create the routines that will control your shades using the Powershades Dashboard in the cloud. There are two types of routines: Scenes open or close the shade to a defined percentage based on events or triggers from other smart home devices. Schedules do much the same thing, but these triggers are based on time: the month, the day of the week, and/or the time of day.

powershades dashboard Michael Brown / IDG

As the end user, you’re unlikely to ever see the Powershades online dashboard. Your installer should program your home control routines for you.

You can also schedule the shade to open and close around sunrise and sunset; you can create vacation schedules, so your vacant house looks occupied while you’re away; and more. These routines can control any single shade, any group of shades (all the shades facing the street, for instance), or all the the shades in your home. The Powershades Dashboard’s user interface is quite basic, but as the end user, you’re unlikely to ever encounter it anyway. But it bears repeating that you’ll need your installer to do all of this work, so you’d better think of everything you might want before the shades are installed and configured.

Another advantage of relying on an ethernet cable is that you don’t need a Wi-Fi bridge or a smart-home hub. Its shades can be incorporated into many broader smart home systems, including Samsung SmartThings, Control4, Crestron, and Elan. You also won’t get a physical remote control to manually open and close the shades, though installers can offer their own smartphone or tablet apps that connect to Powershades’ servers in the cloud. But who needs a dedicated remote or an app when you can tell Alexa or Google Assistant to do your bidding?

powershades light filtering fabric Michael Brown / IDG

I installed a light-filterning shade on this window, which has a northern exposure and never gets direct sunlight. Sheer and light-blocking fabrics are also available.

I mentioned earlier that the Powershades TruePoE shade opens and closes faster than other shades I’ve reviewed, but there is a downside to that speed: The shade motor is louder than either the Serena by Lutron or the Graber models I have experience with. My home office is a smaller room than my home theater, and the background noise level was slightly quieter at 24dB (compared to 24.9dB in the home theater). While rolling the Powershades product up and down, I measured the sound pressure level in my office to be 40dB, an increase of 16 decibels, compared to increases of 9.6dB for Graber’s product and 8.3dB for the Serena by Lutron smart shade.

I’ve had the best results by prefacing my Alexa commands with “tell Powershades to…,” at least the first time I ask her to move the shade. It’s not usually necessary to say that ahead of subsequent commands on the same day, but it’s hard to remember if I did, and I hate hearing Alexa respond “Sorry, I didn’t find a device named…,” so I just always say it. Alexa is annoyingly verbose with her responses, too, replying, “OK, here’s Powershades.” And then as the shade rolls up or down: “All right, moving Office.”

As for the lack of a physical remote control, I don’t miss it at all; in fact, I rarely use the remotes to control the Lutron and Graber shades I’ve installed previously. I rely on sunrise/sunset schedules to open and close those (and now the shade in my home office); otherwise, I control them with voice commands. In all three cases, I can use words and phrases such as “open;” “close;” or “set to” a given percent, with 75 percent being three-quarters open, 25 percent being three-quarters closed, and so on.

powershades mount Michael Brown / IDG

The Powershades in Affinity style leaves the roller mounts exposed, so you might want to have your installer provide some sort of valance to hide it.

Bottom line

The Powershades TruePoE shade is an attractive, high-quality window covering that will never need batteries, and it should cost less for a dealer to install than other AC-powered motorized shades because of its reliance on power-over-ethernet technology.

The shade itself, however, costs quite a bit more than the honeycomb-style products we’ve reviewed from Graber and Lutron (a style that Powershades doesn’t offer). Once again, prices will vary because of size, fabric selection, additional dealer services, installation cost, and other factors, but Powershades tells me the 5 x 4-foot Affinity style reviewed here should cost about $750. In the Pinnacle style, which adds a fabric front to hide the roller, this shade would cost about $798; and in the Concord style, which encloses the roller in a metal or plastic fascia, it would cost about $820.

The similar-sized, battery-powered Graber shade I reviewed in October, 2019 was selling for around $580 at the time, and the narrower (34-inch) Serena by Lutron shade I reviewed a month later was going for $579, including the Wi-Fi bridge and remote control. Again, the reduced installation cost could make up that difference—assuming you don’t want a battery-powered motorized shade—and the Powershades product opens and closes much faster than anything else I’ve tested. You’ll need to weigh those pros and cons to decide which smart shade is right for your home and budget.

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Categories: Technology