Powershades TruePoE motorized roller shade review: The fastest shade in the west

The smart shades I’ve reviewed to date have been battery powered and wireless, so you might think that Powershades’ product would enter the competition at a deficit by virtue of its being wired. This shade isn’t my top pick in this category, but it’s not because it’s wired—just the opposite: I found the wiring to be a benefit.  

How could that be? The wire this shade relies on is an ethernet cable for both command and control and for power—as in power over ethernet (PoE). So, not only do you never need to worry about replacing batteries, the shade’s motor operates much faster than the ones in both the Lutron Serena and Graber shades that I’ve evaluated previously. Where each of those shades took about 24 seconds to fully open or fully close (38 inches of travel either way), the Powershades product completed the operation in less than 10 seconds.

The Graber and Lutron products do offer the option of operating on AC power, but it’s highly unlikely that you have AC outlets in the heads (the top horizontal strip) of your window frames. Installing an outlet there means hiring a licensed electrician to do the work, after which you’ll need to hide a bulky AC adapter.

powershades truepoe stub cable Michael Brown / IDG

A stub ethernet cable emerges from the end of the shade’s roller, where the motor is located.

Power over ethernet

PoE is a low-voltage tech, so anyone can string an ethernet cable from your router to your window (the cable can be up to 100 meters long). Should you need to cover more distance than that, a secondary power source can be provided mid-span. Since it’s DC power, you don’t need an AC adapter to power the shade’s motor. For a more polished look, you’ll want to install a plate with a female RJ45 jack in the window frame, but all you really need to do is drill a hole large enough for the RJ45 jack on the shade’s stub cable to pass through.

I didn’t even go to that much trouble for this evaluation. Since I didn’t have any ethernet cables terminated in female RJ45 jacks, I stuck an RJ45 coupler on the stub cable, plugged a longer ethernet cable into that, and left it trailing down the side of the window frame. You might find the multi-colored LED on the motor side of the roller to be annoying, as it constantly flashes red and green. The manufacturer tells me the flashes are used for status reports and troubleshooting purposes, but the end user shouldn’t need to be concerned about that. If you buy these shades, have the dealer rotate the motor so that the LED faces the wall and is out of your line of sight. If the installer is covering the roller with a valance or a curtain, on the other hand, that should cover the LED.

What you will need is a PoE switch to inject voltage into the cable. You could try to get by with a PoE injector and a standard ethernet switch (or the switch built into your router or broadband gateway), but Powershades recommends using a purpose-built PoE switch. Thankfully, such devices are relatively inexpensive. I used an eight-port TP-Link T1500G-10MPS gigabit switch for the job (about $150 on Amazon, last I checked) based on the IEEE 802.3af/at standard and offering a total power budget of 116 watts. It’s overkill for this job, but it did deliver the added benefit of providing wired ethernet connections to two desktop computers, a laptop, and a multi-function printer. I have ethernet in my walls and take advantage of the speed and reliability of that infrastructure wherever I can.

powershades pinnacle style Powershades

In the Pinnacle style, the shade’s roller mechanism is hidden behind a fabric cover.

A few manufacturers of smart window coverings, including Lutron with its Serena brand shades, offer their wares directly to the public in addition to selling via dealer and installer channels. Most distribute their product through custom installers. Powershades is in the latter camp, but they supplied a 5 x 4-foot shade directly for the purposes of this review (note that that is an approximate measurement. Shades are made to order and fabricated to fit a customer’s precise window measurements.) This atypical process led to a couple of hiccups during installation related to enrolling the device with Powershades’ cloud-based service—steps that a dealer would normally perform—but nothing major.

Powershades specializes in roller shades and doesn’t offer the honeycomb type of shades that Lutron and Graber provided for my previous reviews. The company offers two types of PoE roller shade: single and day/night (two shades stacked at a slight offset, where one shade is deployed during the day and the second is rolled down at night for even more light blocking and privacy).