CNET.com | Ry Crist
Belkin's app-enabled have long been a relatively affordable way to smarten up the switches in your home, and the fact that they don't need a hub makes them a pretty simple smart home starting point. Still, they suffer from a glaring flaw: They can't dim your lights.
Now, at CES 2017, Belkin is finally fixing the problem. The answer is a brand new, dimmable version of the WeMo Light Switch that'll hit retail later this year.
Pricing is still to be determined, but right now, the WeMo Dimmer looks like a pretty promising step forward to me.
Here's what I like best about it:
- You can calibrate it for the specific bulbs that you're using. Dimming performance can vary greatly across different kinds of bulbs, and in some cases, you won't be able to dim the lights without at least a little bit of flicker. Belkin hopes to solve that problem by letting you calibrate the dimmable range of the WeMo Dimmer for the specific kind of bulbs you're using. Belkin claims that the switch will work with LEDs, CFLs, incandescents, you name it.
- You can set time-specific brightness levels . Imagine walking into your bathroom and flipping on the light in the middle of the day. Now imagine waking up in the middle of the night and flipping the same light on. Full brightness is fine for the first instance, but not so much for the second. With the WeMo Dimmer, you'll be able to program how bright the light should be when you switch it on at different times of the day. Helpful, simple and smart.
- You can use it to make it look like you're at home when you aren't. More and more smart lighting products are offering features that will automatically cycle your lights on and off when you're away to help make it look like you're home. Belkin's following suit with a new "Away Mode" feature that does exactly that.
If you like, you'll be able to trigger that Away Mode feature by long-pressing on the switch for a couple of seconds. You can customize those long presses to do other things, too -- turning all of the other WeMo-enabled lights in your home on or off, for instance.
The WeMo Dimmer borrows that long press trick from the first-gen WeMo Light Switch, and it shares the same Android and iOS app, the same basic automation features, and the same third-party integrations, too. Most notable among them: the free online automation service IFTTT, the Nest Learning Thermostat, Amazon's Alexa, and the Google Home smart speaker. You'll be able to sync the WeMo Dimmer up with all of them.
Of course, something else it shares with the original model is a lack of compatibility with Apple HomeKit, the set of connected home protocols in the software that powers iPhones and iPads. The release of new hardware would have seemed to be a great time for Belkin to add in the necessary HomeKit chipset, but a WeMo spokesperson tells me that the company was concerned about selling HomeKit-compatible WeMo gear alongside older, non-HomeKit-compatible WeMo products. So, for now at least, HomeKit is a no-go.
The new switch does look a little different than the previous model, though. For starters, the dimming controls are capacitive, which is a break from the physical switch of gen one. There's also a new multi-color indicator light at the bottom of the switch -- it'll offer contextual cues to help you keep track of your switch's automated behavior. A green light indicates that it's running one of your WeMo rules, for instance, while an aqua-colored light tells you that the light is responding to a third-party integration, like an Amazon Echo voice command. I'll be curious to see if that's more helpful or annoying in practice.