Wemo Stage Scene Controller: The Right Controller

WEMO is one of a handful of nonproprietary multi-button scene controllers available. It works over Wi-Fi, so it doesn’t need a hub, and it is also compatible with Amazon Alexa and Google Home.

But it encloses to be hardwired to your home’s electrical and requires a more detailed installation. It also doesn’t double as a movable remote control, which the battery-powered Wemo can.

There’s a running joke in innovative home circles: if a product works as well as a light switch, you’ve got a winner. Unfortunately, as with a lot of technology, home automation’s attempts to make things more convenient can end up making it more frustrating.

There’s nothing worse than a bright light that doesn’t switch off on command. The look s me when he has to get up from the couch to reverse the switch as a voice assistant didn’t do its job could be trademarked.

Thread is a wireless mesh protocol conceived to make low-powered intelligent home devices respond more quickly and utilize less power than other protocols used in home automation. Thread devices don’t require a hub or bridge hooked up to your router; instead, they express directly with each other and other home networks through a Thread border router. As a result, it is an always-powered device — like an intelligent speaker or streaming media player. Apple has two Thread border routers: the HomePod Mini and Apple TV 4K.

A scene controller is a concept trickled down from high-end home automation techniques like Crestron and Control4. Sometimes barking a voice command or dragging out your smartphone is inappropriate or just inconvenient, and there are many situations where a motion or contact sensor isn’t the right fit for the job. So it is when you need a physical button, which invariably does the exact thing every time you push it, like a light switch.

The Wemo Stage is a small device, about half the size of an Apple TV remote, with three recessed buttons with a raised dot pattern to reveal if it’s button one, two, or three. The buttons can be paired to a particular scene or action in Apple’s Home app, and each has three independent presses — short, double, and long — giving you up to nine distinct options.

Leviton’s Scene Controller delivers this by custom engraved faceplates, but that makes changing your mind a bit expensive. The small, minimalist design of the Wemo makes that impossible. Instead, you need to remember and somehow get everyone else in your household on board with it.

The Wemo Stage arrives with a magnetic mount that can hook to a wall or table with enclosed tape or by screwing into a current lighting receptacle. You can swap the included faceplate for a standard Decora one so that the Wemo Stage can sit alongside your regular light switches. Single CR2032 battery powers it, and user reviews indicate it chews through batteries.

The Wemo Stage works exclusively with Apple’s Home app for HomeKit, where you program every button and its various presses to run a scene or control multiple accessories. If you have a HomeKit-compatible Thread border router in your home, it will use the Thread protocol. It will communicate over Bluetooth LE to any other Apple Home hub.

The other advantage of Thread is it’s a key protocol of Matter, the upcoming brilliant home standard. However, Belkin told me that Wemo Stage would not be upgraded to Matter. “It’s specifically designed to control and manage scene set up in the Home app,” said Cassie Pineda, senior global communications manager at Belkin. “It’s too premature to ascertain whether or not Belkin will introduce a Matter-enabled Wemo Stage.”

If you plan to stick with HomeKit, this won’t be an issue. Still, Matter’s significant promise is platform agnosticism, so a theoretical Matter version would be able to work with Amazon Alexa, Google Home, and Samsung SmartThings platforms.

The Wemo doesn’t have Thread enabled. You are needed to download an update to put it on firmware version 2.9.6. It is odd for a device that came out over a year ago and also irritating since, without access to a Wemo app to force an update, you had to sit and wait until the Apple Home app rolled out the update.

Otherwise, the setup was straightforward. You can also scan the HomeKit code. Once paired, the app prompts you to add the Wemo Stage to a room, and from there, you can customize what each button will do.

Programming the Wemo Stage is done in Apple’s Home app. It can control scenes and one or more devices, plus use a Shortcuts option to add conditions.

It is where it gets enjoyable. Your options are pretty much endless. You can connect any device, multiple devices, or scene to each button. The simplest way to use it would be to program the lights in a room to full brightness, 50 percent brightness, and off on each button, making it a de facto dimmer. But that would only be harnessing a fraction of its power.

Setting the three presses for each button to variations on a single scene or device was the easiest way to remember what it would do. Keeping each control focused on the same concept or set of lights should be easier to remember what they do.

The Wemo is small and plasticky and doesn’t feel very durable. Nevertheless, the Wemo is an easy way to manage commonly used home automation scenes without having to pick up my phone or use voice. Instead of mounting it to the wall, you can keep it on your desk during the day and on your bedside table at night.

The button presses triggered everything quickly — under a second — and consistently. However, there was some “popping” of lights, where a lamp would come on a fraction of a second after the other. In addition, the music actions always took slightly longer and were less reliable, as it has to go through Apple Music’s cloud service, whereas everything else runs locally.

The single and long press were most consistent, but the double press would occasionally get confused and run as a single press. It’s hard to tell if this is a hardware issue or me fat fingering. The Wemo Stage and the Hue Dimmer Switch can also act as a scene controller for HomeKit but with fewer button press options.

If you are examining an easy way to control your Apple HomeKit home, the Wemo Stage Scene Controller is one of the best options. As mentioned previously, a handful of singular bright buttons from the likes of Eve, Aqara, Hue, and Flic can trigger three or four scenes using a combination of short, long, and double presses, but the Wemo can do nine.

Some have multi-button functionality, including Hue’s Tap and Dimmer switches and Lutron’s Caseta Pico remote. While these are designed to control lights in their respective ecosystems, they can be modified to control Apple HomeKit devices and scenes. But all of these options work with a proprietary hub or bridge. Wemo, with the addition of Thread, can fit into your Apple Home setup pretty seamlessly if you have a HomePod Mini or newer Apple TV.