The WeMo family of smart home gadgets and internet-connected appliances is growing. We’ve had quite a long wait for this particular apparatus, but you’re finally able to pick it up in a JB Hi-Fi or Bunnings Warehouse near you — Belkin’s energy-monitoring WeMo Insight Switch is finally available in Australia, with an Australian power plug.
What Is It?
- Power Outlets: 1
- Maximum Throughput: 240V / 1800W
- App Support: Yes, Android 4.0+, iOS 7+
- Scheduling: Yes (via WeMo app, IFTTT)
- Connectivity: Wi-Fi — 802.11n, 2.4GHz
If you’ve ever wanted the combo of energy usage monitoring, remote on/off switching, and time- and scenario-based rules — as well as IFTTT integration — then the $99.95 Belkin WeMo Insight Switch is the gadget you need in your life. As a little plug that connects to your wall outlet or powerboard, then has a single regular Australian three-pin 240-volt socket for connecting a single electrical device (or an entire powerboard if you’re so inclined), the Insight Switch acts as a computerised, Wi-Fi-enabled gate. It’s a gate that you can program with rules, too, so you can customise those rules to suit the requirements of whatever you’re plugging in.
In that sense, you can have the Insight Switch turn off an electric heater once it has been running for an hour. You can turn off a TV once you’ve been using it enough to cost you 50 cents in a day. You can turn on a garden irrigation system on a Sunday once the temperature has dropped below 25 degrees (with a little bit of extra customisation, at least). The idea — simple on/off switching combined with the value-based result of instantaneous power usage and power usage over time — is straightforward, but at the same time opens up a huge range of possibilities.
Everything that the Belkin WeMo Insight Switch does is initially set up through a companion app for a smartphone or tablet; any iOS 7 or Android 4.0 device or newer is supported. The setup process seems pretty basic, but can be a bit fiddly — you’ll need to manually connect to the Insight’s personal ad hoc Wi-Fi network, run the app, select your infrastructure Wi-Fi, jump out of the app, re-connect to your normal Wi-Fi, force close the app and then run it again — especially if you’re on iOS. It’s annoying the first time, but the app remembers your details and makes adding secondary or tertiary devices much more painless.
Once you’re up and running, you can use the Insight Switch, and any other WeMo device, whether you’re on the same Wi-Fi network, on different Wi-Fi or on 3G/4G. That means you can use the Insight to monitor power usage wherever you are — you could see whether the TV is switched on when you’re out of the house, for example — or remotely switch a device on if you wanted to. To be honest, I used the Insight Switch most when I was sitting right next to it and interacting with the device to which it was connected, but I can see a bunch of uses where it has value from a distance. Basically, your mileage may vary by a long way, but the adjustability is there.
What’s It Good At?
The ability to monitor a device’s power consumption, in real time, on your smartphone, is so useful. My little Dyson desk fan runs at a miserly 5 Watts energy usage at its lowest setting, but crank it all the way up and it’ll draw 35 Watts. My 12-inch Macbook charger will pull its full 29 Watts when it’s charging the notebook in the middle of its battery range, but tapers off as it gets above 90 per cent and then consumes only 7 Watts to maintain a full charge. My gaming PC ticks along at 140 Watts of energy usage, but load up GTA V and it’ll whir along at 650-odd Watts. How about that.
Having this information easily to hand is what is important; it means you can turn off energy-hungry appliances manually or tell the Insight Switch to do so More to that end, the WeMo app tells you how expensive your electronics and appliances are to run, by running an (extremely simple) Watts-over-time calculation and telling you how many cents or dollars worth of electricity you’ve used daily and monthly. You can customise that monthly cost per kilowatt hour from the standard $0.111 to whatever your power bill says to get a more accurate reading, too.
Possibly the best part about the Insight Switch is that it doesn’t need any other infrastructure — it doesn’t use ZigBee or need a standalone mesh-network, since it just connects to your home or office’s Wi-Fi network (as long as it’s 2.4GHz, 802.11n, as long as it’s broadcasting a strong enough Wi-Fi signal to communicate with the Switch wherever it is). This means it’s super-simple to set up — you can be up and going within minutes, as long as you have a smartphone or tablet nearby and the complementary WeMo app already downloaded. In this way, the WeMo family of products is extremely scalable; you can have a single Insight Switch, or an Insight and some other Belkin kit, or a dozen different devices all working in harmony with each other.
If you’re intending on using Belkin’s smart switch for more high-tech uses, then you’re in luck. There are a bunch of Insight Switch recipes on IFTTT, using the power of the Web-based scheduling and smart device communication service, that massively boost its abilities. If you want to turn on a set of fairy lights when it hits (a constantly changing time for, based on location and date) sunset, you can use IFTTT for that. You can turn a device off once it has used a certain dollar figure in electricity per day or per month. IFTTT is more powerful than Belkin’s rules within the WeMo app itself, so power users can find extra utility from a little bit of research, trial and error.
What’s It Not Good At?
There are, of course, some appliances that the WeMo Insight doesn’t work perfectly with — anything with its own smart circuitry inside, basically. I can’t make my Dyson desk fan switch on every morning, because it has its own power toggle button rather than a hard on/off switch. It’ll still turn off every evening, because the WeMo Insight Switch’s internal relay can simply cut power to the three-pin socket, but it can’t turn the connected device on. If you have a device with a physical switch, you’re sweet. If not, only one half of the Insight’s power toggling will work for you.
I actually had some minor difficulty getting the WeMo Insight Switch set up initially, because it strangely wouldn’t find either my nearby personal Wi-Fi network, broadcast from a mobile hotspot, or the much more powerful dual-band Wi-Fi of our office’s infrastructure wireless. While that was an odd quirk of either the Insight’s internal Wi-Fi antenna hardware or the WeMo app’s software, it was simple enough to enter the appropriate (infrastructure) Wi-Fi network’s name, security type and password, and then re-launch the app after connecting to that wireless. Thankfully, the WeMo app defaults to remembering your Wi-Fi details when you first add a device, so subsequent installations should be much quicker.
One minor quibble with the Insight Switch is its design; because it’s quite a large plug, it can block off the socket or sockets next to it, whether you’re putting it on a wall socket or on a powerboard. You can, of course, buy powerboards that address this problem by spacing plugs more generously or aiming them in different directions, and you can do the same with wall sockets, but if you’re one of the unlucky majority, you might find the Insight Switch actually stopping you from using an adjacent power point. Not a big deal, especially considering the utility of the Insight — I think it’s worth two power points! — but an annoyance nonetheless.
If you want to use IFTTT recipes, you’ll need to jump into the IFTTT app on your smartphone to cook them up and program them. This means, basically, that you’ll have to have a couple of apps to do one job, at least initially. Again, not a big deal, but just a bit of an annoyance, especially if you’re the kind of power user that likes to try different recipes and meddle with your smart devices a bit. It would be nice if Belkin was able to integrate or at least show a shell of the IFTTT app or website in the WeMo app.
Should You Buy It?
In the end, the decision for you should be pretty simple. Do you want the kind of information that the Insight part of the $99.95 Belkin WeMo Insight Switch can share with you? Do you want the kind of remote management that the Switch part can enable? Do you have other WeMo kit that you could use — like, say, WeMo light bulbs or the movement-sensitive Switch + Motion — in concert with the Insight? Then get it.
It’s a relatively straightforward device at the end of the day. It’s a power plug with a little relay inside that can switch your appliances on and off. It’s a power plug with a little energy monitor inside that tells you precisely how much electricity you’re using. Everything beyond that is software — very simple, but at the same time very powerful and customisable, software. The fact you can hook it into other apps and home-brew your own wacky implementations is just the cherry on the top.
Because it’s so simple, the Belkin WeMo Insight Switch is a low-risk purchase — it can’t really do anything wrong because there’s not much to go wrong. Because of that, if you think you’ll get enough usage out of monitoring your devices’ power consumption, or switching them on and off based on schedules, then you should pick one up. Even if you don’t delve into advanced recipes and IFTTT, it’s still handy to know more about your power consumption and to control your PC or fan or TV or anything else remotely.