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Wink Relay review: Wink's Relay smart control pad gets ahead of itself

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The Good The Wink Relay brings control over all of your smart home products onto an easy-to-use, wall-mounted touchscreen.

The Bad The built-in speaker and microphone don't do anything right now, and both the Wink app and the Relay's own control options are overly simplistic.

The Bottom Line A wall-mounted touchscreen seems like an obvious addition to any smart home, but the Wink Relay suffers from high cost and underutliized potential.

6.5 Overall
  • Features 6
  • Usability 6
  • Design 7
  • Performance 7

For a not-insignificant $300, the Wink Relay will bring controls for all your Wink network-compatible smart home products to a single, hard-wired touchscreen mounted on your wall. This isn't novel to home automation, even old systems from the 1980s had in-wall control screens. The Wink Relay is just one of the first for this new era of the off-the-shelf, generally mobile device-dependent, smart home.

That mobile device-dependency is one of the issues the Relay wants to address. It also wants to be more than just a glorified on/off switch. Built-in sensors can give you information about temperature, and humidity in the Relay's immediate surroundings. A built-in speaker and microphone will eventually let you use multiple Relays as an intercom system. The microphone also offers the promise of future voice control support.

One problem with Relay is that by putting controls in one place, anyone in your home can interact with the smart devices you have installed. If you don't want to expose everything? Tough luck. A lack of customization options means you don't get enough say over what appears on the Relay's screen.

It also doesn't live up to its full potential out of the box. Interactions with certain devices are, for various reasons, limited. It's also hard to stomach the $300 asking price when the microphone and speaker don't do much yet.

In-wall control screens seem like an obvious, inevitable component in the smart home, and the Relay may mature into a worthwhile investment. I just can't recommend that you buy one right now, given its price and the fact that it has some growing up to do.

Installing the Relay is easy enough if you know your way around a gangbox. Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Wiring in

You can consider the Relay an advanced smart home product, since installing it requires removing a light switch and then wiring-in the Relay in its place. You can mount the Relay in a single or double switch box, and two mechanical buttons on the Relay panel can act as replacements for the light switches you're taking out. The also provide the added bonus of bringing the lights connected to those switches online.

If you're comfortable flipping a circuit breaker and can follow a wiring diagram, you should be able to install the Relay yourself. Wink provides some basic instruction in its small paper manual, but what it doesn't spell out explicitly is that wiring must include a neutral wire in addition to the line and load wires. The manual instead instructs you to call Wink's help line if you don't have a neutral wire, which seems to leave open the possibility of a workaround. Talking with a Wink support tech revealed only that the neutral wire is indeed required.

You can call, but you'll still need that neutral wire. Rich Brown/CNET

With the Relay's wired panel in place, you'll see a small green LED come on once you restore power to the switch box. You can then test the power to each mechanical switch via a pair of buttons. Finally, you snap on the touchscreen portion of the Relay, along with a filler plate on the back to provide further support against any open socket behind it. An electrical contact transfers power between the wired piece and the touchscreen plate.

If you did it all right, the Relay's screen should power on automatically. Getting the Relay online, your next step, is as simple as selecting your WiFi network and entering any password you have via the onscreen keyboard. It worked for me on my home network on the first try.

A lack of control

Here's where the name "Relay" makes sense. You don't actually set anything else up via the Relay directly. Instead, the Relay will simply mirror whatever devices you've tied to your Wink mobile app or to your Wink Hub . They show up as large icons on the Relay in the same way they appear on your phone. If you want to add any new devices to your network, you'll need to add them to the app, not to Relay directly. There's also no way to customize which devices show up on the Relay and which don't.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

If you don't want everyone in your home to see your DropCam feed or to have the ability to control your thermostat settings, right now the only way to remove those things from the Relay is to remove them from your Wink network entirely.

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