Introduction

The Internet of Things (IoT) concept has gained a lot of traction over the last couple of years. One of the main applications of IoT lies in the home automation space. Consumers have many options in this space, but none of them have the right combination of comprehensiveness, economy, extensibility and ease of use. Earlier this month, we discussed these aspects in detail and arrived at a set based on which different home automation systems / devices could be compared. Today, we look at two different solution families - WeMo from Belkin and mFi from Ubiquiti Networks - and compare them using the aspects that we arrived at earlier.

Most consumers are very familiar with Belkin's WeMo product line - it has wide retail availability and a great marketing push. On the other hand, the mFi platform from Ubiquiti Networks is probably not known to the average consumer. The primary reason is that it is a M2M (machine-to-machine) communication platform, intended for building automation. In addition, Ubiquiti's marketing push for the product line amongst the general consumers has been non-existent. Their distribution model makes it difficult for consumers to experience the products in a brick and mortar store.

Today's review will begin with a look at the members of the WeMo and mFi families and a brief introduction to the usage model for both. For the Ubiquiti Networks mFi, we cover how to setup a home automation controller, and link to the documentation of the APIs. We will also look at the user control interfaces in detail for both the WeMo and the mFi devices. For this piece, we only look at a subset of the devices available in both the product lines. We will also talk about the power consumption aspects in the concluding section. A summary table will simplify the comparison of the two product families across various home automation aspects.

mFi and WeMo Product Lines
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  • metayoshi - Monday, April 27, 2015 - link

    Wow. I'm surprised you guys are actually reviewing these products.

    I have one of those WeMo Switches myself (not the light switch and not the Insight, just the plain switch that has a power outlet). It's actually very convenient for me as I wanted a way to turn on and off my bedroom light without needing to walk in the dark, so I just found one of these at Best Buy, and I've been happy with it ever since. I originally thought I wouldn't use the remote features, but I actually have when, for example, both my girlfriend and I are out late, and we need to turn on the light for the cats.

    However, I also agree that the Android app is sometimes inconsistent. Upon opening the app, sometimes my phone takes a while to connect to it, or it just doesn't find the WeMo switch at all. One thing I know is that the switch that I got is 2.4 GHz WiFi only, and my phone connects to my WiFi on the 5 GHz band, so I think it sometimes gets confused and doesn't connect right away. A close and re-opening of the app usually fixes that problem. Also, firmware updates are kind of annoying since the WeMo device has to power cycle itself, and it always reboots into a power off state, so doing a firmware update in the middle of the night when the light is still on is inconvenient.

    Other than those annoyances though, I'm very happy with it. I can turn off the lights without fearing I might trip on something on my way to the bed or on my way to the light switch, and I can turn on the lights for the cats when I'm not home and it's getting dark. I don't think the products are for everybody, but I like my simple use case of it. I don't see myself getting anything fancier than the simple power outlet at the moment, but what I have was a worthwhile investment for me.
    Reply
  • Byte - Tuesday, April 28, 2015 - link

    I've been using a Belkin switch for about 2 years now and it needs to be repaired every quarter or so from bugs and updates can make it forget pairing. I use it to turn on the AC at work half an hour before I get in as it takes that long to cool the place down and really helps. But other than that fringe scenario, i really don't see much use in these switches. Reply
  • olafgarten - Tuesday, April 28, 2015 - link

    Ubiquiti Products are really good, I use to use ruckus access points, but decided to give the unifi stuff a try, they outperformed the ruckus ones while still costing a fifth of the price. Reply
  • SunLord - Tuesday, April 28, 2015 - link

    I'd personally would love it if you guys reviews a wink based system given it's large product selection from multiple vendors Reply
  • bznotins - Tuesday, April 28, 2015 - link

    I've been using the 3-plug mPower for a couple of years now (bought it back when AT did the first review) and it works great. Will have to investigate the light switches! Reply
  • zodiacfml - Tuesday, April 28, 2015 - link

    I still don't know what these things try to solve. They seem added complexity for little benefit.

    I'd rather have a review of LED lighting.

    I'm still thinking....but nothing came, but could be an opportunity for the first great idea though.
    Reply
  • toyotabedzrock - Tuesday, April 28, 2015 - link

    If they used a different type of relay they could eliminate the power drain. Reply
  • toyotabedzrock - Tuesday, April 28, 2015 - link

    You should look at firmware updates, how hard will they be for end users? Reply
  • ganeshts - Wednesday, April 29, 2015 - link

    That is a good point. I will add it to the comparison table in future reviews.

    Usually, the mobile apps handle the firmware updates after prompting the user - it is mostly a seamless operation (at least as far as the two product lines discussed here are concerned). The web UI for the Ubiquiti devices also allow the upgrade - that aspect is not a dumbed down procedure like what Belkin has done - but it should be familiar to anyone who has upgraded their router or NAS firmware.
    Reply
  • Azurael - Wednesday, April 29, 2015 - link

    Yum. Belkin network hardware. Sure to need rebooting several times a week and randomly refuse to talk to the device you're using at any given moment. Then, a 6 months later when massive security holes are uncovered in it, they'll refuse to update the firmware on the grounds of obsolescence. And it'll probably be full of holes in the first place (I love the way you can't actually disable WPS on most of the Belkin routers I've encountered. They often have a toggle in the management interface, but it does NOTHING!)

    Theire router hardware is okay when it's running something like OpenWRT or DD-WRT but I can't say I'd go out of my way to give money to them.
    Reply

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