Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the lights on at MakeUseOf. Read more.
D-Link’s newest Smart Home products introduces two high definition security cameras, a water sensor, and a smart WiFi power switch — with a simplified configuration process. But is D-Link’s vision of the Smart Home ready for your living space?
At the end of this review, we’re giving away a complete set to one lucky reader, worth around $350!
D-Link’s Connected Home Lineup
D-Link sent us an entire range of Internet-connected sensors and smart devices to test out. D-Link refers to its Smart Home products in this review as mydlink Connected Home. Here’s the four products we’re testing out today, the newest in the Connected Home range:
- D-Link DCH-S160 Water Sensor–around $60 via Amazon
- D-Link DCS-2330L HD Outdoor WiFi Camera– around $190 via Amazon
- D-Link DCS-5020L Pan & Tilt Day/Night Network Camera– around $90 via Amazon
- D-Link DSP-W215 WiFi Smart Plug–around $45 via Amazon
D-Link produces a great deal more smart home products than the manifest above. Aside from the standard cameras and sensors, there’s also a motion-sensing sonic alarm, baby monitors, Z-Wave compatible devices, and a lot more. The range of products ranks as 2015’s largest collection of Smart Home products under any one manufacturer (with a cloud infrastructure).
D-Link’s Smart Home products offer one big advantage over its competitors: they hook into D-Link’s ridiculously easy configuration and management system.
Configuring Your Smart Home
You can use any HNAP protocol-compliant Smart Hub (six cheap Smart Hubs) with D-Link’s Connected Home products, however, it appears that HNAP is not a widely used protocol and seems to exist only in ULTRA routers and D-Link’s Connected Home Hub. Users access all Connected Home devices through two options: a mobile device (either iOS or Android) or through a browser window.
Getting everything working requires access to a desktop computer and a router. Users simply install the browser extension, which exists for Internet Explorer, Chrome, and Firefox.
The browser extension allows users to configure their smart device via D-link’s mydlink.com website, which serves as a nexus for all of D-Link’s Connected Home range of products.
For simplified setup and configuration, all of the associated IoT devices configure through D-Link’s online web-service, mydlink.com. Users must create a login before they begin networking their devices. For all but the indoor camera, the configuration process requires pressing the WPS button on device and then pressing the WPS button on the router.
After pairing, users then navigate to mydlink.com, install D-Link’s browser plug-in, and then use the Zero Configuration pairing tool, which shows up at the bottom-right side of the browser window to finalize the connection.
I should note that Chrome failed the pairing process and I was forced to use Internet Explorer (though this could be caused by my Ad-Block extension).
A Quick Vocabulary Refresh
I’d like to distinguish between three terms used in this article:
- Internet of Things (IoT): Any seemingly mundane gadget which connects to the Internet is referred to as an Internet of Things device. IoT functions as an umbrella term, referring to almost everything with the word smart appended onto the front of product name.
- Smart Home: The term Smart Home comes from the National Association of Home Builders 1985 conference on automating home appliances called Smart House. The term seems less general than IoT in that it refers to any sensor-bearing gadget, built for the home. Smart Home products add Internet connectivity and home automation features to otherwise mundane appliances, such as lights or refrigerators.
- Connected Home: Narrowing the field even further, Connected Home products refer to sensor-bearing-gadgets, with Internet access. D-Link’s range of Connected Home products don’t differ much from standard Smart Home devices, except that they offer a simplified configuration process, provided the users also own an HNAP compatible Smart Hub or router.
- mydlink: The term “mydlink” refers to D-Link’s Smart Home devices which show up in the mydlink interface. Each of their Smart Home products appends the connection protocol to the beginning of their Connected Home products. This allows customers an easy way to distinguish between Z-Wave and mydlink lines of product. I believe mydlink uses HNAP as its connection protocol.
So now that you understand some of the ridiculously confusing terminology, let’s move on to what we’ve got for review:
D-Link DCH-S160 Water Sensor
Want to save thousands of dollars? With D-Link’s new Water Sensor, you just might.
D-Link advertises its Water Sensor as a major money saver. Leaking water, as they claim, inflicts over $2,000 in damage on the average household. Following this line of logic, any home susceptible to water damage—those owning indoor appliances—should consider some means of protection. Many of the solutions out there rely on physical alarms or buzzers. These do not relay warnings to those at the workplace, on vacation, or otherwise occupied. Fortunately, the Internet-connected D-Link Water Sensor can and it retails for around $60-70 on Amazon. Non-smart sensors can run for around $35, so its IoT capabilities run a premium. But the premium seems worth it, given its ease of configuration.
The sensor plugs into a wall socket near any potentially leaky appliances, such as a washing machine, automatically detecting the presence of water. It features a WPS, quick-connect button and an RJ11 connector port (also known as a modem cable), which it uses to connect a water sensor. Along with the device and the water sensing cable, there’s a 3.3 foot extension cable. After connecting, the water sensing cable dangles onto the floor. The sensor must physically come into contact with water for it to register a leak, so merely bringing water into the sensor’s presence won’t trigger it. It needs physical contact.
On the downside, the pairing process, while simple, can go wrong in many ways. First, the WPS pairing process used for the other Connected Home products requires very little in the way of overhead. The Water Sensor requires a more rigid configuration and deployment process, requiring either an iOS or Android device. Also, the D-Link Home application for Android suffers from serious bugs. Among these irritants, it displays a tendency to crash while trying to pair devices to it. Second, it doesn’t offer a tablet optimized experience, so it won’t rotate. And I couldn’t find any way of upgrading the Sensor’s firmware, which is odd because all of D-Link’s other products automatically upgraded firmware.
Overall, the DCH-S160 brings something unique into the marketplace: after the smart fire alarm, the smart water sensor might become the next big thing in home security. The value proposition definitely exists—particularly if your home includes a washing machine inside of it.
D-Link DSP-W215 WiFi Smart Plug
The D-Link WiFi Smart Plug can turn any socket powered dumb device into a smart device. For example, users can connect a lamp to the Smart Plug. The Smart Plug then connects to your router and operates as a wireless, remote-controlled switch.
Users can operate the plugged in device over the smartphone app, or through the D-Link web interface. I found the most convenient way to interact with the Smart Plug is through D-Link’s app. Users can set shut-down or turn-on schedules, or they can flip the lights on while away from the house. It’s useful for controlling individual components of your home while on vacation. It’s also useful for making it appear that you’re at home, even though you’re not. It could switch lights on during the evening, giving the illusion of occupancy.
The plug itself consumes around 0.8 to 0.9 watts while in operation, which is trivial for 24/7 operation. The utility of a smart plug depends very much on your imagination and use case: if you often fall asleep with a reading light turned on, for instance, or perhaps just want to make certain you’ve shut off all the lights and appliances while on vacation, the Smart Plug is worth a look. Psyching out potential thieves also might justify a purchase.
D-Link DCS-2330L HD Outdoor WiFi Camera
D-Link’s outdoor camera includes 720p resolution and night vision. It appears identical in function to the DCS-5020L, which features pan and tilt functionality, except it costs around $50 more.
There’s nothing especially sophisticated about the DCS-2330L’s design or features that you can’t find in slightly cheaper products—except for its ease of configuration. Like most other network attached security cameras, the DCS-2330L possesses the ability to alert its user when triggered by motion. This can include some trivial matter, such as a cat. Or it can indicate the presence of something more.
The only real criticism that I have of the outdoor camera is that it’s too obvious. Its white design makes it easily visible when used a security camera. Users can easily disguise the camera, but it would be more effective if the basic design included elements of stealth, such as a matte, black covering (and there is a black version of this camera available).
D-Link DCS-5020L Pan & Tilt Day/Night Network Camera
The DCS-5020L camera comes in a conventional design, including a rotatable base, night-vision, and 480p resolution, which can transfer a video feed over the 802.11n wireless protocol. It’s effectively the same as the D-Link outdoor camera, except without the weatherproofing and with articulation. The outdoor camera includes a base, which can screw into a wooden surface.
The picture quality–regardless of lighting conditions–looks good. During periods of bright light, the camera displays standard 480p video. When lighting dims, the camera automatically switches into low-light mode, displaying images in black-and-white. The transition feels remarkably seamless, as there’s no jarring color transitions or sudden changes in picture quality. If anything, picture quality improves in low-light mode.
It’s also worth noting that the pan and tilt controls function through either the mobile application or through D-Link’s browser extension. The control scheme offers straightforward, although laggy, control over the pan and tilt capabilities of the camera.
Notably, the camera also offers motion detection. Motion detection is configured via the D-Link app and triggers an alert, sent through the mobile application, whenever the camera detects motion. A sensitivity threshold would have been nice, for ignoring small objects, but it works perfect without such a feature.
Given its vast feature suite, the camera seems remarkable, although the price tag doesn’t do it any favors. Even so, the value proposition exists: for those desiring a simplified configuration process and an indoor pan and tilt, 30 frames-per-second, 480p security camera with night vision, this is the product for you.
Should You Embrace D-Link’s Vision of the Future?
There’s a lot of competition within the crowded router marketplace, but not in the area where Smart Home products synergize with routers. The combination of D-Link’s support infrastructure, mobile app, and ease of configuration make its ULTRA router the perfect companion to its suite of cloud-enabled peripherals. Together, they create a winning combination.
On the other hand, while their range of products looks great, there’s a few things to consider before purchasing. First, Google’s OnHub router hasn’t yet rolled out its Smart Home features, which would place it in direct competition with D-Link’s Connected Home product range. At present, D-Link’s closest competitors come from formats like SmartThings. Second is D-Link’s lacks a lot of interoperability with other smart home products. There’s IFTTT integration and Z-Wave compatibility on a few of its products, but SmartThings and OpenHAB remain — to my knowledge — incompatible.
To Buy or Not to Buy
D-Link offers a very tangible value proposition: users can get a relatively inexpensive Smart Home configuration running in a matter of minutes. The total configuration time to get all devices running on my home network was around 30 minutes. Just ten years ago configuring a home network could take a serious investment of time. With D-Link they’ve put together a stellar package that carves out a unique market niche.
The only concern regarding Smart Home devices is that of firmware updates and security. However, this issue afflicts all smart devices, including smartphones (such as the far-reaching Stage Fright vulnerability) and isn’t singular to any of D-Link’s products.
Send your products to be reviewed. Contact James Bruce for further details.