Review: Home Automation Insider on the Fibaro Z-Wave Wall Plug
In what we hope will be a regular slot, we’ve talked Automated Home reader, turned Home Automation Industry Insider, Martyn Wendon, into reviewing some smart home kit. For his first review we asked him to give us the low down on the Fibaro’s Z-Wave Wall Plug.
I’ve been a Z-Wave convert for several years now and have been slowly migrating my legacy Home Automation equipment across to equivalent Z-Wave devices. Unfortunately there’s a lack of “metering” wall plug socket to suit the UK style, so this is one area that I’ve not been able to migrate so far.
Despite several rumours of UK style wall plug sockets from manufacturers like Everspring, TKB, Philio and Fibaro, nothing has been released yet and I’ve waited long enough! So I decided to look at using a Schuko version of plug socket in the meantime with appropriate adapters and since these would likely add bulk I decided that starting out with the smallest possible device was a wise move.
Out of all of the available Schuko plug sockets the Fibaro version is incredibly compact at just 65mm long by 43mm wide.
New Toy Buzz
After the obligatory “unboxing” ceremony – yep, even on a device like this – I gave the device a quick once over. It’s not often that I’d refer to a piece of hardware as “cute”, but I think that about sums up the looks of the Fibaro FGWPE/F-101 Wall Plug! It really is tiny, not much bigger than a USB stick of a few generations vintage.
As a side note, I have to tip my hat to the Fibaro design team, they really do come up with some incredibly good looking devices compared to their competition. Even the boxes are nice – I’ve been buying a lot of Z-Wave gear in recent years and the vast majority of it comes in plain brown boring boxes. Fibaro even manage to make the packaging look sexy!
Looks Aren’t Everything
In readiness for the imminent new arrival I’d ordered some Schuko <-> UK adapters and a Schuko <-> UK extension lead, so I set about attaching them to the Fibaro wall plug in various combinations to see what it looked like. To be honest, I was a little disappointed, the cuteness of the Fibaro plug rapidly disappeared when it was surrounded by the black plastic adapters.
Maybe I could have sourced some white ones instead and they would have looked less obtrusive. But really, once the Fibaro wall plug is “in use” and tucked behind a cupboard, sofa or A/V unit of some description, it’s not going to be visible anyway, so do I actually care what it looks like?
Aesthetics aside then, I still had some concerns surrounding the stability of this “sandwich” of adapters and Fibaro wall plug when actually plugged into a socket. Fortunately the tower proved quite solid, but you probably don’t want to be using one of these in locations where it could get knocked – I suspect that it wouldn’t take much to snap the plastic adapter and leave some dangerous combination of exposed electrical connections.
I also tried it out with the Schuko extension lead and this seemed to be a better idea as it made it slightly less awkward looking and with the lead running down to the floor it added a bit of support to the front of the tower. I still wouldn’t like to leave it exposed though, so I think this will definitely be one for behind the A/V cabinet. That probably makes more sense really, since the Fibaro wall plug is quite a costly device for just controlling and measuring the power usage of one piece of equipment.
Testing the Hardware
The keen eyed amongst you will have no doubt noticed that there is what looks suspiciously like an LED “ring” at the front of the Fibaro wall plug. This is another neat touch by Fibaro as it illuminates different colours depending on the status of the Z-Wave network and the load of any connected equipment.
Out of the box I connected it up to a kettle and a hair dryer to see the LED ring in action. It looks nice, but really serves no useful purpose in my opinion – although I did subsequently learn that “flashing violet” when the kettle was boiling indicated an overload condition, so probably powering your kettle through it isn’t the best of ideas. Fortunately the manual states that it’s rated for 2.5kW at continuous load and 3.0kW at momentary load, so the kettle test is probably just on the limit – nice that it handled it fine without any nasty side effects.
I also noticed that the plastic body got a little warm to the touch with both the kettle and hair dryer testing – not alarmingly so though, just slightly warm. I think that this is just a result of the Fibaro wall plug being so small, there can’t be a lot of space inside for air flow / cooling of the internal components.
What Else Do I Get For My £55?
Since this is a Z-Wave device you get the usual benefits such as mesh networking, two way communications and local status change reporting. But, as mentioned previously, at £55 it’s quite a costly device, so is there anything else to sweeten the deal? Well, as usual, Fibaro have absolutely crammed in the features which more than justify the price in my opinion.
Since this was the whole reason for buying the Fibaro wall plug in the first place, can I really say that this is an “extra feature” that would justify the price? The manual states that “measuring is carried out by an independent microprocessor dedicated exclusively for this purpose, assuring maximum accuracy and precision” so it does sound like this is something to shout about. Devices from other manufacturers obviously use lesser means for their measuring and are therefore less accurate and precise. Joking aside though, from my testing a little later on, it does seem to be the most accurate device I’ve used in this respect.
Both “power” and “energy” are reported by the Fibaro wall plug giving you current usage and consumption over time data. This data is also stored in memory, so a power cut or removing it from the socket won’t lose any accumulated information.
I’ve already mentioned that these serve no real purpose, especially if the Fibaro wall plug will be hidden out of sight, but just for completeness the LEDs have several functions:
- On / Off (useful for seeing if the attached equipment is on or off – you could also look at the equipment to ascertain this at a push)
- Colour changes with load (useful if your brain can map the full RGB spectrum to the appropriate 0 – 3000W load being reported)
- Flashes when overloaded (useful if you try and run your kettle through it)
- Various Z-Wave states (useful to know if it’s included in your Z-Wave network if you don’t remember whether you’ve included it yet)
Too sarcastic? Ok, well there is actually one purpose of the LEDs that could be considered useful, that of the “range tester”, more on that a bit later on!
For those new to Z-Wave, association is where devices can interact and control each other directly, without needing a “central controller” as an intermediary. Usually devices fall into one of two categories with regards to association. They can either “control” another device, or can “be controlled” by another device.
The Fibaro wall plug is somewhat different in this respect as it can do both. So for example you could associate a PIR with it in order to turn it on when movement is detected by the PIR. Or you could associate it with a Light Switch so that the light turns on when the Fibaro wall plug is turned on. You could even associate a number of the Fibaro wall plugs together so that switching any of them on or off controls the entire bank. “Daisy chaining” of the associations could also be achieved, where another device controls the Fibaro wall plug, which in turn controls yet another device, and so on. Useful stuff.
Unusually too, a secondary association group is also supported that allows you to control other devices depending on the current load reported by the Fibaro wall plug. This could be used to turn on another device when a maximum or minimum load point is reached for example.
In total up to five devices can be associated to each group mentioned above, although in real terms that’s only four devices since one slot is always reserved for the controller.
Z-Wave Range Tester
This is a feature that that’s been appearing in recent Fibaro devices. The ability to get a visual indication of the Z-Wave network at the device end is a novel idea. The Fibaro wall plug implements this with a certain sequence of button presses and then flashes and changes the colour of the LEDs to indicate the status of the network.
More details on this can be seen in the manual, but in reality though, I’m not sure of how useful this will be for any form of diagnostic testing. Typically you would do this type of testing at the controller end to allow you to see for example the route being taken through other devices. This is something that no combination of flashing LEDs are going to tell you at the device end.
Another nifty feature is the ability to react to “alarm” messages on the Z-Wave network. These are typically broadcast by other devices that support them in response to smoke, CO, CO2, flood or fire events. This allows devices that support them to react in a sort of “sub-network” where they don’t need to be associated together nor communicate via the intermediary of the central controller. A good example of this is the recently released Fibaro Smoke Sensor where they will all trigger in the event of one of them detecting smoke.
Plays Better With Others
On its’ own the Fibaro wall plug doesn’t do much other than provide an expensive additional way of turning the connected equipment on / off and flashing some LEDs should the power used by the equipment go up and down. To get the most out of it, you really need to add it to a Z-Wave network using a central controller such as a MiCasaVerde Vera, Zipato Zipabox or indeed a Fibaro Home Center 2 or Lite.
Since my controller of choice is the Vera 3, I fired up the web UI and began the process to add the Fibaro wall plug. In Z-Wave terms this is known as “inclusion” and usually takes a few minutes of pushing buttons on a device in specific combinations after putting the controller into “include” mode.
This can be somewhat tricky for those of us with fingers and thumbs like sausages, but fortunately Fibaro have taken some of the hassle out of this process. Perhaps their design team are similarly afflicted with cigar sized digits, since by default all their devices will go into what’s known as “automatic inclusion mode” when they are powered up if they aren’t already included in a Z-Wave network. This then makes inclusion simply a case of initiating the process on the controller and turning on the power to the device – it really is that easy.
Once the Fibaro wall plug was included in the Z-Wave network it showed up in my Vera web UI as an “_Appliance Module”. Annoyingly this shows with the icon of a light bulb, but this is purely a cosmetic issue and doesn’t make a difference to how the device functions. This icon can actually be changed with a little bit of fiddling with the device “xml” files, but I don’t usually bother doing this.
As usual with Fibaro devices, there are a whole host of configuration options (known as “parameters” in the Z-Wave world) that can change the behaviour of the wall plug. When I add devices to my Z-Wave network I always add the parameters to my Vera as “monitor only” in the first instance as this allows me to check and see what the defaults are and tweak them at a later point in time if required.
Fibaro are one of the better manufacturers when it comes to explaining what parameters are available and what they actually do. The manual is the best place to check for the possible options.
Real World Usage
The energy usage of the connected equipment shows up in the corner of the icon in the Vera web UI and over time shows up in the built in graphs and charts area.
While looking at ways to track the data from the Fibaro wall plug in my Vera, I discovered the “ERGY” plugin. Once activated and with the Fibaro wall plug added as a data source, ERGY shows a reasonably good looking “Energy Panel” and some appropriate graphs.
Over a period of time I compared the power measurement data from the Fibaro wall plug with that of both Current Cost and EDF ECOManager IAM (Individual Appliance Monitor) units and it definitely appears to be more accurate. I confirmed all readings taken with a plug-in meter from Maplins – OK, so not the best reference point, but good enough for my simple tests.
It was also easy to setup the associations I mentioned previously in order to control other devices when the power being used by a device exceeded a defined maximum. Awesome, I could turn on an additional device when the equipment being controlled by the Fibaro wall plug exceeded a certain level of power usage – a nice way of using yet more power to notify me that a device was using extra power
In all seriousness though, I can see this feature being more useful when used the other way around, for example turning on a siren or light when the power used by the freezer in the kitchen drops below a certain level. This could be a nice early warning system of the freezer failing and could help save the contents, preventing the necessity of having to cook hundreds of ££££s worth of meat the following day to prevent it being spoiled and thrown away – don’t ask!
At about £10 more expensive than equivalent Schuko metering wall plugs I think that the Fibaro wall plug is well worth the additional cost, just for the size factor alone. With the additional features on offer it’s even more appealing. When used with a suitable adapter and extension lead, it doesn’t look that bad, is pretty stable when plugged in to the wall socket and has proven reliable and capable of measuring accurately down to even the smallest of loads. As I’ve come to expect from Fibaro, this device is well built and has an air of quality about it that make cheaper devices look….well…..cheaper!
When all is said and done, I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending the Fibaro wall plug to friends and family – and that’s the bottom line in any review if you ask me – there’s no better indicator of how good a device is than being confident in recommending it to others.
The Home Automation Insider – Martyn Wendon spent 20 years as an IT Specialist in demanding roles within leading companies in the Gaming, Financial and Retail business sectors. During that time he has tried and tested thousands of products, protocols, systems and settings to gradually refine his own Home Automation setup. Now what started off as a hobby has become his day job and working at Vesternet he’s well placed to bring inside news, reviews and comments from some of the largest players in the home automation industry.