Wink Home Automation. Think twice. Buyer, beware!

There are a number of companies rushing various “smart home” technologies to market right now, and as we all know, when you rush technology to market, it often times has a few bugs and, in some cases, blatantly doesn’t work at all.  The Wink system is unfortunately, the latter.

I wasn’t given a Wink system pre-release, and therefore I have not corresponded with any Wink representatives who were willing to tell me its pitfalls and politely ask me to look around the rough edges while they finished testing.  I got my Wink system by paying my own money for it. It had been on the market for several months, time enough, I imagined, to weed out any bleeding-edge bugs.  My first mission was to get a single lamp in my house to turn on and off automatically or by smartphone.  It was a lamp that plugged into a wall and had no switch of its own and lit a winding staircase in my house.  I figured it would be nice to have it turn itself off at night or during the day time without intervention or turn itself on when I arrived at home in the evenings.

I wasn’t sure exactly what I would need to do this, there were a number of devices that claimed to be “Wink” compatible.  I started first by buying a GE Link starter kit which comes with two bulbs and a hub, all claiming compatibility with the Wink App.  I also bought a Leviton plug-in wall dimmer, also claiming Wink compatibility.

I got them home and the first thing I figured I do would be to try and get one of the GE Bulbs integrated into my network.  If I couldn’t get one light bulb to work, there would be little chance of me getting anything else to work, right?

They made it seem so simple, the Wink app presented step-by-step instructions that seemed simple to follow with pictures and occasionally even video.  It all seemed pretty simple….

… but in practice, what actually went down was hours of battling the system.  The app would “spin”, waiting for replies from devices that would never arrive, and it would eventually give  up and report some vague error.  My link hub failed to join my Wifi network, with absolutely no explanation or error code whatsoever.  Eventually, after digging around on the sparsely useful forums on the internet and a few Google searches, I determined that the devices would not work unless I changed over my home network to use WPA security instead of WEP security.  Of course the documentation did not mention this, and their helpful-looking-on-the-surface, in-app, picture/video instructions made no mention of this either (although I think one of the error messages might have mentioned it)…. but I honestly didn’t even know how I had my network setup because I set it up so long ago.  Reconfiguring my network meant that I had to log into my DHCP server to try and figure out what IP address my ASUS gateway was taking (I don’t use it as a router) and then log into its web page to switch the security settings (invalidating all the settings for all wireless devices that were previously on my network, thanks!)  After changing the security settings, all my Google Chromecast dongles had to be reconfigured, wireless bridges had to be reconfigured…. laptops,  tablets, game systems, and phones had to be reconfigured.

But even after switching my network to a WPA security and attempting to reset factory defaults on all the devices, I still had problems.  Eventually I gave up and called their, thankfully 24-hour, support line.

Support was very friendly, kudos to the Wink team for that.  Apparently the Wink app doesn’t like to pair-up hubs on Android devices that also have mobile connections.  I turned my mobile data off, and finally it connected to the hub.   I subsequently tried to pair up my first bulb, and it worked immediately.

The second bulb must be no problem then, right?  Wrong.   10-15 minutes of messing around and the second bulb paired up.  If the devices aren’t in a “friendly” state, it seems they don’t like to pair with each other, but the Wink app doesn’t seem to know much about the state of the devices until it actually attempts to pair them and when it fails, the error messages are meaningless and it basically just offers to let you “try again”.   15 minutes of unplugging, plugging, hubs and  unscrewing light bulbs later, I finally got the second bulb talking.

Now on to the Plug-in dimmer for my lamp.  Unfortunately, when I tried to pair the lamp, the app simply told me “hub required”.   “I have a hub,” I thought to myself.   Turns out it wants a “Wink hub” and not a “Link Hub”…. nice job marketing people!  So I went out and bought a “Wink Hub” — another $50.

It took maybe an hour to get the Wink hub on the network, and once it got on the network it flashed wierd colors for a while while it upgraded its own firmware.  But once it was on the network, I tried adding my Leviton plug-in wall dimmer to the hub, following the bubbly, oversimplified on-screen instructions to no avail.  After 3 hours of messing with it, I called their support line and they suggested moving things further away from each other, doing factory resets, moving things closer to each other, moving things further away again… all this nonsense and after spending an hour on the phone with the support guy, I conceded “I don’t want to spend any more time on this today, sorry.”

Since giving up, I tried a few things to play around with the light-bulbs that actually did work.  My experience with them, however, hasn’t been exactly pleasant.  For example, you can put lights into groups, so I tried putting the two bulbs into a group, since they were always connected to the same light switch before.  Once added to the group, the Wink app gives you an interface to control the lights together, however, I quickly found that sometimes only 1 of the two lights would turn on or off when I pushed the group button — the messages got lost going to the second one.  The dimmer also behaved rather erratically, sometimes snapping back to the position it originally started at, or getting stuck in the middle of sliding back and forth…. and even when it did work, the response times were pretty laggy.   I don’t understand why there is so much lag in the system.  It was bad enough that the failure of such basic functionality puts this system in my “does not work” category.  In my opinion, Wink should still be in internal testing phase.  Now that the company has put the devices in the hands of consumers, they’ve made it 100x harder for them to fix and engineer solutions to their problems going forward.  Sorry, guys, I’m sure there are people over there that wanted this project to succeed and some of them probably have some valuable talents, but overall, this project gets a solid “F”.

Clearly the protocols and wireless “technology” that wink is built upon have fatal flaws rendering them completely useless to the point that I have no confidence that the technology will ever work let alone become practical.  And even if the system “worked”, the system lacked some pretty basic features that virtually anyone buying this kind of stuff would want out of the box.  For example, off the top of my head:

– knowing sundown/sunup times are important, wink does not track them (as some competitors do automatically) UPDATE: The latest app update/firmware offers sunrise/sunset features, however, they are riddled with bugs and I find robots to be firing off at the wrong times or not at all.
– being able to have a light turn on for 5 minutes then turn off… also imporant… wink lets you turn off lights at specific times, but you can set a trigger to turn on a light for 5 minutes and then then subsequently automatically turn off… you can only set absolute times
– you can’t set fade-in and fade-out times… something that other competitors have
– since all your settings are in the cloud, if your internet goes down, you can’t operate your lights, a localized system (built into the wink hub) would be preferable in case the internet goes down
– you can put lights in groups, but you can’t use the groups in robots, robots have to be configured with individual lights. (UPDATE: Newer app updates allow for this, but you still can’t use shortcuts in robots)

I could probably go on and on, but the fundamental issue here is, when I flip the virtual switch, do the lights turn on? Well…. sometimes. Sometimes isn’t good enough… in fact, “most of the time” isn’t good enough either.

Wink fails, in my opinion, because the underlying technology has failed, completely, and miserably… and Wink fails to sufficiently work around the inherent flaws in the underlying technology.  I can’t personally tell you which components are failing specifically, it could be the Z-Wave hardware modules that are embedded in these devices;  it could be the firmware loaded onto these devices; but, likely, it is a combination of firmware, bad hardware design, under-powered hardware, lack of protocol standards, lack of protocol standards evolution, bad software requirements, and inexperienced software engineers and programmers.

After turning my two bulbs on and off about 10 times, my Wink App consistently crashes on my phone, the “Link Hub” loses contact with my Ge Lights at least once a day, requiring me to re-pair the connection… eventually I had had enough. I packed up my wink hub, and took it back to Home Depot where I bought it.

 

3 Replies to “Wink Home Automation. Think twice. Buyer, beware!”

  1. Sounds like the author managed to dive head first into a platform he did absolutely no reading about before hand – and that’d be fine if he didn’t paint himself as some kind of tech guru.

    I currently have a Wink setup with the following connected:
    1 – Wink Hub
    5 – Pivot Power Genius smart powerbars
    4 – GE Link A19 smartbulbs
    1 – Quirky Spotter Sensor
    1 – Aros Smart A/C

    My network works together to keep more than 30 reptiles happy and healthy. If it wasn’t dependable, I’d be putting lives at risk. I have had this setup running for over a year with minimal downtime. Sure, there has been the odd issue, but there is nothing on the market that can be integrated as quickly and for the value of the Quirky Wink system.
    Sorry you had lots of problems but your readers should know that your experience is far from typical, especially for seasoned tech aficionados. That, and Quirky/Wink’s Technical Support team is one of the best in the industry for accessibility and customer service. People should give it a chance and like you, keep their receipt for a return if things don’t work out.

    1. Well apparently you dont know about “hub gate” where they sent out thousands of bricked useless hubs to customers. I actually, a month later, went out and bought another wink hub… After getting the first firmware upgrade, I was presented a message telling me that I either had to “reconfigure my DNS” settings temporarily (using terminology that wasn’t even technically correct) and then revert the settings back after upgrading the firmware… or conveniently send my hub to them to have it fixed and sent back to me.

      Luckily, I AM a tech guru as a software and network engineer with 20 years on the job otherwise I might have taken this hub back to the store as well and waited until they fixed this BS.

      My new hub is “working” with 8 GE Link lights (4 to the main hub, 4 on the GE link hub). I also have a Lutron dimmer for the lamp, which seems to work better than the Leviton dimmer. Firmware upgrades for the GE Link hub have eventually stabilized it to the point where it doesn’t drop every 24 hours and require me to resync all my lights… (but it was broken for about a month)… the Wink hub, however, still bombs out about once a day on average… goes into a state where the light just flashes yellow for a while… eventually turns blue again… sometimes.. I have to reboot it often. Not really much I can screw up there… I think it gets mad when the XBox-One is talking on the network or if I am running DLNA on the ethernet at any time… I want to guess that it has fatal bugs in its 802.11 wireless layer… likely with regards to TCP/UDP retries. I know what I’m talking about Mr. Troll.

      Would you like me to Wireshark it for you? I have implemented wireless ethernet stacks from scratch, Mr. Troll. Have you implemented ethernet stacks? I’m guessing not. Regardless, it is not my job to fix a broken consumer product. I bought this consumer product so that I wouldn’t have to do something more technical and I could, therefore, focus on more important projects.

      I have 15 servers on my network and multiple bridges and tunnels and firewalls that are more chatty than your average Home Depot custommer’s network, so my network isn’t “typical”. But Just because I have a robust environment, doesn’t mean that Wink deserves to get cut any slack. I think it gets mad when the XBox One is talking on the network… or maybe it is when the Chromecast(s) are talking on the Wireless. I dunno. I haven’t smoked out the formula for exactly what makes it fail… I have my own day job to worry about… I don’t work for Quirky, and it sounds like I don’t want to.

      I know about writing robust software. I have put consumer products on the market myself Mr. Troll. Wireless ones even… Wifi 802.11 and Bluetooth LE. We were one the first company to put Bluetooth LE MIDI on the market as a matter of fact.. beating the major keyboard manufacturers… like Yamaha, Roland, and M-Audio…. I had Google, Microsoft, and Apple all in my tradeshow booth within 5 minutes of each other at the last tradeshow I was at because they all wanted to see the things I built from scratch. You don’t get to set the standard by which I measure techy-gadget quality Mr. Troll.

      1. I completely believe you are a tech professional – your brash, condescending tone is typical of one. I myself am not a tech professional. I have been known, though, to be rather handy with consumer electronics and have worked a couple jobs in the past requiring phone troubleshooting. So I’m smarter than your average non-professional bear in this arena.

        I have upwards of a dozen and a half bulbs from multiple manufacturers (GE primarily), 3 Pivot Plug Genius, several sensors, a sprinkler system, and a door lock all running on the network. Is it 100%? No. Is it 99.5 working? Yes. Generally when something doesn’t work it is resolved in no time. And FYI, this is from a very early adopter – well before this post was written (August 2014 I think), so the “well, it must have gotten better” argument is moot. So if I’m who I am and you are who you say you are, how in the hell does my system work and yours didn’t?

        Now, for your own “corrections and retractions” section:

        1) Link vs wink – you should do your homework, or at least read the side of a box. Despite names off by one letter, Link is a GE product used to connect their bulbs together so they could function independent of wink in case the consumers didn’t want to go that direction. Wink was from Quirky. This was no marketing ploy – the information is pretty clear on the link bulb sets with the adapter.

        2). “Hubgate” (and can we all please stop using the final sylabble of a hotel’s name to describe any large clusterf*ck – it’s ridiculous) was not the way you said it at all. Point blank, they put out an update that was screwed up and bricked the hubs. Techy people were given a way to fix it. Non-techy could mail it in to be fixed. Once discovered, hubs were pulled from all Home Depots to be fixed before selling. They never shipped defective hubs. Hell, anyone who had the issue also was eligible to receive a $50 no strings attached credit from them. I know I used mine to buy some sensors and my mom used hers to buy more bulbs, no out of pocket money except the shipping on mine (hers had free ship for a promotion). They F’d up and made up for it. Major crap happens all the time – how the company handles it is what matters. So don’t spread rumors like which are not true.

        3) “Troll” is a term used on the internet defined as someone who is saying things (often knowingly untrue) simply to get a rise or reaction out of the other person/people. If you’ve even mysteriously ended up watching a Rick Astley music video, the person who sent you there is a troll. What Chris did was give his opinion of what you had written (one I echo) and describe why the things you said were, intentionally or not, misleading. To call him a troll over and over and over causes many issues for you. It shows you don’t know what the word means, it shows your limited vocabulary as a writer, and frankly it just shows you’re a jackass. Spouting off venom at someone who simply made a comment on your blog (and I run several myself, so I CAN speak here) is, depending on how you want to look at it, at least unprofessional, if not just a major dick move.
        I came on the net here tonight trying to research if I could make a trick work or how (using a genius to reboot my internet/router from my phone), and ended up writing this because your response was SOOOOOO far out in left field that someone with a little more background in writing and general etiquette needed to step in. If you’re going to be a condescending jackass with the people (well, person) who reply to your blog, do everyone and yourself a favor and turn off commenting.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.