Having started with basic switching outlets and light switches and then dabbling into more esoteric products such as crock pots and coffee makers, Belkin has done some interesting things with its WeMo lineup of home automation products. The core of the WeMo ecosystem continues tor evolve around lighting solutions, however, and with the WeMo + OSRAM Lightify Gardenspot Mini RGB Starter Set ($130), Belkin has partnered with Sylvania to put together something a bit more unique in the form of outdoor garden lighting.
Designed to work with the ZigBee HA based WeMo Link introduced last year with Belkin’s WeMo LED Lighting Starter Set, the Gardenspot kit incorporates a fourteen-foot string of nine mini LED lights with an outdoor power supply and a Lightify controller. We reviewed the full $130 starter set which includes the WeMo Link, however users who already have a WeMo Link, or are looking to expand their starter set further can purchase just the Gardenspot Mini RGB Kit for $80.
The LED lights come pre-installed on mounting picks ready to be easily inserted into an appropriate garden or lawn setting, however they can also be removed from the picks to be mounted on a flat surface such as a ledge or even recessed in-ground or below a deck. The lights are spaced about 16” apart along the wire, with the wire that runs from the OSRAM Lightify controller providing an additional 17’ run to the power supply along with a 6’ power cord on the other end. A connector at the end allows chaining of additional strings of Gardenspot lights. Standard outdoor extension cords can also be used on the power supply end, but you’ll need to ensure that the Lightify controller isn’t extended too far from the WeMo Link that remains inside your house. Belkin doesn’t provide specs on the range of the WeMo Link, but most ZigBee HA devices vary between 10 to 100 meters in range, depending on environmental conditions and how many walls are in the mix.
Connecting the Gardenspot lights involves connecting the string of lights to the OSRAM Lightify controller wire using the waterproof-sealed connectors, which in turn connects to the power supply using a similar connect. From there, the lights are plugged into a standard three-prong outdoor power outlet. The OSRAM Lightify controller remains outdoors, communicating wirelessly with an indoor-connected WeMo Link as the bridge into the WeMo ecosystem. As with the LED light bulb kit, one WeMo Link can support up to 50 devices, so users who have already invested in a WeMo Link for another Belkin kit will be able to use that with the Gardenspot set as well. Thin ribbon cable style wiring is used from power supply and into the entire LED light run, which seems like a necessary tradeoff between durability and ease of installation, but we found it was necessary to be a bit careful when unwinding the ribbon cables to keep them from crimping back on themselves. The connection to the power supply was also a bit tight and difficult to maneuver around the rather sharp mounting brackets, so this is another area where some caution will be necessary; we found that it was a better idea to tighten the connection with a pair of pliers. These connections aren’t something most users will need to revisit once the system is installed, however.
The Gardenspot lights are controlled through the standard Belkin WeMo app, and once paired users can toggle the lights on or off, adjust brightness, and in this case also adjust the color of the lights. The same sleep timer feature is available to gradually fade bulbs out after a predetermined time, and rules can be configured to toggle the lights on and off at a certain time, including automatic sunrise/sunset settings, or based on motion detected by a WeMo sensor. Rules can include brightness settings and fade-in/fade-out durations, but unfortunately don’t provide any way to bring the lights on at a preset color. It’s also worth noting that the lights are controlled in a single chain—all nine lights will adjust to whatever settings are specified in the WeMo app and there is no way to control one of the lights individually from the rest. A second chain of nine lights connected at the far end of the first string would presumably join the same group, although we were unable to confirm this as we only received the single starter kit; Belkin currently sells additional lighting in sets that include their own power supply and Lightify controller, so users buying more lights could choose to set them up separately or simply use only the string of lights to extend the existing chain.
After some arguably impractical attempts at providing WeMo home automation to appliances, it’s nice to see Belkin focusing the WeMo system back on lighting, where in our opinion it has always been the most successful and practical of applications. Garden lights are a complicated market with a lot of products available across a wide variety of price ranges, but there’s no doubt you’re paying a premium here to get both Sylvania and WeMo’s ZigBee HA implementation. That said, however, the solution in this case works well, and outdoor lighting is definitely one of the more useful applications for home automation, allowing users to replace bulky outdoor timers with Internet connected solutions that provide more flexibility and can actually adjust to changing sunrise and sunset times throughout the year. While we’d caution users against jumping into any proprietary home automation solutions at this point with Apple’s own HomeKit on the horizon, until that gains more traction, Belkin’s WeMo ecosystem remains one of the leading iOS solutions available, making it worthy of our strong general recommendation.
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