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Closing Thoughts

Before drawing any conclusions, I wanted to run one more test to confirm which products depend on a back-end client server architecture. To test this, I first ensured that all lighting applications worked as expected when connected to my home Wi-Fi network. I shut down all applications on my iPad and then disconnected the Ethernet cable that connects my access point to my network.

I launched each application, tested, and then shut down the app. The only product that was still able to control its lights without an internet connection was the Belkin WeMo. All the other products timed out while trying to connect to their gateways through the internet. I then restored the network connection to the AP, and all five apps worked as expected.

In deciding which system is right for you, one way to look at the five products is to determine what you want to do with Home Automation. If you are only interested in controlling light bulbs, you have two choices: the Philips Hue Lux or the Connected by TCP. I liked the Philips system, and would be tempted to explore it more if I could get the gateway to link to my account. A linked gateway would enable remote access as well as some features that I couldn't evaluate. While I liked the user interface on the TCP product, it lacked quite a few features found on competing products. In addition, initial setup problems, coupled with the ongoing problems that I experienced with the Android client makes it difficult to recommend the TCP product.

If you're really looking to do a lot of home automation, both the GE Link (via Wink) and the Insteon products offer not only lighting, but large ecosystems of connected products that work together. Though I didn't love the GE Link light bulb because of its clear bulb and glaring light, that may not be an issue for many people who will install them in lamps with shades or lighting fixtures.

The GE Link starter kit, priced at $50 (available through Home Depot - one of their partners) is the cheapest in this roundup, and additional bulbs are only $15. That price represents only about a $5 premium compared to 60W equivalent LED bulbs without any connectivity. Connected bulbs for each of the other systems hover around $30.

If you just want basic control over a lot of lights, but want to hedge your bet in case you want to add additional devices, the GE Link is a great buy. For under $100, you can have a basic smart lighting system with five bulbs. Insteon, on the other hand, is going to cost you more, but you have a significant number of choices of devices to add on to your network. And with their proprietary "dual PHY" network, you'll be able to hang a lot of Insteon devices on your network.

Finally, there's Belkin's WeMo. Belkin is a relative newcomer to the Smart Home market, but is aggressively adding WeMo compatible devices to its line. I suspect that by sometime in the second quarter, most of the WeMo-enabled sensors introduced at CES will be available.

I reviewed the Belkin WeMo Insight Switch almost exactly a year ago. At that point in time, the platform was just launching and there were problems with the software as well as back-end servers, so I actually returned the product to the store. But now a year later, I found the WeMo LEDs were easy to set up, the applications ran smoothly and there were no issues related to the WeMo infrastructure.

For me, there is no one winner in this roundup. If I were considering automating more than lighting, Belkin's WeMo system looks intriguing. The upcoming sensors look interesting and I like that the system works without an internet connection. On the other hand, I'm fascinated by the Philips Hue color bulbs and all of the recipes available on IFTTT. But I need to get the gateway linked before committing any dollars to Philips' pricey Hue color bulbs.

No matter what you choose, you can start on the path to a smarter home with any of these products for $100 or less.

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