WEMO Insight Switch Hands-on ReviewBy - 09/29/2016
The Wemo Insight Switch is a hubless, WiFi enabled Switch that allows you to control plugged-in devices from anywhere using your Apple, Android, or Amazon device. In theory, it can monitor your home’s energy consumption in real-time, help you save on your monthly power bill, and even send helpful reminders. In theory. However, as we’ve learned, things don’t always work the way they are intended. So today, we’re going to play one of my favorite games called “Claim vs. Performance”. I’m going to share with you what Belkin (maker of WeMo) promises their device can do versus what it actually does.
Claim 1: CREATE RULES, SCHEDULES, AND RECEIVE NOTIFICATIONS
Want a notification when your laundry's done? We thought you might. #Wemo
— Wemo (@WEMO) February 26, 2016
On Belkin’s website, they get pretty specific on what this first claim means. They claim you can create rules, custom schedules, and “receive notifications that are personalized to meet your needs”. One of their examples is that you can setup a notification to let you know when your laundry’s done. This sounds amazingly helpful. I’m completely guilty of leaving things in the washer until they smell bad and leaving things in the dryer until they look like raisins.
First of all, my dryer, like so many others, uses a 4-prong outlet. To be clear, I can’t plug it into the Insight switch. Instead, I decided to go with my washing machine – much easier – or so I thought.
When the switch is on, and energy consumption is low, the Insight swaps to standby mode. If a rule is created, this should trigger a notification, but within the rules section of the app, I couldn’t find a single option to create a rule triggered by the device swapping from on to standby. I found some information online but decided that this softball question would be perfect for testing Belkin support.
In total, I spent over an hour with WeMo support. The bad news, WeMo knows little about their device and rule creation. The good news, I learned a lot of goodness during that hour which I will share with you throughout this article.
After an hour, my rep finally told me the following,
I am sorry, Rose. You can monitor how long a device has been ON/OFF for specific time duration. For example, you can monitor how long the TV has been ON or how long a game console has been ON. Power can be sensed when the device goes ON/OFF or ON for a specific duration, and it can be notified.
The device is incapable of sending a notification to let you know when it’s been OFF for a specific duration. It also can’t send “standby” mode notifications. With the future of my laundry at risk, I turned to IFTTT. Within 60 seconds, compare that to 60+ minutes with Belkin support, I had created the rule I was after.
The IFTTT rule should send a text message when my washer stops consuming a lot of energy. What constitutes as “a lot of energy” is up to you. Within the WeMo app, you can set a custom threshold. I set it at the minimum which is 2W. I put my clothes in the washer, turned it on, and I got my first text, instantly. Then I got another and another and another and another. I probably got 10-15 during the cycle.
I started to wonder if I had misunderstood? Maybe 2W wasn’t the correct choice? I tried different settings, but increasing the standby wattage only made things worse. So I put together a third load of laundry. This time, I tried both IFTTT and WeMo rules. I tried to set WeMo using their sensing power rule. I asked it to notify me when the device’s power turned “off”. Again, right away, I started getting a ton of notifications – from WeMo. For a second, I thought IFTTT was working. It wasn’t. It was running on IFTTT time (it delays often). All of a sudden, I got at least 10 text messages from IFTTT. Before I was done testing the device, I received a warning email from IFTTT letting me know that I was about to cross the maximum amount of SMS alerts allowed per account (100). Yes, I had received almost 100 text messages during 5 loads of laundry, that doesn’t include those from WeMo.
Watching the WeMo app in real-time, it’s clear that the power consumption of a washing machine changes rapidly. It would be at 400W one second and then quickly drop down to below 2W. It should be no surprise that getting a notification that lets you know when your cycle is “done” does not work. The solution to their problem is Stringify, but it’s not currently compatible with WeMo. With Stringify, you could say, “Notify me if my device falls below 2W, but only if it stays there for more than 5 minutes”.
And while I’ve read stories of some having success with washer/dryer rules, I’d like to point out that I’m not alone.
What I tried:
- Rule in IFTTT with 2W Standby – Didn’t Work
- Rule in IFTTT with 12W Standby – Didn’t Work, Made it Worse
- Rule in IFTTT with 20W Standby – Didn’t Work, Made it Worse
- Rule in IFTTT Device Off Send Alert – Didn’t Work
- Rule in WeMo App, Sensing Power, Power Off – Didn’t Work
Verdict: False. While it can send notifications based on rules, the devices ability and flexibility are exaggerated.
Claim 2: TURN YOUR APPLIANCES & ELECTRONICS ON/OFF, MONITOR THEM FROM ANYWHERE
Let’s be clear; you can turn your plugged-in devices on or off from anywhere, and you can monitor them from anywhere. Again, the problem with this second claim lies in the details. Belkin claims that Wemo is a one-size fits all device for appliances big and small. In their own words,
Perfect to pair with space heaters, wall A/C units, TVs, washers, dryers, fans, lights and more.
We’ve already discussed the dryer – a four prong is not compatible. But what about the other claims? Well, remember my old buddy from tech support? Our chat session was “grayed out” after it ended, but you can still read what he had to say below,
WEMO works best with devices that have physical power switches like lamps, heaters, and fans. However, devices with a digital interface such as televisions may not turn ON when WeMo’s power is resumed and instead would go into standby mode.
So let’s go back to WeMo’s list. Is it perfect to pair with…?
- space heaters – yup
- wall A/C units – yup
- TVs – nope
- washers – yup
- dryers – nope
- fans -yup
- lights -yup
Verdict: Mostly true.. Though WeMo will allow you to control your devices from anywhere, it doesn’t work with all listed appliances and devices.
Claim 3: TRACK YOUR ENERGY SPENDING AND SAVE
WeMo Insight is made to track your energy usage. Simply plug a device into the Insight Switch and it will monitor the device in real-time. It will even estimate how much the device is adding to your monthly power bill. And it does this, it works. I tested it on a toaster, other kitchen appliances, a TV, and the washing machine. Within the app, you can reset the data (to start fresh with a new device) or export the data via email. You can even schedule exports to occur automatically monthly, daily, or weekly.
If you don’t export your data, the data might disappear. While running a test, WeMo lost internet connection. (I don’t blame the device; the laundry room is far from my router.) The suggested fix? Unplug the device and plug it back in. And so I did. Unbeknownst to me, doing so erased all of the historical data.
Verdict: True. As a backup plan, you should set the data to export automatically as the device might lose historical data if your WiFi connection is lost.
Claim 4: EASY TO USE, EASY TO INSTALL
The device is very easy to install. As it’s hubless, download the app, plug it in, and connect to WiFi.
Using the device is fairly straightforward, depending on what you want to do. Setting up rules can be complex as the terminology used isn’t intuitive. There are three rule types you can use. You can control the switch, automate it, or setup notifications.
You can control the device based on time, automatically, or if motion is detected.
Time – If you want to create a time based rule, there are a few combinations. You can set WeMo to turn ON UNTIL, turn ON AT, or turn OFF AT a specified time. The time can be customized based on a 7-day calendar and 24-hour clock. You can also choose sunset or sunrise as your “time”.
Auto-off Timer – The automatic timer rule allows you to turn the device off after it’s been on for a set amount of time. As you can see in the screen grab below, you can choose from preset times or set your own custom time.
In addition to setting the time, you can choose when you want to be notified. You can customize this using a 7-day calendar and a 24-hour clock. You can also choose sunset and sundown.
Of all the rules, I found automatic timer the most intriguing. I tested the rule multiple times and ways. First, I created a rule that read “turn toaster off after it’s been on for 1 minute between 3:00 pm and 5:00 pm”. The rule didn’t work. Next, I created the same rule, but changed the time to “all day”. Nothing happened. One minute ticked by, two, and the toaster was still toasting. No matter what I tried, I couldn’t get this rule to work.
By Motion – This rule requires the purchase of a motion detector. I do not own a WeMo motion detector. In theory, I’m sure you can say something like, “If WeMo detects motion, turn on light”.
In the automate section, you have one option: Away Mode. You can decide if WeMo should turn on or off during certain times and days of the week.
How is “Automate It” different from “Time”? It’s a simpler way to create time-based rules, but essentially it’s the same thing.
Under get notified you have two options: With Motion and Sensing Power. Sensing Power is what I tried to use with the washing machine, and we know how that turned out. In theory, you create a rule if WeMo turns on, off, or if power is on for x amount of time. You can also select the days of the week and times you want this to occur and then decide how you want to be notified. You can even say, “notify me no more than every (time, 5 mins, 10 mins, 15 mins, 30 mins, 1 hour, 2 hours, 3 hours, 12 hours, or once per day)”.
Verdict: Half True. Easy to install? Yes. Easy to use? Depends on what you want to do and not all rules run correctly.
Claim 5: IT’S A MOD, MOD WORLD
The beauty of the WeMo Insight Switch is it doesn’t have to work alone. You can create a system of WeMo devices including cameras, Light Switches, and outlet style switches. WeMo also works with Amazon Echo, the Nest Learning Thermostat, and IFTTT.
We’ve already discussed IFTTT, I don’t have a Nest Learning Thermostat, but I do have Echo. To my surprise, Echo found the Insight Switch on its own, without interaction from me. If your device doesn’t automatically connect, you can add it quickly. From the app, click on the settings menu on the top left, then click smart home. Using the command phrase, “Alexa, turn Wemo Insight On/Off”, Alexa will do as you ask. The integration works.
Verdict: True. I tested IFTTT and Amazon Echo, both integrations work.
Should you be adding the WeMo Insight Switch to your wish list? Maybe. I’ll be adding it to my wish I never bought it list. If you want to perform simple tasks such as turning a light on or off at a given time and you don’t care if the process is reliable or not, this should do the trick. The fact that it doesn’t require a hub makes it an affordable solution (buy one for less than $50) for such tasks. However, it is limited, unreliable, and customer support is atrocious. Would I recommend this device to a friend? No. No, I would not. Do I plan to return the device I purchased? Yes. Yes, I do. And with security issues found on WeMo devices, the decision to dump this device is a no-brainer.