There are already hundreds of connected products you can buy, but they don't always work together. That's changing, thanks to hubs that knit them together. Which one will the best isn't entirely clear yet, but we might have a winner for the most affordable title: the new Wink Hub, from Quirky's spin-off connected-device shop Wink, costs only $49. It debuts in the US on July 7 at Home Depot and Amazon (for now, Wink Hub is available only in the US) , and it costs even less if you buy other connected products via a promotion (in-store only at Home Depot): $24.99 with one other connected item, or $0.99 if you're buying two.
Wink's model connected home, set up as a loft in New York City, demonstrated the range of products that work with Wink. The company already has 60 products from 15 manufacturers that work with Wink's app directly, no hub required: Rheem EcoNet water heater controls, Dropcam, Honeywell thermostats, Philips Hue lighting, and Quirky+GE products like the Aros air conditioner. The Wink Hub adds hundreds of other products to the mix: Bali window shades, GE lighting and ovens, and products from Kidde, Kwikset, Leviton, Lutron, and Schlage.
The Wink Hub has six radios: Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, but also receivers for Z-Wave, Zigby, Lutron, and Kidde systems. The hub doesn't need to be plugged into your router: it stands alone and can be hooked into both your individual connected appliances and your Wi-Fi system, where everything works with the Wink app. The hub stands on its side and has about the width and height of a dinner plate, only thicker.
Wink's app has a clear, clean interface and a bunch of programmable interactions, called "robots," that work like If This Then That (IFTTT) recipes: open the blinds and turn on the lights when the garage door opens, for instance, or lock the doors and adjust the thermostat when you turn out the lights. Wink works on both iOS and Android and will even work on Google's new Android Wear watches at launch on July 7 with a connected app.
There are many hubs being sold right now that do similar things: Lowes' Iris, Staples' Connect Hub, SmartThings, and Revolv, not to mention what Google and Apple have planned. Wink's solution might be the most affordable of them all. If you think of these as the universal remotes of smart homes, the Wink Hub might be the best bargain pick. As a way of encouraging people to create their own smart homes, giving away the hub for a cost that approaches free certainly seems smart to us. Stay tuned for a full review.