Ultimate ESP32 BLE gateway?

I’ve been on the hunt for the “best” BLE-capable ESP32 devices to use with BLErry and ESPresense. Problem is that the ESP32 isn’t nearly as popular as ESP8266 in the IoT world.

CloudFree’s Light Switch is quite good but I discovered it way too late in the process of changing out my light switches. I have a few m5stack Atom Lite in use and ordered some LILYGO T-Dongle-S3 to mess with but the more I think about it the less I like the idea of infrastructure hanging off USB ports and wall plugs.

What I really want is a cheap ESP32 in the form of a wall wart or smart plug.

Enter the SwitchBot Smart Plug Mini*. It’s cheap — under $25 for a 4-pack on Black Friday sales. It has the ESP32-C3. It’s not at all friendly to opening, however, presently it is possible to OTA flash to Tasmota. And it has power monitoring, which is an uncommon feature in a cheap Tasmota plug. There’s not an official esp32c3-bluetooth build yet but they’re available from other sources and it’s not that difficult to roll your own.

SwitchBot’s Smart Bulbs are also ESP32-C3 and convertible to Tasmota, but I’m trying to keep away from bulbs.

I’ve also been eyeing the GL.iNet GL-S10, a $25 ESP32 device with Ethernet and PoE, but I’m resisting until it’s available from a US-based seller. The thing has been available for over a year and GL.iNet has plenty of US distribution for other products so I don’t get what the hold up has been.

* 11/21/2022 Update: After getting my hands on the Switchbot I would be cautious about using it for productive loads as it will not hold the relay state during a reboot or firmware update. This appears to be a hardware design decision. In theory that’s not a big deal — your Tasmota device shouldn’t be rebooting itself and if it ain’t broke don’t update — but it’s one of those footguns that’s likely to be forgotten about until it takes out a toe.

Smart Switching

I’ve now installed 54 smart switches, dimmers, and relays of 8 varieties, plus mounted a dozen remotes. Six switch locations remain but they’re all unimportant.

If I had to do it all over again, I would make the CloudFree Light Switch and Amaker WKC-002 Zigbee my default switches. Those and the Lutrons have metal tabs and I’ve found they’re much easier to get properly aligned and flush with the wall plate in a multi-gang box. All the rest with plastic tabs have been challenging, the Martin Jerry Zigbee model most of all because the tabs are narrower. I also like the CloudFree Light Switch for having what I consider to be a premium feel. The Amaker was a nice late addition, it feels cheap but best conveys that you’ve successfully pressed it and it functions as a Zigbee router. The Lutrons feel like cheap junk but there are very few cloud-free no-neutral dimmer options.

An added perk with the CloudFree Light Switch is that it runs on an ESP32-C3 (RISC-V) chip which has Bluetooth / BLE instead of one of the more common ESP8266 variants that only do Wi-Fi. Took me maybe 30 minutes to roll my own Tasmota image with BLErry and get it feeding a BLE temperature / humidity sensor into Home Assistant. Shouldn’t be challenging to get it doing the same on ESPHome but I’m unlikely to try that myself.

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De-Smart Bulbing

Between buying a second home and taking over the ADU at our primary residence to be my home office, the need to make 20-some new lights smart had me reconsidering our home automation strategy. Our main home has somewhere in the neighborhood of 80 Zigbee bulbs and I’m just sooooo over them. People can’t be trained not to flip switches, no amount of remotes on the walls and blocks on the switches will stop them. Plus my non-Hue bulbs never get firmware updates, so they’re older than manufacturers figuring out that maybe they shouldn’t all turn on after a power outage.

Also thanks to tariffs / COVID / inflation, the bulbs I used to routinely buy for $6-7 are now more like $10.

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Automating the Home

Last Christmas the girlfriend asked for an Echo Dot. At the time I thought the regular Echo was ridiculously over-priced and the Dot just plain dumb — why can’t any of them act as a Bluetooth speakerphone?! — but I got her one anyways because who am I to judge spending money on silly gadgets.

At first she used it for reminders, timers, music, and audible books in the kitchen. Then she steadily expanded with another Dot in her bedroom, a Wink hub, some TP-Link outlets, and assorted smart bulbs to about a half-dozen lamps / fixtures in her home.

Now, for practically my whole adult life I’ve used a couple of cheap GE remote-controlled outlets for the lamps in my bedroom so that I’m not getting into bed in the dark or fumbling around for a lamp’s on / off switch. Every time I’ve looked into changing over to something more advanced I’ve felt it wasn’t worth the expense nor the hassle…

But the girlfriend’s setup has grown on me. HA products keep getting simpler and cheaper and Alexa’s capabilities keep expanding. The tipping point for me was Alexa Smart Home Device Groups and discovering the 8-pack of Sengled ZHA bulbs. The Sengled’s have had coupons for 15-30% off for the holidays, bringing them as low as $6.50/ea — making it cheaper to upgrade my fixtures with smart bulbs than smart switches, plus saving me the the hassle of messing with electrical wiring in a home that I’m not planning to live in much longer.

My hardware assemblage so far:

Originally I wanted SmartThings + Echo Plus figuring I wouldn’t be able to cover my house and detached garage / office / theater from one hub, but ST is doing the job just fine despite not being in the best position. I’ve deployed one of the Hue Color kits in the master bedroom and several Sengled bulbs in the office, with Echos for each plus another in the kitchen. Over my holiday stay-catation I’ll be deploying the rest — an Echo for each living space and bulbs in the most used fixtures / lamps.

I may still decide to wire in a few smart relays for my outdoor lights — getting them on a schedule is highly appealing, and they really demand local control that preserves automation. Best as I can tell, nobody makes outdoor-rated smart bulbs yet.

And maybe some motion sensors to activate the stairway and upstairs hallway lights.


Going through all of this, I find myself wishing that Ubiquiti hadn’t screwed the pooch on mFi. The vision was there… but they basically made every wrong decision possible when it came to execution. I hope they’ll take another crack at it some day while embracing open standards and connectivity.