FINALLY Some Real Competition For Smart Curtains! - Aqara Curtain Driver E1 Review

Aqara has launched a new wireless solution for smart curtains with Zigbee - but how does it stack up compared to the trusty SwitchBot Curtains? Let's find out!

FINALLY Some Real Competition For Smart Curtains! - Aqara Curtain Driver E1 Review

Switchbot have pretty much been the go to solution for wireless smart curtains since they first launched - they are simple to setup, work well and have a great battery life...but now comes a new challenger from Aqara with their brand new Curtain Driver E1! Let’s take a look at how they work and how they compare to the Switchbot's smart curtains!

*Full transparency as always - Aqara did send me the Curtain Driver E1 units for me to check out.*


The Aqara Curtain Driver E1 is a completely wireless solution to automated curtain control, by using Zigbee 3.0. This is a retrofit device, meaning rather than having to replace your curtain rod or track, this is designed to work with your existing setup. The whole thing is this matt white finish and feels like an absolute tank to be honest, probably mostly due to its rechargeable 6400mah which Aqara says gives it a 1 year battery life - this will of course vary depending on your daily usage but impressive if it gets close to that.

These will also be available in a rod version or a track and rail version depending on your style of curtains. The rod version coming in at £99.99 and the track version is £89.99 - that’s quite a bit of a steep price, but we will talk about that later.

On the front of the unit is a physical button, an ambient light sensor and an indicator light for setting limits and pairing. Underneath is a USB type C port for charging which we love to see and on the top is the big wheel used to drive it along the rail, along with some hooks.

The hooks attach to the sleeve which you put around your curtain pole and clip shut and this allows the curtain driver to move back and forth. Then, the hooks rise up mechanically, hook onto the sleeve and then pulls itself onto the rod - when I first saw this happen, I was very surprised to see the hooks move themselves!

While this is just a pretty cool thing all by itself, it does serve a useful purpose. It takes all of the guess work out of how hard to clamp the curtain driver down since it handles the clamp down force for you, meaning we don’t push down too hard or too little. Also, it is just pretty cool to look at.

Side note: Switchbot also has this feature (an auto-adjusting mechanism) with their new version so that's good too!

Once you have the sleeve installed on your pole, you can double press the button on the curtain driver to raise and lower the hooks, then you can add it to your smart home platform of choice.

Let’s look at the Aqara ecosystem first, then we will take a look at connecting to Home Assistant directly.

Connecting to Aqara App

Since these are Zigbee, they follow the standard Zigbee pairing process making it so easy to connect to whatever platform you want!

In the Aqara app, you select the E1 Curtain from the products list and then press and hold the main button on the unit till it flashes, at which point it will connect right up.

It will take you through the process of setting the curtains up, including selecting which way round the open and close is as well as setting the physical limits open and close limits.

After that, you have access to open and close the curtains! You have a slider for control and you can also create scenes which basically allow you to open or close the curtain over a set period of time. For example, you could create a scene as part of your wake up routine which slowly opens the curtains over a 10 minute time period.

You can also group 2 curtain units together so they are controlled as one unit - you still can control each one individually if you wanted - and you can use the curtains in your automations as normal.

Interestingly, there is no light sensor listed on the device page, but when you go into automations you can actually create an automation based on the ambient light of the curtain which is nice.

There is an ambient light sensor listed on the box also but it just seems you can’t get the actual value of it, at least inside the Aqara app.

If you connect the Curtain Driver E1 through one of the Aqara hubs then this will allow you to link with other smart home platforms like Amazon Alexa, Google Home, HomeKit and Home Assistant (through the HomeKit integration, of course). All of which will allow you to control the position of the curtain as you would expect.

Home Assistant

Of course, if you already have Zigbee on your Home Assistant server then you can directly connect the curtains to that instead, so you can bypass the Aqara hub all together.

Once it’s added they will show up as covers and you can customize them however you want, you can also create a group inside Home Assistant so that they both show up as one single unit and that works perfectly as you would expect.

I tested with both ZigBee2MQTT and ZHA and had an admittedly surprising result!

It wouldn’t work in ZigBee2MQTT at the time of my testing but did pretty much fully work in ZHA other than battery life not showing up.

However, I have figured out a custom quirk for this to fix battery life, also reversing the direction and put in a pull request into ZHA so you should have full functionality really soon there! Even better, it now works with ZigBeeMQTT!

Also, don’t worry if you don’t have the ability to set the limits if you don’t have have the Aqara app - the physical button on the curtains can be used to set the limits. So, you don’t need to do any of that in the app if you don’t want to, the button on the front can do everything. and it explains all in the pamphlet.

SwitchBot Curtain vs. Aqara E1

Up until this point, SwitchBot have enjoyed a pretty much monopoly of this particular segment of the market with their SwitchBot curtain. Sure, there have been some cheaper other models from the likes of Tuya, but they aren’t really of the same quality as the SwitchBot curtain, so how does it compare against the Aqara E1 curtain?

Performance wise the Aqara does outmuscle the SwitchBot a bit, at least when you intentionally load them with weight - I was able to add an additional 5kgs to the Aqara E1 and it was still able to move it, albeit quite slowly, whereas the SwitchBot curtain only took an additional 2.5kgs of weight loaded onto them. I'm aware this is not a perfect test but hopefully gives you a bit of an idea!

However, saying that, after retesting the Aqara E1 a couple of times, it was not able to move the 5kg - so, they are pretty much similar in terms of weight.

In a real world application, they are pretty similar, at least for my curtains. My curtains have started sticking near the end of the travel, much worse than they were a year ago, just through general wear. Both the Aqara E1 and the SwitchBot work perfectly well at the start but then start to struggle near the end due to the way the pleats of the curtains line up when stretched out.

However, to combat this Aqara have included some clear plastic tape, as well as some hooks that you can attach to keep all of the pleats at the same length as each other and this makes the curtain move perfectly. SwitchBot also ship a similar solution in the box and again works great.

Speaking of the tape, the only problem I have with the Aqara E1 is that Aqara went to all of the hassle of making the tape (I know that isn't the right word for it) clear and transparent so you won’t see it, then they included white clips which standout on dark curtains? It would have been great if the clips were also clear and transparent to make them a bit more stealthy, but this is a minor complaint.

Both curtains also support the feature where you can pull the curtains a little bit and the drivers kick in to complete the action for you.

In terms of speed, both are pretty comparable, the Aqara is a little faster than the SwitchBot but not hugely, although this will obviously depend on how long your curtain rod is: the longer the rod, the larger the gap between them will be.

From a noise perspective, I would, again, say that in terms of volume they are pretty much identical, at least to my ear. However, the SwitchBot slightly gives off more of a higher pitched screech that makes it seem louder and be more noticeable, whereas the Aqara has a lower pitched rumble.

One major difference is obviously connectivity - the Aqara connects via Zigbee 3.0 and the Switchbot connects via Bluetooth. This is a big advantage for the Aqara E1 in terms of responsiveness and speed - although to be fair, curtains are one of those few devices you don’t need lightning fast responsiveness like you do with a light switch. However, I still find ZigBee to be more reliable and overall predictable so I've got to say that I do prefer the Aqara’s being ZigBee.

One advantage that the SwitchBot does have over the Aqara E1 though is its Quiet Mode, where you can run the motor at a slower but quieter mode, which is useful if you have them in a bedroom. The Aqara doesn’t appear to have this and just runs at one speed only, so that may be something to consider when buying depending on where you plan on placing them.

Finally, what about price? The Aqara E1 Driver comes in at £99 for one unit and the SwitchBot Curtain Rod 2 is currently £85, so around a £15 difference (unless you get the Aqara E1 track version which is £89).

I, personally, think the £15 difference to get ZigBee over Bluetooth is worth it for me but honestly, other than that, both of them are actually really comparable with each other in pretty much every other way - they both have incredibly easy setups, self adjusting mechanisms, can do different rod types, have light sensors, USB-C and everything else is very similar.

It really comes down to: ZigBee vs Bluetooth, the quiet mode on the Switchbot curtain, the better strength on the Aqara E1 and the price difference.

Both are quite up there in terms of price, especially if you have quite a lot of curtains you want to do but hopefully we will see a price decrease on both once they’ve been out for a while and especially now there is some competition! Either way, it’s great to have some real competition in this space, that is always great for us as it drives for better products and a better price!

Last Words

There we have it! A complete comparison between the new Aqara E1 Driver & the SwitchBot Rod 2! As I've already mentioned, I am so happy that there is now competition for smart curtains and people have a choice. They both work great in my opinion so, personally, it really just boils down to connectivity and ZigBee 3.0 will always trump Bluetooth to me. Do let me know what you think and which one you prefer.