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Hands on with the Wattson wireless power monitor

Just in time for Earth Hour on Saturday, the power monitor can help to know when your energy usage is out of control.

Confession time. I can't stop looking at my Wattson. Before you ask who--or more specifically what--that is, this spiffy-looking device that's just reached Singapore shores helps keep track of your power consumption.

For those in Asia where meter watching is relatively new, this would probably sound obsessive-compulsive. However, what's compelling about the U.K.-designed Wattson is that it measures your energy usage in real time. So there's something almost hypnotic about watching your wattage flip up or down whenever you turn on or off a switch somewhere in your home.

At 63 watts, this is a nice low figure for power usage. This jumps to 426 watts the moment I hit the water heater switch. (Credit: CNET Asia)

Oops, another spike as I start the electric stove for dinner. Powering on the air conditioner will nudge the figures up another 500 watts. (Credit: CNET Asia)

Elementary, my dear Wattson
After the initial excitement of getting my mitts on the Wattson, I have to admit I was a teensy bit let down by the rather plasticky, lightweight feel of the display, given its rather handsome S$329 sticker ($217).

Not quite Philips Ambilight, but the Wattson's colored light system can double for mood lighting. Just too bad this doesn't include a time display so it can work as a clock, too. (Credit: DIY Kyoto)

But as mentioned before, you get what you pay for. Once the Wattson's set up, it's easy to love what DIY Kyoto has done here. The U.K. company clearly has a fine grasp of the design language, steering clear of the blocky, uninspiring monitors in the market, and opting for a funky look that turns the acrylic panel into one biggish LED display. This lights up in large, red digits to show the wattage or cost in dollars.

Or you can simply switch to the Wattson's colored light system using the tilt mechanism. This cycles from blue for low consumption to purple for medium usage and red for high energy-guzzling alert--simple visual aids to serve as reminders.

Out of the box, you get the Wattson display unit, the transmitter and the sensor clamp. (Credit: DIY Kyoto)

Personally, I find the display in watts far more useful for keeping tabs on my electricity consumption. However, for those who've been reduced to sitting in the dark to prevent racking up more wattage, or who are simply observing Earth Hour this March 28, the colored light system does make for some pretty mood lighting.

Getting it installed
Out of the box, the Wattson comes in three parts: a red sensor clip that you clamp around one of the main cables coming out of your meter; a 4x AA-powered transmitter that the sensor clamp plugs into; and the display unit which automatically pairs wirelessly with the transmitter.

The sensor clip has to be attached to either of the two cables running from the electricity meter, and plugged to the transmitter. (Credit: CNET Asia)

I did need help to locate the meter box, which was finally found by a neighbor's door away from my flat. Once the sensor clip was attached and the transmitter hooked up to it (with everything nicely hidden out of sight in the meter box, so I didn't have to worry about theft), the Wattson kicked in beautifully.

The instruction leaflet, which I barely needed to refer to, states a range of 100m through air and up to 30m through walls. No issues there. The button on the transmitter box offers three interval settings: low, medium, and high. I set mine on high since I wanted updates in wattage as quickly as possible.

Somebody, fetch the screwdriver. You'll need it to slot the four AA batteries into the transmitter. (Credit: CNET Asia)

Here's a minor gripe. You'll need a screwdriver to insert the batteries into the transmitter. Battery replacements, thankfully, won't be due for another 3 to 12 months, depending on your transmission interval setting. Distributor Green Koncept did say it was speaking to the manufacturer to convert this into a more convenient snap-on battery lid for Asia.

The Wattson display itself has an internal battery pack that's good from 5 hours up to a few weeks, depending on what mode it is set to. Since the unit isn't tethered, this gives the Wattson an edge as you can take it anywhere within range of the transmitter. The unit will also alert you if the batteries are running low. In my case, I decided it was easier to permanently plug the display to the mains since this was one less battery issue to take care of. The Wattson sips on a mere 4-5 watts tops.

Plotting power usage with Holmes
Once you've been running the Wattson for a few days, you can start to plot your electricity usage by connecting your device to a PC or Mac with the supplied mini-USB cable. You'll need to download a program called Holmes, which first requires registering with the Web site. A new beta version is in the pipes, which will export local time stamp data to Excel, allowing you to archive past data and upload to the Wattson community.

You can input the tariff amount if you know what it is, though there's no option to change the Sterling pound sign into S$. (Credit: CNET Asia)

Holmes continues to keep it user-friendly. It will collect data from the Wattson's internal memory of up to 28 days of electricity use. As you can see from the screenshot, you can plot your usages by month, day, or hours; and by energy, power, cost, or carbon footprint. There are a ton of graphs and charts if you're a power Scrooge who needs to drill down into the data. But otherwise, it's useful enough to get a month-by-month glance of electricity usage, with the option to add in tariff values so you can also see the cost incurred. The hiccup for now is that the tariffs are listed in British pounds.

At a glance, Holmes shows me my energy consumption over the last 28 days in chart form. I've elected to view this by day by clicking on those round red tabs on the left bottom corner. Easy-peasy. (Credit: CNET Asia)

On its packaging, the Wattson claims to help you save up to 25 percent of your electricity bill. Of course, this requires active participation from the user. For my part, I've become much more aware of which appliances are power hogs. For instance, where previously I'd leave my water heater on indefinitely, now I make a point to switch this off after 10 minutes. Little steps for big, green savings.

Here's the crunch. At S$329 ($217), this is probably more than what most people would feel comfortable forking over for a power monitor. But ultimately, it's a numbers game. With concerns over fuel and electricity costs rising, particularly in the economic downturn, now may be timely to take a closer look at the Wattson and others like it to help you reduce not just your power needs, but also your carbon footprint on this planet we call home.