I really like Lutron switches and use them in my own home. They are fast and reliable. If you think of the old good/better/best categories then the GE’s are right in the middle of the “good” category and the Lutron Casetas are at the top of the “better” category when it comes to engineering. The biggest benefit of the GEs the one you already mentioned: they’re easier on the budget.
Cost of the Lutron SmartBridge
The cost of having to use the Lutron smartBridge is somewhat mitigated by the fact that one bridge can support up to 40 Lutron devices. So if you maxed it out, you added two dollars per device. If you have five switches, You added $16 per switch. So the budget impact is different for different households, based on the total number of Lutron Devices you end up using.
On the other hand, it’s not just about the Benjamins. Most Caseta switches do not require a neutral wire and the pico is one of the least expensive auxiliary switches you can get for a three-way set up. Plus you can put it literally anywhere since it’s battery-operated. And no wiring requiring for a pico. Using a pico instead of a GE add on switch should save you at least $4 for every auxiliary, so you start to recoup the cost of the SmartBridge that way.
The official Integration
The official integration is cloud to cloud. That means that smartthings sends a request to your Lutron account and your Lutron Account passes that request over to the smartbridge which send the actual command to your Lutron devices. It sounds slow but because Lutron itself is likely faster than Zwave, most community members have reported that the Lutron integration is no slower for them than the GE switches would be, and sometimes even faster.
You will be able to set up automations in either account. If you want to have the hall light come on at 7 PM, you could set that up in the Lutron app or you could set it up in SmartThings. If you set it up in SmartThings, it means that every day at 7 PM SmartThings will ask your Lutron smartbridge to turn on that light. If you set it up in the Lutron app, it means that every day at 7 PM the Lutron SmartBridge will turn on the light and then tell smartthings that it did so. So it’s up to you how you choose to do things.
If you want to mix in non-Lutron devices into a rule, such as having a SmartThings – controlled motion sensor trigger a Lutron switch, then you would create that rule on the SmartThings side. And again every time the rule is activated, SmartThings will send a request to Lutron to perform the required action.
Also note that if your Internet goes out, you will still be able to use the Lutron app to turn your Lutron switches on/off. The SmartThings app cannot talk to its own hub if the Internet is down. This is true for for all devices, even the ones that “run locally.”
Echo, etc. integration
The Lutron smartbridge has its own native integration with echo and I recommend using that rather than going through SmartThings. It will be a tiny bit faster, it will be somewhat more reliable, it will work even if smartthings is not working, and you’ll still be able to mix Lutron devices and other devices into one echo group if you choose to.
I believe the Google Home integration works the same way.
If you just have GE switches, your SmartThings cloud account has to be working in order for echo to control the devices.
Also note that at the present time Lutron works with Apple HomeKit and smartthings does not. If you don’t have any iOS devices, obviously, that won’t matter, but if you do it gives you yet another way of using the Lutron switches.
The GE switches are Z wave repeaters, so they help “strengthen the mesh” for all your other Z wave devices. The Lutron switches are an independent system. At our house, we use Z wave and zigbee plug in pocket sockets, not Lutron plug-ins. The plug-ins serve as repeaters and, again, at our house, are generally for less critical devices than the light switches so we’re not as worried about backup Control methods if the SmartThings cloud is not available. If the plug-ins were for critical use cases, we would probably use the Lutron for those as well.
Also remember that zwave repeats only for Z wave and zigbee repeats only for zigbee. So if you get a GE zwave light switch, it’s not going to strengthen the mesh for your zigbee sensors. (There is one device, the iris smart plug, which has both a Z wave radio and a zigbee radio inside and can act as a repeater for both protocols, but that’s unusual.)
So this is one of those factors where it’s going to vary a lot from one household to another as to how important having zwave switches to act as repeaters is going to be.
Lots of people use the GE switches and are happy with them. You’ll definitely save some money, although how much depends on how many three-way set ups you have and if you have to do any additional electrical work. Most people who like Lutron switches really like them, And they do offer some additional features and integrations. Whether that’s of value to you or not is something only you can decide.