REVIEW – The front of our house faces to the south, but it’s angled slightly towards the southeast. The result is that during the summer months, the evening sun peaks around the side of our house and floods into our back porch. I’ve been looking for a way to reduce the sun as well as give us a bit of privacy from our neighbor, and I think I’ve found just the gadget for the job: Outdoor shades from SmartWings.
What is it?
SmartWings sells a variety of curtains and shades for both inside and outside of the house; the shades that I chose are intended for outdoor use on a back porch or deck. They are motorized, and battery-powered. They can be controlled by a remote control, a smart app, or voice. They have two mounting options and can be powered by an AC adapter or a solar panel. SmartWings is a company that designs intelligent, powered curtains, and they have an office near LA.
What’s in the box?
In addition to the blinds themselves, SmartWings includes the mounting hardware:
- 3 valance brackets with screws
- 2 cable brackets with screws
- 2 cables
- 1 hex wrench for tightening
Note that you’ll need a variety of other common tools that are not included, such as a drill, a screwdriver, wire snips, and a level.
SmartWings also includes three different manuals:
- Motorized outdoor windproof solar shades – This manual includes instructions for mounting the shades and the cables as well as the basic instructions for configuring the remote control.
- Remote programming guide – This manual provides detailed instructions for configuring the remote. This guide is more useful for someone who has multiple shades and/or does not purchase an IoT-enabled motor.
- Apple HomeKit getting starting – This manual provides instructions for controlling the shades with Apple’s HomeKit technology. Someone who is already comfortable adding accessories to HomeKit won’t need this one. I assume there are similar manuals for Amazon’s and Google’s IoT offerings. Adding IoT support is optional and costs extra.
The motor in SmartWings outdoor shades is powered by a lithium-ion battery, which can be charged either by an A/C adapter or an optional solar panel, which costs extra. The solar panel has a pair of screw holes for mounting, but no screws were included for them; any pair of small wood screws will work.
SmartWings includes a remote control that can be used to control one or more shades. The shades can also be controlled by voice using Siri and with Apple’s Home app.
- Battery: 2200 mAh lithium-ion (good for ~600 cycles up and down)
- Fabric colors: white grey, dark grey, black, chocolate grey
- Width: 20-97 inches
- Height: 22-105 inches
- IoT Support: Apple HomeKit, Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, SmartThings
- Control: Remote control, voice control, app control
(SmartWings does not have their own app for controlling the shades. It uses the default app—for HomeKit users like me, this is Apple’s Home app. As this gadget is so simple, this totally works for me.)
Design and features
These shades have two main components: The valance and the shades itself. The valance is the part at the top where the motor is housed and the shades roll up into. This part is mounted onto a beam on the back porch. SmartWings does not disclose what the valance is made of, but I would guess aluminum, as the entire structure is thin and lightweight. The front is plain and slightly curved with the SmartWings logo on one side.
Both the top and the back of the valance have a pair of grooves running along them, as this is where the valance brackets are attached.
SmartWings does not disclose what the shades are made of either, but they claim the shades can block 92% of UV rays. The shades do not completely block either the light or the breeze, but they certainly restrict both.
Overall, the design of this outdoor share is rather simple, which is exactly what I would expect. What sets this gadget is apart, however, is what’s under the covers.
Installation and setup
The first step in the setup process is ordering the shades from SmartWings’ online store. There are eleven options that must be selected before adding the shades to the cart. Most of these options are simple. What color do I want for the fabric? Do I want a solar panel or not? Two of these of these options, however, are not very clear.
First, what height and width do I want? The answer varies, depending upon the mount type that I select. SmartWings offers two mount options, inside mount and outside mount. These options, however, are misnomers. As I mentioned above, Smartwings outdoor shades come with grooves along the top and back of the valance, so I will either mount it on the side of a beam or underneath a beam. The pictures that SmartWings includes offer a set of formulas designed to help me understand what sizes to select, but they confused me more than they helped me. For the width, for example, the formulas use product width, order width, and window width, but no explanation of the differences between these three. This current ordering process is a bit of a disaster, and SmartWings needs to hire a UI designer who can simplify this step and make it abundantly easy to know what sizes to select when ordering.
Second, do I want the motor on the right side or the left side? Here’s why this matters: The side with the motor is the side that will have a power cable sticking out. This cable can be plugged into the AC adaptor or into the solar panel. For me, I have a specific place where I need to mount that solar panel, so I have to get this right, but the website does not make it clear if this is right or left with respect to the front or the back of the valance. It turns out that this is with respect to the front of the valance. I guessed wrong, which means I wound up having to install the shades backward on my porch; that is, they are facing into the porch instead of out into the yard. This isn’t the worst thing ever, but it’s yet another example of where SmartWings needs to take a little extra time and explain things to their customers. What’s obvious to them is not necessarily obvious to us.
The dimensions where I want to mount the SmartWings outdoor shades on my porch are 91 inches wide by 55 inches high, a fairly big space. The base price of these shades is $199, which covers anything 24 x 24 inches or less. When I entered 91 x 55 for the size, the price jumped to $457. Adding HomeKit support was another $60 and a solar panel another $50. The total price was now $567. On the one hand, this is a custom-sized, intelligent, self-powered gadget; on the other hand, that’s a lot of money for one outdoor shade! I need four more of these (of various sizes) to complete my back porch. The total estimated cost for all five shades is around $2600! Ouch! Clearly, I am in luxury gadget territory here.
Here’s the order I submitted:
- Fabric: White Grey
- Mount Type: Inside Mount
- Width (whole inches): 91 inches
- Width (fractional inches): 0 inches
- Height (whole inches): 55 inches
- Height (fractional inches): 0 inches
- Motor type: HomeKit Smart Motor
- Solar Panel: Solar Charger
- Remote Control: 5 channels
- Extension Cable: no
- Motor side: Right side
- Room label: Left-side Deck
As I am reviewing the product, I submitted my order directly to SmartWings via email, explaining the size of my opening to them, so I’m not sure if they adjusted things to make them fit or not. Before ordering, I recommend reading this support page that I found and reaching out to their support team. Their contact info is at the bottom of the page. When you’re spending this much money for a custom product, you want to make sure that you get the right size.
The outdoor shades arrived in a long box wrapped in bubble wrap. After unwrapping it all, I took a quick look at everything. I noticed that along the left and right sides of the front of the valence, QuickWings tried to keep the front attached to the sides with some sort of adhesive. Unfortunately, it failed rather dramatically, and I’m concerned about how long these shades are going to remain together once I mount them on the porch.
The stitching is also of poor quality. It’s uneven, and the edges don’t line up. They appear to be hand-sewn but not very well.
Finally, I took a good look at the valance brackets. These three items are literally the key to everything. The entire weight of the valance and the shades will be resting upon them. It’s a simple mechanism, an outer shell and an inner, sliding “button”. The outer piece is made of metal and seems very sturdy, but the inner piece is just plastic. The tab part of the button (what I’m holding in the picture above) flexed very easily. I’m concerned this is going to snap off, should it be used too often, and if it does, then the entire valence is going to come crashing down.
If I’m going to pay premium prices for these shades, then I expect to receive premium quality build materials. I’m not certain that SmartWings is providing that. I kind of doubt that these shades are going to last more than two or three years, especially in the blazing heat that we get down here in the south.
Once I had looked over everything, I took the shades outside for a “smoke check.” The valance barely fits inside my two support beams; each side has about ¼ inch clearance, which is perfect! SmartWings gave me the exact right size for my porch.
At this point, I stopped to read through all three of the manuals to make sure that I understood how to mount and use these outdoor shades. Unfortunately, the quality of SmartWings’ manuals is poor. The English is bad, the instructions are often unclear, and the pictures are small and hard to see. They look like someone put them together over the weekend, printed them on their laser printer at home, and stapled them together. I’m not kidding at all when I say that I spent far more time reading the manuals and trying to understand them than I actually spent installing and configuring the shades. SmartWings needs to hire a native English-speaker to rewrite the instructions and a good graphics designer to create clear, quality manuals.
I spent most of my time working through the instructions in the first manual, the solar shades one. (I didn’t really need any of the features in the remote control manual, and I already know how to add accessories to Apple’s Home app, which is why I didn’t use the other two.) The first step was to make sure the battery is completely charged. I plugged the AC adapter into the plug coming out of the right side, which is where the motor is. SmartWings says that it can take six to eight hours to completely charge, so I left it charging overnight. The light on the motor turns solid green when it’s fully charged.
The second step according to the manual was to remove the protective film from the valance, but my shades did not come with any protective film. Sigh.
The third step is to install the valance brackets, and this is undoubtedly the most critical step. The picture above shows how a bracket fits into the grooves. The two “legs” on the back slip into the back groove, and the plastic tab below the “button” pops into the front groove.
The key is to make sure that I mount all three valence brackets in a straight line. If they are not aligned, then I won’t be able to pop them into place in the grooves. I put one bracket in the middle, and the other two about six inches in from the edges to distribute the weight more evenly.
Attaching the valence to the brackets is a two-person job that requires ladders, as we have to get high enough to slip in the “legs” and pop in the tabs. In the end, my wife and I got them into place, and now we have mounted SmartWings outdoor shades!
The next step was to mount the solar panel, connect it to the motor, and tidy up all the cables. I used a couple of small eye hooks to keep everything out of the way so that it doesn’t get tangled in the shade as it moves up and down. Using a solar panel to power the shades is a super-smart idea, and I think it’s totally worth the extra money.
The shades are shipped in “sleep mode” in order to prevent them from accidentally activating while in transit. I had to press the button on the end of the antenna to remove it from this mode.
Now, the moment of truth had arrived! Would the remote work? Could I lower and raise the shades? I’m happy to say that the remote performed flawlessly. I can use the remote to raise, lower, or stop the shades at any point. At this point, I could stop. Basic functionality has been achieved, and nothing else is required. There are, however, a few more things that I wanted to do to make my SmartWings experience better.
By default, pressing the up button on the remote raises it to a position just under the valence, which is perfect. Pressing the down button, however, lowers it too far, below the railing on my porch. Using an arcane set of commands on the remote, I was able to set that position to exactly where I wanted it, just above the rails. This is a really sweet feature, and I’m super glad that SmartWings added this. There are a host of other commands that are described in more detail in the Remote Programming Guide, but setting the lower bound was the only one that was important to me.
Where we live it’s often breezy and windy, so I decided to install the cable tie down system that SmartWings included with the outdoor shades. The basic idea is that there’s a pair of steel cables along the left and right sides that the bar at the bottom of the shades connects to in order to prevent them from blowing around in the wind. The first step is to screw in the cables to the bottom, back of the valance.
The second step is to secure the cable brackets on the rails below. This should align with the point where I screwed in the cable above, so for me, this is on the outside of my porch railing, as my shades face into the porch rather than out.
The final step is to thread the cable through the rod at the bottom of the shades and then through the bracket. I tightened everything down and trimmed off the excess cable. This system works well at keeping the shades from flopping around in the breeze. The rod that runs through the bottom of the shades is made of plastic, so that does bend some but not too much.
Unfortunately, when I lower the shades, the cables tend to get stuck part way down. This happens more often than not.
At first, I couldn’t see any obvious reason for this. The holes on the end cap are oriented upward and downward, and they are plenty big for the cables. I sent an email to SmartWings’ support, and less than a day later, I got their recommendation: Make sure the cable wires are straight and tight. It turns out that this was a good answer. If the wires have a lot of play in them, or if they angle inward or outward, then it will be easier for the end caps to get stuck. I went back and tightened up the cables in both brackets, and that helped some. Then I moved the left bracket, the one that was getting stuck more often, slightly outward. That seems to have solved the problem! Thank you to the SmartWings support team!
I have a rich HomeKit ecosystem in my house: lights, outlets, motion sensors, and so on. Adding the outdoor shades to the Home app was easy. The shades come with two HomeKit identifier stickers, one on the front and one on the top of the valance. It paired on the first try and just worked. I can control it from the Home app or via voice with one of my HomePod minis; my wife can even control this with her Apple Watch. SmartWings nailed the HomeKit motor, and it’s definitely worth the extra cost. I put the remote control away because I don’t think I’ll need it any longer.
Here’s what the back porch looked like before installing the SmartWings outdoor shades.
Here’s what it looked like after.
The SmartWings outdoor shades themselves perform exactly as I had hoped. They significantly reduce the amount of light coming onto our back porch during the late afternoon. They are somewhat transparent, so they don’t give perfect privacy, but they do help a lot. I would like to have shades like these all around the porch.
SmartWings did a nice job with the motors, which are quiet and smooth. While they are not super-fast, that’s ok, as this isn’t a race. The cable system works well, so long as I install the brackets perfectly straight.
The solar panel works great. Every time that I check the battery level using the Home app, it’s at 99 or 100%. The integration with Apple’s HomeKit is flawless. It paired without any problem, and I can use a variety of phrases to have Siri open and close the shades. Typically, I say, “Hey Siri, lower the shades.” I love these two features and wouldn’t want to go back to using “dumb shades.”
SmartWings makes a variety of other smart shades and blinds, which you can check out on their website here.
SmartWings’ website has a support chat feature on their website. I decided to test it out by asking a question on a Saturday night. To my pleasant surprise, SmartWings gave me an answer quickly. Well done!
What I like
What I’d change
- Improve the build quality
- Redo the website to make ordering options clear
- Write better manuals
- Fully disclose valance and shade materials
I love what SmartWings is trying to do here. Custom-sized outdoor shades that are motorized, battery-powered, solar-charged, and HomeKit-enabled? Yes, please! This is a fabulous idea, and I’d love to have more for the rest of my porch. Regrettably, I have some concerns about the build quality of these gadgets, and I think SmartWings needs to make improvements in a few key areas. Additionally, their online store and their manuals need significant enhancements. Although I want to recommend these outdoor shades to you, I just can’t. I really hope that SmartWings steps up their game and comes back with a new and improved version. If so, these shades will be the products to own for your back porch.