Bond Bridge by Olibra review: Bringing smart-home tech to dumb ceiling fans

The Bond Bridge is a pricey one-trick pony—but it’s a pretty good trick.

bond bridge primary
Olibra

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At a Glance
  • Bond Bridge by Olibra

It seems like the smart home industry has been slowly moving away from hub-based technology, so it’s curious to see a new hub from Olibra enter the fray. But while Bond is sometimes referred to as a hub, the reality is that it’s a bridge, and that distinction makes it entirely unique in this field—and surprisingly, uncommonly useful.

The big selling point of the Bond Bridge is that it’s intended to make those forgotten appliances and devices in your house part of your smart home ecosystem. Front and center in that mission is the ceiling fan—and by that I mean the relatively modern ceiling fan, one that is operated by a remote control, not a pull-cord. These remotes use RF technology to communicate with the fan, and as such they’ve been large left out of the Wi-Fi/Bluetooth/Zigbee smart home universe.

Well, not entirely—provided your fan is controlled by a switch on your wall. GE, Honeywell, and Leviton have Z-Wave-based fan controllers that can be tied into a broader smart home network that uses that protocol, and there’s the $50 Lutron Caséta Fan Control that uses that company’s proprietary protocol (one that requires a bridge of its own, which costs about $80). But those solutions—and others like them—control only the fan.

Bond by Olibra Christopher Null / IDG

For now, the Bond Bridge is limited to controlling ceiling fans and fireplaces that have existing RF remote controls.

TechHive executive editor Michael Brown has the Leviton product installed in one room, and the Lutron product installed in another. In both cases, he has separate (Z-Wave-based) smart dimmers to control the lights in the fans, so the cost of the Bond Bridge is considerably less than the solution he has assembled.

Bond ties the fan’s RF network to your Wi-Fi network through a small hockey puck that you plug in somewhere near the fan hardware. Unlike the Z-Wave and Lutron products, Bond can also control the ceiling fan’s light (if it’s outfitted with one). Instead of having to resort to that easily misplaced fan remote, you can operate both elements—the fan and the light—through an app on your smart phone. To see how well those promises measured up to reality, I tested Bond with my own ceiling fan, a model from Emerson that’s a few years old.

Setting up Bond Bridge should be familiar to anyone with even passing familiarity with smart home tech. Plug the unit in, install the app, and connect to its temporary Wi-Fi network before tethering it to your home WLAN. From here, setup proceeds much like setting up a universal television remote. Just tap a few buttons in the Bond app, then point your fan remote at the Bond Bridge. It automatically detects the make of your fan, then populates the Bond app interface with a selection of functions relevant to your brand. If your fan isn’t in Bond’s database (more than 700 devices are currently supported, per Olibra), you can manually program the controls here.

Everything worked with barely a hiccup in my testing, and in a matter of minutes I was happily controlling my ceiling fan from my phone. Every function available on my fan’s remote was replicated in the app, though a couple of functions which my fan didn’t support (including a second light control and a dimmer icon) appeared as well. These superfluous controls are easy to delete with just a couple of taps.

My only real hiccup with the app was that it isn’t the best at keeping track of the status of the fan. A green ring surrounds the power icon when the fan is on (and follows along to denote your last-used function), but if you turn the fan off via other means (another installation of the app, your remote, etc.), the ring doesn’t disappear. I had to consistently force quit the app then relaunch it to get the power status of the fan to update; even then, it wasn’t always reliable.

Bond supports Alexa and Google Assistant, which is extremely handy if you’d like to use voice control to turn the fan on during the dark of night instead of fumbling for a remote or a phone. You can even change the fan speed via voice if you want to fine-tune your comfort level. Conceivably even more useful is Bond’s tie-in to IFTTT. I was able to easily set up a recipe to turn the fan on when my Netatmo system detected the temperature in the room had risen above 75 degrees, and another to turn it off when the temperature went below 70. Plenty of additional recipes to automate similar behaviors are available in the IFTTT database.

bond ifttt Christopher Null / IDG

Support for IFTTT greatly expands the ways in which you can control your ceiling fan and its attached light.

The only problem with all of this: Bond tends to lose its network connection every few days and stop working altogether, requiring a hard reboot through power cycling.

At $100, the Bond Bridge isn’t cheap. In fact, it’s about $25 more than the latest Samsung SmartThings hub. On the upside, it doesn’t require anything else to control both your ceiling fan and the light attached to it. On the other hand, Bond supports only fans and remote-controlled fireplaces, with several other types of devices, including A/C units, motorized shades, and humidifiers all listed as “coming soon.” While it sounds like the Bond Bridge might someday evolve beyond being a one-trick pony, the reality is I don’t have any of those other things in my house, so even if it does, its utility will be limited for me.

Since the Bond Bridge doesn’t (and might never) connect to anything else in the more typical smart home universe, either, you ultimately must ask yourself if $100 is too much to pay for a smart phone-based fan remote. That said, considering how inconvenient that remote always seems to be, I’m inclined to say that it is. Your mileage may vary.

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At a Glance
  • The Bond Bridge isn’t a cheap way to add smart features to your ceiling fan, but it costs less than the alternatives and it’s effective.

    Pros

    • Easy setup, very intuitive
    • Adds a huge amount of extra flexibility to your ceiling fan system
    • Not dependent on other hardware

    Cons

    • A bit pricey for relatively limited set of features
    • App doesn’t update fan status in real time, requiring frequent force quits
    • Significantly crash-prone at random intervals
  
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