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Frustrated & Giving Up -- Affordable Smart Home is Still an Unattainable Dream


ultimusrex
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Wow... I'm seriously surprised at how ludicrously pointless and bad all the existing smart home stuff on the market is.

 

It may be that I started with the Wink system, because it's the least expensive and seems to have the best dedicated, always there, and free support available... But maybe it's so cheap for a reason. I'm pretty sure that I'm going to return everything I bought.

 

Basically nothing worked as I expected/hoped, and in my extensive web searches, there seems to be a few huge faults in the basic industry concept of the smart home setup.

 

I'll break down my experiences with the products I bought:

 

winks-617x417.png

 

1) Wink Hub

 

The wink hub "mostly" seems to work. I don't really have any huge complaints about it. Design-wise, the status LED is very bright, and they missed an opportunity to light up that slick little house icon in the middle. It appears to be made of the same clear plastic as the LED lense, but no light shines through it. It's just a pointless branding thing... However, I will talk here about some issues with the overall Wink system and the mobile app. First of all, it's a huge failing of the industry and manufacturers to assume that the customer wants to control EVERYTHING from their smart phones. Of course, I want that option, but there is no way that I want that to be my main access to switching and controlling my smart products, it's too cumbersome and annoying to pull out my phone every time I want to flick a light off, and a lot of people take their time at home to take their phones out of their pockets and leave them on a counter or by their bed. Secondly, the lag. Holy hell, the lag. Why does my smart home need to communicate with a server in order to flick off a freaking light bulb? Every home automation hub should be self contained and, as long as you are home and connected to the same wi-fi network, it should be nearly instantaneous. I'm not crazy, I know there is bound to be some lag. But 2-5 seconds is unacceptable to me, especially from a connected wall switch.

 

QuirkyGE-Outlink.jpg

 

2) Quirky Outlink smart outlet

 

The Outlink is actually the best part of my setup. It's pretty straight forward and simple. The bottom outlet is a normal outlet while the top outlet is a smart outlet. The button in the middle is used for syncing and manually switching the smart outlet. It also has a feature that tracks the amount of electricity usage through the smart outlet, which might be nice, except the app's display of this information is less straight forward. I have my two main living room wall-mounted lights connected to the smart outlet (and the wink hub connected to the normal outlet).

 

grid_01.jpg

 

3) Quirky Tapt smart light switch

 

Smart?... That's laughable... This thing is the biggest disappointment in my setup. It looks really nice and clean, and a white LED in the top right corner of each button lights up when that button is pressed. So I was really hopeful when I got this installed. My grand plan was to wire one as my front porch light switch and eventually a second as the switch for my driveway light (which is annoyingly wired to a switch at the other end of our house), then setup the top button on each Tapt to toggle it's wired circuit and the bottom button to toggle the other Tapt switch. Full control of all my front yard lights from both locations would have been perfect. But some of you veteran smart home users are probably seeing the fatal flaw in my plan. It seems that, even though "buttons" are rampant on switches and other control devices throughout the home automation market, it is impossible to setup a button as a "toggle". On the Tapt, the top button turns the light on, and the bottom turns it off. WHAT IS THE POINT OF HAVING TWO BUTTONS?!?!?! Just put a rocker switch, instead. Since realizing how aggravatingly stupid the Tapt's design is, I have been searching every moment I get for a multi-button switch that allows each button to fully control a light, so that a press of the button switches the light on if it is off, and off if it is on. How difficult can that be? I thought this stuff was supposed to be "smart".

 

ZWS3B4037A.jpg

 

4) Smartenit wireless 3-button controller

 

I was also very excited to get this working, as we currently have one of those old-school simple RF 3-button remotes controlling 2 lights in our living room/entry, which seems to be running low on batteries, which I used as an excuse to get my smart home setup started... Firstly, it's Zigbee. The Wink system has a Zigbee radio, but the only way to add a generic (not officially supported) Zigbee device currently is through the app as a Zigbee light. And this is clearly a switch, not a light. But I tried to see if I could get it to work, regardless. It connects and shows up in the lights section of the app, but I can't get all 3 buttons to sync, and even if I could, there seems to be no way to re-purpose them as a switch... My plan had been to use the first button to toggle the main lights on and off, the second to toggle the second light on and off, and the third would be used for something later on when I expanded my smart home design. But again, based on everything I've been seeing, and on the options I've seen so far in the Wink app, there would be no way to set them up as toggle buttons.

 

I think that it might be possible to get the Tapt and other buttons to work as toggles, if I were to get really complicated and use IFTTT or a similar service. But it seems so obvious and elementary to me, and every review I've been reading (after the fact) about the Tapt, shows that other users want, or expected, to use the buttons separately as toggles, too. Maybe this is something Wink can eventually fix in their app, but it will be too little too late for me, because I'm out of here... Maybe down the road I'll look into something like SmartThings. But I'm not interested in any of the big expensive systems or ones that need to be hard wired. Based on the research I had done before buying, it seemed like the technology was finally there to allow me to realize my "smart home" dreams, at an affordable price. But it just flatly is nowhere near where it should be.

 

If anybody else has any possible solutions for my issues, please let me know, and I may repurchase the Wink when the system is updated and improved, or try something else similar.

 

 

 

UPDATE - 04/30/15

 

I just figured I'd update this post with what I ultimately decided to do.

 

I took EVERYTHING back to Home Depot and was able to return the 3-button Zigbee switch for a full refund, minus the shipping cost. It was a handy-looking little device that probably would work very nicely with any other Zigbee-compatible system, but Wink just had no idea what to do with it.

 

I've decided to wait until I have a little more disposable income that I can drop on the ISY994zw that JimBo recommended in the first reply post on this thread.

 

But I needed a way to control my front yard lights and put them on some sort of schedule/timer. I decided it wasn't much more than buying a non-smart lights timer switch to try out the Belkin WeMo light switches, with the added benefit of being able to control the lights remotely.

 

I have to say that I am VERY happy with the WeMo light switches. They work instantly and have a very nicely designed and intuitive smart phone app that is both much more simple and much more customizable than the Wink system. They are standalone devices that don't need a dedicated hub to connect to, so that's one less piece of hardware to deal with. The setup was very easy. The app updates regularly, so it's nice that Belkin seems to be constantly working on improving the system. The scheduling system is very nice. I have both my porch light and my driveway light turn on at sunset, then the porch light turns off at sunrise, and I have the driveway light set to turn off 1.5 hours after it is turned on, either manually or by the schedule. It has been working flawlessly... The app occasionally crashes, but it's no big deal, I just start it back up again.

 

The thing I don't like about the larger WeMo ecosystem is that they don't have any non-wire-in light switches. Granted, this is a Wi-Fi system, any such device would quickly gobble up battery power, but they could use a lower-power system with their WeMo hub that at least one or two of their other devices need in order to work. Because they have wall plugs to control plug-in lights or appliances, but again, you are expected to control said wall plug with your phone. No thanks. I want a light switch on the wall. Granted, you can probably include the wall plug in some sort of scene control that can be toggled with the wired light switch, but that's not what I'm looking for.

 

So, for now, I'm just sticking with a barely smartified home with just the WeMo light switches.

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There is nothing better on the market than the ISY994zw from universal devices. All of the cheap hubs like wink are cheaper for a reason.

 

Sent from my Nexus 7 using Tapatalk

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There is nothing better on the market than the ISY994zw from universal devices. All of the cheap hubs like wink are cheaper for a reason.

 

Sent from my Nexus 7 using Tapatalk

 

That looks pretty cool and highly configurable/customizable. Also very complicated (hopefully with not TOO big of a learning curve). However, $270 puts it WAY out of my price range, for now. Maybe someday in the future... I'm wondering how robust the conditional trigger system is. What sort of information can be use in the "if" statement? I'm particularly curious if it accepts something like "if light is on, then turn off, else turn on", because I seriously am quite confused by the industry's seeming complete ignorance of a simple toggle button, but I'm wondering if it's more up to the software than the hardware for that (it seems to me that the Wink could even do it, if they just added a "toggle" option for the buttons instead of just "on" or "off")... It also looks like the system is self-contained and would not need to communicate with an outside server, so I'd like to know if the commands are nearly instantaneous, or if the 2-4 second lag is an inherent part of any wireless automation system. And finally — though the biggest thing I expect from a good home automation system is to be able to control it from my in-home, wall-mounted controls — I'm curious if this system can also be controlled via smart phone and/or tablet with a relatively attractive app.

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The conditional trigger system is really good, and is one of the main reasons I originally chose it.  You can do very detailed things, like "if light is on, and no motion has been sensed in the last 5 minutes, and the front door is not open, then turn light off".    The simple toggle buttons are handled by Insteon Keypads and scenes.  Super simple to setup once they are understood.  When using Insteon the commands are instantaneous, that's why it's called Insteon :)  In fact a lot of things do not require communicating with the ISY, it's handled over powerline/rf directly between the devices themselves.   It's really cool to have an app on your phone, but not pratical for day to day use, the ISY has a few iOS apps, and one decent iOS/Android app.  Yes, the system is self-contained and requires no link to anything else outside your local network to function.   There is also a great forum on universal devices site which is one of the most helpful forums I have ever been part of.

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I like my SmartThings system, but it is not perfect. Insteon works. As long as Insteon has the devices you are looking for, Insteon is a very solid way to go. The times I have had issues with SmartThings has been when I have used devices that are not supported. They work, but not as designed. All said and done, everything in my SmartThings system now works. 

I have to believe this is why Apple is taking their time on HA. To meet the Apple standard for functionality and ease of use, will not be an easy task.

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Yes, that's the great part about the ISY with Insteon where it makes sense, and Z-Wave where it makes sense.  Almost all my lights and some outlets are insteon, with keypads at every entrance/exit door, and a few other places, then Z-Wave for all door locks and thermostats.

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The conditional trigger system is really good, and is one of the main reasons I originally chose it.  You can do very detailed things, like "if light is on, and no motion has been sensed in the last 5 minutes, and the front door is not open, then turn light off".    The simple toggle buttons are handled by Insteon Keypads and scenes.  Super simple to setup once they are understood.  When using Insteon the commands are instantaneous, that's why it's called Insteon :)  In fact a lot of things do not require communicating with the ISY, it's handled over powerline/rf directly between the devices themselves.   It's really cool to have an app on your phone, but not pratical for day to day use, the ISY has a few iOS apps, and one decent iOS/Android app.  Yes, the system is self-contained and requires no link to anything else outside your local network to function.   There is also a great forum on universal devices site which is one of the most helpful forums I have ever been part of.

 

That sounds like a dream!... I might have to just trash (return) all my current stuff and save up a little longer till I can afford the ISY.

 

I found one nice-looking 2-button z-wave true toggle switch:

984.jpg

Unfortunately, it costs 3 times as much as my Wink hub!... and with the Wink software, I kinda doubt that I would be able to get it to work the way it's supposed to.

 

I'm also looking for some non-in-wall switches to control lights that are connected to smart outlets, or to link with lights and devices across the house, but they are very few and far between. And it's difficult to compose a web search to look just for those because all z-wave, etc. products have a wireless component, and some sites seem to think that wall-mount(able) means in-wall installation. But I did find these fairly affordable Insteon switches that I have no way of using with the Wink, but I guess if I eventually go with the ISY, then they'll probably work just fine:

XMA-101801144_vmain01_gp_mn_8556270.jpg

 

Thanks for all the info, JimBo. You have given me a glimmer of hope, though it may be years down the line now.

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By the way, I stand by my thread's title. An "affordable" smart home is still an unattainable dream, at least if you want even a tiny amount of customization of control beyond "press this to make that happen", and the "affordable" variety is certainly anything but "smart".

 

Of course "affordable" is a relative term, but I don't consider nearly $300 for one small electronic device affordable (granted, that's the central control system)... Honestly, I don't really consider $40 per sensor/switch/outlet/device to be affordable either, because buying enough product to cover a few rooms, some outdoor lights and a couple sensors will quickly put you up near or over $500, even with a cheap hub like Wink. But $40 is kind of at that sweet spot where it's a little steep when buying multiples, but can mostly be justified by the extra potential features. And $500 or even under $1000 is, of course, ridiculously affordable compared to the big, professionally-installed, more robust and reliable systems, but when you don't really have a disposable income and your spouse doesn't yet see the benefit in much of the concept of home automation, it's hard to justify spending more than a couple hundred bucks at most (to get started, at least).

 

I think I've finally decided (having exhausted my search for any way to get the Wink to do anything close to what I want), to just take everything back and drop $70-$80 to get a couple WeMo switches to tide me over for a while and allow me to put my front porch and driveway lights on schedules. Especially since I think a plain old timer/scheduler switch would probably cost around $40 anyway, so I might as well also get the mobile phone control feature and easier, more flexible app-controlled scheduling with the WeMo switches.

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Thanks for sharing your experiences with the wink hub. I am in the early stages of trying to pick a platform, and like you, I need the device to communicate locally and not rely on a cloud server. (my internet connection is very unreliable and slow)

So far the only ones I can find that meet that criteria are the firt-gen Insteon hubs, and the ISY.

 

Insteon is the only one that has a Windows Phone app though.

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Thanks for sharing your experiences with the wink hub. I am in the early stages of trying to pick a platform, and like you, I need the device to communicate locally and not rely on a cloud server. (my internet connection is very unreliable and slow)

 

So far the only ones I can find that meet that criteria are the firt-gen Insteon hubs, and the ISY.

 

Insteon is the only one that has a Windows Phone app though.

In my initial research, I seem to remember coming across one or two hubs that don't need to communicate with a server. I will try to find it again, if I get some time.
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