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.