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A year ago, I’d never heard of Aqara. Then they released a well-reviewed sensor no one else had, the FP2, a “presence” sensor. A quick perusal of their site will confirm they are, indeed, the sensor company, with a deep bench of smart sensors no one else has. Moreover, having tested many of them, they work when competitors’ simply do not. Now, a sensor is a small thing to install and set up, but my trust in their sensors is what made me willing to install their new Ceiling Light T1M ($149.99). A smart ceiling light might not seem exciting, but this is one of the first light fixtures we’ve seen from well-known brands. It boasts many smart features like visual notifications based on other Aqara products, too. The best reason to trust the T1M was simple: It is huge, and my kitchen desperately needed more light. The product is so popular it sold out in the first week, but Aqara says it will have more in stock in the coming weeks. 

A large but low profile light fixture with two separate lights

The first thing to know about the T1M is that it is a spaceship of a light fixture. A massive 19.5 inches wide, the light takes up some real estate on your ceiling. The rather innocuous main light is a spherical disk, and it adjusts to a range of white from warm to cool. Then, a ring of RGB IC LEDs encircle the white light, and you can control those separately. It installs pretty flush, standing short of three inches from the ceiling. The light is molded plastic, but it doesn’t feel cheap. Installation was quick—it’s light in weight, making it easy to hold one handed. The light arrived with all the parts you need to hardwire it to existing fixture wiring. 

Even with Matter, you’ll still need a hub

The T1M supports Matter over Threads and Zigbee, but it requires an Aqara hub, which is going to act as a bridge. This device works with Google, Alexa, and Siri.  Normally needing a hub would be a bummer, but Aqara currently offers the most entertaining hub on the market: a 2k wired indoor security camera that looks like a cat. (There are hubs with a more standard design to consider, as well.)

An impressive light array to program

It took no work at all to get the light online in the Aqara app, and from there it was just a matter of customization. White is easy—you just tune it to the white range you have in your home (people usually either gravitate towards warm or cool white). Now, there are tons of smart LED light products on the market, and most of them allow you the same overwhelming amount of color possibilities these lights do. Nanoleaf has done a great job of offering subtle, tasteful light schemes you’d actually want to use, and I think Aqara managed the same here. Essentially, the T1M acts like a sun—you can replace the white in the center sphere with subtle color profiles based on different times of day. You can even set schedules so the light will mimic the time of day inside and come on slowly with the sunrise: They call this “adaptive lighting.” You don’t need the same brightness all day, so the light can adjust. The exterior lights get a little more wild, but can still stay subtle if you choose, with themes like meteor, sunset, and autumn. It’s all completely customizable, from colors to motion, speed, and brightness. My only complaint here was that the slowest motion setting was still too fast for my taste. 

A key to remember is that even without the ring of color LEDs, the light is still plenty bright enough to fill a space, and you don’t ever have to turn the ring on. That’s the benefit of the two lights having separate controls. Over the time I’ve had it installed, I’ve mostly just left the interior light on, and eventually made a theme for the ring of white LEDS to augment it. 

Automations are what make this light extra smart

There are now smart bulbs and smart switches, which give you flexibility in which aspect of your lights you’d like to make controllable. It begs the question why you’d want or need the fixture itself to be smart, and here is where automations become key. Aqara lets you build powerful integrations with other Aqara products that offer both convenience and accessibility. If the doorbell rings, your lights can flash an alert. If another Aqara product hits a trigger, the lights can visually alert you. Consider your fire alarm: If you can’t hear it, a visual cue can be critical. I have a tendency to wear my earbuds while doing dishes and I have missed the doorbell a few times that way, and a visual cue would have helped get my attention. You can also extend this capability via IFTTT and your home assistant or hub, but staying within the Aqara ecosystem has some benefits. One of their suggested automations is, “if a window or sensor is triggered, use the security camera to scan for any unidentified faces, and if it finds one, turn the light red.” This automation depends entirely on Aqara products like the cat hub and window and door sensors.  You could set this up as an automation using other products through IFTTT or your hub, but you’re unlikely to get the same breadth of triggers and actions the Aqara app has for their own products. 

Control your light using quirky Aqara options

While you can control this light with a voice assistant and a regular wall switch, Aqara also sells a wireless mini switch you can install anywhere to use as a controller, which would also allow you to program custom actions from the mini switch buttons. There is also a curious controller called the Cube, which is wireless and allows you to program each side of it to control many Aqara products through automations and actions you define. These allow you to control the T1M remotely, even without a light switch, if you don’t want to use your phone. 

Look, I’d be satisfied with the T1M if it was just a light fixture: The LEDs were incredibly effective at brightening up a room a few traditional bulbs hadn’t. That they can be scheduled and programmed to emulate natural lighting and motion is a real delight, though, and what really impressed me—that I didn’t know I wanted or needed—is the smart functionality of using that light as notifications for other things going on in my home.

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