ProsClass-leading hardware features; very easy setup; reasonable price; huge range of compatible devices; amazing support
ConsSmartphone app could be more responsive and better organized; some "Works with Wink" products are better than others
If there’s any area of tech that’s poised for major growth. it’s the Smart Home market. Truth be told, it’s been that way for a few years, and yet the Smart Home is still growing in fits and starts. There are a couple of things that have kept Smart Home tech from achieving its full potential. For one, competing standards caused significant splintering of the market. Secondly, Smart Home products have typically relied heavily on smartphones for control, which we think just doesn't play out that well in an actual home. The subject of this review, the Wink Hub 2, is a second attempt by Manhattan-based Wink at solving the first of these two problems, and we think it has the potential to become a dominant player in the Smart Home market.
First, a little history. Over the past few years, a number of companies have released Smart Home devices with their own proprietary hubs, some to disastrous effect. Support for the proprietary TCP Connected line of bulbs was withdrawn in mid-2016, making the products worthless (we were forced to throw out hundreds of dollars worth of TCP equipment). Other examples include the defunct Belkin Wemo bulbs, as well as the still-current Philips Hue bulbs and Lutron Caseta dimmers. It's very hard for a company that sells specific devices to open up its hubs to competitors, so the task of marketing universal hubs fell on the shoulders of a few small startups. The companies hoped that third parties would release products worthy of paring with them. One of these was Wink, which launched the original Wink Hub in 2014. On its own, it did nothing at all, but paired up with third-party products like light bulbs, switches, thermostats, locks, cameras, or sensors, and in theory it could control practically everything in your home.
Wink’s main competitor was SmartThings, which had its own universal hub, and for a while, SmartThings, which had a head start, looked to be the winning design. Wink’s parent company Quirky filed for bankruptcy in 2015, just a year after Wink was founded, leaving Wink's fate hanging in the balance. Meanwhile, SmartThings was gobbled up by Samsung, which probably had in mind integrating its IP into the Samsung home theater and appliance ecosystem.
Luckily for Wink, it had one factor weighing heavily in its favor: price. All along, Wink undercut SmartThings significantly, originally selling its hub for $50, whereas the SmartThings hub retailed for $100. No doubt, Wink was losing money selling its product at $50, and while it likely made up a bit of the difference via licensing fees charged to third parties that displayed the “Wink” logo, the business model was no doubt fraught with risk. Amazingly, Wink survived the bankruptcy of its parent company, and after this narrow escape, Wink raised the price of its original Hub to $70. This no doubt helped make ends meet, and with the release of the Hub 2 in September 2016, Wink raised prices again to $100, matching its competitor, this time with a clearly superior product.
Let’s dive into the workings of the Hub 2 to see if it makes a strong case not only for its $100 price tag, but also for becoming the center of your Smart Home. And in case you'd like to see a little live demo, check out the clip below of The Tech Buyer's Guru discussing the Wink Hub 2 on KGW-8's Portland Today show.
Description and Features
The Wink Hub 2 measures 7.25" x 7.25" x 1.25", and with its graceful curves, it's a bit more stylish than the original Wink Hub, which interestingly had the exact same height and width, but measured 1.75" in thickness. This transformation is impressive given that the Hub 2 is packed full of tech, much of it missing from the original Hub. The list includes improvements to its networking hardware, specifically the addition of an Ethernet port for a direct wired connection to routers, as well as dual 802.11n WiFi radios. This allows users who can't or don't want to use a wired connection to link the Hub 2 to their routers using either the legacy 2.4GHz spectrum or the less congested and much faster 5GHz spectrum.
Note that WiFi is strictly used to connect to routers, as most Smart Home devices communicate with lower-powered, more efficient standards, because turning a device on and off ultimately doesn't require a whole lot of bandwidth. Security cameras are the exception here, and the Hub 2 actually cannot directly access their video, relying on the camera manufacturers to stream it off servers instead. While the original Wink Hub was well equipped with regard to low-power wireless standards, including Z-Wave and ZigBee, the Hub 2 goes the next step and adds the new Bluetooth LE standard. Alas, we're pretty sure Bluetooth LE will prove irrelevant, despite the best efforts of the the Bluetooth Special Interest Group, which licenses Bluetooth technologies, to play catch up here. ZigBee and Z-Wave are definitely the standards to beat at this point. But perhaps the Hub 2's biggest upgrade comes in another area: good old fashioned memory. The Hub 2 sports eight times the onboard memory (512MB vs. 64MB) of its predecessor.
This last feature allows the Hub 2 to operate far more independently than the original Hub, which was forced to fall back on the “cloud” for much of its instruction storage and processing. The latency this created could make the act of turning on a lightbulb sometimes feel like watching grass grow. Similarly, “robots,” which in Wink parlance refers to using one device to trigger another, had to be processed by Wink’s servers. With the Hub 2, a whole lot more can be managed within the confines of the home network. Wink refers to this in marketing speak as "Enhanced Local Control." We'd call it an essential upgrade for Smart Home power users.
All right, now that we know a bit more about the Hub 2's features, let's take a look at how they all work in the real world!