Wemo Stage Scene Controller overview: a better mild swap for an Apple sensible residence

There’s a operating joke in sensible residence circles: if a product works in addition to a light-weight swap, you’ve acquired a winner in your palms. House automation’s makes an attempt to make issues extra handy can — as with a number of expertise — find yourself making it extra irritating. There’s nothing worse than a sensible mild that doesn’t flip off on command. The look my partner offers me when he has to rise up from the sofa to flip the swap as a result of a voice assistant didn’t do its job may very well be trademarked.

Enter the Belkin Wemo Stage Scene Controller with Thread for Apple HomeKit. A chic and dependable manner to make use of bodily controls to run your sensible residence, this $50 sensible swap can do far more than a typical swap. Faucet considered one of its three buttons to regulate any linked HomeKit system — from opening the shades and enjoying the radio to locking the entrance door and turning on sensible lights. Even higher, one press can do all this stuff without delay, and a second press can flip all of it off. See in case your commonplace Decora can do this.

A scene controller is an idea that’s trickled down from high-end residence automation programs like Crestron and Control4. Typically barking a voice command or pulling out your smartphone is inappropriate or simply inconvenient, and there are many conditions the place a movement or contact sensor isn’t the precise match for the job. That is while you want a bodily button, one thing that constantly does the identical factor each time you press it. Like a light-weight swap.

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Whereas there are a number of sensible buttons and a few distant controls for lighting programs comparable to Hue and Lutron Caseta that may work as scene controllers for HomeKit (and are about half the worth of the Wemo), most of them require a proprietary hub or bridge to work.

Leviton’s new Decora Sensible Scene Controller Swap (which I will likely be testing quickly) is considered one of a handful of nonproprietary multibutton scene controllers out there. This works over Wi-Fi, so it doesn’t want a hub and can also be appropriate with Amazon Alexa and Google House. However it must be hardwired to your property’s electrical and requires a extra concerned set up. It additionally doesn’t double as a transportable distant management, which the battery-powered Wemo can.

The opposite characteristic that separates the Wemo Stage from the competitors is that it’s the one choice that works over Thread. And, as with my earlier overview of a Thread-enabled system — the Eve Movement Sensor — this provides it a critical leg up within the present sensible residence.

Thread is a wi-fi mesh protocol designed to make low-powered sensible residence gadgets reply extra shortly and use much less energy than different protocols utilized in residence automation. Thread gadgets don’t want a hub or bridge hooked as much as your router; as a substitute, they convey straight with one another and with different residence networks by means of a Thread border router. That is an always-powered system — comparable to a sensible speaker or streaming media participant. Apple at the moment has two Thread border routers: the HomePod Mini and Apple TV 4K (second-gen).

The Wemo Stage is actually small.

The Wemo Stage is a really small system, about half the dimensions of an Apple TV distant, with three recessed buttons which have a raised dot sample to point if it’s button one, two, or three. The buttons could be paired to a distinct scene or motion in Apple’s House app, and every has three separate presses — brief, double, and lengthy — supplying you with as much as 9 distinct choices.

Leviton’s Scene Controller contains directions.
Picture: Leviton

As you would possibly guess, this can be a lot to recollect. I’d like a manner of indicating what every button does on the system itself. Leviton’s Scene Controller affords this by means of customized engraved faceplates, however that does make altering your thoughts a bit costly. The tiny, minimalist design of the Wemo makes that unattainable. As a substitute, you simply want to recollect and someway get everybody else in your family on board with it. (Some recommendations on that in a bit.)

The Wemo Stage comes with a magnetic mount that may connect to a wall or desk with included tape or by screwing it into an current lighting receptacle. You may swap the included faceplate for the standard Decora one in order that the Wemo Stage can sit alongside your common mild switches. It’s powered by a single CR2032 battery, and consumer evaluations point out it actually chews by means of batteries. After per week, mine was all the way down to 77 %, so I don’t see it lasting as much as one 12 months as promised.

The Wemo Stage could be mounted to a wall with or with out an current lighting field.

The Wemo Stage works solely with Apple’s House app for HomeKit, which is the place you program every button and its varied presses to run a scene or management a number of equipment. You probably have a HomeKit-compatible Thread border router in your house, it’ll use the Thread protocol.

In any other case, it’ll talk over Bluetooth LE to another Apple House hub (an iPad, authentic HomePod, or Apple TV HD). Early evaluations of the Wemo Stage earlier than the Thread replace (which grew to become out there in January 2022) indicated that it was “buggy and unreliable” over Bluetooth, particularly when too far-off from a HomeKit hub. That is one thing I’ve skilled with different HomeKit gadgets that work over Bluetooth.

The opposite benefit of Thread is it’s a key protocol of Matter, the upcoming sensible residence commonplace. Nevertheless, Belkin advised me that Wemo Stage won’t be upgraded to Matter. “[It’s] particularly designed to regulate and handle scenes setup within the House app,” mentioned Cassie Pineda, senior world communications supervisor at Belkin. “It’s too early to verify whether or not or not Belkin will introduce a Matter-enabled Wemo Stage.”

Should you plan to stay with HomeKit, this gained’t be a problem, however Matter’s main promise is platform agnosticism, so a theoretical Matter model would be capable of work with Amazon Alexa, Google House, and Samsung SmartThings platforms.

The controller makes use of one CR2032 battery that Belkin says lasts six to 12 months; after per week, it was all the way down to 77 %.

Out of the field, the Wemo doesn’t have Thread enabled. I wanted to obtain an replace to place it on firmware model 2.9.6. That is odd for a tool that got here out over a 12 months in the past and in addition irritating since, with out entry to a Wemo app to drive an replace (it solely works with the House app, not Wemo’s app), I needed to sit and wait till the Apple House app rolled out the replace. (It took about three days for me however solely 20 minutes for my colleague).

In any other case, the setup was actually easy. The Wemo Stage makes use of Apple’s NFC pairing tech, so I simply needed to maintain my cellphone on prime of it so as to add it to the House app. You too can scan the HomeKit code. As soon as paired, the app prompts you so as to add the Wemo Stage (which reveals up as a Programmable Swap) to a room, and from there, you may customise what every button will do.

Programming the Wemo Stage is completed in Apple’s House app. It may well management scenes and a number of gadgets plus use a Shortcuts choice so as to add circumstances.

That is the place it will get actually enjoyable. Your choices are just about infinite. You may join any single system, a number of gadgets, or scene (a preset assortment of gadgets and actions) to every button. The best manner to make use of it might be to program the lights in a room to full brightness, 50 % brightness, and off on every button, making it act as a de facto dimmer. However that will solely be harnessing a fraction of its energy.

I discovered setting the three presses for every button to variations on a single scene or system was the best method to keep in mind what it might do. For instance, I set the highest button to activate a Worktime scene with a single press. This activates my workplace lights at full brightness, raises the shades, begins a radio station from an AirPlay-enabled speaker, and adjusts the thermostat. A double press on the identical button prompts a Zoom scene, which pauses the music and adjusts the lights, and a protracted press turns every little thing off.

I set the second button to activate (brief press), dim (lengthy press), and switch off (double press) all of the lights within the room.

I set the third button to activate a Good Morning scene for the entire family (brief press), a Good Evening scene (double press), and a Bedtime scene (lengthy press).

By protecting every button targeted on the identical idea or set of lights, it must be simpler to recollect what they do. However in per week of testing, I did nonetheless must preserve referencing the app to remind me how I had set it up. And I didn’t even try and get anybody in my household to make use of it.

The Wemo is small and plasticky and doesn’t really feel very sturdy.

The Wemo ended up being a private system for me, a simple method to handle generally used residence automation scenes with out having to choose up my cellphone or use voice. As a substitute of mounting it to the wall, I saved it on my desk in the course of the day and on my bedside desk at evening.

Right here, its measurement and barely disappointing plasticky construct work in opposition to it. In comparison with the brand new Hue Faucet swap I’m additionally testing — which is a strong piece of equipment — the Wemo feels prefer it gained’t maintain as much as a lot unintended injury. (The take a look at unit is already displaying a number of indicators of damage and tear.)

In use, the button presses triggered every little thing shortly — beneath a second — and constantly, though there was some “popping” of lights, the place a lamp would come on a fraction of a second after the opposite (each had been Nanoleaf Thread-enabled bulbs). The music actions all the time took barely longer and had been much less dependable — possible because it has to undergo Apple Music’s cloud service, whereas every little thing else runs domestically.

The only press and lengthy press had been most constant, however sometimes the double press would get confused and run as a single press. It’s arduous to inform if this can be a {hardware} situation or me fats fingering it — I’ve massive palms, and this system may be very tiny.

The Wemo Stage and the Hue Dimmer Swap, which may additionally act as a scene controller for HomeKit however with fewer button press choices.

In case you are in search of a simple method to management your Apple HomeKit residence, the Wemo Stage Scene Controller is without doubt one of the finest choices proper now. As talked about beforehand, there are a handful of singular sensible buttons on the market from the likes of Eve (Bluetooth), Aqara, Hue, and Flic that may set off three or 4 scenes utilizing a mixture of brief, lengthy, and double presses, however the Wemo can do 9.

There are additionally some with multibutton performance, together with Hue’s Faucet and Dimmer switches and Lutron’s Caseta Pico distant. Whereas these are designed to regulate lights of their respective ecosystems, they are often modified to regulate Apple HomeKit gadgets and scenes. However all of those choices (aside from the Eve Button) work with a proprietary hub or bridge. Wemo, with the addition of Thread, can match into your Apple House setup fairly seamlessly when you’ve got a HomePod Mini or newer Apple TV.

Images by Jennifer Pattison Tuohy / The Verge

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