Find Your Best Type of Smart Home Controller

By: Lisa Montgomery, Guest Contributor

Smart Home Controllers: Decisions, Decisions

For the simplest, easiest and most convenient means of operating your home’s electronic equipment, choose a controller that best suits the family dynamic. When it comes to operating the lights, thermostats, A/V gear and other devices, comfort and convenience rule supreme when choosing the appropriate type of controller for the job. So what’s comfortable and convenient to you? Is it a handheld remote? Or maybe it’s a keypad mounted near the entrance to the room? For some, an iPad or smartphone might be the controller of choice. There are myriad home automation controller options, so make sure you pick one that suits your personality and lifestyle the best.

Tablets and Smartphones

RTiPanel App Controller in Dallas, TX for iPad, iPhone, and Android Smart Phones
RTiPanel App Controller in Dallas, TX for iPad, iPhone, and Android Smart Phones

When you’re here one minute, there the next, you need a controller that goes where you go, and that’s a smartphone or tablet. Just about every manufacturer of home automation system as well as many popular electronics products offers a control app that can be downloaded onto your favorite mobile device, or several devices if each member of your family would like his/her own controller. With the app accessible from your phone or tablet, you can tap and swipe your way through menus and commands as you stroll through the house, relax in the backyard or even while you’re miles away at work or on vacation. To ensure that the portable controller doesn’t get misplaced, it’s a good idea to have a custom electronics (CE) professional install an in-wall docking station for it. You can snap it in there for safe keeping—and to recharge the battery–then pop it out for control-on-the-go.

Portable Touchpanel

URC MX-300 Portable Touchpanel Controller for whole home automation
URC MX-300 Portable Touchpanel Controller

A portable touchpanel has the look and feel of a tablet, but is designed and engineered to do only one thing: control the electronics in your house. There’s no need to launch a control app as you would in a tablet or smartphone. A dedicated touchpanel is ready to fire off commands to lights, A/V gear, motorized shades and more as soon as you pick it up.

Keypads and Touchpanels

URC in-wall touchpanel controller for home automation in Dallas, TX
URC TKP-7000 In-Wall Touchpanel

On the other end of the portability spectrum are wall-mounted keypads and touchpanels. Recessed within, or flush-mounted on, the wall, they become permanent fixtures of your home—a good thing for families that have a tough time keeping track of remotes, tablets and phones. And don’t worry about keypads and touchpanels mucking up the walls. Sleek, slender and modern, they can actually complement the home design, not to mention simplify quick, on the spot control of lights, music and more. Instead of manually adjusting a slew of light switches, you can just hit one button on a keypad or touchpanel to set the lights of a particular room or the entire house.

Handheld Remotes

Logitech Harmony Touch Smart Remote Controller Dallas, TX Home Automation URC
Logitech Harmony Touch Smart Remote Controller

You’ve grown up with handheld remotes and like the feel of those tactile buttons. Remotes programmed to operate a variety of electronic devices are probably a good choice for you. Buck the perceived old-fashioned stereotype by investing in a remote that features buttons and a built-in touchscreen.

Combo Platter

Don’t fit exactly into any one of the above categories? Not to worry. It’s acceptable to use a variety of different controllers; in fact, most owners of sophisticated home electronic systems do. For example, in media rooms they might use a handheld remote, while in the kitchen a built-in touchpanel works better. By employing a combination of several different types of controllers, you can be laid back one minute, on-the-go the next, and still be able to appropriately manage your house.

Lisa has been following the home electronics industry for 18 years and has written hundreds of articles on the subject of home automation, as well as home theater, networking, lighting control and more for various consumer and trade publications.

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Photo credit: RTi, URC, Honest Install