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

Belkin's new WeMo Insight Switch adds power tracking and a smaller profile to an already-appealing home automation entry point.

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Rich Brown
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Rich Brown

Executive Editor / Reviews - Home and Wellness

Rich moved his family from Brooklyn to Louisville, Kentucky, in 2013 to start CNET's Appliances and Smart Home review team, which includes the CNET Smart Home, the CNET Smart Apartment, and the Appliances Review lab. Before moving to Louisville, Rich ran CNET's desktop computer review section for 10 years. He has worked as a tech journalist since 1994, covering everything from 3D-printed guns to Z-Wave smart locks.

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6 min read

EDITORS' NOTE, 7/19/18: WeMo has begun to implement Apple HomeKit's new software authentication, which lets WeMo devices connect to Apple HomeKit on their own without needing the WeMo Bridge plugged into your router. So far, the only WeMo gadget to get the upgrade is the WeMo Mini smart switch, though WeMo tells us that the WeMo Dimmer light switch should also take advantage by the end of 2018. It isn't clear yet if other WeMo gadgets will follow suit or not, but for now, you'll still need the WeMo Bridge to connect them with HomeKit. Our original review of the WeMo Insight Switch follows below:    

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8.1

Belkin WeMo Insight Switch

The Good

A smaller plastic housing and new power usage tracking on <b>Belkin's WeMo Insight Switch</b> bring greater visual appeal and usefulness to Belkin's already winning entry-level smart-home power plug line.

The Bad

Setup remains a hassle, it's still large enough to block adjacent outlets, and reliance on IFTTT for advanced programming functions means you'll need to bounce between two different apps to get the most out of the Switch.

The Bottom Line

Despite a few usability quirks, Belkin's WeMo Insight Switch only improves on the simple, low-risk formula that made Belkin's original programmable WeMo Switch so appealing as a home automation starting point.

Belkin's WeMo Switch smart power plug is one of our favorite smart-home devices because it provides such a low-risk home automation entry point. The new model, the $59.99 Belkin WeMo Insight Switch, has the same capabilities as the $49.99 original -- remote device power control, programmability, IFTTT support -- along with a more compact design, and the surprisingly deep ability to track the energy consumption of any gadget you plug into it.

Are those extras worth the $10 price premium? The smaller housing is more visually appealing than the original. For many people that alone will be enough. The energy consumption tracking won't be useful for everyone, but thanks to IFTTT, I can see certain use cases, particularly for tech-savvy parents and roommates. Taken together, the updates in the Belkin WeMo Insight Switch justify the higher cost, but Belkin still has plenty of room to improve the WeMo user experience. I would recommend this product, even if it's not quite polished enough for mainstream adoption.

Design and features
The most obvious draw for the WeMo Insight Switch is its improved plastic housing. About half the size of the original WeMo Switch, and with a cleaner-looking, whiter shell, the Insight version looks like a more modern piece of hardware. An ideal version of this product probably would look more like Apple's iPhone USB plug adapter. At the very least, it would be nice if it one day became small enough that it wouldn't block off an adjacent plug. Even though it's smaller, the new design doesn't offer any improvement in that respect.

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Colin West McDonald/CNET

Along with the new housing, Belkin also tweaked some of the external features on the Insight Switch. The power-on indicator is much larger than on the original, making it easier to see. The indicator light also shines green now, instead of blue.

Another interesting external change comes by way of the Micro-USB port. Belkin says the port currently has no function, but that eventually it might offer sensors or other accessories to plug into it. For now, the Switch powers on when you plug it in via USB, but that's all it does.

Belkin's slim, power-tracking WeMo Insight Switch (pictures)

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The power consumption tracking seems to be the only major difference between the WeMo Insight Switch and the vanilla model on the software side. The core functions remain the same. At its most basic, the WeMo Insight Switch lets you remotely power devices on or off via an Android or iOS app. The app also lets you set rules that trigger the power according to a preset time, by local sunrise and sunset, or through motion detection via Belkin's WeMo Motion detector (a $59.99 extra). You can also use the rules to notify you when the switch senses that a connected device has turned on, or when it detects movement via the motion sensor.

Usability
For the power usage tracking, I will say that it's thorough. Through the app, Belkin presents you with quick-glance real-time and average data for power draw, usage time, and operating cost for whatever device you've plugged into the Switch. Dig deeper into the app settings and you can adjust the energy billing rate and the power draw threshold it uses to determine whether a device is on or in standby mode. Those who really want to track power usage over time can output the data from the app to a smartly organized CSV file.

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Screenshots by Rich Brown/CNET

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.

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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.

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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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8.1

Belkin WeMo Insight Switch

Score Breakdown

Features 8Usability 8Design 8Performance 9
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