Lutron makes some of our favorite smart switches and plugs, so we’ve long been curious about its Serena motorized window shades. Serena shades are more expensive than much of the competition, but Lutron delivers some great features in return for the extra coin.

Those features are apparent in both the shade’s industrial design and its ease of use. For starters, if you choose the battery-powered option, the battery compartment is integrated into the shade’s head rail (the component that mounts to the top of your window frame and houses the motor for raising and lowering the shade).

The model reviewed here requires six D cells; smaller shades or shades with lighter fabrics get by with varying numbers of AA cells. When you need to replace the batteries, simply flip two levers and the battery compartment drops down. This is a significant improvement over the Graber Virtual Cord Motorized Shade we evaluated in October. The battery compartment on those hangs on the back of the head rail, so you need to dismount the entire shade to access it.

serena light leakage Michael Brown / IDG

The back cover prevents some light leakage around the head rail, but it’s not perfect.

If you don’t like the environmental impact of batteries, you can order the shades with a wall wart ($40) and a 15-foot power cord that’s coiled inside the head rail—just pull out as much as you need to reach an outlet. And if you can’t stand wall warts, a licensed electrician can install a Lutron Power Panel in your wall. One panel can power up to 10 honeycomb-style shades, but the panel costs $800—plus the cost of the electrician to install it. Personally, I’ll deal with the batteries.

Lutron also offers an optional back cover that not only reduces the amount of light leaking around the top of the shade when mounted inside the window frame, it also hides the mounting brackets when the shade is viewed from outside the window. Either benefit would justify the $10 to $20 (depending on shade width) in additional cost. Put together, they’re a no-brainer. Alternatively, you can mount the shade outside the window frame or above it. Lutron provides 1/2-inch spacers for the latter scenario, so the shade will clear the frame. You’ll need additional spacers if your window trim is thicker than a 1/2 inch.

back cover on lutron serena shade 2 Michael Brown / IDG

The optional back cover hides the head rail’s mounting brackets, contributing to a cleaner finish when viewed from the other side of the window.

The Lutron app

Serena shades are controlled by Lutron’s proprietary Clear Connect radio technology, so part of the added cost is the requirement to buy a Lutron Smart Bridge, which costs about $80. But if you’ve previously purchased any Lutron Caséta lighting or ceiling fan controller, you already have the bridge and the app that goes with it. The same app integrates all of Lutron’s smart home devices, including its lighting controls, smart plugs, ceiling fan controllers, programmable remote controls, and Serena shades.

lutron app scene control Michael Brown / IDG

Lutron’s app lets you create scenes with disparate components in your smart home, including Sonos speakers (smart and otherwise).

The Lutron ecosystem offers hooks into third-party products, including Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant smart speakers; smart thermostats from Carrier, Ecobee, Honeywell, and Nest; and even Sonos speakers. It is also compatible with Apple’s HomeKit technology. That renders the Lutron app and bridge combo a pretty good smart home system all on its own.

The bridge is capable of controlling compatible devices based on scenes that set the behavior of selected devices, and schedules (defined times on days of the week, or at sunrise and sunset). Scenes can also operate on geofence triggers: closing your shades and turning down your thermostat when you leave and take your cell phone with you; opening your shades, turning on your lights, and playing your favorite playlist when you return home with it.