The growth of iOS-compatible home automation products has been impossible to ignore, especially over the past year: accessory makers are now competing to release everything from power outlets to wall switches, thermostats, and lightbulbs with wireless connectivity. In partnership with Quirky, General Electric has just set off a much-needed price war in the lightbulb category with an LED bulb family called Link ($15), optionally controlled by a wireless hub called Wink Hub ($50). Unlike the premium color-shifting lightbulbs we’ve tested in the past, Link isn’t here to dynamically change the appearance of a room or simulate the spectrum of an African savannah. It’s just a white lightbulb that can be wirelessly dimmed or turned off, assuming you’re willing to invest in the hub.
The single most appealing thing about Link is its price point. While $15 isn’t cheap by traditional lightbulb standards, it would have been unthinkably low for a 60-Watt-equivalent LED bulb two years ago, and even today, it’s only $5 more than 60W bulbs without any wireless functionality. Noticeably heavier than a standard bulb of its size, the entry Link model has a completely clear glass top that reveals a metal loop and LED lighting element inside, shifting to frosted glass before ending in a green cap atop a silver metal screw. It’s completely compatible with traditional lighting fixtures, and installation is as simple as twisting it into place. At that point, just flip the wall light switch on and it turns on, putting out 800 Lumens of warm white light at 2700K; flip the light switch off and it turns off.
Unless you opt to buy a wireless hub such as Wink Hub, Link doesn’t do anything else — it’s a $15 LED lightbulb that works just like a $10 LED lightbulb. GE promises it will last for 22.8 years if used for three hours a day, drawing 12W of energy, with nearly identical 840 Lumens of output relative to a 60W incandescent bulb. Two more powerful versions of Link are available for $20 (65W) or $25 (90W), but we haven’t seen or tested them; we expect that other models will eventually become available with different color temperatures and peak brightness levels.
Link only becomes interesting if you spend extra money for a wireless hub. The $50 Wink Hub unit we tested is one of multiple options Quirky is touting as compatible with Link, which uses the ZigBee wireless standard to control lights and appliances. Hub options will apparently range in price from a small, outlet-mounted $30 “Link Hub” — announced but not yet released — to a large $300 Wink Relay controller with an integrated touchscreen. At press time, GE is a week or two away from delivering a $50 Home Depot bundle of two Link bulbs and a Wink Hub, so affordable by comparison with the Belkin WeMo LED Lighting Starter Set that it’s hard not to look at the Link and Wink Hub set as decidedly superior.
While we’d normally conclude as much based on the significant difference in price, it’s unclear at this point whether Link and Wink Hub’s use of the ZigBee standard will be an asset or a liability for iOS users. Apple is in the midst of rolling out HomeKit, a set of tools for tying home automation products into iOS devices, and at least one report has suggested that Apple may integrate ZigBee accessories into its solution. If Link and Wink Hub work with HomeKit, they’ll probably be in a much better position than if they don’t, but we mightn’t know for sure about compatibility for some time to come.
For today, the only problem is that Wink Hub’s performance isn’t exactly mindblowing, at least when used with Link. It’s easy enough to set up — just plug it in anywhere in your house, assuming you have room for the 7.25” square, 1.85” deep unit and its separate wall power adapter. There’s little more than a quick iOS app-based setup process to go through, as adding each Link to the list of controllable devices is mindlessly simple. But when you actually go to use the Wink app and Hub to control Link, you’ll notice a one- to two-second lag that significantly impacts the app’s ability to make Link smoothly change dim levels — one of Link’s two features — and delays turning the light on and off, the other of its features. The latter delay won’t matter to most people, particularly if they’re going to use Wink from someplace other than the room where the light switch is mounted, but we found the dimming feature to be far too sluggish and limited to enjoy using while we were standing next to it.
Wink’s app isn’t all about realtime use, though. If you want to get deeper into Wink’s automation features, for instance automatically dimming the lights each time you leave your house, or turning them on each time you return, you can use the app to create “robots” to do that for you. Multiply that trick across multiple light bulbs and non-bulb devices and suddenly you have something that’s potentially compelling. But viewed as a standalone bulb or one bulb with a hub, the system is sort of gimmicky.
As wireless light bulb solutions go, Wink is a winner on price, if not performance. If you are interested in purchasing a collection of ZigBee accessories, the $15-per-bulb price is as close to a no-brainer as wireless LED bulbs get these days, and if you can get the two-bulb and hub set for $50, you’ll enter the home automation market at a much more appealing point than was possible even two months ago. That said, uncertainty surrounding HomeKit and the integration of specific accessories into Apple’s ecosystem might give you good reason to pause for a little while, particularly for lightbulbs promising nearly 23-year life spans. Particularly as a two-bulb and hub bundle, Link and Wink are good enough now to merit our recommendation, but we’re hoping that a comprehensive and affordable home automation solution is just around the corner.
Company and Price
Models: Link + Wink
Compatible: All iOS Devices