Belkin Wemo: Home Automation For The Rest Of Us

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I’m obsessed with lighting control. For about two decades, I have tried everything from “The Clapper,” Radio Shack’s RF-controlled light switch (with a remote the size of a pack of cigarettes), to X10, the most advanced do-it-yourself home automation system of yester-year. Each item failed me in one way or another…until I found Control4. I liked the system so much, I pursued becoming a Control4 Certified Programmer, Level II.

Alas, as close to perfection as that system may be in my opinion, some of us may just want no more than a couple of remote controllable switches for a few rooms in and outside of the home.

At CES 2013, I was introduced to Belkin’s WeMo system. At the time there was just a single programmable wall plug. But I could already see potential. By 2014, light switches were introduced, and Belkin had teamed up with other manufacturers to produce a WeMo-enabled slow cooker and coffee maker.

I was ready to get on board so I started off with the WeMo starter kit that included a switch, plug-in wall socket module and a couple of WeMo LED bulbs.

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Installation

Installation was simple. While I had to look at the diagram in the instructions several times to ensure I didn’t electrocute myself, each switch only took about five minutes to install. (A licensed electrician friend was able to do it in considerably less time.) Once set up, just plug in the modules. Of course, the best option is to hire a licensed electrician to do the initial installation work.

Set Up

Set up is simple enough that even a non-technical person should be able to do it, which is the whole point behind the WeMo line – it’s meant for the do-it-yourself (DIY) crowd. But there are some drawbacks to that.

You need to register the modules, which is fairly simple (set your device’s Wi-Fi, choose which WeMo device you want to register onto your system and you’re done) but you can only register one module at a time. This means it takes more time to register each module than it would with a professionally-installed alternative. By the time I had completed this process, I had registered a total of 17 devices, including a number of lights plus some modules controlling my slow cooker, charging station, and laser generator. That can add up.

One major advantage is that the system does not require you to buy a “brain” separately unlike other systems from companies like Control4 and InsteOn.

Finally, I downloaded the app, renamed each module accordingly and voila! I was done.

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Firmware Update

Like any connected device, firmware updates are a part of the setup. After being installed, every module needs to be firmware updated and each unit took about five minutes to complete – less than the 10 minutes stated in the manual. During my one-month review period, I needed to update the controller software on my iDevices only once.

Hands-on

My affinity for the system was quickly apparent – I bought seven more light switches the day after initial setup to install throughout my house.

The system works as promised and expected. I can monitor which lights are active (or otherwise) from anywhere in the house and control them remotely using various devices. I used an iPod Touch (3rd-Gen), iPad Air, iPad 2, iPhone 5S, and a couple of Android devices, including my daughter’s Samsung Galaxy S4 and Galaxy Note. For the fun of it, I also borrowed my neighbour’s BlackBerry Passport and downloaded the Android WeMo app. It runs fine with that device, too.

BelkinWeMo-CrockPot

From the smartphone app, you can see (and control) which lights are on or off, dim the WeMo lightbulb and create rules for when to turn each light on or off automatically. When you couple the app with the IFTTT app (which is also free to download and use), you can even create a notification function monitoring any change in activity. In my case, every time the backyard lamp is turned on or off, I get a text message to alert me. You can also set a second rule for any given module. WeMo calls it an “Away Mode” so you can choose between your daily routine and a routine created for when you’re on vacation. In Away Mode for example, you might want to turn the porch light on every night so it appears as if someone is home. If you choose to add a Belkin WeMo security camera, you can also watch your home in real time.

With the crockpot, I can set dinner to cook, then check its status remotely from my phone, or even change settings such as the temperature if I know I’m running late.

The system is highly stable – there were only three hiccups during my 60-days of use. The light bulb system module disappeared from the system once and on a separate occasion, the camera also disappeared. A quick unplug and replug of the module reset everything successfully. It’s worth noting that having a stable wireless router is essential – I used the Linksys WRT1900AC.

Belkin-app-adddevices

At CES 2015, Belkin announced an expansion of the WeMo lineup to include a door sensor, alarm sensor, motion detector and a keyfob monitor. These products will be available in Q2 of this year and I’ll be buying a whole whack of them. I’ll be able to set the alarm sensor to listen to my home alarm and by using IFTTT, receive a notification if something is suspicious i can remotely turn on all the lights in the house. Door sensors can notify me if I forget to close the garage door (which sadly, happens often.) Motion sensors can be installed in the laundry room so I don’t need to struggle turning the lights on and off when my hands are full from carrying a hamper full of clothing. All of the aforementioned products will be reviewed as soon as they are available.

Conclusion

Would I recommend this system? Heck yes! If you aren’t going to do a whole home system with complex macros, the WeMo is a great option for the DIY-er and easy to expand as your needs evolve. If only WeMo release a thermostat… TAKE MY MONEY!!!!!!

PROS:

  • Switches are extremely affordable at the often on-sale price of merely $40 each.
  • Ridiculously easy to install and set up.
  • Simple events can be easily programmed without the need to read the manual.

CONS:

  • No “all on/off” command without using the IFTTT app.
  • No timer mode command without using the IFTTT app.
  • No switch grouping (although light bulb groupings can be done).
  • WeMo lights, made by Osram, currently only come in warm white as opposed to daylight colour temperature.  Most of these cons could be rectified via a software update.

Wemo

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