After initially passing on my invite to get an Amazon Echo for $99.99 last year, I finally bit the bullet and bought the device at its $179.99 full price.
It arrived this weekend and as any Echo owner will likely tell you, it's good at what it does: providing personalized information and playing music based on your spoken commands.
But that's not the main reason I bought an Echo. I decided to make it the hub of my smarthome, something I said Amazon was quietly doing back in May by adding support for various connected home products. Echo now works with Belkin WeMo, Philips Hue and Wink. And a trip last week to my local Home Depot is what pushed me to buy the Echo.
I was in the home improvement store looking at light bulbs and saw a wide range of the connected type. I've previously tested the Philips Hue bulbs -- I have three of them and a Hue hub -- but adding more lights to that system meant spending $60 a bulb for lights that can change color or $15 a bulb for plain white. And the lower-priced lights are soft white with a color temperature of 2700K, which isn't my preference.
I noticed some $30 Syvania Osram white bulbs that were actually dimmable and tunable, meaning you can change the color temp within a range of 2700K to 6500K, i.e.: soft white to bright white all the way to daylight. When I saw they were compatible with the $49.99 Wink hub -- and that Echo recently gained supported for Wink -- I was sold on the bulbs and the Echo.
The Wink hub setup was simple and took me less than five minutes. I like prefer it to the wired Hue hub because it can be placed anywhere in the home as it uses a Wi-Fi connection to the cloud. I placed it in the middle of my house for maximum range.
I installed one of the bulbs in my second floor home office and the other two in my downstairs family room. The Wink app -- which is available for both iOS and Android -- makes it easy to turn the lights on or off, dim them or change the light frequency.
After setup and testing, I opened the Echo app on my phone, linked my Wink account and tapped the Connected Devices option. In about 20 seconds, Echo added the Wink hub as well as my three new lights, carrying over the names I'd given each of them. I also grouped the two family room bulbs together in the Echo app.
Now, I can simply say "Alexa, turn Office on," and the home office lights up. I actually do this in the hallway before I even enter the room and the light is on before I get there. Saying "Alexa, Family Room on," does the same downstairs. Since Family Room is a group of two lights, Alexa powers both of them on. Turning the bulbs off is just as simple, of course.
There is one limitation in using the Echo here: Alexa can't dim or tune these particular lights. That I have to do with my smartphone, so I've set up shortcuts for certain scenarios. These appear as quick access widgets in iOS, so I don't even have to open the Wink app.
Now that I have few bulbs and Alexa is helping to control the smarthome, I plan to add other Wink products in the mix over time.
There are actually more than I expected, ranging from garage door openers to webcams to switches and sensors. If those work as well with the Echo as my Wink bulbs, Alexa is going to be our smarthome's new best friend.