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Chamberlain Wi-Fi Garage Door Opener review: A smart home upgrade for the brave

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Priced at $268, the fancy Chamberlain Wi-Fi Garage Opener comes with all the hardware necessary to intall a garage door opener you can control from your mobile device. It uses the Chamberlain MyQ mobile application to talk directly to Android and iOS phones and tablets. So equipped you'll be able to open or close your garage door from anywhere you can get online. Likewise the Wi-Fi Garage Door Opener combined with its app can alert you of any door activity as it happens.

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7.7

Chamberlain Wi-Fi Garage Door Opener

The Good

The Chamberlain Wi-Fi Garage Door Opener boasts its own Wi-Fi radio plus connection to the MyQ mobile app for remote access and operation. It also comes with a battery backup, is equipped with a powerful 1¼-horsepower motor, and uses a quiet belt drive.

The Bad

Like any garage door opener this Chamberlain takes skill and some experience to install. It's also not a worthwhile upgrade if all you want are smart home garage door abilities.

The Bottom Line

The Chamberlain Wi-Fi Garage Door Opener is a feat to install but is a worthwhile way for those with outdated garage systems to gain a foothold in the connected home.

Unlike the Chamberlain MyQ Garage , this kit is no add-on device. It's a full-fledged garage door opener, and installing it is no minor home improvement project. This is especially true if you're like me and have no experience completing or even attempting the task. That's why choosing the Chamberlain Wi-Fi Garage Door Opener over conventional options makes sense, but only if you need to completely replace an archaic system and of course plan to use its connected home capabilities.

Switching out a perfectly good opener just for this machine's slick smart home functions alone simply isn't worth the expense and potential installation headaches when you can buy Chamberlain's easy-to-install add-on kit for less.

Chamberlain brings the smart home to your garage (pictures)

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Design

From appearance alone you'd never guess the Chamberlain Wi-Fi Garage Door Opener was any different from the legion of similar products lining store shelves. In fact the egg-shaped machine looks identical to practically all of Chamberlain's garage door opener lineup, whether chain or belt driven.

Built to be mounted on support brackets on your garage door ceiling and garage door, the product consists of two primary components. You get the oval-shaped electrical motor housing, and the long rail mechanism that contains the device's plastic belt. Other pieces of the puzzle include a pair of infrared sensors that have to be wired to the main motor housing. The sensors are a safety system designed to keep an eye out for objects or people blocking or standing in the path of the open garage door.

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Like any garage door opener, Chamberlain's Wi-Fi model requires much assembly. Tyler Lizenby/CNET

The opener comes with a wall-mounted door control panel that you also need to wire directly to the central unit. Additionally, you get two standard visor remotes bundled with the system, each with three programmable buttons. Made to clip to car sun visors, you can set the remotes to control multiple garage doors or toggle the opener's lights on and off. The last bit of hardware in the Chamberlain kit is a wireless numeric keypad that enables keyless or remoteless entry with a programmable four-digit PIN.

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The motor unit of the opener mounts to the ceiling. Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Strong, silent and prepared for trouble

Tucked inside this machine are a few enhancements that go above and beyond your average garage door opener. The Chamberlain Wi-Fi Garage Door Opener model I installed, model HD950WF, represents the company's top-tier smart product.

A robust 1¼-horsepower motor powers the lift system that in terms of sheer strength certainly outclasses my old ½-horsepower devices. The same is true for ¾ horsepower units you might find in many homes. Sure, it's overkill to have this much lifting muscle at your disposal -- enough to conceivably operate a 4-car garage door all by itself -- but I admit it's comforting.

Chamberlain also explained to me that the benefit of a stronger motor isn't limited to lifting bigger loads. A muscular unit typically lasts longer too. While I can't verify this claim, it's a mechanical reality that the less an electric motor has to work over time, the greater its expected longevity. I also appreciate how the belt drive train is crafted for quiet operation. Anything that produces less noise than my medieval chain-driven openers I count as a positive.

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This model comes with a rechargeable backup battery. Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Another welcome feature is its backup battery. Sitting inside a compartment on the left side of the opener, in the event of a power outage the rechargeable battery can operate the garage door for one to two days. The battery continually charges when the opener is connected to an AC outlet as well and reaches full charge within 24 hours.

A few words about installation

I can't stress enough that upgrading your garage door opener is not a task to take lightly. Even with the help of CNET's crack technical editor Steve Conaway (and his impressive bag of tools), I ran into trouble and a few frustrating setbacks.

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My old openers were a slightly different size, which caused extra work. Tyler Lizenby/CNET

My original 30-year-old openers and drivetrain tracks were about 6 inches longer than the new Chamberlain hardware. This forced me to reposition the ceiling mounting brackets, including drilling more holes, closer to each of my garage doors.

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You likely will need to use the existing ceiling mounting brackets with the new opener. Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Also, the new Chamberlain optical door sensors were not physically compatible with my existing brackets. To solve the issue we had to drill holes and mount the sensors to my garage's concrete floor.

Taking the smart garage for a spin

Thankfully activating the Wi-Fi Garage Door Opener's smart home features are much easier than the machine's physical setup. First I confirmed that the inside of my garage has a strong wireless signal from my home network router. Next I kicked the opener into "Wi-Fi learning mode" by pressing a small yellow button on its control panel (located on the right-hand side next to its light bulb socket). This caused the machine to broadcast its own wireless network signal.

I used a mobile device to join this network then navigate to Chamberlain's MyQ setup website. In my case my test device was a Nexus 6 smartphone running Android Lollipop. After punching in the serial number for the opener it successfully connected to my Wi-Fi network on the first try. Lastly I downloaded the Android version of the MyQ app from the Google Play Store (there's a MyQ for iOS as well) and created a MyQ account. I was able to link the second opener unit in a similarly swift fashion.

Adding the garage door openers properly to the MyQ app itself, however, wasn't quite as intuitive. For example, while it wasn't difficult to create a profile for each opener independently, seeing both listed within the app and on the same location screen didn't happen automatically. In fact even if I specified an identical "Home" location for both openers, often the application created two "Home" profiles (each with just a sole opener) instead of combining them.

Another pain is that once you've added them there's no way to move device icons around, through a simple drag and drop, if you'd like one opener to display to the left or right of another.

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Tap the icon to open and close your garage door from the app. Tyler Lizenby/CNET

As for controlling the openers, I'm happy to say it's simple. Tapping an opener icon either tells the door to open or close. And just like other MyQ products, in the interest of safety when a door receives the command to close remotely it will first beep loudly while flashing its lights for 9 seconds. Only after this will the door begin to roll shut.

The MyQ application also offers the choice of pushing email or app notifications whenever your garage doors open and close. You have the option of selecting the timeframe for when you'd like these alerts to happen or to simply turn them off entirely.

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Get alerts on phones, tablets and smartwatches about your garage door activity. Tyler Lizenby/CNET

This is the feature I find most useful. Alerts are prompt and time-stamped, giving me a quick heads-up when my wife comes and goes or helps build a history of when I enter and leave the house. The notifications arrive not only on my phone but also my Android Wear watch too (a Moto 360).

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MyQ supports other smart home platform such as Nest and Wink. Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Chamberlain has also enabled MyQ to link up with other devices from the growing number of smart home platforms. Specifically the app lists options for integrating with Google's Nest thermostats and Wink devices. The company has announced plans to support Apple HomeKit products too, but at the moment there's no evidence of this within the MyQ application.

Conclusion

While I think the chances are rare that I'd actually leave the garage door wide open before I go on vacation, it's nice to have the peace of mind that I can correct the situation remotely.

That said, no matter how easy Chamberlain claims swapping garage door openers might be, it's not a challenge for the inexperienced. Home-repair newbies should also think twice before making this attempt. I'd only recommend the device to those confident of their abilities and seeking to upgrade a sorely outdated garage system. For others not in this position, a better choice is the $99 Chamberlain MyQ Garage . The add-on device brings all the same MyQ abilities to existing door openers.

An alternate route is to have a professional installer do the heavy lifting for you. Since Chamberlain doesn't provide its own network of install pros, unlike competitor Liftmaster, you'll likely have to ask a big-box retailer such as Home Depot or Lowes to tackle the job. A local Home Depot rep I called quoted $127 for the service while the Lowes website states a $119 price for "basic installation".

Priced at $268 for the top model, this product isn't exactly an impulse buy either. Even so, the non-Wi-Fi Chamberlain model is oddly $1 more ($269). I have yet to find as powerful a model or even one with Wi-Fi built in from Liftmaster or Genie either. Also consider that people tend to hang on to their garage systems for many years if not decades. Which is why I feel splurging on a machine like this is a wise decision and the Chamberlain Wi-Fi Garage Door Opener fits the bill nicely.

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7.7

Chamberlain Wi-Fi Garage Door Opener

Score Breakdown

Features 7.5Usability 7.5Design 8Performance 8