For a few years now, Belkin’s WeMo line of smart home switches have been a reasonably affordable home automation starting point. Now, for 2017, Belkin figured it was time to refresh the lineup.
The main attraction is the new WeMo Mini Wi-Fi Smart Plug, currently available for presale at a price of $35 (the Mini isn’t available outside of the US yet, but other WeMo products are — converted roughly, the price comes out to about £30 or AU$50). Just like the original WeMo Switch, it’ll let you automate anything you plug in behind it, but like the name suggests, it’s a lot smaller than before. That means it won’t block off adjacent outlets like the old switches do.
Aside from the smaller design, there’s really nothing new here. The WeMo Mini offers all of the same features as the original WeMo Switch, including its integrations with platforms and services like IFTTT, Nest, Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa — but still no support for Apple HomeKit, or for Siri. It won’t track energy usage, either; for that, you’ll need to spend a few bucks extra on a WeMo Insight Switch.
Lack of Siri controls aside, the WeMo Mini is still a well-connected smart plug, and a sensible follow-up purchase for anyone who got an Amazon Echo or a Google Home smart speaker for Christmas, as both will let you turn the plug on and off using voice commands. It isn’t perfect, but at $35, the WeMo Mini is a safe, simple way to dip your toes into the connected home of tomorrow.
The smart home made simple
Smart plugs like the WeMo Mini are some of the simplest and most straightforward connected home gadgets you can buy. Plug one in and then plug something else into it, and you’ll be able to turn that thing on and off from your phone, or automate it to turn on and off at specific times.
The most obvious use cases include lamps, space heaters, desk fans, and other small appliances you might want to automate, but there’s room for creativity.
For instance, you could plug your entertainment center’s power strip into a smart plug, then automatically cut the juice to your AV gear during the night when you aren’t using any of it.
There’s even a smart frying pan that can sync with a WeMo Switch to automatically cook your dinner.
Connecting your smart plugs with other smart home gadgets and services opens the door to even more possibilities. WeMo does pretty well here, boasting compatibility with Nest, IFTTT, Google Home and Amazon Alexa, among others.
New year, new design
It shouldn’t be lost on anybody that the WeMo Mini looks a lot like two of its top competitors, the iHome Smart Plug and the iDevices Switch. Both of those Belkin challengers went with small designs that don’t block adjacent outlets, making the bulky first-gen WeMo Switch look dated by comparison. Updating the design was a necessary concession for Belkin — and a clear sign that it’s keen on keeping the WeMo Switch competitive on retail shelves.
It’s a good move. After selling millions of units last year, Amazon’s Echo and Echo Dot smart speakers were both predictably hot sellers this holiday season — and that means huge numbers of new potential customers for Belkin’s Alexa-ready WeMo hardware.
Throw in the debut of the Google Home smart speaker, with which WeMo was an early partner, and you’re looking at what’s shaping up to be a big 2017 for voice-compatible smart home gadgets. No wonder Belkin wants its WeMo Switch ready for a fresh closeup.
But staying competitive with iHome and iDevices isn’t just about cosmetics. Both of those smart plugs work with Apple HomeKit, the set of smart home controls built into the software that powers iPhones and iPads. Like its predecessors, the WeMo Mini doesn’t, and a Belkin spokesperson tells me that it isn’t likely to anytime soon, since Belkin decided not to add in the necessary HomeKit chipset.
The goal, the company tells me, was to avoid a situation where some WeMo products worked with HomeKit while other WeMo products didn’t. That means no HomeKit compatibility for any of them for the foreseeable future. With HomeKit still working to establish itself as a market mover, that’ll either turn out to be a sage bit of restraint or a big missed opportunity for Belkin. My guess is that we’ll know which by the end of this year.
Belkin does have one clear advantage, though, and that’s the $35 price tag. It’s a cheaper cost of entry than iHome or iDevices, and closer to what you’ll pay for bargain-priced competitors from names like Koogeek and TP-Link, where Belkin’s name recognition should serve it well.
About the app
The WeMo Mini uses the same Android and iOS app as existing WeMo devices. I’m holding out hope that Belkin will overhaul that app sometime this year. It’s a good-looking piece of software that’s pretty easy to navigate, but it suffers from laggy performance — a quibble that continued as I started testing out the new WeMo Mini.