If you had asked me two years ago if I thought lightbulbs with Wi-Fi connectivity would ever be a thing, I would have smirked and politely replied “No.” The benefits of adding modern day technology to a nineteenth-century creation would have easily been lost on me.
Good thing I’m not a futurist.
A few weeks ago, a box from Belkin arrived at my house. Inside was the $99 WeMo LED Lighting Starter Kit, which included two 60-watt WeMo Smart LED Bulbs and one WeMo Link. (Additional bulbs can be purchased separately for $29 each.)
While you could argue, quite reasonably, that the world probably doesn’t need another connected-lightbulb solution, Belkin’s WeMo’s solution comes with a few interesting differences. Unlike the Hue, WeMo is really an entire ecosystem. The product line, which consists of cameras, switches, lights, and even Crock-Pots, offers you control over everything from outlets to light switches, and now individual bulbs. Granted, the Smart Bulbs don’t offer disco capabilities, but I don’t think I’ve ever wished I could change the color of a bulb on a whim (outside of decorating for holidays, naturally).
The Link part of Belkin’s kit is a Zigbee-based unit that’s approximately double the size of Apple’s iPad charging brick. Once it’s plugged into a standard power outlet, it acts as a bridge to link the lightbulbs to your Wi-Fi network. The bridge allows Belkin to keep the smart bulbs roughly the same size of traditional bulbs, while packing the real brains of the setup into a unit you can tuck away in any corner outlet.
The setup process mirrors that of other WeMo devices, albeit with an additional component or two. You’ll need to plug in the Link, wait for it to power on, and then connect to the small wireless network it creates. Once connected, you launch the WeMo mobile app, and wait for it to recognize the Link. At this point during the setup process, you’ll need to point the Link towards your home’s Wi-Fi network by entering the applicable credentials and tap done. The Link then automatically connects the bulbs you have installed—with the potential to control up to fifty bulbs using only one Link.
Despite the immediate need for a firmware upgrade, once the bulbs were connected to my Wi-Fi network, the setup process was painless. The time from unboxing to the completion of the firmware update was just shy of twenty-minutes (half of which is attributed to the update process).
You’re able to control the bulbs using the WeMo app on an Android or iOS device. Naturally, you can toggle the lights on or off with the tap of a button, as well as set the brightness level or create rules.
Rules automate when and how the bulbs power up or down. For example, the WeMo app can use your location to determine local sunrise and sunset times. Using this info, you can have the bulbs automatically power up as it starts to get dark, instead of having to adjust a hard-programed time every few months as the seasons change.
I set the bulbs to gradually turn on over the course of thirty-minutes at sunset. Then three hours later the bulbs take fifteen-minutes to completely turn off, gradually lowering brightness until they would go dark.
The gradual increase or decrease in brightness sounds like a novelty, but I found it useful. In fact, I hardly ever noticed the exact moment the lights turned on or off. Instead of having the sudden shock of a bright light in the morning, or darkness at night, my eyes were able to adjust to the change in lighting over time.
One of my concerns about installing a connected light bulb like this was that it could only be turned on or off from the app, rendering the bulbs useless to my kids or a babysitter. With the WeMo bulbs, however, anyone can power them on or off using the proper light switch.
You can even group bulbs using a new feature in the WeMo app. By creating groups, you’re able to control an entire room with a single rule, in lieu of tediously creating rules for individual bulbs. I desperately wish this grouping functionality extended to other WeMo products. I would love to have the ability to group the WeMo Switch and Light Switch in my office, with two rules controlling them both, instead of the four rules I currently have setup.
The Smart LED Bulbs aren’t breaking any new ground in the market of Wi-Fi light bulbs. But there are enough genuinely useful additions here to make Belkin’s kit a compelling option—especially if you’re interested in automating other parts of your home too.