Review: Aqara Roller Shade Driver E1 is an affordable smart blind solution

Smarten up dumb roller blinds with this HomeKit solution.

Opening the blinds each morning and closing them each night is hardly the most laborious chore, but being able to control your blinds from your phone or with voice commands just feels like living in the future.

Fortunately for tech fans, there are numerous ways of achieving this in the present, and you might not have to spend that much to do it.

Aqara's Roller Shade Driver E1 is a retrofit solution that turns your existing roller blinds into smart ones. Provided your blinds are compatible, it could be the easiest and most affordable way to bring them into your HomeKit smart home setup.

Bottom line: Adding HomeKit smarts to your existing blinds couldn't be easier than with the Aqara Roller Shade Driver E1. Though it's not the prettiest product and doesn't work with all types of blinds, it's affordable and very reliable.

The Good

  • HomeKit support
  • Works with existing beaded-cable blinds
  • Easy to install
  • Reliable performance
  • Physical controls

The Bad

  • Requires Aqara hub
  • Limited to beaded-cable blinds
  • Requires regular recharging
  • Unoriginal, bulky design

£60 at Amazon

Aqara Roller Shade Driver E1: Price and availability

The Aqara Roller Shade Driver E1 only just launched, with the UK being the first region where it is available to buy. It retails for £59.99 and is available from Amazon.

Aqara has confirmed it will be available from Amazon France soon, with other European and Asian markets following suit in the coming months. There's no official timeline for launch in the U.S. yet.

Aqara Roller Shade Driver E1: What you'll like

With any retrofit product or any smart home product in general, you want something easy to install and get up and running. Thankfully, that applies to the Aqara Roller Shade Driver E1.

You get everything you need in the box, including the Roller Shade Driver itself, USB-C charging cable, mounting hardware, various cogs for different sized beaded cables, and an instruction manual.

Aqara gives you both screws and a 3M adhesive for attaching the device to your wall. I opted to use the adhesive and, though I was slightly concerned the pull of the cable or weight of the Roller Shade Driver might cause problems, it has remained solidly in place from the first application. Only the backplate is actually attached to the wall, making it easy to remove the main driver unit for charging.

The manual tells you how to get the right placement for the driver so that it pulls on the cable with the right amount of force, so I'd recommend reading that beforehand. I tested it out with a few different cog adapters to get the right size for my blind's beaded cord and ultimately settled on the one that came pre-installed.

Once I was set up with the physical placement, I opened up the Aqara app for setup. As with Aqara's other accessories, it was very simple to pair with my Aqara Hub M2, and the app guides you through the process of setting the fully open and fully closed positions.

Of course, I primarily interact with the Aqara Roller Shade Driver E1 via the Home app and Siri, thanks to HomeKit support. I've added the blind into a scene, so it partially opens at a set time each weekday morning, just before my alarm, so that I get some natural light, and otherwise open or close it with a shout to Siri or by tapping the tile in the Home app.

The device also has physical up and down controls so you can quickly set the desired height even when your phone or Siri is out of reach. Whichever way I interact with it, I have found it to be responsive and reliable.

Aqara Roller Shade Driver E1: What you won't like

The main downside to the Aqara Roller Shade Driver E1 is the aforementioned hub. If you're not yet using other Aqara gear, you'll need to fork out for one of its smart hubs to tie your blinds into your smart home. Aqara's product lineup is all pretty affordable, so it's not a huge investment, but if you just wanted to smarten up one particular blind, then it is an added expense.

If you're not using beaded-cable blinds, then you're also out of luck as it does not support other types of blinds. The included adapters help with different bead sizes and placement, but not if you have pull-cords or blind wands.

When I first unboxed the Aqara Roller Shade Driver E1, I was surprised by how large it is. Fortunately, the cable on the blind I set it up with does not reach the window sill; otherwise, I may have had to cut it down some so that there was room for the Roller Shade Driver.

Overall, the design is rather bulky and looks a lot like non-smart electric blind openers on the market rather than something futuristic. If your blind placement means the Aqara Roller Shade Driver E1 would be on show, bear that in mind.

It's also fairly loud. I have been using the Aqara Roller Shade Driver E1 in my bedroom so that I can automate my morning routine, but the sound of the motor has woken me up on occasion before the natural sunlight (or my alarm), so it might not work for everyone. It's not ridiculously loud, but you'll certainly hear it while it's running.

Its battery is also rated for around two months of use, depending on how frequently you're opening and closing the blind. Mine is currently at around 60% after a few weeks of owning it, so that seems about right and means regularly having to take it off the backplate to charge.

Aqara Roller Shade Driver E1: Competition

There are a few HomeKit smart blind options on the market, though the main competition for the Aqara Roller Shade Driver E1 is SOMA's Smart Shades 2.

It's also a retrofit device for beaded-cord blinds, but it retails for $149, which is over twice the price of the Aqara option and also requires a SOMA Connect hub. Outside of retrofit solutions, you're looking at smart blinds like IKEA's FYRTUR line or Lutron's Serena Smart Shades, both of which cost significantly more.

Aqara Roller Shade Driver E1: Should you buy it?

You should buy this if ...

  • You want to add HomeKit smarts to existing blinds
  • Your existing blinds use beaded cables
  • You want a solution you can install yourself

You shouldn't buy this if...

  • You want a hard-wired smart blind
  • Your blinds don't have a beaded cable
  • You don't have a compatible Aqara hub

If you live in a region that offers the Aqara Roller Shade Driver E1 and fall into the group of potential buyers that it works for, there's no reason not to buy it if it meets your needs. It's an easy way to add some smarts to your daily routine, and, as a retrofit solution, it costs a lot less than replacing all of your blinds with smart alternatives.

4 out of 5

In the wider market, Aqara's Roller Shade Driver E1 is very affordable even when you factor in the cost of the necessary hub. That being said, it's not available everywhere and doesn't support all types of blinds, so it might not work for your setup.

Bottom line: It might not win any beauty pageants, but Aqara's Roller Shade Driver E1 is an affordable retrofit solution that brings HomeKit smarts to existing blinds. Providing you have compatible blinds and an Aqara hub, it's a great buy.

£60 at Amazon

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Technology