We've been keeping a close eye on the partnership between Quirky and GE, with high hopes for a new generation of smart home gadgets. That partnership now seems to be bearing fruit, as the first wave of Quirky+GE-branded devices is hitting stores just in time for the holidays. I've already reviewed the Pivot Power Genius smart surge protector, and we've currently got the Quirky Egg Minder chilling in the company fridge. However, it's the Quirky Spotter Multipurpose Sensor that I've been most eager to play with.
The Spotter is a small, puck-shaped device that's jam-packed with tantalizing tech. There's an accelerometer for motion detection, as well as sensors for light, sound, temperature, and humidity. With the free Wink app downloaded to your iOS or Android device, you'll be able to set up alerts for all of it. Want to know if the front door opens while you're at work, or if the wine cellar is getting a few degrees too warm? Want an alert when the dryer stops spinning, or if the baby starts crying? The Spotter promises to let you know. Even more intriguing is that the Spotter is set to serve as the mastermind of the entire Quirky+GE lineup. You can already use it in conjunction with the Pivot Power Genius, for instance, setting the Spotter's sensors to trigger when your smart outlets power on and off.
All products in the Quirky lineup start as user-submitted ideas for inventions, and in the case of the Spotter, a busy stay-at-home dad named Denny Fong simply wanted something to help him stay on top of his daily chores. At an appealing price of $49.99, and with a plethora of potential uses, the Spotter indeed seems like a great idea -- the question, though, is how well have Quirky and GE realized it?
The best answer might be that the Spotter is a bit of a work in progress. We saw inconsistent results in our tests, and though we saw a distinct performance improvement after Quirky issued a firmware update, there's still a lot of tweaking to be done. The Spotter's potential usefulness is clear, and with its relatively low price, early adopters can likely afford to go ahead and pick one up. But I wouldn't recommend relying on it for anything as important as monitoring a baby until the engineers at Quirky work out the rest of the Spotter's less endearing quirks.
Design and features
The Spotter sports an efficient and thoughtful build. Aside from relying on the built-in magnet, you can also attach it to your wall or door with a pair of mounting screws, or with a sticky tab (as little as the Spotter weighs, you could probably get away with a loop of duct tape, too). At 3 inches in diameter and 1 inch thick, it's a compact, unobtrusive device -- and simple, too. You won't find a single button anywhere on it. This gives the Spotter a true sense of plug-and-play minimalism. Once you place it where you want it and plug the thing in, you'll be done fiddling with it.
This also means that the Wink app used to control the Spotter is hugely important, and fortunately, Quirky did an admirable job of putting it together. Unlike many of the other home automation control apps that we've come across, Wink has an elegant, well-designed user interface. It walks you through the initial setup process with step-by-step illustrations, and in our experience, helped us connect the Spotter to our Wi-Fi network in less than a minute.
To do so, you'll enter your local network information into the app, and then hold your phone's screen over the top of the Spotter. The app will count down from three, followed by a rapid series of bright flashes. The photocell built into the Spotter's light will "read" these flashes, and in a matter of seconds, your Spotter will be online. It's a pretty nifty way of connecting a device, and in our tests, it worked perfectly well each time (the Revolv Hub uses a similar trick that also tested well).
Once your Spotter is connected, you'll be able to use the Wink app to set alerts for each of the device's sensors. If your Spotter is plugged in, you'll be able to put all five sensors to work; in battery mode, it'll only track light and motion. Setting these alerts is easy. Just tap the icon for the sensor you want to track, define your trigger, and select the corresponding action. For instance, if you select the light sensor, you can choose either a light trigger or a darkness trigger, then tell the Spotter to alert you when that happens, to send you an e-mail, or, if you also own a Pivot Power Genius, to toggle one of its smart outlets on or off.
There's really nothing in the app that I can find major fault with -- everything that's there is intuitive and easy to use. However, there are a few key features missing from the Wink app that would have made it an even more useful smart-home tool. First, you won't find any sort of timeline of past notifications, a helpful feature that we've seen in a lot of other sensor-based apps. Second, you can't check the status of the Spotter's sensors in real time. You can set the thermometer to alert you if the temperature gets too warm or too cold, but if you want to know what the temperature is right now, there's no way to check. If you aren't near a thermostat, this can make setting alerts that make sense for the space a tricky process of trial and error.
Another feature missing from the Wink app is the ability to customize the trigger points for each sensor. You can have the sound sensor alert you when it detects a loud noise, but you don't have the option of defining "loud." In some situations, you might want a supersensitive trigger, and in other situations, you might not, but right now, that isn't something that you can adjust.