The home automation market keeps heating up, and one of the biggest players in that market -- Belkin, with its WeMo line -- has added a new product that may be the entry into home control for a lot of new customers. The WeMo LED Lighting Starter Kit (US$99.99 -- comes with two bulbs and a hub, extra bulbs $29.99 each) works with the company's proven WeMo app, allowing control from anywhere with a tap on of a screen.
In the past, the WeMo devices -- light switches, wall sockets, motion sensors, and appliances -- haven't required a hub of any sort as they simply added themselves to a Wi-Fi network for easy control. With the new Smart LED Bulbs, a starter kit containing the WeMo Link is required. Although WeMo Link runs on the popular Zigbee home automation standard, it doesn't need to be plugged directly into a Wi-Fi router like so many other hubs. Instead, it can just be plugged into a convenient empty wall socket and can control up to 50 individual LED bulbs. For someone like me who has a literal pile of various home automation hubs plugged into a router, this is a godsend.
The bulbs can be controlled individually from the app, or users can create groups that can turn on or off all of the lights in a room simultaneously. There are rules in the app that make it simple to turn a light on automatically at sunset and off at sunrise, and a 10-watt bulb (which are about as bright as 60 watt incandescent bulbs at 800 lumens) will save an average of $26 over its lifetime in electricity costs. The bulbs can also be dimmed for more romantic lighting, or even programmed to dim or brighten slowly over a period of time. The app also has an away mode that will automatically turn lights on and off randomly to simulate an occupied home.
One of my favorite features of the WeMo ecosystem is the support for IFTTT. At this time, IFTTT integration is not provided for the Smart LED Bulbs, so it's not possible at this time to create recipes that allow actions outside of the WeMo app. Belkin notes that the WeMo and IFTTT teams are working together to provide this capability in the near future.
Probably the closest competition to the WeMo Smart LED Bulbs at this time are the Philips hue lux LED bulbs, which uses a small hub that must be plugged directly into a router. To start out with the non-color hue lux bulbs, you need a $99 starter kit that includes the hub and two bulbs. Those bulbs sell for approximately the same price at the WeMo bulbs, at $29.95 a pop.
How do the bulbs work in real life? To test the setup, I followed the easy instructions in the box. First, you plug the hub into a wall socket where you have at least two bars of Wi-Fi signal strength on your iPhone. Next, you take the two bulbs and plug them into fixtures, making sure that they're turned on. The third step is to connect to the WeMo.Link Wi-Fi network. Once you're connected, you fire up the WeMo app, which asks you to select your home Wi-Fi network and then sign into it. The WeMo Link hub connects to your Wi-Fi network and if you have Remote Access enabled (allows access to turn those lights on and off from anywhere on the Internet) for other WeMo devices, it is enabled for your bulbs.
The app allows you to edit the names of the bulbs, and provides controls -- not only an on/off button, but also a dimming slider. When you turn the bulb off, it doesn't just cut off; instead, it dims down and off within about two seconds. The light from these bulbs is very "incandescent-like"; in other words, the light is warm, not a cold bluish light. Belkin notes that the bulbs will be available in a variety of socket types for worldwide use.
While the WeMo Smart LED Bulbs don't provide the ability to create color combinations like the original Philips hue bulbs, I found that I don't use those color bulbs that much anyway, except in the standard "warm white" color scheme. I haven't had an opportunity to try the hue lux bulbs, which are very similar to the WeMo bulbs. I do have to admit to preferring the WeMo app over the Philips app, as it's just a lot more stable, easier to use, and it's doing much more than just changing color schemes with its built-in rules capability.
Belkin is slowly, but surely expanding the world of home automation with a series of products that are all controlled from one app. It would be interesting to find out what the company is doing in terms of integration with Apple's HomeKit framework... With everything from a WeMo-enabled Crock Pot Slow Cooker to a Smart Room Humidifier, as well as NetCams, switches, and now light bulbs in the ecosystem, Belkin is moving home control and monitoring into some unique new areas.
With the addition of the Belkin WeMo Smart LED Bulbs, homeowners can now control lights other than lamps. These efficient bulbs, combined with a truly wireless hub, easy setup, and a powerful iOS app, are a great addendum to an already impressive home automation ecosystem.
Rating: 4 stars out of 4 stars possible