Just over 2 years ago, I partnered with Tuya to show how to use their API in your home automation and integrate their cloud solutions into everything else. It was all about software then, so let’s switch up the gears as Tuya is releasing devices manufactured directly by them (the majority of Tuya products are made by 3rd party, that uses their IoT framework). Tuya sent me 2 smart panels Smart Control Panel L(link not available yet) & Smart Control Panel S. Just bear in mind, that I play with these devices early.
Expect the unexpected.
What’s in the box?
The two stars of today’s article are smart touch panels. Devices similar to those previously reviewed by me, panels from Sonoff. Both Smart Control Panels are Linux-powered touchscreen devices that aim to replace one (or more) wall switches in your house. Tuya told me these devices aim to replace the need for hubs entirely. No need for a ZigBee hub, to manage your ecosystem.
I mentioned ZigBee, what about Matter? The protocol isn’t supported at launch, but Tuya is very much on board, and considering the complexity of their Linux panels I’m happy to take their word for Matter inclusion in the future via OTA.
Alongside my Tuya devices to test, they also sent me the most generic devices in white boxes to play about. These are: a wireless smart doorbell, a 3-gang ZigBee switch, IP camera and a ZigBee contact sensor. If this is the first time you heard about Tuya, they are an automation powerhouse of the East, and if you ever need a smart device no one in the West thought of, chances are, Tuya has one available for you in 4 colours.
Smart Control Panel L
It’s a star of the show with a 5″ IPS panel (224PPI) with touch input and a single channel relay inside. The more I look at the panel, the more interesting it gets. It comes with 2 microphones (Alexa compatible), a dedicated mute button and a pretty nice-sounding speaker. The back shell includes the Ethernet port (not PoE), and RS485 for anyone keen on industrial applications (think devices like Sonoff SPM).
To enable a smart home, Smart Control Panel L can be connected to 2.4GHz and 5GHz networks and has an integrated hub for ZigBee 3.0 devices and Bluetooth Mesh.
What’s interesting about the Smart Control Panel L is the USB-C socket at the bottom of the device. The panel can be easily unclipped from the backplane and powered with a regular phone charger. By doing this, you will lose control over anything connected to the back panel
Smart Control Panel S
A square version of the touch control interface brings a smaller IPS panel and fewer functions at probably a more affordable price. The Smart Control Panel S runs the same Linux-based OS but unlike its bigger brother, doesn’t offer additional features. There is no internal relay to control lights directly, no Ethernet ports and the device connects to WiFi using only 2.4GHz band.
Smart Control Panel S offers a ZigBee and Bluetooth gateway, Alexa integration and just like its bigger brother, allows for calls, scenes and all that smart home magic. It’s not as impressive but should come with a significant price reduction. I can see this device competing against the Sonoff NS Panel Pro and similar devices.
What can they do?
The best way to show you what these panels can do – is to show you what these panels can do, and for that, I got a whole lot of sample devices to connect and try out. So let’s plug them all in and see how you can take advantage of it in your home automation.
It’s important to note the panel size – especially the part that goes into your wall. Smart Control Panel S has a more typical footprint of 47x47x25 (in mm), so it should fit a standard wall switch cavity. Smart Control Panel L, however, may require a custom cavity as the back panel is 43x68x25, and if connected via ethernet cable, an additional 20mm of depth is advised.
Tuya’s marketing wording emphasises the upper limit of the devices connected to the individual hubs is between 150-200. And after a chat with Tuya’s rep, it was explained to me, that that this is not a hard limit.
I’m working with pre-release models, so Alexa integration wasn’t working for me just yet. However just before the video went live, I noticed that Alexa integration got fixed and I was able to control the usual Alexa devices directly from the panel. It works great and while the panel isn’t suited to play music, the speaker is pleasantly nice, and I had no problem triggering the panel with whisper-quiet Alexa prompts.
A word on pairing
Everything has paired as intended with 2.4GHz and some with 5GHz support, but… I can’t help but wonder, why I don’t have options to pair subdevices directly from these Linux-based panels. Do I really need to take out my phone to set each device up? Would it be easier (and actually feasible) to do this from smart panels instead? I’d love that as an option.
Instead, I had to follow the steps in the Tuya app to first add the panels to my ecosystem, and then link individual devices that will appear on my smart panels. Thankfully, I can decide which devices, scenes and shortcuts appear on each panel without travelling through the phone.
When paired, both panels can be configured to wake up from sleep by touch or proximity and display time and selected widgets from Tuya Home automation.
Added from Tuya panel – Gateway menu – they pair quickly and in seconds I had the supplied contact sensor linked to my panel. It’s not the most exciting sensor as all can to – is open it and closed, but the notifications on the panel are instant.
It takes an extra couple of seconds to get the same notification on my phone, but on the Smart Control Panel S (even in sleep mode) – once I removed the magnet, the screen displayed the warning. Sensor state can also be monitored live in the sensor tab – that’s handy. It’s a shame I don’t see any options to use the second panel I have as a router. They all will create separate ZigBee mesh networks connected under the same cloud.
Another device supplied is a battery-operated smart WiFi doorbell. It comes with a camera, button, and motion detection. It links to 2.4GHz WiFi and can be accessed from the separate menu on both panels. The doorbell comes with a separate siren that simply plugs into your mains. The siren is linked via RF and requires no pairing.
When the call is made, both panels instantly go into call mode – showing the camera preview and options to initiate the call and unmute the microphone. I’m not sure how I feel about the fact that when a call is answered on one device, it continues to ring until it times out on other devices.
Call quality is actually pretty good especially considering the panel’s resolution. The audio is strong and I would have no problem using panels as my intercom.
Intercom/ IP camera
Speaking of…If you have more than one panel, you can make calls between panels. They don’t have a camera to enable video calling with another unit, but you can have a voice call from one panel to another – neat!
But if you do have a camera… you can totally video call – one-way video call. I hooked up the pan/tilt IP camera to my panels, and it appeared in the same menu as the doorbell. I’m not sure why I cannot add this to the device shortcut – but it is what it is.
From there, I can start the video call and listen to the IP camera and watch the stream. Despite my best attempts, I was not able to move the camera even tho the IP camera supports that. It’s good for a quick glance, but for more detailed controls, you will need the app.
You can, however, enable the smart panel microphone and talk to whoever is on the other side. I wish you could move the camera around and zoom in to see more details especially if the IP camera comes with higher resolution.
3 gang switch
This switch is ZigBee and needs to live and neutral. Looks neat and can be added to each of the panels directly via the Tuya app. I hooked up the light to see it in action and used the add device menu to add the device.
By default, the device card activates all 3 switch channels (which could be annoying) but you can either set a scene to replace that or click on the device itself (in all devices) to access the individual toggles.
It’s instant and I have not encountered any issues in my testing. As Tuya offers more switches like these also in no-neutral configuration, these can easily replace the ones you have built into your walls.
A big part of me is excited about the ability to use these panels as hubs and voice control centres. They look modern and bring a smart feel to your home but the actual adoption rate will depend on the final pricing. I know there will be a pushback from DIY enthusiasts about the panels being Tuya enabled – but considering the development work on Sonoff NS Panel Pro – perhaps we will see custom firmware on these panels too. Until then you can use Tuya API to integrate these into your DIY automation. Let me know what you think in this Reddit thread.
🆓📈 – See the transparency note for details.