The smart home is more an evolution than a revolution. Homeowners will mostly integrate Internet-connected devices gradually, rather than all at once. And when it comes to turning on smart lighting, from switches to plugs to bulbs, there are many ways to leave the dark ages and step into an era of intelligent solutions.
Over the past six months, I have used two devices from Belkin’s WeMo line: The in-wall WeMo Light Switch and the plug-connected WeMo Insight Switch. A pair of bright products, these two net-connected power-controlling devices have worked well, for the most part — once I got them installed.
The Good: Set It and Forget It
Both WeMo switches are powered by Belkin’s WeMo app, which is available for iOS and Android, and the interface is fairly straightforward. Open up the app and you’ll see your light(s) and a power button. Whether your smartphone is connected to your home’s Wi-Fi or mobile data connection, that button will operate your lights. There’s also a tab for “rules,” which let you program times for turning your lights on or off, including a sunrise and sunset option, which changes according to the calendar and your location.
I have used this rule exclusively with the in-wall WeMo Light Switch, and it hasn’t failed once in the past six months. Typically, I’ve used the plug-in Insight Switch with a floor lamp. And though I have that light turn on at sunset, I turn it off manually with the app, if I can (more on that below). Over the holidays, I moved the Insight Switch over to the Christmas tree, so that would turn on automatically instead.
Of course, timers can operate floor lamps for much less cash, but the Insight Switch also provides energy usage data within the WeMo app. (The Light Switch does not provide this information.) According to my app, on average, I run my lamp just for under six hours per day, and it only costs me 38 cents a month (it has an LED lightbulb). If you were ever curious how much energy your window-unit air conditioner costs, for example, this gadget will tell you.
The Bad: Where’s My Wi-Fi?
As happy as I’ve been with my WeMo setup, our love affair almost stopped before it ever started. That’s because the initial Wi-Fi detection on these devices was, in a word, horrendous. I’ve set up both the Light Switch and the Insight Switch multiple times (more on that below), using different wireless routers, different networks, and even different network settings, and every time it was not only unbearable but also baffling. The process looks like it’s working fine, but when you enter your network’s Wi-Fi password into the WeMo app to connect the switches to the web, it tells you that your password is wrong.
After a back-and-forth with WeMo’s customer service Twitter account, I finally got a solution: Delete the WeMo app, reboot the smartphone, and reinstall the app. This is a very underwhelming software fix for an otherwise good piece of hardware.
On the bright side, the WeMo Light Switch rarely has this problem. Hard-wired into the wall where my porch light switch once was, it reconnects to my home’s Wi-Fi after a network or power outage just fine. But the Insight Switch is a completely different beast that has been known to misfire no reason whatsoever, even minutes after it was just working. Then, when you try it again later, it’s operational like there never was any problem.
The Ugly: Firmware Faux Pas
If you’d think that a device with inconsistent behavior like the Insight Switch would benefit from a firmware update, then this will blow your mind: they don’t help. Belkin regularly sends along software patches to WeMo devices, and that’s a good thing — or at least it should be. Firmware updates show that the manufacturer still cares about their products and their customers. But the WeMo firmware updates have knocked my Insight Switch off my home’s Wi-Fi so many times that I’ve decided to avoid the updates moving forward. I’ve found a firmware that works for me, and I’m sticking to it.
Of course, this workaround doesn’t make for a ringing endorsement. As much as I want to love the Insight Switch, for all its watt-counting ways, its inconsistent and intermittent behavior makes me pause before recommending it. Though you can plug more than lamps into it, I wouldn’t use the WeMo Insight Switch for any vital tasks. On the other hand, the WeMo Light Switch is a keeper for anyone looking for app-powered porch lights, ceiling fans, or other hard-wired electrical needs.