Belkin's WeMo home automation products offer the ability to control your home electronics from anywhere, and the WeMo Switch + Motion might be the most attractive package of the bunch. If it has a plug, you can plug it into the WeMo -- a lamp, a coffeemaker, you name it. Once you do, you'll be able to turn that device on and off from your phone.
Not to be confused with the WeMo Light Switch and its DIY-intensive installation, the WeMo Switch and its optional motion detector accessory are designed around plug-and-play simplicity, making them especially appealing to consumers who'd like to avoid breaking out their toolboxes. It only takes a few minutes out of the box to have your WeMo up and running, and once you do, automating devices around your home is as easy as tapping a button on your phone. You can even use IFTTT (If This, Then That) to find creative ways for your devices to interact with online services like Twitter, Facebook, and Google Drive.
The WeMo's best feature of all might be its price. At just $49 for the WeMo Switch, or $79 for the added motion-detecting functionality of the WeMo Switch + Motion, with no subscription fees for any of it, this is a home automation system that'll fit most any budget. It's also a great starter unit, especially considering that you can add additional WeMo Switches, Light Switches, and motion detectors to your network if needed. If you're looking to dip your feet into the world of home automation, or if you're a devoted IFTTTer, then you shouldn't hesitate to give the WeMo a shot.
Construction and designThe WeMo Switch's technology is encased in an unassuming white plastic shell that will blend in neatly with most home decor. It's a bit large, but if the WeMo is plugged into the top socket of a standard two-socket outlet, I found that the bottom socket was still accessible, at least to a normal-size plug. There are no guarantees that the WeMo will play nice on a power strip, though.
Aside from the physical on/off switch (which you can toggle remotely), there's just one other button on the WeMo itself: a small restore button stashed away on the top of the device that you can hold down for a few seconds to initiate a manual reset. Aside from that, every control you need is located within the WeMo's easy-to-use app. The same is true for the motion detector; simply plug it in, pull up the app, and you'll be on your way.
Speaking of the motion detector, it's small and unobtrusive, illuminating with a pale blue light whenever it detects movement. It's a nifty little gizmo that works well, with a design that looks a bit like a chess piece from an abstract, futuristic chessboard. And again, aside from the Restore button on the top of the plug, there are no physical controls to fiddle with. You can customize the detector's sensitivity, but -- you guessed it -- you'll do that from within the app.See all photos+3 More
UsabilityThe WeMo's secret weapon is the WeMo app, a free download for both Android and iOS devices. From the moment you plug the device in, the app will do 95 percent of the work, first guiding you through every step of the setup process. All you'll need to do is connect your phone to the WeMo, the same way you connect your phone to a WiFi network. Once you do, the app will ask for the password to your home network; type it in, and you'll be ready to automate.
The WeMo app lets you create rules to dictate when the switch should power on and off, or what should happen when something triggers the motion detector. For simple functions, like setting an appliance to power on at a certain time every day, or programming a lamp to turn on when the motion detector catches you walking into the room, these WeMo-specific rules will suffice, and the app makes them easy and intuitive to set up.
If you really want to unlock the WeMo's true potential, you'll need to take advantage of its other secret weapon: full IFTTT integration. IFTTT is a popular, useful, and absolutely free online tool that links your favorite apps, social networks, and Web services in order to create recipes -- ultra-customizable cousins to the WeMo's rules. Basically, IFTTT allows you to set up automatic triggers based on causality. If "x" happens, then "y" happens. To create a recipe, you just define what "x" and "y" are, then let IFTTT work its magic.
Here's an example: let's say I was looking to buy a used air hockey table. With IFTTT, I could set up a recipe that would automatically send me a text alert whenever someone local lists an air hockey table for sale on Craigslist. The Craigslist post is the "this," and the text alert is the "that."
What's really cool here is that IFTTT allows you to set the WeMo as either the "this" or the "that," thereby linking it up with each and every service with which IFTTT boasts compatibility. Imagine the possibilities. Instead of simply having the motion detector trigger the WeMo switch to turn a light on, you could have the motion detector trigger IFTTT to send you a text alert -- a useful way of letting you know when the kids are home from school every day. Or, if you're compulsive about sharing, you could have IFTTT automatically tweet "Good morning!" on your behalf as soon as the motion detector sees you step out of bed. Or maybe you want the WeMo to flash the lights when your favorite football team kicks off each week. Almost whatever you can think up, from the practical to the preposterous, WeMo and IFTTT can make possible if it involves some kind of online notification.
Thanks to the WeMo app, linking your WeMo devices to IFTTT is quick and painless, although IFTTT will require you to register a new account if you don't have one already. Once you do, it's easy to search through popular WeMo-based recipes, or to create your own, either on the IFTTT site or through its own handy app. My only gripe with this process is that you can't modify or even view these IFTTT-based WeMo recipes through the WeMo app itself. The chances are good that you'll probably end up using both WeMo rules and IFTTT recipes -- which means you'll need to use both the WeMo app and the IFTTT app to manage your devices. This also means that you'll never have a complete list of your rules and recipes in one place.
Performance The WeMo Switch + Motion did a satisfactory job in my tests, reliably doing what I wanted, whenever I wanted. Flipping the WeMo's switch using the smartphone app will yield a virtually instantaneous result over a Wi-Fi connection. If you're on 3G, it might take an extra second or two for your lamp to turn on. The app itself is typically fast and easy to use; it does, however, get a bit sluggish at 3G speeds.
Every rule that I tested on the WeMo worked perfectly well. It never gave me any sense of uncertainty about what to expect from it. If you set a light to turn on when you walk into the room, you can feel confident that it's going to turn on when you walk into the room. If it doesn't, the chances are that you've done something wrong, not the WeMo. Rest assured, though, the WeMo goes out of its way to make screwing something up a real challenge. It's not idiot proof, but it's close.
Integration with IFTTT is, for the most part, smooth. All of the recipes that I tested with the WeMo worked well -- with one exception. I created an IFTTT recipe to turn a lamp plugged into the WeMo Switch on and then off once every hour (you can do this through the WeMo app alone, but I wanted to test IFTTT, too.) This recipe worked as planned each and every hour -- the WeMo always turned the lamp on, then off. However, I also created a recipe to send a text message whenever the WeMo Switch turned on, even if it was turning itself on automatically.
These messages only showed up about three quarters of the time over a three-day period. The other 25 percent of the time, the lamp would turn on and off as scheduled, but IFTTT would fail to send a text. If that notification had been for something important -- say, an intruder entering your home -- a 75 percent success rate would hardly be acceptable.
As for the motion detector, it performed about as well as I could have hoped. Like the WeMo Switch, I had it up and running in no time, and throughout all of my testing, the only difficulty I really had was finding a flaw with the thing. The angular surface on top made the detector easy to aim, and the blue LED lights that shine whenever it's activated were informative without being irritating. There was never a time when it failed to detect motion that I wanted it to detect. If you ever find that it's detecting motion too easily, you can tweak the sensitivity level using the WeMo app. The app also lets you customize when the motion detector will actually activate the WeMo Switch. You can set it to only trigger a rule when it detects motion following a custom-defined period of stillness, for instance -- a handy feature if you want the lights to turn on when you come in after a long day of work and not when you come in from stepping out to check the mail.
Maintenance The WeMo is only intended for use in dry, indoor settings, so if you're planning on automating a device outside of your home, you'll want to find another product. Aside from keeping it dry, maintenance is something of a nonfactor, but in the event of technical issues, you may need to hold the Restore button down for a quick reboot. Belkin will also issue occasional firmware updates for the device, and carrying them out is about as easy as it gets; you'll receive a notice in the WeMo app, tap "OK," then wait about a minute.
Service and support WeMo users with questions about the device can turn to Belkin's Web site for answers to frequently asked questions, as well as information about the WeMo's limited one-year warranty. In addition, Belkin offers WeMo purchasers 90 days of complimentary 24-7 phone assistance. After 90 days, you'll need to stick to the Web site or e-mail your questions in. You also have the option of purchasing an additional phone support plan, with one year of unlimited service calls costing around $120. You can also pay for service calls one at a time, but I wouldn't recommend it -- each one will set you back about $40.
ConclusionThe WeMo Switch promises to automate anything you plug into it, and on this promise, it delivers. With its remarkably simple plug-and-play installation and its intuitive, user-friendly app, the WeMo is a home automation option that even the most tech-averse consumers will enjoy using. Best of all is the price - at just $49 a switch, you won't have to break the bank to give it a shot. Throw in a motion detector for $30 more, and you've got a very attractive entry-level home automation package.
It's also easy to think up ways to put the WeMo to use - especially considering that it utilizes the full potential of IFTTT - but how many of these functions are really all that useful on an everyday basis? Some consumers might already have specific uses for the WeMo in mind that more than justify making the purchase, but for others, functions like turning a lamp on and off with your phone or setting up a Google Document that tracks every time someone walks into a room probably seem like little more than a novelty.
Chances are that you fall somewhere in between those two positions. If that's the case, I recommend that you tinker around with IFTTT a bit. If you enjoy crafting recipes and putting them to use in your everyday life, then it's a fair bet that you'll enjoy putting the WeMo to use, too.