Wink Hub review: Harness your smart home with Wink's low-cost hub

I definitely had the most trouble pairing the Lutron plug-in dimmer and the corresponding Pico remote to the hub, to the extent that I had to call Wink's customer service line. A quick online search revealed that others are having similar troubles with this particular pairing.

The fix required a complex over-the-phone explanation of how to reset both the dimmer and the remote to factory settings. It involved a series of very specific rhythmic button presses on the dimmer and the remote, tough for the customer service representative to describe over the phone and akin to a middle-school music class where you have to clap out rhythms in unison.

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Some of the products compatible with the Wink Hub and app. Colin West McDonald/CNET

After all of that, the interface on the Wink app was pretty basic, but then again, so is the dimmer's core functionality. You can dim the lights, turn them on, or turn them off.

The Kidde smoke and CO alarm was much simpler to connect -- I followed the steps and it worked after the first attempt. Its interface, though, isn't particularly useful. It displays a check mark next to the smoke, carbon monoxide, and battery level indicators, showing that all is well. It would be nice to have a more detailed battery-life indicator, but it works for an at-a-glance safety and maintenance check-up.

The Quirky + GE A/C unit gave me a bit of trouble. At first, I had it set up far away from the hub and experienced a series of error messages during the setup process. The steps are also a bit convoluted.

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The Wink app. Screenshots by Megan Wollerton/CNET

You have to share your Wi-Fi info, plug in the Aros, wait for the Aros LED indicator to blink, and then initiate a countdown on the app to a series of screen flashes. While it's counting down, you have to align your phone with a sensor on the Aros and your phone screen will begin to flash. When the flashing stops, you can remove your phone and it should connect soon after.

I made it through these steps several times only to have the app tell me it hadn't connected properly. I moved the unit closer to the hub and the router and it worked after a few additional tries. We've commented on some connectivity issues in our Quirky + GE product reviews, but it was still disappointing that the brand that the Wink app was originally designed for took so much effort to connect. Once connected, though, the Aros' app interface was very easy to use. I noticed periodic lag times, but experienced no issues otherwise.

The Dropcam Pro was the simplest device to pair. I don't like its Wink app interface as much as Dropcam's own standalone app, though. You can't change the orientation of the video display in the Wink app, limiting the viewing options considerably.

I didn't experience any major performance issues with the hub or the app (after the initial setup). It's very simply to monitor and make changes to the paired products from the app. But that's only half of what Wink can do. Beyond checking in on products individually, Wink's Cloud capability allows you to create robots and shortcuts -- two Wink Hub-specific features that let you make custom automation settings.

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Setting up a robot. Screenshots by Megan Wollerton/CNET

Robots are programmable rules that create an IFTTT-style recipe. One of the robots was an automated rule for the Dropcam Pro. When the Dropcam Pro detected motion, the Lutron Caseta dimmer-connected lamp turned on and sent me a push notification. You can set a specific schedule or let it run continuously. Some home automation systems, like the $250 Archos Smart Home Starter Pack would require you to create two different rules here, one to turn on the lamp and another to receive a push notification.

Shortcuts are similar, but let you control multiple products at the same time with a single button press. That way, you can turn on your Aros and your Lutron dimmer-connected lamp for a "wake-up" setting or the reverse for a "sleep" setting whenever you want.

While Wink is well-positioned for home automation supremacy, it still has a lot to overcome. Larger companies like Google and Samsung are swooping into the smart-home scene and snatching up smaller, successful brands like Nest and SmartThings. We don't know what these tech giants and their new acquisitions have planned for the market, but they definitely have the resources to take on Wink, Revolv, and any other startups that cross their path.

Still, Wink has a fair shot. Its connection to Quirky and relationship with HomeDepot gives it stability and a heavily trafficked place to showcase its hub and other connected products. If Wink can match the inclusiveness of SmartThings and continue to add support for devices from Wink and its Quirky parent, any apparent kinks in Wink's line could become obscured.

Conclusion

Yes, the setup process can be tedious, but the early effort is worth it in the end. The $80 Wink Hub and app are a dynamic duo that make it easier than ever to connect your connected products. It's also a fantastic value when you consider that similar products cost upward of $300.

Consolidating so many different protocols, brands, and products into one universal app isn't an easy design feat, and Wink's execution is pretty elegant. Still, there's room for improvement and competitors offering a similar list of protocols and third-party integrations at a comparable price could be on the horizon. For now, though, Wink is a very good hub that manages to offer more than most of its counterparts for less.

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