Zuli has been shipping its Smartplugs to Kickstarter backers since mid July, and now the company feels comfortable enough to send devices to reviewers who don’t have a stake in the product’s success or failure. The Zuli team is delivering is pretty much exactly the product they promised, and that’s a good thing because it’s an excellent concept. And if you own a Nest Learning Thermostat, Zuli Smart plugs will make that device work better than it can on its own. More on that later.
You can start with just one $60 Zuli Smartplug, but you shouldn’t. The $160 Presence Pack is the way to go. It consists of three smart plugs, which is the minimum requirement to enable Zuli’s Presence feature. Deploy three or more Smartplugs in your home, and they’ll form a proprietary mesh network using the Bluetooth Low Energy protocol. The network communicates with the app you install on your iPhone (and it must be an iPhone, iPod, or an iPad with 3G; Android support is still in development) to pinpoint the device’s location inside your home. Once you have three Smartplugs, you can add single plugs as you go to make the network bigger and more accurate.
As with other connected-home wall warts (Belkin’s WeMo, Lutron’s Caseta, Z-Wave plugs from numerous manufacturers), you plug the Zuli into your wall outlet and then plug the lamp you want to control into the Zuli. Unlike those devices, the Zuli doesn’t depend on a central hub—or even your Wi-Fi router. There’s literally nothing else to buy.
After you calibrate each plug, a one-time exercise that takes about two minutes per plug to establish the perimeter of your room, the network tracks the location of your device inside your home. When you enter the room with your device, the plug will turn the light on automatically. If it’s a dimmable bulb, you can even preset it to whatever brightness level you prefer.
In my experience, the light did not always turn on instantly. It sometimes took as long as seven seconds. What’s more problematic is that Zuli Smartplugs aren’t smart enough to know when it’s night or day. Enter the room in broad daylight, and they’ll turn your lamp on whether you need the light or not.
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