The good folks at Sonoff have sent me a bunch of kit to review.
First up, the S20 WiFi Plug – an easy way to retrofit IoT smarts to your existing appliances.
This fills the same niche as the Belkin WeMo but with one crucial difference – it’s about half the price.
How does it compare to the Belkin WeMo?
Both are compatible with IFTTT, have 2.4GHz WiFi, and have buttons and status LEDs. The both also have time schedules so you can automate when the plug switches on and off. They basically have identical features – with two small differences.
The WeMo works with Alexa, the Sonoff doesn’t. Alexa is still in its early days – but if small companies like WisQo are able to make Alexa compatible light switches, then I would expect the same from Sonoff.
Where the S20 realy comes into its own is its hackability!
You’ll find lots of articles on the web about how to rewrite the firmware in these devices – Nathan Chantrell has an excellent guide on his blog.
The S20 uses the ESP8266 – a ridiculously common WiFi chip. Versatile and hackable. Perfect for tinkering.
There are loads of 2866 projects on GitHub for you to build with. There are several websites dedicated to hacking these controllers.
Finally, electricity is dangerous. Make sure you know what you are doing before you start unscrewing and fiddling.
Security and API
The app uses SSL – so your connection to the Sonoff mothership should be secure. There’s no certificate pinning, so your calls can theoretically be intercepted or disrupted. That’s still better than most IoT kit.
There is an API available, but it is undocumented. It also needs to go through the manufacturer’s servers. I wish more IoT makers would follow Lifx’s lead and offer a fully documented API which works over a LAN. I don’t don’t want to be locked out of my gear if my Internet goes out, or the manufacturer goes bust.
As I’ve mentioned, these devices are easily flashable – so can be repurposed if needed.
While the hardware is great, the software is a slight letdown.
The Android App doesn’t get great reviews – it’s quicker to start than the WeMo app, but doesn’t look as nice. Registration is a bit complicated, as is sending WiFi passwords.
Also, it's 2017 – why is the only way of getting an IoT gadget onto your WiFi to install an app & manually type in password? pic.twitter.com/hkkWpmZWEY
— Terence Eden (@edent) May 22, 2017
As with most domestic IoT devices, it’s ideally suited to a single person household. It is possible to share control with another user, but it is a little cumbersome.
There’s no energy monitoring – although other Sonoff products provide that service.
Finally, is this actually useful? I’ve only got a few electrical items which I turn on and off from the plug socket – lamps, electric heaters, … ummm… a hair-drier? I’m using mine on a cool air fan which sits across the room from me.
In terms of speed – this blows the WeMo out of the water. The weird Alexa integration is a minor annoyance – but it makes up for it by being so hacker friendly.
The plug is small and sized well for going on a multi-socket. The software needs an overhaul, but it does the job.
Thanks to Sonoff for sending me the review unit. If you’d like me to review your gear, please get in touch.