The Wink Hub is a nice “central command” for the smart devices you can use for home automation. You get a very useful app through which you can monitor and adjust your smart gadgets remotely. You don’t even get a web interface so you can use your PC or laptop to make your adjustments. But now, we have the Wink Relay which you can use as your smart home wall controller.

The Wink Relay is an alternative to using your smartphone as a controller and it’s a single hard-wired touchscreen mounted on a wall.

Specifications

Although technically not a specification, its price is probably one of its most important features. And when it was first offered, it retailed for about $300, which made it terribly prohibitive. But now it’s been a few years since it was introduced, and more the sensible folks at Wink have dropped down its price to about $200. That’s still quite a hefty sum, so let’s see what you get for your money.

  • Requirements. Most people can understand that it needs a Wi-Fi network and a 2.4 GHZ router that broadcasts at a 20 MHz bandwidth. But the requirements regarding the light switch is a tad more complicated. According to the Wink website, you need “single or double light load gangbox with neutral wires that is not wired to an AC outlet”.
  • Installation. The complexity of the installation means that you need a professional electrician to install this device. Even their website recommends this. It simply makes sense, since just determining if Relay is compatible with your light switch requires a visit from a pro.
  • Measurements. The entire device measures 6.6 inches wide, 5.9 inches high, and 1.2 inches deep. The right part offers 2 buttons, while the left part offers a touchscreen control pad that looks eerily similar to a smartphone. So in a sense, it’s like having a smartphone stuck to a wall.
  • Screen. So basically, you have a wall-mounted controller that can manage your smart devices from a central location and not just through your smartphone. This makes the control more accessible for everyone in the house. Its touchscreen measures 4.3 inches diagonally, and it sleeps when not in use to save energy.
  • Sensors. The Relay has a proximity sensor that reacts when you’re near. There are also sensors for temperature and humidity.
  • Switches. The buttons at the right side of the panel can act as replacement light switches. You can find a way to use it as an on/off switch for other smart devices. And you can even use it as a switch for a Wink shortcut, so that just flicking the switch can let you activate several devices at once.
  • Speaker and microphone. This feature doesn’t really have much use as of yet. The speaker does play notification sounds, while the microphone is for the future, when Wink is finally able to use this as an intercom function when you have multiple Relays.
  • Additional tools. Aside from the main Wink Relay unit, you also get a power box, a screwdriver, 2 screws, a wire stripper, a wire connector, and 2 snap plates. It even includes a user guide but you really shouldn’t let the presence of these tools tempt into a mindless foray into DIY.
  • Connectivity. Unlike the Wink Hub, the Relay only has support for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and ZigBee. So if you’re using Z-Wave devices, you’re going to need a Wink Hub.

Installing the Relay

As we’ve already said, you should get a professional electrician to do the job for you. The installation will involve disconnecting the line, load, and neutral wires from the existing switch, which you will then have to reconnect with the Relay. That will involve cutting and stripping wires, so if such things give you heebie-jeebies then a call to a professional electrician is simply mandatory.

Once the wiring is done right and you snap the faceplate onto position, your Relay will then start booting up. You’ll see a list of available Wi-Fi networks and you then need to choose your own. Enter your password and then tap the “Done” button at the upper right corner. This connects your relay to your wireless network.

Once that’s done, you’ll be prompted to enter your Wink account credentials. Log in with your email address and password, and then if it’s needed it will update the firmware. And that’s it.

Using the Wink Relay Controller

The first thing you need to do is to download the Wink mobile app, which may allow you to directly control a Wink-compatible device through your smartphone. In other cases, you may have to get the Wink Hub to control your other devices.

The Wink Relay gets its name by simply relaying the devices you’ve integrated to the mobile app or to the Hub. You don’t add devices to your home automation through the Relay. Instead, you have to go to the app the “add a product”.

And because it’s merely a relay, it simply shows the same gadgets available from your smartphone app. It’s like you really did just clone your smartphone and taped it to the wall for everyone else to use. You don’t get to pick and choose which devices on your app will appear on your Relay.
If you don’t want other people in your house messing with the lighting arrangements or the thermostat settings, then you’d actually have to remove those features from the mobile app. Then you can still control these devices through your smartphone, but you will have to use the app made for that particular device. It defeats the purpose of getting the Wink mobile app, which was designed to give you a single app through which you can control and monitor all your smart devices.

What Can You Do with the Relay?

Well, essentially you can do most of the things you can do with the app on your smartphone. What the Relay offers is the opportunity for everyone in the home to control your home automation system. They can do so here without having the app installed on their smartphones. It’s also the only way they can control the smart devices when they don’t have smartphones at all. About a third of all US adults still don’t own a smartphone, and that’s still a considerable number.

With this device, everyone (who is authorized)is able to control and manage your home automation system. You can place it some place where most people frequent so that it’s easily accessible.

With this device, everyone can control the smart light bulbs, the thermostat, the garage door, smart door locks, and also the outlet adaptors. And you can program the switches to activate or adjust multiple smart devices at once. You can set it to a morning mode, so when you wake up and flick the switch, your lights come on in the rest of the house, maybe some music or the news comes on, and you can even have a smart coffeemaker start preparing your coffee automatically.

So with Relay, you can do groupings so that you can activate a group of devices at once. You can use the Robots feature to have different types of devices working together, such as your lights and your sensors. And you can also program a shortcut so that you only need to tap a single button to make various types of adjustments at once. For example, you can program a “sleeping time” shortcut to turn off the lights at your place, activate the security cameras in your home, and set the thermostat for the temperature you want.

The display also shows the time, the temperature and humidity levels. You can press on the various tabs and icons to see more info regarding your other smart devices.

Pros and Cons

According to the designers at Wink, the Relay offers a very traditional form of control for many people. For some, it’s instinctive to flick a wall switch and in many cases it’s just plain inconvenient to go looking for your smartphone to control your home automation system.

Also, it offers a method of control for people who don’t have smartphones at all. Millions of adults in the US still don’t own one, as many are intimidated by its seemingly complicated nature. Many of these non-smartphone owners are older folks, and it’s not a total coincidence that they’re also much more comfortable with simple switches. So you can control the touchscreen while the older people in the house can just flick a convenient switch.

Some buyers of the relay confess to having it function as a backup for the smartphone. It makes sense, because if for some reason your smartphone acts up you don’t end up without any sort of controller for your Wink network. After all, Wink doesn’t offer a web interface, so at least here you have another way of adjusting and controlling your various smart devices.

And then there are those who just like its look. Several decades ago, awall-mounted system like this was how people pictured controlling an automated home. Now with the Relay you get that quaint “futuristic” design. And there’s no denying that the Relay does look good inside the home.

But there’s also simply no denying that it comes with too many limitations.

  • Relay may not be able to give you the full range of controls you can get from a smart device’s original app. For example, if you have the popular DropCam home security camera, on its app you can get a real-time feed. With the Relay, the best you get is a still image sent every 15 seconds.
    With the Philips Hue, the limitations are really severe. You can use the Relay to turn the Hue lights on or off, dim the lights, and change the color. But the key features of the Wink Relay like the groupings, the Robots, and the Shortcuts are not available for the Hue.
  • The installation is difficult, to say the very least. So you’ll need an electrician to install the device, and that will cost you.
  • There’s also no way to change what’s shown on the Relay. Suppose you just want it to let guest use some but not all of the devices in your network. But you can’t remove these devices from your Relay control when they’re already in your Wink app.
  • Then there’s the absurd uselessness of the microphone and speakers. It’s true that you can probably use the Amazon Echo to integrate with the Relay in the future, but then that just begs the question of why you’ll need the Relay in the first place when you already have the Echo! And take note, this supposed integration hasn’t really taken place yet.
  • Also, you will probably need the Wink Hub to make everything run smoothly. You don’t absolutely need it, but then you’re limited in the smart gadgets you can directly integrate with the Relay. The Hub lets your relay interact with Z-Wave devices which it can’t do directly.
  • Finally, the price is still just a tad too steep when you consider its meager capabilities.

Conclusion

It’s true that a few of today’s most popular devices don’t really make much sense when they were first launched. That’s what happened to the Amazon Echo, which puzzled so many people at first as to why a voice-controlled digital assistant was paired to a device with speakers. But now the Echo and Alexa offer a great way to add voice-control and interaction with many home automation devices.

But the Relay simply doesn’t have that much of a promise at all. It doesn’t have a lot of useful features, and spending a considerable amount of money now for a future that may not come seems like sheer folly. They’ve promised intercom functionality for the last two years with nothing to show for it.

In other words, there’s a wealth of home automation devices that offer lots of functions now. You’re better off buying one of them with your money. With the Wink Relay, you simply aren’t getting a lot for your money.