Deako Smart Lighting System review: Modular hardware delivers incredible flexibility, but at a steep price

It’s a compelling concept, even if it isn’t as sophisticated as some other high-end systems we’ve evaluated.

deako exposed
Deako

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At a Glance
  • Deako Smart Scene Controller Dimmer

Deako isn’t a household name in smart home tech, and it doesn’t plan to become one. The company targets new home builders and contractors undertaking large-scale remodeling projects. To make this crystal clear: Deako does not even suggest that consumers install its products by themselves or use them in one-off installations. But if you’re redoing your entire house and want to consider smart lighting technology, Deako would love your (and your contractor’s) consideration.

The Deako System of in-wall switches is unlike any other smart lighting system on the market, because it is modular. With Deako backplates installed throughout your home, you can very quickly swap between cheap (not-smart) switches, smart switches, and smart dimmers. Just pop the faceplate off and you can hot-swap the switch itself in a manner of seconds, no tools required.

deako swap out steps Deako

Deako’s modular design lets you swap dumb switches, smart switches, and smart dimmers without ever needing to call an electrician (after the backplates have been installed, that is).

This is a clever idea because, as Deako’s CEO explained to me, new homeowners don’t necessarily want smart switches on every wall of the house—and they probably won’t know where they do want them until they’ve moved into the house and lived in it for a while. Over time, a homeowner’s smart switch needs will likely change, as well.

That all sounds good, so what’s the catch? The catch is that to make this all possible, you need Deako backplates installed throughout your home. And that may have you asking, what the heck is a backplate?

The Deako backplate (seen installed in the photo at the top of the page) is a device that mounts inside the junction box, and it—not the switch—is what gets connected to the wiring inside your wall. The process is similar to wiring a standard switch, and both single-pole and three-way configurations are supported. With the backplate wired up, the hard work is done. Switches simply slide into this backplate, no new wiring or rewiring required. Switches can also be subbed in and out whenever you like.

deako smart dimmer 1 Deako

Deako’s smart switches (the smart dimmer is shown here) snap into backplates installed in the junction boxes in the walls.

If this sounds familiar, the Noon Lighting system—also designed with professional installers in mind—works under a similar premise. It isn’t hard to wire Deako’s backplate, though the included installation manual is decidedly minimal, which isn’t surprising considering the focus on professional installers. That said, Deako does have plenty of in-depth guidance available on its website.

Deako’s smart switches are also similar to Noon’s in that they operate on a Bluetooth mesh network. This enables one switch to control another (or several others) for lighting scene control without needing a smart home hub, and it makes Deako’s products easy to configure and control using your smartphone or tablet. The downside is that you can’t control the lights with voice commands issued to an Alexa or Google Assistant smart speaker, and you can’t control the lights while you’re away from home.

Adding the $70 Deako Connect—a Bluetooth-to-Wi-Fi bridge—makes both of those scenarios possible; it also adds Samsung SmartThings compatibility if you do want a smart home hub. Where Noon’s smart lighting differs is that each of its Director smart switches serve as the bridge between Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, so you don’t need to find a spot to stash a stand-alone bridge like you do with Deako’s system.

Designed as monolithic rectangles much wider than the typical paddle switch, the Deako switch hardware is striking in appearance while maintaining a minimalist appeal. Standard switches are designed as plastic paddles, while the smart switch and dimmer are made from touch-sensitive frosted glass.

deako smart dimmer labeled Deako

This illustration shows the controls that light up when you touch the switch (the dimmer controls are on the right-hand side).

The smart switch and smart dimmer can be programmed to operate on a schedule or on a timer, and they can be programmed to trigger up to three lighting scenes using the lights connected to other Deako smart switches and dimmers. Tap an icon in the upper left corner of the device and three numbered buttons will appear. Tapping those in turn executes the scene they’ve been programmed to perform. A vertical slider on the right-hand side of the smart dimmer lights up when you touch the panel.

Deako app 3 Christopher Null / IDG

Scheduling your smart lighting is an intuitive breeze with the Deako app.

With the hardware installed, it’s time to turn to the Deako app, which is a fairly straightforward affair, albeit a slightly immature one. For example, the app walks you through the basics of connecting to your Wi-Fi network (presuming you have plugged in the Deako Connect), but it doesn’t discover nearby networks for you: You must type the SSID in manually.

Once the network is set up, though, you can access the usual extra features, including multi-switch scenes, room assignments, and scheduling options. The app is well designed, relatively self-explanatory, and I had no trouble getting any of these features to work the first time around. I had no issues getting voice control to work, either.

All told, the system works as advertised, and swapping switches is embarrassingly easy. The hardware looks great and the app is easy to work with, too. What’s the problem, then? Aside from the need for the Deako Connect, the main problem is the price. While Deako’s standard switches are affordable—$12 gets you a backplate and a “dumb” paddle switch—prices skyrocket once you move to its smart gear.

deako switch installed Deako

Deako’s smart switches and dimmers have a truly different industrial design.

Deako’s standard smart switch is $90, and its dimmer runs $110 (plus the cost of the required backplate, although the prices for those are comparatively inconsequential). If the light you wish to control is on a three- or four-way circuit, you’ll need to replace all the switches on the circuit (using multiple smart switches or a combination of smart switches and a smart dimmer if you want brightness control), you’ll need to purchase and install the backplates to go with them. In addition to that, you’ll need to buy the $70 Deako Connect if want Wi-Fi connectivity, which you will if for no other reason than voice control.

So, a Deako setup—even for a modest home—will get expensive fast, especially in a home that has lots of three- and four-way switches. That’s probably music to contractors’ ears, but not to those of homeowners. If Deako’s smart switches and dimmers were as sophisticated as Noon’s, the cost might not be a big deal—the modular plug-and-play hardware is pretty cool, after all—but they just aren’t.

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At a Glance
  • Deako’s modular design makes it easy to swap switches in and out, but only if your house is wired for the system—and you’re willing to pay some heavy prices.

    Pros

    • Hot-swap capabilities are unique and compelling
    • Impressive industrial design
    • Effective app

    Cons

    • Very expensive for relatively basic smart lighting control
    • Not designed for DIY installation (although most people should be able to manage it)
    • An optional bridge is required for Wi-Fi connectivity
  
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