Home automation is something that is being introduced to the mainstream consumer through product lines like Lowes’ “Iris”, Staples’ “Connect” and Home Depot’s “Wink”. There are many more products and providers in this growing space, however, in this article I will focus on the Connect and Wink solutions.

Home automation has been around for quite some time but typically as a niche market for people who have the time and money to tinker and tweak systems plus the knowledge to do so. The home automation hubs introduced through Lowes, Staples, and Home Depot are all meant to be used by people that have no interest in writing code or rewiring to automate their home. They want an intuitive graphical interface, where it will be easy to both setup and configure the home automation devices.

WinkHub

 

Before I started testing with it, I had read some bad reviews of Wink but thought that those issues might have been resolved. The form factor was a little unusual in that it’s not designed to lie flat. Rather, it is meant to stand on it’s “end” (see image above) and thus defies the usual location/placement approaches.

 

The Wink supports many different protocols and vendors:

  • Bluetooth LE
  • Wi-Fi
  • ZigBee
  • Z-Wave
  • Lutron ClearConnect
  • Kidde

 

The instructions for setting up the hub are minimal but fairly easy to understand. The instructions state not to have the Hub close to a WiFi transmitter which presented an obstacle since I really wanted to put the Wink hub in the communication rack with all the other network equipment. I tried keeping it in the same room but on the opposite side, but that was still too close to complete the configuration. I finally moved it out to the hall way and this time, I could complete the registration. After configuring the hub, I wanted to pair my z-wave light switch. I made several unsuccessful attempts to pair the switch with the hub; moving the hub closer and closer to the switch each time. Eventually, the hub required rebooting. I powered the hub on again and tried to log in to restart the pairing process but I couldn’t. I was unable to access the hub! I decided to just reset the hub and restart the entire process but found that no matter how many times I reset the device, I could no longer log in or access the interface. I had read that the Wink hub support was terrible and did not want to spend an hour on the phone, so that is the extent of the review of the Wink hub. At this point, it is a product I cannot endorse.

I liked that there is no monthly fee for using Wink but I did not like the fact that the hub needed Internet actions to perform ALL automation. If the internet connection went down, I could not control my devices, even if my local network was operational. The fact that I couldn’t get the unit successfully setup at all makes any list of pros and cons moot.

The next home automation hub I reviewed was the Staples Connect hub made by D-Link. The form factor of the Staples Connect was better than the Wink as it does not take up as much space and can still hide the cords in the back. Another plus is that it has both WiFi and a physical network interface. It also has a USB port in the back but I have yet to find out what the USB port is for.

 

Black staple connect used for home automation

 

The Staples Connect also supports a large number of protocols:

  • Z-Wave Plus
  • WiFi
  • ZigBee
  • Lutron ClearConnect
  • Bluetooth LE

Just like with the Wink, Staples Connect does not have a monthly fee but neither does it require a connection to the internet in order to operate the automation devices (as long as your local area network is operational).

Also like with the Wink, the documentation included in the box was minimal but the registration and configuration went through without any problems AND I could keep the hub in the communication rack without having any issues setting up the hub or pairing devices.

The Staples Connect mobile application is easy to use and can configure automated tasks to turn on/off lights, adjust the thermostat, send an e-mail or push message when motion is detected as well as turn on a light or activate an alarm.

connect1

 

With the “Modes”, you can activate what is essentially a macro of actions. For example, when you are on vacation, you may want to have the lights in the house turn on at different hours to make it look like you are home or enable all the motion detectors to send e-mail notifications and activate an alarm siren which will force the intruder to leave. You can also remotely or automatically change the HVAC thermostat to be at a temperature where it will not use as much energy while you are not home.

You can create your “rooms” and assign your devices to those rooms to make the organization more intuitive.

staple-connect-4

 

One of the drawbacks to the simplicity is the inability to perform more advanced tasks like enforcing a 5 minute time-out on a light that was turned on manually.

Another advanced feature that is likely to be missed as the number of devices you have grows are policies that can be applied to a group of devices at one. It would be much more efficient to be able to specify how all my smoke detectors/carbon monoxide alarms should behave with one policy/plan rather than having to setup an action for each smoke detector independently.

Even with the absence of advanced features/control, the Staples Connect it is still a good device with a simple and intuitive interface at a reasonable price.

The Wink can be bought at Home Depot for ~$50, and Staples Connect cost ~$80. If you are looking to get your feet wet in the pool that is consumer-grade IoT automation, the Staples Connect solution is a good, low cost choice.