Fibaro wants you to push their Buttons…and KeyFob (Review)
Physical buttons have been, in many ways, absent in the modern smart home. In “the old days” they were the standard, but today it’s voice and apps that appear to rule the connected home. Fibaro’s Z-Wave offerings make having physical buttons around your home both useful and fun!
But you’re probably now asking the question “Wait, you’re doing a review…of a button? Does it make make ice cream sundaes or something?” Well, not quite, but both Fibaro’s “The Button” and their KeyFob have a number of excellent features and are tiny smart devices that are packed with technology.
I’m combining these two products together because they’re similar in certain ways, and if you get one, you might want to just get the other one. Before I go too much farther, I want to reiterate that these are Z-Wave devices. If you don’t have a Z-Wave smart home hub or central controller, these won’t do anything for you. (And nope, they’re not not compatible with HomeKit, either.)
Both products are from a company that U.S. consumers might not be very familiar with, Fibaro. It’s a smart home company based in Poland that's been developing their own line of smart home systems and products since 2010, and has been more recently focusing more on the U.S. market. Their products generally are sleek, beautifully designed devices and tend to include a lot of technology in small packages.
As I began this piece with, I am a big advocate of physical buttons for control of the smart home. Not as the only option, but as a supplement to the voice and apps craze that has taken over the home automation world. As I’ve spoken of and written about numerous times, I believe in the smart home control “trifecta” of physical controls, voice and app / touchscreen controls. Amazon, Google and Apple would have us believe that voice is the future of controlling, well, just about everything. But as we all know, voice is only convenient in certain situations, and it doesn’t always work well, either. Also, apps and touchscreens are great, but if it takes longer to launch an app and press an on-screen control vs using a physical control, then they’re not worth it. Physical controls—in this case, buttons—can be memorized by our muscles, and they’re usually always in the same place. We can easily remember what each click, short or long-press of a particular button does, especially if its designed to be intuitive. Physical buttons can be very helpful to help those who are sight impaired, or those who have some difficulty using touchscreen devices or voice control. Real-world, tactile controls for the smart home are essential to making it truly useful.
So, with all that being said…let’s start with the KeyFob, as it’s the more capable of the two remote controllers. As a product reviewer and influencer, I strive to stay objective, but I have to be honest here… After a relatively short time testing and using the KeyFob, I really like it. (My opinion could also have been influenced that I’ve become fed up with geolocation-based automation not working well and was looking for a different solution.)
But before I go off on a GPS rant, I’ll get back to the KeyFob. At first glance, you might think that is just a sleek-looking keychain remote with six shiny chrome buttons, but it is more than that. As a Z-Wave device, it communicates back to your smart home hub and lets you control many different things, scenes and/or automations. This is one of these devices that you have to decide what you want it to do for you, but the possibilities are pretty endless.
The individual buttons, which are symbols instead of letters or numbers, are easy to distinguish by touch alone, especially as they are placed near the top of the teardrop-shaped device. The easily-pressable buttons are outlines of the shapes, a square, circle, an “X”, a triangle, and a minus and plus sign. Speaking of pressing buttons, in some situations—like having the KeyFob in your pocket with keys and other items—it’s easy for the buttons to get pressed accidentally. But luckily, Fibaro has thought of that.
Each of the six buttons on the KeyFob can be single, double, or triple-clicked, or even held down. Plus, you get six customizable multi-button-press “codes” that you can set your smart home controller to respond to. If you do the math, this means that there are 30 different ways to use this compact six-button Z-Wave controller. For all of the multi-clicks and the “codes”, you do have to press the buttons in relatively rapid succession, just like clicking a mouse. In my experience with the KeyFob, the physical button clicks overall felt fairly distinct except for the plus-sign button, which seemed a bit softer. But that could just be a unique manufacturing issue with my particular KeyFob. A hidden multi-color LED at the top of the device gives you an indication of successful communication with the device’s paired hub, which is helpful to know how long to hold one of the buttons down to activate it for a “hold” action. Also, if that wasn’t enough functionality for you, the KeyFob has a “lock” mode where you the buttons won’t perform any actions unless you “unlock” the device with a custom code.
So, of course, you’ll ask, “well, how are you using the KeyFob?” I have a pretty simple use case, it’s to replace my GPS-based home and away modes for my smart home devices. The KeyFob comes attached to a keyring, so it’s perfect for me to keep in my pocket when I’m away from home. And speaking of pockets, I setup my functions to be assigned to the “hold down” button press instead of a single press. I didn’t bother using a combination sequence, because my home vs away mode doesn’t need to be THAT secure. I use the “X” button for turning on Away mode and the circle button for returning to Home mode. (Logic behind these choices? X means “once this is pressed, eXit the house”, and the circle signifies “open” to me…as in opening the front door and returning home.)
My experience with the KeyFob has overall been very positive. Even after hours of inactivity, or even a full day, there appears to be no additional delay when clicking or pressing one of the buttons. For my home, the coin cell-operated KeyFob has a range of about 60 to 70 feet from my SmartThings hub, working through a couple of walls and nearly to the edge of my backyard patio. This range lets me come home and deactivate Away mode and then open my front door, with my home ready for me to occupy it again. (I could even include my smart lock, if only I had the new Z-Wave-capable version of August.)
My only negative on the KeyFob is that the battery compartment door is incredibly tight and takes more force to open than should be required. Perhaps this device is supposed to also work underwater? (Probably not.)
Of course, you could use the KeyFob for many more purposes than I’m using it. If you had a full suite of sensors that create a DIY-style alarm system, you could use the buttons in sequence to create a “PIN code” to arm and disarm your system. You could get several and hang them on hooks in different parts of your home and assign different devices, lights and scenes to them. Depending on your smart home system’s capabilities, you can do quite a bit with this seemingly-simple smart home product.
The Fibaro KeyFob is lightweight and easy to hold in the hand, being just 2.5 inches long, 1.5 inches wide and barely 1/2 inch “thick” at its midpoint. It comes with a CR2450 coin-cell battery that is supposed to last approximately two years with regular use. The glossy white surface and chrome buttons, along with the curved top surface and overall teardrop design makes it feel like a high-end device.
I’ll cover which smart home products the KeyFob (and The Button) works with at the end of the review.
What is it? Well, it’s a button that really, really makes you want to press it. It’s a Z-Wave controller and comes in a rainbow of six fun colors, plus black and white. And just like the KeyFob, it sports hidden talents. You can click it up to five times in rapid succession, and also hold it down…enabling six different ways to use the single Button. The full functionality that you get from The Button will depend on how versatile your home automation controller is.
As with the KeyFob, The Button is a beautifully-designed product. It’s all-plastic, but still has a high-end feel, and it’s just large enough at about 1.75 inches in diameter and about 1.5 inches tall. It is a “buzzer-style” button that you would imagine to be similar to “activation” buttons or a scaled down button made for buzzing-in your answer at the last minute.
Potential uses for The Button*
- Smart home device controller
- Home automation scene activator
- Color changer for Hue/LIFX lights
- Alarm system “panic” button
- Home / Away toggle button
- Wake-up alarm snooze button
- A/V system “mute button”
- Game show buzzer
- Pizza / food delivery order button
- Wireless toaster “eject button”
- Magic fireplace “on button”
- Smart lock “lock / unlock” button
- Remote camera shutter button
- Backyard rocket launcher “Go” button
- Spaceship laser-weapon activator
*List not endorsed by Fibaro
Similar to the KeyFob, my experience with The Button has been positive. There has been no noticeable additional activation delay when I’ve left the button idle for a long time, and it has a more distinctive “click” than the KeyFob to better understand how many times you’ve pressed it. While it does come with some double-sided adhesive tape for mounting, I’ve just left the button in the general spot where I want it to live.
What’s my use case? Well, as I (somewhat embarrassingly) demonstrated in my own “Tiny Smart Home Tour” video earlier this year, The Fibaro Button is a wake-up controller for me. I have a rather integrated home automation system, including a talking “alarm clock” which triggers morning automations to occur at the designated wake-up time. I use The Button for snoozing the alarm (one click), turning off the alarm (three clicks), and as a panic button (long press). The long press activates full-brightness lighting across all of my connected light fixtures, bulbs and LED strips, flashing some of them red and repeatedly blaring the “Red Alert” klaxon from Star Trek. (Hopefully, it would scare off a burglar…or a small rodent.)
The Button is powered by an ER14250 1/2AA battery (yes, such a battery exists) which Fibaro states should last roughly two years with ten button pushes per day. In my testing, the communications range of the device is about the same as the KeyFob…about 60-70 feet, including transmission through a few walls.
What else can I say about The Button? Hmm, it’s pretty darn cool. Every time I see it, I just want to press it!
Here’s some of the common attributes of the KeyFob and The Button:
They’re both Z-Wave and Z-Wave Plus certified and work with several controllers. Obviously, Fibaro would love you to use them with their own Home Center smart home systems. Home Center makes integration with these remote controls a bit easier, as the settings and button configurations are built right into the software.
But never fear, KeyFob and The Button also work with Vera’s smart home controllers, the Mac-based Indigo smart home server, Home Assistant, and the SmartThings hub, among other Z-Wave systems. As I specifically tested with SmartThings, I had to use the community-written Device Handlers for the KeyFob and Button, and I recommend using this special SmartApp for the KeyFob due to all the button combinations. (Free SmartThings developer account required to make these Fibaro devices work.)
To wrap-up, both of these devices are very good Z-Wave remote controls, especially if you appreciate style, and the additional built-in functionality. If you look at reviews of them on Amazon, you’d be convinced that they are awful. But aside from the in-pocket activation of the buttons for single presses, the only other problem that I’ve noticed is that the KeyFob battery use seems excessive. While it’s possible that the battery itself could have been somewhat depleted, I thought it started at close to 100%, but it’s now down to 50% after just a few weeks of use. This could be a fluke, but I doubt at this point that this battery will last two years during “normal use”. I’ve been testing The Button for a longer period and its battery still reports at 100%.
I wonder if Fibaro will develop Bluetooth versions of these devices to gain compatibility with HomeKit and other smart home systems? Only time will tell.
Disclaimer: Fibaro provided both the KeyFob and The Button to Smarter Home Life for testing and review purposes.