HomeHome AutomationIs Sonoff NSPanel the future we all wanted?

Is Sonoff NSPanel the future we all wanted?

The future is here - we have screens inside our walls!

Nothing screams: “the future is here” like touchscreen interfaces built into walls. The concept isn’t new, but up until now, it was limited to movie sets and everyone with a generous automation budget. This could change now as ITEAD is Kickstarting Sonoff NSPanel. They made their name by offering budget devices for home automation so chances are customisable touchscreen displays will be in the range of the average homeowner soon.

And the best thing? I have one Sonoff NSPanel (ITEAD Store) early to tell you all about it and feed ITEAD with my feedback about the product. Keep on reading and ask all the questions you have!

Sonoff NSPanel

Sonoff NSPanel
Sonoff NSPanel in its glory

We went from smart bulbs to smart switches, now we have Sonoff NSPanel. It’s a two-channel relay that can be mounted into a wall to replace your traditional light switch. Sonoff NSPanel I have has the same form factor as the regular wall switch and comes with the electrical box at the back with a footprint of 5 x 5 x 2.7 cm. The product page shows us a possible vertical panel used instead. It’s compatible with the typical 2 screw mounts for the lightboxes.

The panel itself is a 2 gang switch (rated for 2A each or 4A total) with a 3.5″ touchscreen display. and two physical buttons to toggle the built-in relays. Included temperature sensor makes it a very interesting unit for thermostats and AC controllers (displays temperature in metric and imperial units). Unfortunately, Sonoff NSPanel requires Live & Neutral lines to be connected, so it won’t be suited for each household (not without wiring workarounds). Like most Sonoff devices, it operates using a 2.4GHz network and pairs via Bluetooth.

The display is the star of the show. The screen is bright enough for most situations (and a fingerprint magnet) but the viewing angles aren’t the best. Colours fade quickly as you change the angle of viewing and the display “disappears” when looked at 45 degrees in a low power mode. Touch seems responsive and gestures are accurate.

I’m not going to hold it against the Sonoff NSPanel for two reasons. A quality display this size will raise the price significantly and ITEAD plans to make these affordable. The display is meant to be controlled from within the arm’s reach, in that position, it won’t be an issue as long as there is no glare from the sunlight.

Update 11/10/2021

NSPanel has launched on Kickstarter with an early bid price of £37, which is pretty good and the regular price of $75USD (ITEAD Store) with some discounts applied for buying multiple units.

What can Sonoff NSPanel do?

I mentioned that buttons are directly linked with 2 relays inside the unit. The operation of that is self-explanatory. Let’s focus on the screen interface instead.

Sonoff NSPanel responds to gesture controls (swipe down/left/right). The default screen brings the weather information for your location (customisable in the eWeLink app), current time, date and the temperature sourced by the built-in sensor. Just like in Android slide down brings options menu with brightness and screen timeout. It works over WIFi and eWeLink Cloud but it also comes with LAN control.

Thermostat

Swipe left brings you a thermostat panel. It’s a very nice implementation with basic controls (Heating/AC support) over temperature and automatic mode. You can enable any of your Sonoff relays in the eWeLink app to act as a thermostat so if your boiler or AC is already controlled by a Sonoff device, simply select it from the menu in the app to enable it. You can also select the device’s relay, as long as you don’t control the heater directly (2A limit).

Devices

Swipe right brings you a shortcut to Sonoff devices paired in the app. It doesn’t display the units automatically, you have to select the units available for control (up to 8 devices). It’s a great move as users with multiple panels can specify the list of devices for each location.

Listed devices are shown as icons. Lights (Sonoff Lightbulb) and RGB strips (L1 & L2 LED Strips) come with a sub-menu that enables the user to set brightness and custom colour controls.

Single-channel relays (Sonoff Micro or Sonoff Basic) simply act as shortcut toggles, while multiple channel relays (Sonoff POWR3) have a sub-menu listing all channels for you to toggle.

At the moment, you cannot control devices from the Sonoff ZigBee range. It’s possible however to add a tappable scene in the eWeLink app and execute that scene from Sonoff NSPanel. I would like to see support for Sonoff ZB Bridge and all the sensors and sub-devices, especially temperature sensors integration.

Sonoff NSPanel in eWeLink

Apart from traditional Sonoff Switch options (dual-channel controls), Sonoff NSPanel comes with a thermostat interface and settings responsible for screen management on your unit. In the thermostat panel, you can adjust the temperature, heating schedule and pick your thermostat device. The device supports LAN mode, the default power-on state for each channel, inching and interlocking too, making it suitable for most situations.

All controls are very fast including temperature adjustments in the thermostat panel.

Let’s take a look inside

Modular design of Sonoff NSPanel
The modular design of Sonoff NSPanel

Sonoff NSPanel has a modular design. The front part (with the LCD screen) snaps to the relay board using an 8-pin header. The installation is as simple as popping the panel off, screwing the backplate in and putting the panel on.

Behind the screen

I’m glad to see ESP32-DOWD behind the brains of operations. While we don’t get 5GHz WiFi support the microcontroller will be more likely to be hacked and developed for when it comes to custom firmware.

The PCB reveals a couple of things. First, dev pads are nicely labelled with all pins required to flash the unit. Very handy for anyone wanting to flash it. Secondly, dev pads list RY1, RY2 and RY3 which are most likely responsible for the relay controls. This (and the unpopulated terminal at the back of the unit) assures me that there is a 3-gang version pending.

The LCD panel is attached to the board with a ribbon connector. It’s easy to disassemble, replace it or remove.

Backplate

Flipping the PCB over, there is only one significant remark. H2 marks the place of an unpopulated component with extra space in the outer shell allowing for light input? This could be an indication of a light sensor or motion detection coming to the Sonoff NSPanel. Right now this is my speculation.

The back section is hard to get into, but with a bit of force, I was able to get inside and reveal two 10A relays attached to the PCB responsible for the button’s actions.

Improvements?

Please note that I have a very early unit in my hands. My feedback may not be relevant to production units, and I will share my thoughts with ITEAD to improve the final product.

Buttons

They feel a little mushy, which isn’t a big problem (I’d love a more satisfying click to give you feedback), but they have to be pressed in the middle of the button area to actuate. Pressing at the sides of the button doesn’t actuate the button. The last thing you want is to press the button multiple times to register.

Temperature sensor

I’d like to see an offset option in settings as the temperature sensor runs 2-3℃ hotter than my other sensors. It’s probably picking up residual heat from the unit itself. In addition to that, as the Sonoff NSPanel will be mounted in a fixed position, it could be exposed to sunshine. Something you can control with portable sensors easily by moving it to a better-suited location. You don’t have that liberty here.

No PIR

Low power mode and schedules are welcomed, but I’d love to see motion-sensing wake up the display when movement is detected. It would improve the power consumption and the user experience.

Extra info

It would be nice to see extra information on the home screen: info about the current thermostat setting, an overview of the devices turned on and perhaps traffic/news/calendar. We shall see if this come later on.

I’m sure Tasmota development will follow shortly after the Kickstarter campaign, until then I have to satisfy my need for a wall-mountable display with a touch interface with Sonoff NSPanel inspired project made on M5Stack Core 2 device. Just in case you wonder what can be done on an ESP32 driven touchscreen display in about 45 min of my time.

Final thoughts

I’m really looking forward to the reveal of the pricing. Early backers can snap it at roughly £37 which is pretty good! Priced well, would provide consumers with the incentive to buy multiple units. A successful Kickstarter campaign and popularity of the Sonoff NSPanel (ITEAD Store) would no doubt bring tinkerers to the table, looking to enable this switch with custom panels. Overall my impressions are positive and I’m looking forward to the official release. As promised, if you have any questions or possible feedback that I missed, feel free to leave it in this Reddit thread and I will make sure ITEAD sees it.

🆓📈 – See the transparency note for details.

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