Guides and Reviews

Review : FIBARO Walli Switch and Dimmer

Posted by Mike Lim

Singapore is currently undergoing a period of “circuit breaker” in a bid to contain the COVID19 situation. As we are mostly working from home, our team decided to resume some of our reviews on smart home products, especially those that seems to not have much reviews or coverage on the web. At the end of the review, we are also letting go the review set at a price for DIY smart home enthusiasts.

The first product we are reviewing here is the FIBARO Walli switch and dimmer. From all the product pictures we can find online, it looked gorgeous and minimalist. After all, it is a trusted brand with a great marketing team. We also had quite a number of enquiries on the FIBARO Walli, thus we got our hands on a set to try them out.

Form factor

The form factor of the Walli switch and dimmer looks exactly the same, except for the way the button works. The Walli switch is actually a 2 gang switch even though it looked like a single button. Pressing the top of the button turn on/off the first load, and bottom of the button for the second load. For the Walli dimmer, pressing the top and bottom of the button turns on and off the load respectively. You can also dim and brighten the load by pressing and hold the top/bottom part of the button.

What we have noticed here is the faceplate is very plastic and flimsy. Sometimes we are not able to click properly especially at the bottom part of the button. Removing the faceplate actually clicks much better.

Connection and Installation

We kind of like the improved connector ports at the back of the switch. If you have personally wired a FIBARO module before, you will find it difficult to stuff in 2 wires into a single port. For the Walli switch and dimmer, each port actually has 2 connectors, making it easy to work with when you need to connect 2 wires into 1 port. Another clever improvement is that the Live and Neutral is no longer side by side, reducing the chance of short circuit due to stray wires.

Even though is more suitable for European wall boxes, it is still possible to fit into a UK flushed wall box that has a 40 mm depth. For UK surface wall box, a 40mm surface box  will be required (surface box for Singapore is usually around 30mm).

Pairing and Configurations

     

We are using a Homey hub which also have a full set of configuration options available on the Home Center for pairing. After pairing the Wall switch, you operate the 2 load independently.

For the Walli dimmer, it works just like the usual FIBARO Dimmer 2 on Homey. The interesting part of the Walli series is that, unlike other Z-Wave switches, you get quite a wide range of control on how the the LED indicator ring should behave when it is on/off/dimmed/brightened.

  

Check out the video review here.

 

Conclusion

A good looking Z-Wave switch with great LED indicator ring but there is definitely room for improvement for the build quality at SGD140 (90 euros). The Walli series also included a model for controlling roller blinds/curtains and power outlet (unfortunately is only for euro 2 pin).

The Pros

  • Minimalist design
  • Comprehensive LED ring configurations
  • Improved connectors for ease of installation

 

The Cons

  • Flimsy faceplate
  • Too plastic for our liking
  • More suitable for European wall boxes

 

Automate Asia Team

PS : Now, if you like to take over this review set for SGD70 each, please contact us.

Read more

Singapore is currently undergoing a period of “circuit breaker” in a bid to contain the COVID19 situation. As we are mostly working from home, our team decided to resume some of our reviews on smart home products, especially those that seems to not have much reviews or coverage on the web. At the end of the review, we are also letting go the review set at a price for DIY smart home enthusiasts.

The first product we are reviewing here is the FIBARO Walli switch and dimmer. From all the product pictures we can find online, it looked gorgeous and minimalist. After all, it is a trusted brand with a great marketing team. We also had quite a number of enquiries on the FIBARO Walli, thus we got our hands on a set to try them out.

Form factor

The form factor of the Walli switch and dimmer looks exactly the same, except for the way the button works. The Walli switch is actually a 2 gang switch even though it looked like a single button. Pressing the top of the button turn on/off the first load, and bottom of the button for the second load. For the Walli dimmer, pressing the top and bottom of the button turns on and off the load respectively. You can also dim and brighten the load by pressing and hold the top/bottom part of the button.

What we have noticed here is the faceplate is very plastic and flimsy. Sometimes we are not able to click properly especially at the bottom part of the button. Removing the faceplate actually clicks much better.

Connection and Installation

We kind of like the improved connector ports at the back of the switch. If you have personally wired a FIBARO module before, you will find it difficult to stuff in 2 wires into a single port. For the Walli switch and dimmer, each port actually has 2 connectors, making it easy to work with when you need to connect 2 wires into 1 port. Another clever improvement is that the Live and Neutral is no longer side by side, reducing the chance of short circuit due to stray wires.

Even though is more suitable for European wall boxes, it is still possible to fit into a UK flushed wall box that has a 40 mm depth. For UK surface wall box, a 40mm surface box  will be required (surface box for Singapore is usually around 30mm).

Pairing and Configurations

     

We are using a Homey hub which also have a full set of configuration options available on the Home Center for pairing. After pairing the Wall switch, you operate the 2 load independently.

For the Walli dimmer, it works just like the usual FIBARO Dimmer 2 on Homey. The interesting part of the Walli series is that, unlike other Z-Wave switches, you get quite a wide range of control on how the the LED indicator ring should behave when it is on/off/dimmed/brightened.

  

Check out the video review here.

 

Conclusion

A good looking Z-Wave switch with great LED indicator ring but there is definitely room for improvement for the build quality at SGD140 (90 euros). The Walli series also included a model for controlling roller blinds/curtains and power outlet (unfortunately is only for euro 2 pin).

The Pros

  • Minimalist design
  • Comprehensive LED ring configurations
  • Improved connectors for ease of installation

 

The Cons

  • Flimsy faceplate
  • Too plastic for our liking
  • More suitable for European wall boxes

 

Automate Asia Team

PS : Now, if you like to take over this review set for SGD70 each, please contact us.

Read more

5 reasons why you need neutral for smart switches

Posted by Mike Lim

You can install smart switches without neutral, why do people still do otherwise when they can save cost? There's quite a number of smart switches that market themselves as not requiring neutral wire, no wiring hassle.

Xiaomi Aqara switches is one, Ufairy Z-Wave switch is another one, some of the Z-Wave modules such as FIBARO Dimmer 2 and Aeotec Nano Dimmer also can be installed without neutral. In fact, there are a lot of Zigbee switches on Taobao and Aliexpress that can be installed without neutral.

Why do we want to make life difficult and prefer a neutral solution when we can help customer save cost? Here's 5 reason why:

1. Protect your LED lights and drivers from damage

The reason every smart switch needs a neutral wire attached: it needs to stay powered all the time. The neutral wire does this job exactly. It allows the switch to stay powered even when the light is off. The switch uses the neutral wire to return the current back to the DB (mains) when the switch is off.

Base on the reason above, so how do switches that do not require neutral overcome this law of physic? They return the current via the switch wire, through the LED light/drivers, into the neutral in the ceiling and back to the DB (mains). Sounds viable right? This would mean that when the switch is at the off state, there is a small current flowing (sufficient to power the switch and yet not sufficient to power the lights ) running through your LED lights/drivers. Typically a Zigbee, Z-Wave switch require 1W or below so we assume 1W of current is constantly running through your lights/drivers.

Now if your lights/drivers are on/off type (non dimmable), you are constantly under powering them. Under powering an electrical appliance typical causes damage over time. Some of the low power bulbs, i.e 3W may flicker even if the switch is off because 1W of current is quite significant for a 3W light. You might even notice some of the low power lights are actually on at night when the switch is off! 

 2. Electronics in LED drivers degrade over time

You may experience having your switches and lights work perfectly well right after installation. However, after a while your LED drivers may degrade over time and become sensitive to that small current and start flickering.

3. Smart switch without neutral is technically a dimmer switch

This is also the reason for Z-Wave modules such as FIBARO dimmer 2 and Aeotec Nano dimmer can work without neutral. These switches/modules maintain power by cutting the current up to the minimum just like you dim a dimmer to minimum. This works better for dimmable lights/drivers as they are built to work under small current. In some cases, low power dimmable lights might still light up the bulb when the switch is off, just not as badly as a on/off light. Which brings us to the topic of bypass.

4. You may need to use a bypass

Z-Wave modules such as FIBARO dimmer 2 and Aeotec Nano dimmer, you can install a bypass at the light to increase the load of your lights so that a small current doesn't power up your lights. For Ufairy switches, they also have a bypass that synchronise with the state of the switch so that when the switch is off, the current goes thru the bypass instead of through the lights/drivers. These are inherently additional point of failures which can be forgotten after installation. If you ever change switches or brands down the road, you might wonder why there are still issues with a new switch as these bypass are made for the specific brand only. You will eventually incur cost of installing or removing the bypass.

5. It only works for wireless technologies that uses low power transmission

If you had already noticed, there is no wifi smart switches that do not require neutral. If there is, please read the technical details. This is because wifi takes higher power compared to Z-Wave and Zigbee and thus will introduce a higher current through your lights. It doesn't make technical sense to build one because it will definitely power up your lights/drivers in off state.

Conclusion

With all these considerations, we do not want risk having customer experience such teething issues down the road. There are so many different quality of lights and drivers in the lighting market. They degrade and respond differently to that small current thus there is no way we can guarantee a stable installation with no neutral smart switches.

So far, we are assuming all smart switches are of the same quality, but take Xiaomi Aqara non neutral switches for example, they fail so much that the Singapore distributor/reseller reduce the warranty to 7 days and stop stocking them all together.

Like we always tell our customers, going for smart switches without neutral is like weight management without regular exercise. It only works temporarily and doesn't last. 

Automate Asia Team

This article is part of Series of articles to start your smart home journey, the smart Singaporean story

Read more

You can install smart switches without neutral, why do people still do otherwise when they can save cost? There's quite a number of smart switches that market themselves as not requiring neutral wire, no wiring hassle.

Xiaomi Aqara switches is one, Ufairy Z-Wave switch is another one, some of the Z-Wave modules such as FIBARO Dimmer 2 and Aeotec Nano Dimmer also can be installed without neutral. In fact, there are a lot of Zigbee switches on Taobao and Aliexpress that can be installed without neutral.

Why do we want to make life difficult and prefer a neutral solution when we can help customer save cost? Here's 5 reason why:

1. Protect your LED lights and drivers from damage

The reason every smart switch needs a neutral wire attached: it needs to stay powered all the time. The neutral wire does this job exactly. It allows the switch to stay powered even when the light is off. The switch uses the neutral wire to return the current back to the DB (mains) when the switch is off.

Base on the reason above, so how do switches that do not require neutral overcome this law of physic? They return the current via the switch wire, through the LED light/drivers, into the neutral in the ceiling and back to the DB (mains). Sounds viable right? This would mean that when the switch is at the off state, there is a small current flowing (sufficient to power the switch and yet not sufficient to power the lights ) running through your LED lights/drivers. Typically a Zigbee, Z-Wave switch require 1W or below so we assume 1W of current is constantly running through your lights/drivers.

Now if your lights/drivers are on/off type (non dimmable), you are constantly under powering them. Under powering an electrical appliance typical causes damage over time. Some of the low power bulbs, i.e 3W may flicker even if the switch is off because 1W of current is quite significant for a 3W light. You might even notice some of the low power lights are actually on at night when the switch is off! 

 2. Electronics in LED drivers degrade over time

You may experience having your switches and lights work perfectly well right after installation. However, after a while your LED drivers may degrade over time and become sensitive to that small current and start flickering.

3. Smart switch without neutral is technically a dimmer switch

This is also the reason for Z-Wave modules such as FIBARO dimmer 2 and Aeotec Nano dimmer can work without neutral. These switches/modules maintain power by cutting the current up to the minimum just like you dim a dimmer to minimum. This works better for dimmable lights/drivers as they are built to work under small current. In some cases, low power dimmable lights might still light up the bulb when the switch is off, just not as badly as a on/off light. Which brings us to the topic of bypass.

4. You may need to use a bypass

Z-Wave modules such as FIBARO dimmer 2 and Aeotec Nano dimmer, you can install a bypass at the light to increase the load of your lights so that a small current doesn't power up your lights. For Ufairy switches, they also have a bypass that synchronise with the state of the switch so that when the switch is off, the current goes thru the bypass instead of through the lights/drivers. These are inherently additional point of failures which can be forgotten after installation. If you ever change switches or brands down the road, you might wonder why there are still issues with a new switch as these bypass are made for the specific brand only. You will eventually incur cost of installing or removing the bypass.

5. It only works for wireless technologies that uses low power transmission

If you had already noticed, there is no wifi smart switches that do not require neutral. If there is, please read the technical details. This is because wifi takes higher power compared to Z-Wave and Zigbee and thus will introduce a higher current through your lights. It doesn't make technical sense to build one because it will definitely power up your lights/drivers in off state.

Conclusion

With all these considerations, we do not want risk having customer experience such teething issues down the road. There are so many different quality of lights and drivers in the lighting market. They degrade and respond differently to that small current thus there is no way we can guarantee a stable installation with no neutral smart switches.

So far, we are assuming all smart switches are of the same quality, but take Xiaomi Aqara non neutral switches for example, they fail so much that the Singapore distributor/reseller reduce the warranty to 7 days and stop stocking them all together.

Like we always tell our customers, going for smart switches without neutral is like weight management without regular exercise. It only works temporarily and doesn't last. 

Automate Asia Team

This article is part of Series of articles to start your smart home journey, the smart Singaporean story

Read more

Guide : Automation with Athom's Homey Flows (Scenes)

Posted by Mike Lim

We've received very positive response from the community on Homey since we posted our First impression of Homey. The home automation scene has been stagnated with the usual hubs and people have been looking for a hub to upgrade or be excited with.

Today, we are sharing more on creating flows on Homey. In Vera and Fibaro it is called Scenes, in SmartThings, it is called Routines while in Homey it is called Flows. 

For the sake of comparison and for you to judge, here's some screen shot of the Vera and Fibaro scenes and SmartThings routines.

The Vera scene has a textual wizard to step through the scene creation.

The Fibaro scene uses blocks for specifying logics.

SmartThings's routine is also a little like Vera, except that you do it mostly on your mobile devices.

Here's how Homey's flows look like. Refreshing huh?

The flow editor is done on their Homey desktop application. 

Homey's flow is based on a card system that has a when (trigger), and (condition), then (actions) and else (actions). In short,

“When something happened, and this and that are true, then do that.”. 

Basically you just drag the component cards from the left bar into the 3 columns. The cards are also contextual, meaning if you drag a switch to the if column, you can only see the respective option cards for use in that column. This screenshot should give you a better picture. In this example, the same wall plug is dragged into the "when" and "then" column multiple times. You can then choose the different triggers and actions by flipping the cards. You can also send values (cards with tags) to placeholders to conditions for evaluation and actions.

 Let's go a little deeper with a frequently used example. In this example, we want a standing lamp to turn on when there is motion, but only between 6PM to 6AM. Here's how to:

In this example, not only the standing lamp wall plug is turned on, Homey will also announce "Motion Detected" and pulse its LED in red. If you are familiar with Vera and Fibaro scene, you will know that the "time in between" condition is not available and you have to achieve the above with 2 scenes instead on 1 in Homey.

Let's move one to a more interesting use case. Where a condition is being evaluated. In this example, we want to make sure that the last person who leave the house locks the door. If this happens, send a Telegram message specifying name if the last person who left the house and then automatically locks the door. Here's how: 

Looks simple? If you notice on the left bar, you can also do a lot with other devices such as DoorBird, Ring, IR devices etc, each with their very specific triggers, conditions and actions. 

Conclusion

We feel that the flow editor provided another way of defining automation. In a way, Homey made everything seemingly simpler and yet able to achieve more complexed scenes in a single flow. Check out this link for a introductory page to Homey Flows.

In our next few articles, we will share more on other integrated devices such as DoorBird, Ring, music IR and 433 devices. So do keep a look out for them!

Automate Asia Team

Read more

We've received very positive response from the community on Homey since we posted our First impression of Homey. The home automation scene has been stagnated with the usual hubs and people have been looking for a hub to upgrade or be excited with.

Today, we are sharing more on creating flows on Homey. In Vera and Fibaro it is called Scenes, in SmartThings, it is called Routines while in Homey it is called Flows. 

For the sake of comparison and for you to judge, here's some screen shot of the Vera and Fibaro scenes and SmartThings routines.

The Vera scene has a textual wizard to step through the scene creation.

The Fibaro scene uses blocks for specifying logics.

SmartThings's routine is also a little like Vera, except that you do it mostly on your mobile devices.

Here's how Homey's flows look like. Refreshing huh?

The flow editor is done on their Homey desktop application. 

Homey's flow is based on a card system that has a when (trigger), and (condition), then (actions) and else (actions). In short,

“When something happened, and this and that are true, then do that.”. 

Basically you just drag the component cards from the left bar into the 3 columns. The cards are also contextual, meaning if you drag a switch to the if column, you can only see the respective option cards for use in that column. This screenshot should give you a better picture. In this example, the same wall plug is dragged into the "when" and "then" column multiple times. You can then choose the different triggers and actions by flipping the cards. You can also send values (cards with tags) to placeholders to conditions for evaluation and actions.

 Let's go a little deeper with a frequently used example. In this example, we want a standing lamp to turn on when there is motion, but only between 6PM to 6AM. Here's how to:

In this example, not only the standing lamp wall plug is turned on, Homey will also announce "Motion Detected" and pulse its LED in red. If you are familiar with Vera and Fibaro scene, you will know that the "time in between" condition is not available and you have to achieve the above with 2 scenes instead on 1 in Homey.

Let's move one to a more interesting use case. Where a condition is being evaluated. In this example, we want to make sure that the last person who leave the house locks the door. If this happens, send a Telegram message specifying name if the last person who left the house and then automatically locks the door. Here's how: 

Looks simple? If you notice on the left bar, you can also do a lot with other devices such as DoorBird, Ring, IR devices etc, each with their very specific triggers, conditions and actions. 

Conclusion

We feel that the flow editor provided another way of defining automation. In a way, Homey made everything seemingly simpler and yet able to achieve more complexed scenes in a single flow. Check out this link for a introductory page to Homey Flows.

In our next few articles, we will share more on other integrated devices such as DoorBird, Ring, music IR and 433 devices. So do keep a look out for them!

Automate Asia Team

Read more

Review : Athom's Homey First Impression

Posted by Mike Lim

Deciding your first Z-Wave controller can be a daunting task. We always get questions such as the difference between Vera, Fibaro or Zipatile controller, which controller is more value for money, which ones are more user friendly, how is SmartThings compared to the rest etc. 

We think we will have a different answer today because we've just laid our hands on one of the up and coming smart home hub Homey. And we are very excited to share our first impression as we were totally blown away by it's user interface and product design.

Homey is a voice-activated home automation hub created by Netherlands-based startup Athom. Athom recently launched Homey on Kickstarter in 2014 with  996 backers.

First look

The hardware looks un-usually minimalist. In fact one of the most minimalist design we've seen do far. Just a sphere with LED ring, with a USB power port, a 3.5mm audio jack and a speaker grille. Not even logo or any single letter on the device itself. In fact the box does not even come with an instruction manual because Athom provided 13 instruction videos on YouTube just for setting up Homey.

Supported Protocol

These guys are seeing things differently and the number of protocols it supports make it stands out from Fibaro, Vera and even SmartThings :

  • Wi-Fi ® 802.11b/g/n 2.4 GHz 
  • Bluetooth ® 4.0 Low Energy 1 
  • ZigBee ® 2.4 GHz 2
  • Z-Wave Plus ™ 
  • 433 MHz 
  • 868 MHz 
  • Infrared Receiver 
  • Infrared Transmitter (6x) 
  • NFC (ISO14443A) 

You are actually getting an infrared blaster, 433 Mhz, NFC on top of whatever the competitors are offering in the market! The hub is also a speaker that can channel audio via the 3.5 mm headphone jack as well as Bluetooth A2DP.

Setup

Upon boot up, the Homey will prompt you by voice to connect to http://setup.athom.com. From this point, everything will be done on your browser until the point you download the Homey app.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The downloading of latest firmware and the voice files actually took some time as the files are around 150 MB to 200 MB in size.

Once the Homey hub is connected to your Wifi and firmware updated, you can download the Homey desktop application to start adding devices and create flows. Homey named their scenes as flows and we must say we were quite impressed with the user interface.

 

 

 

Homey supports an impressive array of devices as shown in the screenshots. There is an app for each brand of Z-Wave devices and you will need to download the app from the Homey App Store into Homey before pairing them.

Furthermore, the pairing instructions are very clear and device specific. The device parameters for each brand of Z-Wave devices are laid out very clearly. We feel that they have outdone both Fibaro and Vera in terms of parameters management. Till date, Homey is compatible with over 20,000 devices. 

Homey App

Once you are done with the setup, adding of devices etc, here's how the look and feel of the app. Again, we love it's simple and material-design like UI. (Vera app had a flat UI but seems overly flat and Fibaro app looks like it is till in the iPhone 3GS era).

  

Conclusion

With the wide range of device support, clear parameter management and clean UI, Homey is definitely a strong contender among the existing hubs out there. The best thing about Homey is that, like SmartThings, it depended on a strong community in building more support and yet do their quality check on their app and UI assets. For geeks, their add-on are all written in Node.js (the geek in me is screaming woo!). 

So do we recommend Homey over Fibaro and Vera? We think our answer will be very likely but we are still doing range and more testing to discover out more of its cons. So far we are still very impressed!

Look out for more articles as we will be covering more on Homey especially on the flow (scene) editor, App Store and other non-Zwave controls (IR, NFC, Bluetooth etc).

Automate Asia Team

 

Read more

Deciding your first Z-Wave controller can be a daunting task. We always get questions such as the difference between Vera, Fibaro or Zipatile controller, which controller is more value for money, which ones are more user friendly, how is SmartThings compared to the rest etc. 

We think we will have a different answer today because we've just laid our hands on one of the up and coming smart home hub Homey. And we are very excited to share our first impression as we were totally blown away by it's user interface and product design.

Homey is a voice-activated home automation hub created by Netherlands-based startup Athom. Athom recently launched Homey on Kickstarter in 2014 with  996 backers.

First look

The hardware looks un-usually minimalist. In fact one of the most minimalist design we've seen do far. Just a sphere with LED ring, with a USB power port, a 3.5mm audio jack and a speaker grille. Not even logo or any single letter on the device itself. In fact the box does not even come with an instruction manual because Athom provided 13 instruction videos on YouTube just for setting up Homey.

Supported Protocol

These guys are seeing things differently and the number of protocols it supports make it stands out from Fibaro, Vera and even SmartThings :

  • Wi-Fi ® 802.11b/g/n 2.4 GHz 
  • Bluetooth ® 4.0 Low Energy 1 
  • ZigBee ® 2.4 GHz 2
  • Z-Wave Plus ™ 
  • 433 MHz 
  • 868 MHz 
  • Infrared Receiver 
  • Infrared Transmitter (6x) 
  • NFC (ISO14443A) 

You are actually getting an infrared blaster, 433 Mhz, NFC on top of whatever the competitors are offering in the market! The hub is also a speaker that can channel audio via the 3.5 mm headphone jack as well as Bluetooth A2DP.

Setup

Upon boot up, the Homey will prompt you by voice to connect to http://setup.athom.com. From this point, everything will be done on your browser until the point you download the Homey app.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The downloading of latest firmware and the voice files actually took some time as the files are around 150 MB to 200 MB in size.

Once the Homey hub is connected to your Wifi and firmware updated, you can download the Homey desktop application to start adding devices and create flows. Homey named their scenes as flows and we must say we were quite impressed with the user interface.

 

 

 

Homey supports an impressive array of devices as shown in the screenshots. There is an app for each brand of Z-Wave devices and you will need to download the app from the Homey App Store into Homey before pairing them.

Furthermore, the pairing instructions are very clear and device specific. The device parameters for each brand of Z-Wave devices are laid out very clearly. We feel that they have outdone both Fibaro and Vera in terms of parameters management. Till date, Homey is compatible with over 20,000 devices. 

Homey App

Once you are done with the setup, adding of devices etc, here's how the look and feel of the app. Again, we love it's simple and material-design like UI. (Vera app had a flat UI but seems overly flat and Fibaro app looks like it is till in the iPhone 3GS era).

  

Conclusion

With the wide range of device support, clear parameter management and clean UI, Homey is definitely a strong contender among the existing hubs out there. The best thing about Homey is that, like SmartThings, it depended on a strong community in building more support and yet do their quality check on their app and UI assets. For geeks, their add-on are all written in Node.js (the geek in me is screaming woo!). 

So do we recommend Homey over Fibaro and Vera? We think our answer will be very likely but we are still doing range and more testing to discover out more of its cons. So far we are still very impressed!

Look out for more articles as we will be covering more on Homey especially on the flow (scene) editor, App Store and other non-Zwave controls (IR, NFC, Bluetooth etc).

Automate Asia Team

 

Read more