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Wink Relay could be the smart-home breakthrough we've been waiting for

Michael Brown | Sept. 25, 2014
Pricey, dealer-installed smart-home systems have one thing in common: A wall-mounted panel with a flashy LCD to control everything. This is the feature that's most difficult for a do-it-yourselfer to duplicate. So I was intrigued when I heard the DIY-friendly Wink Relay controller had gone on pre-sale for just $300, and that it can manage a wide range of self-installed smart light switches, door locks, thermostats, security cameras, and other devices.

An integrated proximity sensor wakes the panel up when you approach, while temperature and humidity sensors monitor your home's internal environment. A built-in speaker produces event notification sounds, and there's an integrated mic that can operate as an intercom system if you install multiple controllers in your home (although that's a "coming soon" feature).

No electrician required?

Installing the Relay involves handling bare electrical wires, so a disclaimer on Wink's website recommends professional installation. Risk of electrical shock is one reason why so many of its competitors require dealer installations, but Wink provides all the tools a do-it-yourselfer will need — including a wire stripper — so the company clearly anticipates most people will DIY. And based on the video on Wink's website, it looks like a very simple job.

There are three limitations: There must be a neutral wire in the gang box, the switch you're replacing cannot be connected to an AC outlet, and the switch cannot be on a three-way circuit (meaning the circuit can't be controlled by a second switch somewhere else in the house).

You must be on your local Wi-Fi network to program the Relay using the Wink app, which is available only for Android, Android Wear, and iOS operating systems. But you can control connected devices using the Wink app from anywhere you have Internet access. There is no PC client, however, and while Wink servers are in the cloud, there is no user-facing web portal that would allow you to program it remotely.

Wink has long list of supported devices on its website, ranging from Dropcam security cameras to the Nest programmable thermostat; Schlage locksets to Philips Hue lighting; and even Lutron motorized window shades. You can also install multiple Relays in your home, so you don't need to walk into another room to control everything.

Worthington offered to send an eval unit for review shortly before the Relay ships to buyers. The device sounds very promising, and I'm definitely looking forward to checking it out.


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