Wink, purveyor of smart home hardware, recently debuted their Wink Hub 2 device. This blog entry digs deeper into the features and benefits of this new system. I’ll also talk about how having a splintered system (in this case HomeKit, and Wink) can actually work just great, even with your Amazon Alexa voice assistant. Let’s see how it all comes together!
First, a little background…
For the past few years I’ve been piecing together a smart home, just like the rest of you. The only difference is that as I’ve learned things along the way, I’ve shared those results here in various blog posts. Check out my prior entries, like THIS POST, or even THIS ONE a little further back. Whether you’re looking for the best smart doorbell, smart locks, or security cameras, I’ve played around with many of them and formed my conclusions.
One thing I’ve learned along the way, thanks to the comments section on this blog, is that everyone has a very unique set of needs & desires. What works for me might not work for you. Differences like your smart phone platform (Android vs Apple), your desire for home security versus automation/media needs, and other factors, make some items work for me, but not for you. So please, regardless of who you are, be sure to read as much as you can (here and elsewhere) and make the most educated decision you can. And as always, sound off at the end in the comments section; I always love to hear feedback!
With all of this said, I’m an Apple fan boy, thus HomeKit (HK) is my platform of choice. In this post I’ll talk about the system I’ve pieced together primarily using HK. It is worth pausing to mention that at this moment (Nov-2016) there remains no HK compatible sensors for water/leak, nor garage door openers. Though there are WiFi options for both, neither would actually integrate into my current array of devices, but would work simply stand-alone. HK supports these features, but nobody has brought such a device to market (yet).
Up until just recently I was using the Staples Connect hub from D-Link, but with the Wink Hub 2, it gave me reason to finally swap back to their system. Here is how setting up the new system went, and how it works with my otherwise HomeKit-biased household.
Click thumbnails below for FULL size media gallery:
Unboxing & Setup
Inside the Wink Hub 2 box is a rather simple array of hardware. Beyond the main hub tower itself you get a power cable, an ethernet cable, and a quick start guide. Unlike the prior device which relied solely on WiFi to connect to your home, the new Wink Hub 2 adds the option to be connected to your router directly via Ethernet, which is a very useful alternative for many users.
Furthermore, the Wink Hub 2 has a few other new tricks up its sleeve. Those include: Bluetooth LE connectivity for future device compatibility, 512 MB of memory (up from 64 MB), and 5GHz Wifi support on top of the 2.4 GHz standard. There is also a more streamlined auto-discovery & setup guide, which I tried showcase in the photo gallery above.
Getting started is simple, and takes less than 5 minutes from start to finish to get your hub operational. At that point you are presented with your home screen, showing the Hub as your only connected device, and you’re ready to start adding more devices. And so it begins…
Adding DIRECT Devices (Z-Wave, Zigbee, etc)
There are two primary reasons to purchase a device like the Wink Hub 2 for your smart home. First is to help aggregate the devices so they can “work together” (which we’ll talk about in a bit). Secondly, it adds a way to connect to devices beyond your home WiFi. For the latter purpose you’ll be utilizing the various radios inside the box, such as Bluetooth LE, Z-Wave, ZigBee, and Lutron Clear Connect, just to name a few. In the future, Thread and other protocols will also be available (via firmware updates).
In my home I’ve been using various Z-Wave devices including my water leak sensors, and my garage door opener (which I reviewed HERE). During my setup and testing I came to find out that my Fibaro Flood Sensor was not compatible with the Wink Hub 2 even though it works on Z-Wave. As such, it got swapped out for the LeakSmart sensor, which is ZigBee instead of Z-wave, but otherwise is a very similar device to the Fibaro. Between my old Fibaro and the new LeakSmart, the only real notable difference between these two leak sensors is that the LeakSmart unit lacks tamper alerts, so if someone moves the device it won’t let you know. However, for my basement installation, this was not an issue or feature I needed, anyhow.
As shown in my photo gallery, I’m using an Aeotec by Aeon Labs leak sensor at my hot water tank, and then utilizing the new LeakSmart sensor is for my drain. Some time ago we had a sewage backup, and subsequently installed a back-flow valve to mitigated that issue. Still, the sensor is there as a bit of a security blanket for us. Lastly, in my garage remains my GoControl/Linear Garage Door opener system. Like the old Staples Connect system, you’re able to set alerts for things like leaks, temperatures (too high/low), or when the garage door opens during “restricted” hours, such as when you’re at work. Overall the Wink Hub 2 starts off performing like any other smart hub here.
But as you dig deeper the Wink system starts to show some superiority. Perhaps the best feature that the Wink Hub 2 adds for these devices over the old Staples setup is the garage door alerts for when the door has remained open for more than a specified number of minutes. This feature is identical to what the Chamberlain MyQ offers, and is a feature I had missed ever since I bought my Linear unit. Kudos, Wink!
Adding (or removing) Z-wave or ZigBee devices is a very simple and straight forward process, simply by following the on-screen prompts inside the Wink app. And creating alerts was equally as easy, with some boiler-plate ones introduced by the app for you, to get you started! There are tons of other Z-Wave and ZigBee devices out there, from door locks, to light switches, and much more. Again this is where my application may differ from yours– for many people they’ll go a lot further into the Wink infrastructure, and if you do, I can assure you that it is worth the venture!
Adding OTHER Devices (WiFi, etc)
Once I got past the leak sensor(s) and the garage door opener, the remainder of my smart home devices are either Bluetooth only (via Apple HomeKit), or use WiFi to connect. Interesting enough, some of the WiFi devices are HomeKit compatible, while others are not. And only some of them will play nice with Wink and HomeKit at the same time.
Our home is full of a myriad of devices. In my testing I found that my Ring Video Doorbell Pro, Rachio irrigation system, and Nest Protect smoke/CO detectors are examples of devices that don’t yet have any HomeKit compatibility, and work on WiFi. On the flip side, devices such as my Ecobee3 thermostat, Lutron Caseta wall switches, Philips Hue bulbs, and Schlage Sense Door locks, all work nicely with Apple’s HomeKit platform, with the Schlage using Bluetooth and the others utilizing WiFi.
What is most interesting to note here is that MANY of these devices can sync to the Wink Hub 2 while at the same time retaining their Apple HomeKit compatibility. We’ll expand on that in a moment.
As you review the photo gallery above, you’ll see images that display how my thermostat, sprinkler system, smoke alarms, door bell, and home security cameras, ALL work with the Wink Hub 2 system. This means that motion sensors in the door bell or cameras, or similar sensors like the thermostat’s remote temperature sensors, can work as triggers in my smart home. Again, this aggregate of these devices is only possible because of the Wink Hub 2 and how it brings all of these devices under one roof! One of the huge reasons to consider a hub like this becomes the combined features you gain by allowing one device’s sensors to trigger another device’s actions.
Two of my HomeKit devices, namely the Philips Hue lighting, and the Ecobee3 thermostat, link up to the Wink Hub 2 while still preserving their HomeKit functionality. For example, I can still use Siri to control the temperature of my home, yet I can also control it via the Wink app on my phone, or via the Wink Relay device device. In those instances, all is right in the world; it tended to be the devices that weren’t solely on WiFi where the splintering began.
Best example of this comes by looking more closely at the Lutron Caseta hub, which connects to your home network via Ethernet. There is no way to connect the Wink hub to the Lutron hub (they call their hub a “bridge”). However, you can ditch the Lutron bridge, in lieu of the Wink Hub 2. At this cross-road you have to make a choice: your smart switches can either work with Wink, or with HomeKit, but not both. That is because the indivual light switch or smart outlet connects via a proprietary RF signal called Lutron Clear Connect. Because of how the devices have been designed, they can only answer to one “bridge” (controller) at any given time.
Since my Lutron Caseta hardware is all linked to my HomeKit bridge, they cannot connect to my Wink Hub 2. And since I wanted to maintain my HomeKit compatibility, this meant that while I can use the Lutron app, or Siri voice, or even the new iOS 8 Home app, it prevented me from using Wink to control my lights. Luckily, there are some “direct” integrations, such as Lutron working directly with Nest, so that my lights can all turn on when my smoke alarm goes off. Or such as how Lutron works with HomeKit, such that my thermostat using that platform to integrate with one another. It works, but I’ll admit the flow is fragmented here because I’m essentially using two platforms.
Another lesser example of this would be the Schlage Sense Door locks, which are Bluetooth specifically for purposes of Apple HomeKit compatibility. Hence they don’t contain any Z-Wave radios, and won’t connect to the Wink system. If you want Schlage door locks that work with the Wink hub, you actually need different hardware. Their Z-wave version is called the Schlage Connect, and works on Z-Wave instead of Bluetooth. Make sure you buy based on your preference or desires here, as you build your smart home system, to avoid splintering your integrations.
Alexa versus HomeKit
All in all, my system works for me because I prefer to use HomeKit and Siri. However, one of the big selling points of the Wink Hub 2 is that it works with the Amazon Echo voice assistant. In our home we have the smaller Echo Dot, which works great and my wife/daughter both love to utilize. It is located in our kitchen which is a central hub to our daily lives. Where I tend to use Siri, the girls prefer Alexa, so we get an interesting mix of functionality from this.
What became VERY interesting findings during my testing was this: Alexa works with my Philips Hue lighting, as well as my Lutron Caseta switches, but not because I had the Wink Hub 2, rather they directly work with Amazon’s hardware. However, if you use the Wink hub to directly link your Hue bulbs or Lutron hardware, that works too! In other words, you can have your cake & eat it too! My setup thusly allows Siri because my Hue/Lutron hubs are HomeKit compatible, yet also work with the Amazon Echo, without even needing a Wink hub. Even my thermostat works with the Echo!
At this time Alexa still lacks the ability to open/close my garage door (or even advise me if the door is open or closed). Though in all fairness, while Apple’s HomeKit can do this, nobody offers a compatible device quite yet. (Chamberlain claims one is coming, but has made such remarks for over a year now with no new hardware to market). Generally speaking, the capabilities of controlling your smart home with Alexa vs Siri are virtually identical.
However, setting up voice control with Alexa takes a bit more leg work, first having to force her find the new hardware via a learning method. Then requiring you to go into the Alexa app and configure “groups” (be it rooms or the likes). This works, but there is no real hierarchy of your home, making the list of groups a bit of a mess. Sure, you can just learn new devices and right away turn off one item at a time, but let’s face it, bundling is where the fun really happens (turning off lights by floor, etc).
Contrastingly, Apple’s HomeKit tends to prompt you during setup to assign devices to rooms, and then configure rooms into groups (such as floors of your home). In my case, HomeKit’s design has made far more sense for the time I’ve been using it. HK allows me to configure rooms and floors of my tri-level split-level home. I can easily have Siri turn off the light upstairs, or set the lights in the living room to a specific color.
Overall I have tended to prefer the user interface of HomeKit, finding it works better for lighting than the way both the Wink Hub 2 and Amazon Echo handle this approach. There is room for improvement here with Wink, and also with subsequently how the Wink & Echo choose to integrate. There is just something a bit more polished with how Apple has approached your home, with rooms and such, than the other systems.
At the end of the day, I really like what what I see with the Wink Hub 2. And for most users, I think the feature set is actually in many ways more than adequate for most beginner or intermediate smart home users. With as much hardware as I have, I consider myself a power user, where EVERY light switch in my 2,400 sq-ft home upgraded to smart (that is nearly 30 switches!), not to mention everything else! My discussions with most people is that they aren’t ready to spend that much money (at $50+ per switch), dabbling instead with just a few switches, a few bulbs, a thermostat, and so forth.
In that light, the Wink Hub 2 reigns supreme, making it super easy to create “Robots” as they call it, to allow times of day, your location, or motion, to trigger activities. Want the lights to come on, but only if the Ring doorbell sensors motion after sunset? Easy. Would you like the lights to shut off when you leave the house? Done! With a highly graphic interface, and a rather simplified experience, Wink does a great job taking a HUGE cross section of hardware, and making it easy for users to put them all into the same sand box, to play nicely together.
Much of what the Wink Hub 2 can do is able to be replicated with Apple’s HomeKit, but at the end of the day there are still more devices that work with Wink than Apple right now. If you want the most powerful option on the market today, the Wink is where you should likely head. It offers a huge spectrum of compatibility, gorgeous user interface, super-reliable software, and should remain fairly future proof with its broad hardware configuration. Hence why I’ve supplemented my home with the Wink Hub 2; a great companion to my Apple HomeKit experience.
What do you want to automate? Let us know your questions or experiences in the smart home arena by posting below.