The only thing standing between you and remote access smart bulbs is a little bit of money, a little configuration, and a little stroll through our review to see if it’s worth it. Read on as we put the Belkin WeMo Smart LED Bulbs through the paces and highlight the good and bad that comes with adding networked light bulbs to your home.
What Are WeMo Smart LED Bulbs?
In 2012 Belkin launched their WeMo home automation line which now includes networked wall switches, power outlets, security cameras, motion sensors, and even networked crock pots, humidifiers, and other home appliances.
The Smart LED Bulbs are one of the more recent additions and introduce networked LED lighting to the WeMo stable of products. The bulbs have a standard A19 shape like common incandescent bulbs with a general appearance common to many LED bulbs (an opaque base which houses the electronics and a smaller dome up top for the LED component). Currently the the bulbs come in only one flavor: a 60w equivalent bulb (that uses 10w of power) with 800 lumens of illumination, a warm white color temperature of roughly 3,000K, and a projected lifespan of 23 years based on an average daily use of 3 hour a day.
While that’s all well and good in terms of LED bulb statistics, the real point of interest (and the justification for the price tag) is the smart element of the bulb design. Like the other WeMo products the Smart LED Bulbs are linked to the local network and greater Internet via the appropriately named WeMo Link module. (For the curious the bulbs use the ZigBee low-power mesh networking standard and the Link acts as bridge between the ZigBee mesh network and your home’s Wi-Fi network.)
Via the mobile application and pre-programmed settings you can turn the bulbs on and off, set them to timers (as well as other triggers like sunrise and sunset), and control the lights from outside your home via Internet-based remote control.
You can purchase the bulbs individually for $29.99 and add them onto your existing WeMo home system or, if this is your first foray into using the WeMo system you can purchase a smart bulb starter kit for $99.99 that includes the Link module and two smart bulbs.
Let’s take a look at how you install and configure the bulbs, how you access and use them from the mobile interface, and what we thought of the whole process (and the resulting smart bulb experience).
How Do You Install and Configure Them?
Installation of the Link module and the bulbs is really straight forward and conveniently illustrated right on the large card inside the box the kit ships in. Even if you find yourself without the original packaging, the Android/iOS application offers very clear step-by-step instructions for all WeMo family products including the bulbs.
To set up the bulbs, simply screw them into a standard light socket and then turn them on (they need to stay on during the configuration process so if they are attached to a wall-switched fixture it would be wise to tell anyone in the vicinity not to use the switch until you’re done). Once the bulbs are inserted and on, plug in the WeMo Link module. It doesn’t have to be right by the location of the bulbs but it should be relatively central to where you are using the bulbs and within range of your Wi-Fi router.
The Link will blink green during the setup process. Don’t worry about annoying LEDs here, however, as it only lights up during the configuration process or if something is wrong with the system. When everything is up and running the LED is off.
With the bulbs and Link powered up, it’s time to install the WeMo application your smartphone. You can grab the Android version here or the iOS version here. We’ll be using the iOS version but the interface and setup process is identical regardless.
After downloading the application but before launching it, open up the Wi-Fi settings on your device. You’ll see a new and temporary Wi-Fi access point labeled something like WeMo.Link.XXX as seen in the screenshot below.
Connect to the temporary access point and then launch the WeMo application. It will automatically begin the process of linking itself to your actual Wi-Fi network by prompting you to select your network, entering the security information, and then you’ll likely need to sit back and wait for a firmware update. (Be prepared for the firmware update, if it is triggered, to take an unusually long time; a scenario Belkin seems aware of because the firmware update screen encourages you to play Angry Birds while you wait.)
After the firmware updates it will automatically scan for any WeMo devices in range of the Link module.
Once the devices are detected you can select them and then add them to the Link module. The bulbs will blink on and off to indicate they are successfully connected.
There are a few tips worth passing along here as they don’t appear in the included installation guide (or on the app’s digital installation guide), but they’re rather important if things don’t work correctly the first time. If your Link isn’t detecting any or all of your light bulbs you’ll want to reset both the Link module and the bulbs. To reset the Link module itself, press and hold the small button found on the lower side of the device; unplug and replug the device while holding the button for five seconds. If you need to reset the bulbs you, we kid you not, turn the light fixture they’re connected to on and off rapidly five times in a row at a rate of one on/off cycle every three seconds or so. A simple pinhole reset button as found on router and other electronic devices would be much preferred to on/off system. We’re having visions of a derpy kid playing with the light switch and resetting the bulbs; that’s an unnecessary pain.
How Do You Use Them?
Using the light bulbs ranges from simply toggling them on/off and dimming them with the manual app interface to setting up in-app rules to configuring IFTTT recipes for more complex interactions with the lighting system.
The first and most important thing you need to understand about using the bulbs is that they only work as long as there is power to the socket they are screwed into. Although Belkin does have smart wall switches and outlet switches in the WeMo stable the bulbs have no mechanism for controlling the wiring circuit they are attached to. This means if you (or another member of your household) turns the lamp or wall switch off then the magic of networked smart bulbs comes to an end. Now, in fairness to Belkin, this is not a flaw with their Smart LED Bulb and/or WeMo system but a problem that needs to be addressed across the entire smart bulb product category: the vast majority of smart lighting solutions are not smart enough to outsmart traditional house wiring.
That said, when they are used in their intended fashion (controlled by the Link module/mobile application) they work very well. The interface on the mobile application is easy to use and once you program a routine or schedule for the bulbs the schedule is stored in the Link and it will execute at the right time (or in the face of the right input trigger) whether you’re there with your smartphone or not.
While manually controlling the bulbs is novel (and useful when you want to directly and immediately control them) the real smart bulb power shines through when you dig into both the “Rules” category and, at the more advanced level, the IFTTT programming.
Within the rules menu you can set up automatic timers (based on the clock or on the local sunrise/sunset cycle, as well as adjusting both of those based on the day of the week). You can also set auto-off timers such that the bulb turns off automatically after someone leaves it on and, if you combine the bulbs and Link module with the Belkin WeMo Motion Sensor/Switch package you can trigger light-related events with the motion sensor.
Finally the newly released IFTTT support for the Smart LED Bulbs allows you to copy or craft custom IFTTT recipes to control your smart bulbs. You can read more about the general concept of IFTTT here, specifically how to set up the WeMo system with IFTTT here, and finally you can find existing recipes (to see how people are using IFTTT with the WeMo system) here. It’s worth noting that the IFTTT support for the WeMo Smart Bulbs is so fresh, as of this review, that there aren’t many recipes in the database yet; you can look at other WeMo recipes to get an idea of how it all works though.
The Good, The Bad, and The Verdict
After installing, configuring, and playing around with the bulbs what’s our impression of the Belkin WeMo Smart LED Bulb kit?
- Traditional bulb shape means no worries about placement, bulb-attached shades, or the like.
- Installation, if you follow the instructions and do everything in order, is extremely simple.
- The application control panel is polished and pretty intuitive to use.
- Location based sunrise/sunset illumination as well as the fade in/out timers work very well.
- It’s easy to group bulbs together so more than one bulb can be manipulated via the app or programmed with a shared schedule.
- Although it took Belkin a long time to activate the feature (it went live shortly before this review) the bulbs do support IFTTT recipes.
- The starter kit and bulbs are, even with recent price reduction, still slightly more expensive than competing solutions like the Philips Hue Lux.
- No physical switch; you can only toggle and adjust the lights via the smartphone app.
- There’s no remote web interface (as there is with another smart home product we recently reviewed, the Google Nest).
- The reset process, while not always necessary, is very poorly documented and implemented.
It was easy to install the bulbs, and it was easy to use the bulbs. What proved to be the most difficult part of testing and reviewing the WeMo Smart LED Bulbs was writing a verdict when it was all said and done. Smart bulbs are such a new product and the market is still so strongly under development and transition it’s difficult to recommend smart bulbs to anyone in the first place unless they’re really ready and willing to jump into the smart home market and willing to spend the cash to be an early adopter.
The WeMo Smart Bulbs performed exactly like advertised. The remote control app was smooth and easy to use. The IFTTT support that was missing when we started field testing the bulbs was added during the course of the review window.
All that said, we can really only strongly recommend the bulbs if you already have a WeMo-based ecosystem at home and you’re looking for super easy integration into that ecosystem or, and this is a big or, you have a very specific use in mind (like using the bulbs + link it to make a smart sunrise alarm clock for cheaper than the less flexible/powerful store bought models). Despite all the ease of use the WeMo Smart LED system is self-limiting in that the WeMo Link Hub can support other ZigBee lights (but officially does not), the price of the WeMo bulbs is higher than other feature-identical bulbs, and there are currently no other lighting solutions in the WeMo stable.
As a stand alone product it worked just fine (even with the little quirks like resetting the bulbs by flicking the lights on and off). In the context of the emerging smart bulb market, however, the WeMo Smart LED Bulb system struggles to edge out the competition like the Philips Hue (in terms of versatility) and the GE Link and Cree Smart Bulb (in terms of price).