LightwaveRF Home Automation System : In-Depth Review
It’s not often that a new Home Automation system comes along that can genuinely challenge the elderly, but universally established X10 protocol. But LightwaveRF looks like it could just be the one to knock X10 off its perch in the budget sector. Automated Home regular Ant Skelton takes us through a comprehensive overview of this new feature packed wireless home automation system, one that’s going to be a boon for anyone wanting to retro-fit modern controls in their home…
The people behind LightwaveRF, JSJS Designs, may be unfamiliar to Automated Home readers. Their background is in assisted living devices for the seriously physically disabled, so it’s not much of a stretch for them to shift their focus from those who are unable to get up and switch on a light to those who are simply too idle. What should really grab your attention though, is that these are the guys who were behind the Byron/B&Q HomeEasy range of devices from a few years ago. Like the HomeEasy range, LightwaveRF is available under many different brand names: you might get devices branded JSJS Designs, Siemens, or Electrium.
Like the HomeEasy system, the sheer range of LightwaveRF devices is impressive. There are replacement wall plates for 1, 2, 3 and 4 gang dimmer light switches, and for single and double wall sockets. There are slave dimmer modules for 2-way lighting setups, and battery-powered ‘transmitter only’ devices, akin to the old X10 Stick-a-switch. Five different styles are available: white plastic, brass, stainless steel, chrome, and black chrome. Each comes equipped with understated amber and blue LEDs to give some indication of state, and each has a push-fit faceplate to hide the wall fixings. Presumably at a later date spare faceplates will be available so that you can change the style of your switches without changing the underlying electronics. Until then, you can swap with a mate.
Other non-wall-mounting accessories are available, including a vast array of handheld remotes each providing slightly different functionality (betraying their HomeEasy heritage there!), a current-clamp power meter, battery powered LED lights, and PIR sensors. Finally there are two more intriguing prospects: a “WifiLink” unit which acts as a gateway between your LightwaveRF network and the internet at large for PC, browser, and smartphone control, and a dimmable 20W CFL bulb with all the smarts built in to it.
The LightwaveRF system operates in the 433MHz and 868 MHz bands, so it’s not going to have to contend with all your WiFi/Bluetooth/Zigbee/Pizza-reheating traffic, just garage door openers and wireless doorbells and the like. An additional benefit is that signals punch through walls with ease, and the lower power requirements mean that battery operated devices can operate from coin cells. The benefits of greater range mean that fancy mesh-networking tricks are unnecessary – LightwaveRF relies on its transmissions being able to cover your whole house, although a dumb repeater unit is available if you have range/blackspot issues.
LightwaveRF’s proprietary protocol is two-way capable, but for cost reasons most modules are either transmitters or receivers; few are both. For people looking to replace X10 this means that the Holy Grail of device status reporting is still just a dream. In practice, it’s rarely an issue, and JSJS Designs promise that two-way RF capable lighting units will follow in about a year’s time. LightwaveRF devices are not compatible with the older HomeEasy range.
Setting up a LightwaveRF system is very simple. You can have as many transmitters and receivers as you like, and receivers (which are typically the devices that do something, like dim a light or control a plug outlet) must be paired with transmitters (typically battery operated, remote control style devices). Any given receiver can remember 6 transmitters at a time, and it can also remember 3 mood settings (although by my reckoning, a Mood Controller in entry/exit mode can do 5 mood settings, so perhaps 5 moods is the upper limit). Pairing is done by performing some special action (holding buttons down, switching things on and off a certain number of times) on the receiver to put it in pairing mode, before pressing a button on the transmitter with which you wish to pair. From these simple rules relatively complex setups can be built, because a single transmitter button can control any number of receiver devices. Once you factor in the WifiLink as one of the transmitters, the possibilities become even more interesting.
JSJS Designs’ enthusiasm for making remote controls remains undiminished from the old HomeEasy days; I count 5 different remote controls currently, excluding purely cosmetic variations. Here is a modest attempt to classify them:
|5 Button Remote||5||2||No||£9.98||Has ‘All-Off’|
|6 Button Remote||6||3||No||£7.40|
|Handheld Remote||10 + 4 way selector||16*||1||£12.98||*in pages of four, selectable by slide switch I presume – no mentionvof it is made in the manual! Has ‘All-Off’|
|Mood Remote||6 + 4 way selector||4?||3?||£12.98||No details available|
|Socket Locker||5||1||No||£9.98||Permits various baffling combinations of ‘locking’ devices so that they can’t be controlled by front panel, RF, or sometimes both. For dimmers, the meaning of ‘lock’ is further strained.|
The five button remote is the most compact of the available remotes at about 8×3.5x1cm. It has a glossy finish and pleasantly tactile buttons, and an amber LED to indicate when it’s transmitting. It can control two channels independently (on, off, bright, dim) and has an ‘all-off’ button (where here ‘all’ means ‘all devices which are paired to this transmitter). The remote is powered by a single CR2032 3 volt battery.
The Mood Lighting Controller is a battery-powered transmitter, which fits in a single lightswitch backbox and as such is ideal for providing a lightswitch at a location where there is no mains wiring. Since the unit protrudes less than a millimetre from the back of the face-plate, it would also be feasible to mount it directly to a wall with double-sided tape (provided) or velcro.
The controller is powered by a single 3volt CR2032 battery, has a blue LED to indicate transmission, and has two large buttons and four smaller ones. The large buttons can be configured as on/off/bright/dim buttons, are as Entry and Exit mood presets; this mode is controlled by a small slide switch on the rear of the unit, which is also where battery replacement may be effected. The button themselves feel a bit flimsy and loose fitting, but they have a satisfying clicky action (without the resounding clatter of my Clipsal modular switches) and so far have stood up to a reasonable level of abuse in our household without any problems.
The four smaller buttons are an ‘All Off’ button, and one each for three mood presets. Each receiver device can remember three different preset mood levels, so pressing ‘mood 1′ on the mood lighting controller simply instructs each paired receiver to transition to whatever level it has stored in its ‘mood 1′ memory. You can slide the selector on the back of the switch to ‘M’ to enable the two large buttons to also transmit mood messages, in which case you gain two extra moods at the expense of manual on/off control. Setting a mood level is simply a case of setting the light levels you want on any paired receivers then holding down the mood button on the transmitter until the LED flashes.
I had initially assumed that changing the setting on the slide switch or replacing the battery would require removing the screws and taking off the entire face-plate, until it was pointed out to me that the black module can be clicked out of the transparent fixing bracket with ease, for exactly this purpose.
JSJS Designs estimate that the batteries last 2 years under ‘average’ use, so hopefully it won’t be necessary too often. The units don’t report back battery status, which is a pity, as you won’t get any advanced warning of impending battery failure.
The single channel 250W dimmer is a LightwaveRF receiver which can replace existing in-wall dimmer light fittings. It does not require a neutral connection. It uses the same removable faceplate approach as the mood lighting controller to hide the fixing screws, and will fit comfortably into a 25mm back-box. Two, three and four channel equivalents are also available, at 210W per channel. Higher wattage dimmers will not be made available, as JSJS Designs expect that the market for incandescents is a shrinking one. Each channel has a couple of buttons, and a pair of reasonably discrete LEDs, one amber and one blue. The dimmer is compatible with all incadescent and low-energy halogen bulbs, as well as dimmable low-voltage transformers. JSJS Designs report that it will also work with dimmable LEDs and most dimmale CFLs provided that there is something in the circuit to provide a resistive load on startup, such as a normal bulb (eg 20W halogen) or a 15-20W resistor. Indeed, they are in the process of releasing a suitable ballast module for this very purpose. The dimmer circuit is a leading-edge triac affair, yet is completely silent in operation.
Also available is a single gang slave dimmer, which doesn’t have any radio electronics in it, but which is able to participate in multi-way switching scenarios like the ubiquitous UK hall/landing combo. You can have up to six of these in any given circuit, although why you’d want that many is anybody’s guess.
All dimmers are soft-start, and fade on and off beautifully, as well as segueing smoothly between preset moods. As an added bonus, on activation they’ll return to whatever level they were at when they were last switched off. If a light is on and there’s a power cut, the dimmer will revert to the off state when power returns, which seems like an odd decision, especially if you’ve carefully programmed up occupancy emulating settings to fool burglars while you’re away. The justification is that because there is no mechanical switch to provide visual feedback this is somehow safer if you are lunatic enough to attempt work on the circuit during a power-cut using only a cursory glance at the lightswitch as a safety reassurance. After all, nobody has ever wired a regular lightswitch upside down.
In use, the amber LED glows softly when the light fitting is off, and the pleasingly subdued blue LED indicates that it is on. This seems the wrong way round to me as standard neon indicators glow amber when the power is on, but it’s a minor quibble. Pressing and holding both the buttons puts the dimmer in pairing mode, making it receptive to the advances of any nearby transmitters, and the lights flash alternately to indicate this. There are other patterns to indicate the various complicated locking modes, but I won’t go into these, principally because I don’t have the locking remote, nor am I able to fathom its workings from the online manual.
The two gang 13A plug socket (also available as a single gang socket) is a replacement for the humble UK double socket and matches the style of the wall switches. Functionally they are similar, except that these are on/off only devices and are not dimmable. There are no plans to produce a dimmable version either, because there’s no visual clue that a socket is a dimmable leading to all sorts of nightmare scenarios with hapless punters trying to dim televisions or hair dryers. To cater for floor lamps and such however, both a plug-in dimmer module and a plug-in on/off module are available.
A nice touch with the packaging is that wall sockets and dimmers come with a little magnetic flap you can open to check which finish you’re getting, should you be fortunate enough to encounter them in the retail environment.
The instructions for the socket claim that it will fit a 25mm backbox, but the plug’s back protrudes quite a long way, making it a bit of a nightmare to squeeze in two lots of thick mains cable, as you can see from the above photo. Even to get that far involved wince-inducing levels of torque on the fixing screws, and I fully expected the plastic faceplate to snap at any moment. 35mm back boxes are probably the way to go with these units.
The website calls this a CFR. I don’t know what the ‘R’ is for, but the accompanying manual calls it a CFL, and so shall I. These are available in both ES (screw) and BC (bayonet) fittings, so make sure you pick the right ones. They either come on their own, or with a bundled mood remote. Bizarrely, there’s a three pack option, but with a mandatory remote and it’s only available in bayonet fitting, so if you just wanted 3 ES bulbs, you’re out of luck. Like the recently vaunted NXP GreenChip technology, this CFL integrates the dimmer and radio receiver into the lightbulb enclosure itself, with the principal difference that the LightwaveRF version is actually available to buy now. It’s also Patent Pending, I note.
The bulb itself is a bit of a beast, and measures 13cms from tip to toe, with a diameter of about 6cm for most of that length. These ones have quite a yellowish light, and share that other hateful CFL characteristic of taking 1 to 2 seconds to come on after you’ve flicked the switch. Being a CFL, they won’t soft-start either, but come on at the previous light level directly, so no subtle fades here. The difference in dim levels is less discernible than with regular bulbs, and seems distinctly non-linear, but you can get four or five useful levels out of it. Of all the LightwaveRF devices I tested, this is the only one that seems to have a life of its own, and occasionally doesn’t come on at the level I expected, but at some reduced level of brightness.
You may be wondering, “what happens if I’ve set the CFL to a really low dim level with the remote, and SWMBO comes along and uses the wall switch? How does she get full brightness?”. Fear not, JSJS Designs have got your back: if you turn the power on, then off, then back on again, the bulb will automatically start cycling through its brightness levels in a hypnotic manner; you simply wait until the brightness level you want comes around, then interrupt it by turning it OFF and ON again. It sounds more cumbersome than it is in practice, and actually works pretty well.
What is indisputable is that these dimmable CFLs represent about the simplest possible retrofit solution; if you can install a lightbulb, you can install these. Getting them paired with a remote control is a bit of a pantomime: from the on state, you have to rapidly switch your existing lightswitch off and on again four times as quickly as possible, in the manner of Daley Thompson’s Decathlon. If you succeed in your endeavours you are rewarded with a flashing lightshow which indicates that you have 20 seconds to scrabble about with your chosen transmitter, or an iPhone.
The problem with dimmable bulbs of course, is that they’re wired in series with your existing lightswitch, so if somebody turns it off at the wall, you’ve lost remote control entirely. One option is to replace your existing lightswitch with a mood controller and hardwire the circuit in the space behind it, but I’m not sure if your electrician would approve.
The energy monitor is the usual current-clamp affair, so shunt aside all your existing energy monitors to squeeze another clamp sensor in there, then plug it into one of the three sockets on the top of the energy monitor unit. No mention is made of these, and the software seems to only support one, but presumably in the future extra clamp accessories will be available to allow for appliance monitoring, or even three phase monitoring if your living space is of an industrial bent. You’ll need to provide your own 2xAA batteries, and once they’re installed you also need a Wifilink (yes, yes, I’m getting to it!) to pair it with. Having done that, the unit transmits information about every 10 seconds, signalled by a cheerful little blink of its LED.
Once everything’s installed, you get a live reading on the Wifilink’s LCD display, or you can use the iPhone application or the website. The latter offers a small usage graph, and hints at a future “concierge service”. The iPhone app allows you to customise the cost per unit, sadly it doesn’t allow you to alter all the erronous “Kw” labels to read “kW”. There’s currently no capability to take any action of your energy usage reaches a certain level, it’s purely a monitor. Such features are surely forthcoming, however.
One minor irritation is that communications with the energy monitor are not particularly reliable, and the iPhone app frequently complains that it can’t find it.
Possibly this is a peculiarity of my set-up, but I have three other energy monitors in there that communicate without problems. JSJS Designs say that this is a known issue which is fixed in the most recent Energy Monitor firmware.
Currently the most expensive item in the LightWaveRF repertoire, the WifiLink acts as a gateway between your LightwaveRF network and your home LAN. “WifiLink” is a bit of a misnomer, because the box connects via ethernet, and has nothing whatsoever to do with WiFi, as far as I can tell. It doesn’t connect to ethernet particularly well either, as it seems to be extremely fussy about what it’s plugged in to. It wouldn’t work connected directly to my Vigor router, nor to my big Dell switch, but it was perfectly happy with both if a cheap 5 port Netgear switch was interposed. You’ll know your WifiLink is able to see the world at large when it manages to display the correct time and date on its LCD. Crucially, you’ll also want to ensure that the WifiLink displays an “S” in the bottom left of its LCD – its away-from-home control facilities are of the ‘phone home’ variety (more later), and this ‘S’ indicates that it is able to see the LightwaveRF server. Frequently I’ve managed to get it to boot and acquire the date and time, but with no ‘S’ showing, with hilariously predictable results when you try to remotely control your lighting.
If you’ve got a LightwaveRF energy monitor running then you can pair this with the WifiLink, and it will display a real-time estimate of your instantaneous energy usage, plus some tallies and cost estimates based on a cost-per-unit which you enter.
Once your WifiLink is non-Wifi’d up, and you’ve got the Eco monitor paired, you can proceed directly to the Apple App Store to download the iPhone application. An equivalent Android application is in the works and should be along any month now.
The iPhone application is a fairly basic affair; I get the feeling it’s been banged out quickly as a proof of concept. However, whilst klunky, it is for the most part functional. I expect a more polished app will eventually emerge from LightwaveRF themselves, or more likely from a third party once the API has been released (or reverse engineered).
Once installed, the iPhone application presents a home screen with several rooms, each of which can have several devices. Currently the app is limited to 8 rooms of 6 devices each, along with 3 moods. This limitation is purely arbitrary though (apart from the number of moods), and more rooms and devices have been promised for future versions. Pairing devices with the iPhone app is as straight-forward as using the dedicated remotes: perform whatever ritual the receiver requires to put it into pairing mode, then press the appropriate device button on an iPhone room screen. That’s it. Once you’ve got all your devices paired, you can turn them on and off, or go directly to a preset dim level using the appropriate iPhone screen.
In the same screen, you have an option of setting a “Quicktimer”, which is simply a means of deferring the relevant action until some point in the future:
For some reason, the quicktimer start time defaults to “now plus one hour”, which has caught me out several times. It’s particularly galling because having completed quick-timer setup, there is no way to view, edit, or delete currently pending quicktimers.
Things get more in-depth once you switch to the “Sequences” tab in the iPhone UI, which allows you to set-up more complicated sequences of events with variable delays between them, and you have the option of triggering these on a timed basis. These full-fat timers have many more options relative to the “quicktimers” mentioned above, a chief advantage being that you can edit them.
Sequences allow you to chain together events, with a fixed or random delay after each step is executed. You can have up to 10 steps in a sequence, and I am reliably informed that the WifiLink can hold 10 sequences, 10 timers, and 10 quicktimers currently.
Editing a sequence itself is a clumsy affair; the app does this by taking you back to the device control screens so that you can choose roooms/devices. The only thing that lets you know that you’re in sequence mode is a cheesy label in the middle of the screen – they even made it a nice cheesy yellow colour!
You’ll know you’re in sequence learning mode, because the application nags you about it every time you press a device button:
What’s not immediately apparent is that you can include the preset moods and the ‘All Off’ command in sequences. It’s non-obvious, because if you select either of these in ‘Learning Mode’ you get nagged twice: once by the usual “are you sure you want to do this” pop-up, which makes you think it’s not learning the command but will execute it immediately, and then by the regular learning mode prompt. Here’s my attempt to learn mood 1 (“Bright”):
and the same thing for the “All Off” command:
Something that’s strictly verboten is the sequence tab itself: you can’t do something sneaky like call sequence B as the first step of sequence A without getting a rap on the knuckles:
Once you’re done adding devices, you’re expected to hoof it back over to the ‘Sequences’ tab to click on the save button. Having done that you can now go about editing the delay between each of the steps in your sequence:
You can set a fixed delay between steps, or a random delay within a particular range, which is a nice touch. Another nice touch is that if you switch away from the iPhone app when it is in learning mode, it automatically aborts learning mode when you switch back to it, which would otherwise be potentially very confusing indeed.
There are some shortcomings with sequences though. As already mentioned, you can’t call another sequence, nor can you loop or jump within the current sequence, so playing disco lights with all your house lights is currently out of the question. You can’t currently trigger a sequence from a LightwaveRF transmitter device like the mood switch or the PIR sensor either, although this is reputedly in the works.
The sequence editor itself leaves a lot to be desired: you can go back and review a sequence, or you can edit the delays for each step, but you can’t re-order the steps in the sequence, nor can you delete individual steps, nor append new ones; your only option is to delete the entire sequence and start over.
The other major component of the “Sequences” tab is the Timers list. These are like quicktimers, only more fully featured. Unlike quicktimers, any new timers you add go in the list where you can keep an eye on them.
As you can see, there’s a wealth of options, although confusingly some of these are not available depending on what other options you’ve selected. For example, “Start Date” is only available if the timer’s “Repeat” type is “once only”; for all other timer types it sets itself irrevocably to “Now”, which seems an odd decision.
Timers trigger sequences; you can’t set a timer to do a simple on/off action without embedding said action in a sequence first. This is irritating, fiddly, and uses up one of your precious sequence slots. Your other option is to use a quicktimer, but as discussed earlier these are one-shot, and you can’t review or edit them.
Timers can be set to fire at a particular time, or at some time relative to either dusk or dawn. As far as I can tell there’s nothing in the system which actually senses light levels, so dusk and dawn are presumably derived using current location (which you have to enter manually in the settings screen) and internet-related timeserver trickery.
Timers offer a good selection of repeat options, allowing you to specify a one-off timer (that fires on a particular date), timers that fire on a particular day of the week (e.g. monday to friday but not saturday and sunday), timers that fire on the same day every month (e.g. every 6th of the month) and timers that fire every N days. For all but one-off timers, you can specify an ‘until date’ which acts as a cut-off time, after which that timer is no longer active:
Alternatively, you can just let timers run indefinitely until you decide to cancel them manually. iPhone control is all very well when you’re tucked up in your home WLAN, but what about when you and your faithful sidekick are further abroad? LightwaveRF have that covered too with their “remote control” option, although you’re going to have to do some (not too arduous) work to set it up.
First off, you’ll need to head into the “Settings” tab, and I warn you now that just about everything in here suffers from random crashes or poor UI design, it definitely smacks of having been last on the software project plan.
The first order of business is to set your email address, and PIN. Yes, you read correctly: PIN. The only barrier to some random Herbert turning your lights on and off in the middle of the night is a 4 digit PIN. Hopefully there is a future upgrade planned to new-fangled passwords, which are already popular on some other internet sites.
Next we head into “Setup Internet Control” (careful, it’s a bit crashy in here) and type in the MAC address, exactly as it appears on the bottom of the WiFiLink unit. Having done that, the WifiLink will display a PIN number on its LCD screen, which you must re-enter into the iPhone app. A nice use of two-factor authentication there, which is a bit baffling coming from the same company that so recently brought us PIN-protected remote access, but there you go. Incidentally, you’ll have fun actually entering the PIN on the iPhone app, because the keypad by which you do so completely obscures the edit field you’re trying to type the PIN in to, so an element of guesswork is involved:
Once your blind flailing is successfully accomplished, you’re rewarded with full-on remote access:
Now, as the note says, you are in charge of your own destiny: you can switch between remote (internet) and local (WLAN) control with impunity. Quite why you need to do this is beyond me: even the iPhone’s highly restrictive APIs let you determine whether you’re on your home WLAN or not (hint to any LightwaveRF iOS developers reading this: System Configuration! Reachability!)
Once you’ve activated remote mode, your home screen and device screens earn an extra green “Roaming” badge done in some dreadful Comic Sans-esque cheery font (and while I’m on that subject, No Lightwave, no!), and everything works pretty much as normal, it just takes that bit longer, and the app holds your hand the whole time lest anything startle you:
The reason this takes a while is because of the ‘phone home’ design – you’re not communicating with your WifiLink directly over the internet, you’re communicating with the LightwaveRF server, which passes the message on to your WifiLink on your behalf. In other words, if lightwaverf.com goes down, then so do you. On the plus side, it allows them to add new features to the online web-paged based control system (of which, more shortly) without uploading new firmware to all the WifiLinks out there. And before you ask, no the WifiLink does not run a local website so that you can control stuff from other devices on your LAN, although this is sure to be available shortly by one means or another.
Once again, if you switch away and come back to the iPhone app, your roaming status is cancelled, and you’re back to WLAN mode. This is probably a sensible feature, although I’d prefer it to be an optional setting, or better yet, for roaming to be fully automatic.
There’s not much left to discuss in the iPhone application, bar a couple of remaining sections in the Settings tab, those being:
I can’t tell you what this does, as I don’t entirely trust the dialogue box not to shred absolutely everything and make me go through all the pairing and set-up again, and also:
What this does is to upload all the info in your iPhone about rooms, devices, sequences and timers to the My LightwaveRF website, so that you don’t have to enter them all from scratch. Or at least that’s the theory: on my phone, it makes a good show of it, but actually does bugger all, and if you try again it just crashes.
The second string to the WifiLink’s bow is the aforementioned My LightwaveRF website, which claims to offer much the same control as the iPhone app, but with a web interface hosted at LightwaveRF’s server. Like the iPhone app, it’s a bit of a proof-of-concept lash-up, but it’s less functional and stable than the iPhone application, and appears to be under current development (sequences and timers are a very recent addition to the web interface).
Here we enter our email address and PIN that we configured wih the iPhone app’s remote settings interface. The low security PIN is weakened yet further by a curious bug whereby the web interface won’t allow ’0′ as a valid digit, so if you’ve used a zero in your PIN you’ll have to go back and change it or you won’t be able to use the web interface at all.
Once logged in, you’re presented with an accordion style menu of subsections, which allow you to configure the various aspects of the system. The ‘rooms’ section show here mirrors the rooms section of the iPhone app; in an ideal world, the ‘upload settings’ button on the iPhone app would have filled in all this detail for me, but as you can see, that isn’t working
Here you can see I’ve filled in all the rooms and device info manually; the web interface shares the same limitations on rooms and devices as the iPhone application, and it’s apparent that if you planned to fit LightwaveRF devices to your entire house you’ll quickly run out of wiggle room. Notice that when setting up a device, you mark it as a simple ‘on/off’ device, or as a dimmable device, or you can disable it entirely.
The sharp-eyed amongst you may be thinking that there isn’t any way to actually turn things on and off from the web interface, but that’s not entirely true. As you can see from the above screenshot, there is a large panel on the right-hand side which aims to mimic the iPhone app’s primary control surface. I think the idea is that each of those blank grey buttons is meant to have a room label in it, which would then take me to a devices screen, but sadly this doesn’t appear to be working either. [ At the time of going to press, it looks as if this issue has now been fixed! ]
The four little grey buttons at the bottom allow you to change the text size and positioning of the labels, curiously. I can’t think why they are there, unless they are meant for developers only and have been left enabled by accident.
The sequences editor is a relatively new addition to the website, and offers similar functionality to the equivalent page of the iPhone application. It’s not exactly the same because there are some serious omissions: you can’t include moods or all-off commands in sequences, and you’ve lost the ability for a random delay between sequence steps.
On the plus side, it is possible to delete individual sequence steps from the sequence, and you can re-order them by dragging them about in the steps editor, which is a major improvement over the iPhone app.
It’s not all rosy though: the sequene editor will happily let you enter dim levels for a device you’ve previously marked as “on/off” only, such as my conservatory Red Lamp in the above screenshot. Also when you reach the limit of 10 steps in a sequence, or by my reckoning 9 steps, you get an angry little dialogue box, and you’ll find that after that you can’t edit sequence steps using the little red E icons any more. You’ll have to log out and log back in again to make them work again.
Timers are the other recent addition to the web interface, and this particular interface is much more usable than the iPhone equivalent. You still can’t edit an existing timer, only delete them, but the overview screen does at least give you enough information to fully identify the function of each timer you’ve set. Another nice touch is that controls in the timer editor update dynamically depending on the other options you’ve already set, which is something the iPhone app is in dire need of. Another killer feature that the iPhone app lacks is the ability for a timer to directly trigger an on, off, or dim command: it doesn’t require these commands to exist in a sequence first. The iPhone app desperately needs this functionality.
Noticeable by their omission are quicktimers; since there’s no means to edit, review or cancel these on the iPhone app it would have been nice to reign them in with the web page.
One other thing that’s worth noting is that as soon as you click the ‘Save’ button on either sequences or timers, they are immediately uploaded to your WifiLink, and the WifiLink displays a message on its LCD to alert you of the fact. This means that your timers and sequences should live on even if the LightwaveRF server is unavailable, or if your internet connection drops out.
The “Heating” tab of the web interface is just a teaser, showing images of what looks to be some kind of LightwaveRF thermostat, and another gizmo that looks like a radiator TRV. It says these products are available now, but they’re not at the time of writing. I’m pretty certain this tab used to have nothing at all in it until fairly recently, so I guess this means these things are imminent.
The final ‘Eco’ tab is also a placeholder for the intriguingly named ‘concierge service’, which I’m guessing is some sort of planned service a la AlertMe, but there are no other mentions of it anywhere on any of the LightwaveRF sites, so we’ll have to wait and see with that one. There is a small energy usage graph provided though, which gives you tiny snapshots of each day. It’s no Timetric or Pachube, but it gives you a useful indication. My old maths teacher would have had a fit of apoplectic rage at the lack of axes labels and units, and I’m not entirely clear why my graph sometimes extends down to -3000, but I have already used it to argue the case that leaving hair-straighteners on is destroying the planet, albeit with marginal success.
Conclusion – I’ve been quite scathing on the iPhone application and the web interface, mainly to provide a bit of contrast in what would otherwise be a pathetically fawning review of a system that I consider to be absolutely excellent. JSJS Designs have built on their assisted living and HomeEasy experience to deliver hardware modules that are extremely well thought out, easy to retrofit, and relatively cheap given the functionality on offer.
I think the decision to move away from incandescents is a prudent one, and the decision to launch cheaper transmit-only units and follow them up with fully bidirectional status-reporting units a year or so later is equally wise; it will give the control infrastructure time to mature, and depending on the price differential of the bidirectional units when they appear, many people may decide that they don’t actually need to know the current status of each and every lightbulb. After all, we managed perfectly well without it with good ol’ X10.
The web/smartphone control aspect is a new avenue for JSJS Designs, and the WifiLink realises this perfectly. The web control panel and iPhone application will evolve and mature into genuinely useful interfaces, and the company has committed to releasing the web API any day now, so third-party options will also no doubt proliferate.
Those gripes aside, my only other complaints are the 8 room / 6 devices limitation which will hopefully soon be lifted, and the fact that some of the scenarios I’ve dreamed up are currently impossible because the relevant hardware devices are not currently available. However, most of these have been discussed on the forums (which by the way are extremely friendly and informative, and oft visited by JSJS staff) and are already in the pipeline. Given the proliferation of HomeEasy devices in the past, I’ve no doubts whatsoever that JSJS Designs will deliver.
If you’re replacing an aging X10 system, or are in the market for a new automation system and the silly-money options are beyond your reach, then LightwaveRF is an absolute no-brainer. Your only dilemnas will be whether to choose the dimmable CFLs over in-wall dimmers, and whether to start installing the basic dimmers now or wait for the bidirectional status reporting units. Personally I’m well into replacing my clunky old X10 wall dimmers already; there are a couple of places where I’ll wait for an in-ceiling module or the like, but as far as I’m concerned X10 is dead and its successor is LightwaveRF.