Editors’ Note: Wink announced that existing Wink Hub and Wink Hub 2 devices will require a $4.99 monthly subscription in order to retain full functionality beginning July 27, 2020. Wink says that with this updated subscription model, it plans to expand support to new brands. Without a subscription, users will “still have access to limited functionality.” We plan to take another look at the Wink Hub and Wink Hub 2 in the near future to see how this change affects their value proposition. Until then, our original review of the Wink Hub from September 22, 2014 is below.
With a number of home automation hubs now on the market, we still haven’t quite found the one hub to rule them all. The SmartThings Hub is our favorite so far, but even that doesn’t support every connectivity protocol available. That’s what makes the Wink Hub so appealing. Not only does it offer support for more products than any other hub I’ve tested, but at $49.99, it’s also among the least expensive options available. There’s definitely potential for Wink to become the ultimate digital home hub in the future, but a few key issues with pairing and wireless network support hold it back right now.
Compatibility, Design, and Installation
The Wink Hub supports an impressive number of connectivity protocols and additional devices. It works with Bluetooth LE, Lutron ClearConnect, Wi-Fi, Z-Wave, and ZigBee, which covers most of the major players in the smart home market. And Wink has gone the extra mile to let you know when a connected device is supported, by labeling some packaging with a seal that guarantees it has been tested to work. A Wink App Ready seal means the product can connect directly to the Wink app without the need for a hub, while a Wink App Compatible seal means the product will need the Wink Hub in order to connect to the app. You should still be able to connect to devices that aren’t labeled, as long as they support one of the protocols listed above.
The Hub itself is a square white box, similar in look to an old Apple Airport Extreme router. It measures 7.5 inches around and just under 2 inches deep at its widest point on the base. It stands up, which makes it easy to tuck at the back of a shelf. The back of the hub is home to a single power port, while a status LED blinks away on the front. There are no buttons.
Installing the Hub should be easy, though I encountered some snags after installing it in multiple locations. You need a Wi-Fi network in order to connect the Hub, and one important thing to note is that it will only work on a 2.4GHz network (running WPA-PSK or open security), so 5GHz is out. You need to download the Wink app, which is available for Android and iOS devices; I tested the Hub with an Apple iPhone 5s and an HTC One. The app clearly walks you through the setup process, which should be as simple as plugging in the Hub, choosing your Wi-Fi network, and voilà, instant connection.
Only the Wink Hub didn’t connect on the first try, or even the second try. So I switched to a new Wi-Fi network, yet for some reason the password from my first attempt remained (which was confusing, and accounted for a few botched connections). I tried again, and the Hub finally connected on the second (but if you’re counting: fourth in total) try. I thought this was perhaps due to the crowded network environment of the PCMag Labs, so I brought the Wink Hub home and tried again, but it took me three attempts before successfully connecting.
The problems didn’t stop there. Once connected, I received a notification at the bottom of the app screen that a firmware update was available, so I tapped it and was told the firmware was updating. Then I waited, but there was no visual confirmation that anything was actually happening. The status light on the front of the Hub kept changing colors, but considering it can indicate any of seven different states, I didn’t find it all that helpful. When I poked around in the app to find out if anything actually happened, the firmware update seemed to stop, and the notification to update appeared at the bottom of the screen again. I tried a few more times until giving up, and after I started connecting devices to the Hub, it went away.
App and Performance
From a visual perspective, the Wink app is probably the best looking home automation app available. The interface is clean, but whimsical, with lots of animated icons to help keep everything in order. Once you connect a device using the Hub, it’ll show up on your home screen. Tapping on the icon will bring up all of your available options for that particular device. Tapping on the icon for the Hub itself will allow you to add a product, show you what is already directly connected, and modify Wi-Fi settings and Z-Wave controls.
Once again, Wink makes adding a device look easy, though in practice I had some problems. The menu for adding a product spells things out clearly, asking if you want to add anything from alarms to lights to water heaters. There’s even a barcode scanner, which should automatically figure out which device you’re trying to pair with, but it didn’t work for the Kidde smoke alarm I tried to connect.
Going about things manually, I was able to add both the smoke alarm as well as a set of Philips Hue bulbs. The Hue bulbs are Wink app ready, so they don’t actually require the Hub in order to pair with the app, while the smoke alarm does.
Controlling the Hue lights through Wink was simple and responsive, but you don’t get nearly the same amount of options as you do with the official Hue app. I was able to dim the lights and change their colors, and an activity log shows you which lights were turned on when. But you can’t create scenes, use geofencing, or set alarms and timers like you can with the Hue app. It’s also not as efficient for changing color, as you only get a tiny color wheel to choose from.
I found Wink to be more useful with the smoke alarm, although there wasn’t really much to control. Still, when you tap on the smoke alarm icon, the main menu clearly shows the status for Battery Level, Carbon Monoxide, and Smoke. And again you can access an activity log, which shows when you ran manual tests. This reminds me a bit of the functionality Nest recently added to the Protect, which gives you the ability to see alarm history for the last 10 days. It’s important to know that your smoke alarm is working, and this is a lot more feedback than you’d get without being connected.
The Wink Hub doesn’t fully support IFTTT (If This Then That) out of the box, but it does support the Internet service if you’re connecting to one of the first six Quirky + GE products. Wink promises updates in this space, but for now, you get access to Robots and Shortcuts functions, which are somewhat similar. Robots allows you to program connected products to work together automatically based on triggers; this allows you to do something like lock the door automatically when you turn off a specific light. Shortcuts let you control multiple connected products with a single tap; for instance, you can turn off all of your lights (or just a group of them) in a single action.
Unfortunately, Philips Hue is not supported with Robots and Shortcuts. To test the features, I connected the Hub with a Lutron Caseta Wireless Plug-In Lamp Dimmer. I made a Shortcut to turn off two connected lights at the same time, and created a Robot to turn on the lights when the smoke alarm detects smoke or carbon monoxide. I then triggered the smoke alarm, and lights responded accordingly. Functions like this could prove invaluable in the event of an actual fire, and show that smart home gadgets are about more than just convenience.
Thanks to its price and wide range of support, the Wink Hub has the potential to be the best automation hub on the market. Right now, though, it’s a little too rough around the edges to nab our Editors’ Choice from the SmartThings Hub. The SmartThings Hub doesn’t support quite as many connection protocols, but it’s easier to install and connect products to, supports IFTTT, and has a fast-growing developer community that is constantly adding support for additional devices through third-party apps. Wink is definitely onto something, but it’ll take some time and updates to see if it’s the right hub for you. For now, check out our picks for The Best Smart Home Automation Hubs.