Belkin WeMo Insight Switch review: An even smarter smart-home power plug

The WeMo Insight Switch really shines when you integrate its programmability with that energy tracking, though. For that, you'll need to familiarize yourself with IFTTT ("if this then that").

IFTTT is an app-based set of "recipes" you can use to tie behavior between different devices and online services. Many smart-home products, including this plug, and Belkin's earlier WeMo Switch, have dedicated channels in the IFTTT app with device-specific recipes. Simply select a recipe for a specific behavior ("Send me a text when someone turns the lights on," or "Flash the lights when someone tags me on Facebook") and subscribe to apply it.

The IFTTT channel for the WeMo Insight Switch gives you two recipes in particular that greatly extend the smarts of this plug. "Turn a device off after it's been on for X minutes a day," and "Turn a device off after its energy costs more than $X in a day." With either of these recipes you can automatically regulate device usage.

Screenshot by Rich Brown/CNET

Parents hoping to control TV or game console usage should see the obvious appeal here. It could also help the penny-conscious manage air conditioning or other power-hungry devices' usage. I can even imagine a small business tying the energy cost recipe into a pay-as-you-go service.

Those two recipes are so useful, and so obvious, it begs asking why Belkin didn't simply build them into its own WeMo app to begin with. It's easy enough to find the WeMo Insight Switch channel on IFTTT. The problem is there's no way to tell whether you have overlapping recipes between the Belkin and IFTTT apps, other than bouncing back and forth between the two.

Another flaw in the WeMo Insight Switch comes down to its setup, a holdover from the original WeMo Switch. To connect to the plug from the smartphone app, Belkin requires you to connect to a special WeMo Wi-Fi signal coming from the plug itself. Ideally, you connect your smartphone to that WeMo network, then use the app to sync your phone with the plug, and then you're free to hop back to your regular Wi-Fi network. Sounds simple enough, but it never worked out that way on the first try. Whether I was at home or at work, sometimes Belkin's Wi-Fi network wouldn't show up, or would drop off after I'd logged on for a second, or, if I managed to stay on it, the app couldn't find the plug.

Screenshot by Rich Brown/CNET

It all came together eventually, but the reason why is a mystery. One day it didn't work at all. The next day, it did. I didn't change any settings or update any software in between. Of course something triggered the change, but I can't tell you what. The benefit of using Wi-Fi to make this connection is that it frees Belkin from requiring hub hardware to bridge its devices and your network. That's worth something, but the connection process should still be less frustrating.

Performance
Once you conquer its setup, the WeMo Insight Switch works as expected. Either through the WeMo app or through IFTTT, any rule or notification request behaved the way it was programmed. You might need to tweak certain settings along the way. As a simple test, I asked the WeMo app to notify me every time it turned a device on. Turns out, the LED light bulb I'd installed in my test lamp only pulled 6 watts of power, putting it under the 8-watt threshold I had set for the switch to determine whether it was in power-on or standby mode. Once I fixed the setting, the rule kicked in.

The app does lag a lot. It often seems to need a second or two to recognize the Insight Switch. The power data display might also stall when you unplug or manually switch off a connected device. It's hard to know whether the lag came from our wireless network or from the Switch itself, but any delay resolved itself in a second or two. Not having lag would of course be preferable, but there's not enough frustration here to really be an issue.

Conclusion
Even if the WeMo Insight Switch isn't perfect, the appeal of this product is still very high for those looking to ease into home automation. It has no fees, and you don't need to worry about setting up multiple sensors. For the most part, it lives up to the present-day ideal of accessible smart home hardware. For that reason, I have no problem recommending this to home automation newbies, or someone with a specific need for the power consumption data.

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