What does a Garden Gnome do when she is not gardening, in the kitchen or doing genealogy? Well the answer might just surprise you so read the entries to find out more. This blog focuses on everything we do to make our house a home. There will be a strong emphasis on home energy efficiency and do-it-yourself (DIY) projects. At the same time there will also be crafts, knitting and crocheting projects along with any other little tips we do to create that down to earth, I want to be here home. Please enjoy your visit :)

Monday, May 4, 2015

The Big Wink More Like Yawn

Over the next few posts I will be discussing my home automation project, making our home a smarter home.   Before I do that, I want to share a company to stay away from.  Given my very negative experience with Wink [wink.com] I cannot in good conscious recommend using any of their products especially the hub.  Avoid like the plague!

After using Wemo for a week, I realized I really wanted to get back into home automation the way I had been with x10.  With x10 fully set up in our third house, lights were fully automated using motion, a camera watched over our ponds and various small appliances were automated.  While I still have most of my x10 devices, I really liked how Wemo devices could be controlled from any location so doing a little research, I settled on trying a rather inexpensive option of Wink. 

Wink's parent company is Quirky.  Quirky partnered with GE, the with an exclusive to sell both Wink Certified and Quirky products through Home Depot.  So on the surface, this seemed like a solid choice.  Boy was in for a lesson the hard way!

Wink uses an app to control hub dependent and hub independent products, mainly Quirky but a few others.  I bought a Quirky spotter and egg minder, two of their hub independent products.  Both are incredibly useless!  They look nice but they don't live up to their expectations.  Had I researched further, I would have discovered all of the negative press regarding these two products.  At the same time I bought the Wink hub, one GE link bulb and three Cree Connected bulbs.  The hub was a nightmare from the start!  It connects to the modem/router via Wi-fi.  It took me two days to finally get it connected but after that the hub seemed stable so after some fiddling I paired the GE bulb.  The Cree bulbs connected without a hitch.  My negative instinct was subsiding.  A couple of days later, Nest (our learning thermostat) kept losing connection.  We've had the Nest for almost two years and had never had this problem.  Then my iPhone would not connect to Wi-fi and finally my laptop kept losing connection.   I checked all the settings on the modem/router but the problem persisted.  I called my provider who did troubleshooting and finally after a lot of tech work, sent out a new modem/router.  With a day Nest was again losing connection so we went through their tech support.  Nothing seemed to work, with each Wi-fi connected device randomly losing connection except the Wink hub.  You can set Wink to control Nest but I had left Nest control to it's own app and there was no apparent interaction between Wink and Nest.  Finally, the app showed no hub paired devices as both Twitter and Facebook lit up with the current Wink hub problem.  Trust me, there have been a lot but this was the worst one so far!

According to Wink, someone forgot to renew their security certificate so no hubs could connect.  Essentially they bricked their hubs.  Their solution was to get everyone to send in their hubs so they could fix it and they would return it within a week.  As of this date some are still waiting for their boxes to return the hub to Wink!  Second, Wink immediately offered a $50 discount code that was abused within about two seconds so they issued personalized codes sent to customers via email but many of those codes don't work and the majority of products the codes can be used with are mysteriously unavailable.  In the meantime, Wink offered a way to unbrick the hub by changing the DNS on your router for those that were able or wanted to.  As hubs started coming online new rumours began circulating that the reason for the hubs going offline was an untested update that would prevent rooting the hubs.  Since Wink is cloud only meaning your app sends a signal to the cloud via the internet and the cloud sends back the signal to the device to respond in the desired fashion.  That is all well and good until Wink's servers go down then your devices don't work.  Rooting the hub gave local control so it didn't matter if their servers went down.  Now, the vast majority of folks using Wink were not using rooted hubs and for many it was their first step into home automation, buying into a promise that could not be fulfilled.   I tend to believe the second scenario of Wink trying to prevent rooted hubs from connecting to their servers.  If it was just updating a security certificate there is no need to return the hub.   Clearly they uncovered a physical problem in the hub that they were being quick to hide and get the hubs back.  Either way Wink was 100% negligent in causing the bricking of the hubs.

As a company, Quirky has a reputation for putting out products that really have not been tested so it was no surprise that Wink does the same thing.  The Wink hub is larger and aesthetically intrusive in comparison to other home automation hubs.  Everything is done via the cloud with no local control.  During this latest outage, folks had lost automation of lights, motion sensors, triggers, switches, and locks.  The site informs the user to not depend on Wink for security even though the implication is there for using as DIY security.  The funny thing is during this fiasco, I unplugged the hub and suddenly all of my device Wi-fi problems were gone!  I left the hub unplugged for a day, plugged it back in and one by one watched my devices get booted off of Wi-fi.  That was it for me.  I took the Wink hub back and moved onto to another brand home automation hub.  Luckily, I did not buy into the Wink environment significantly so my light bulbs made the switch over just fine.

Lessons learned from my Wink experience:

  • don't buy into the hype - pretty does not equal function
  • don't buy propriety - make sure all of your devices will work with alternate connection devices
  • insist on local control
Warning:  Do not use home automation especially cloud based as a security system.  Do not tie your home automation system in with your existing security system.  I personally do not recommend using home automation for entry locks or garages.