Review: Wallflower, an iPhone-connected smart oven monitor

Posted:
in General Discussion edited July 2017
Wallflower is a practical Internet of Things product that surprised us by doing exactly what it said it would do: Alert us anywhere in the world if our electric oven/stove turns on or off.

The Wallflower smart plug
The Wallflower smart plug


We see a lot of products that aren't entirely finished, or arrive with significant bugs, and are frequently reassured, "oh, that's just software."

Not Wallflower. We didn't have to contact them at all, beyond getting their app through TestFlight. Everything about Wallflower worked exactly as expected. We can't tell you how refreshing that is.




Wallflower is a very large 240V smart plug/socket meant for use with electric ovens and stoves like we have in North America. It comes in both 3-prong and 4-prong varieties.

We were provided the 3-prong plug unit from the company. It joins a Wi-Fi network and then reports the stove is turned on when the electrical demand changes.

Setting up the stove

Setup is simple. Remove the drawer from below the oven, unplug the appliance from its outlet, plug in Wallflower, and then plug the appliance into Wallflower. Change Wi-Fi on your iOS device temporarily to the ad-hoc network created by Wallflower, and the app will guide you through a few short steps, including account creation and setting Wallflower to join your home Wi-Fi network.

There are two LEDs on the unit, one of which changes color when Wallflower is successfully connected to the home Wi-Fi network. It's hidden under the oven, so we don't expect to ever see them once it's set up.

The app will also want to use your phone's location, so that it can geofence to let you know if you're leaving the house with the stove on. This was delightfully easy compared with some devices we've reviewed in the recent past.

The default settings have Wallflower beep every time the stove is turned on. This is changeable in the app, but it's fine to leave it on.

It scared this reviewer's wife initially, but when we talked about what Wallflower does, she immediately asked, "Can we get one for my parents?"

It works well. The phone with the app set up on it gets notifications both in and away from home. Geofencing works. Leaving the home with the causes notifications to trigger, potentially preventing leaving it on due to forgetfulness.

It's not that kind of smartplug

Wallflower says in their PR pitch, "A home fire occurs every 85 seconds, and cooking fires are the #1 cause of home fires. Wallflower is your first line of defense against cooking fires."

And, it's important to note, even if you have amazing smoke detectors, by the time the smoke detector has been triggered, something is already potentially very wrong.

If you have smart smoke detectors and you're notified while out of the house, that's even more time lost trying to get back to the house. Having Wallflower notify you before a fire starts is much better.

Wallflower doesn't let you remotely turn the oven on or off. It's not that kind of smart switch. It simply alerts you to the power change and lets you take action based on the information.

From an internet security standpoint, this is a good thing: we don't want a world where a device could be hacked and remotely turn on a stove to burn down a home. In fact, there's a lot of good criticism by twitter users about remotely turning on ovens. Here is @internetofshit talking about an oven that is compatible with Alexa and is remotely controllable.

Alexa, oven off

[...]

Alexa, turn off the oven

[...]

OMFG SHIT ALEXA TURN OFF THE OVEN

[...I'M SORRY DAVE....I CAN'T DO THAT]

-- Internet of Shit (@internetofshit)

Ok, David, setting the oven to 200%! https://t.co/hlhdntFIOD

-- Internet of Shit (@internetofshit)

this... does not sound like a feature i want in my stove pic.twitter.com/rqu0hoVvHu

-- Internet of Shit (@internetofshit)

Rule of thumb: if you at any time think "I should turn on the stove while not physically being at the stove", you should not own a stove.

-- Pillow (@CounterPillow)

That is, if a stove can be remotely turned on, it can be used to remotely start a fire and burn down a home. Wallflower is doing the right thing by not being remotely controllable. (We should mention, you only consider Wallflower for the stovetop - if the stove is left on, that can lead to fire. If the oven is left on, it just gets hot. If you have a separate cooktop and in-wall oven, only consider Wallflower for the stove surface.)

Criticism

A valid criticism is, if a HomeKit connected smartplug can be made and sold for $39 USD, how in the world is Wallflower worth $169 USD? You're right if you think that's expensive.

It's important to note that unlike the hour I spent attempting to update a single HomeKit smartplug firmware so that it would get on Wi-Fi again, which seems to be a ritual that has to be performed every 3-6 months or so, Wallflower just works. Seriously, the HomeKit smartplugs have been brilliant when they work, and frustrating when they don't. I find that almost all of them don't reconnect to Wi-Fi following power failure, forget their power state, and require a 2.4gHz network in order to function.

All this is to say, for $39, they aren't without pain.

By comparison, Wallflower does just what it says it does and does it well. HomeKit wouldn't add any useful function. What would you have it do, be a trigger for another device (ex. if the stove is on, turn ceiling fan on)? We want HomeKit on as many things as possible, but this one doesn't need it and wouldn't benefit from it. We spent some time trying to figure out how they could make it be remotely switch-off-able without being vulnerable to remote switch on. We couldn't see how that possibility could be prevented.

Should it be possible for Wallflower to cost less? Yes. Does it need more functionality? Not unless there's some way to permit remote turn-off without allowing for the possibility of remote turn-on. Here, for safety, the whole question is avoided by is being pass-through for power, vampiring a little power for its Wi-Fi and microcontroller, and measuring the amps drawn by the appliance. The second you add relays to turn the socket on and off, you start to open up vulnerabilities that aren't present currently.



Wallflower does exactly what it says it will: It notifies you when the stove is on. It notifies you when it's on longer than it should be. It notifies you when you leave the house with it on, and it notifies you when it turns off. It sounds simple, which is a good thing.

We're ready for products about which we can say, "it just works." If you're the sort of person who wonders if you left an iron plugged in, wonders if the stove was turned on, or has ever returned home to check that you locked the door when you left, this might be for you. If it prevents a fire, it's worth the asking price.

We're left with a sort of reviewer's quandary: If a device does everything it says it does, does it well, but costs more than it should, is it a 5 star device? For some people, no. Would we spend $169 on it? After talking it over with close friends and family, we got a range of numbers on what people would be willing to spend on such a thing. Consensus placed it at under $100, and some people would only be ready to buy it if it were in the $60-70 price range. That is, it's more than double what people think it should cost.

To separate it out, let's think about the product and what it does separately from price and value. The product is a 5 star product for what it sets out to do and accomplishes. At the same time, the price is higher than the small number of people surveyed will bear. If an oven and stove combination appliance costs $599 (a number chosen by browsing home improvement store sites), Wallflower costs 28% the cost of that appliance. For that reason, we're docking a star.

Score: 4 out of 5

image

Where to buy

Wallflower costs $169, and is available today at wallflower.com.

  • The Wallflower smart plug
gregoriusm

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 14
    flydogflydog Posts: 76member
    I had to check the calendar to make sure it wasn't April 1.
    randominternetpersonadm1
  • Reply 2 of 14
    sc_marktsc_markt Posts: 1,392member
    "Internet of Things"?
    More like "internet of government surveillance and hackers playground".

    I imagine there will be all kinds of hacks on our tv's, refridg's, stoves, etc. 

    jbdragontoysandme
  • Reply 3 of 14
    jbdragonjbdragon Posts: 1,747member
    sc_markt said:
    "Internet of Things"?
    More like "internet of government surveillance and hackers playground".

    I imagine there will be all kinds of hacks on our tv's, refridg's, stoves, etc. 

    It does depend greatly on the device. The cheap things, weak security. Ring Video Doorbell for example is high security and kept up to date and it's a Internet of Things device. To me it seems a little costly for what it does and is limited to the Oven. I was thinking, Ummm, Could I plug my Air Compressor into this thing and turn it on/off remotely? It runs on 240 volt. To me that's more useful.
    gregoriusm
  • Reply 4 of 14
    "That is, if a stove can be remotely turned on, it can be used to remotely start a fire and burn down a home."

    For this money, it absolutely should include the ability to cut power to the stove.  And no, being able to turn on and off the power to the stove doesn't imply that a hacker could turn on your stove remotely.  If you leave your house and the stove is turned off, it won't magically turn on by doing the equivalent of flipping the circuit breaker for the stove off and on.
    edited July 2017 adm1rivertripStrangeDays
  • Reply 5 of 14
    This will certainly be useful to the three bears as an intruder alert device. 
    randominternetperson
  • Reply 6 of 14
    adm1adm1 Posts: 839member
    I'm all for smarts in the home having Hue bulbs/sensors/remotes in many rooms and Tado TRVs in EVERY room now... but I don't see the point in this product at all without remote on/off control (OFF crucially!). The part about a smoke alarm being time wasted getting to the problem, well, if the cooker is alerting you to a problem but unable to deal with it remotely, that's also time wasted in getting home to find the house burned down anyway - the only difference is you were notified of the destruction a few minutes earlier. If you are heading out and at all worried about cooker fires then just flip the switch on the wall. No "hacker" can remotely flip a 45A manually operated switch.
  • Reply 7 of 14
    elijahgelijahg Posts: 592member
    This is the most pointless product I’ve seen for a long time...
    williamlondonTomE
  • Reply 8 of 14
    A hundred-sixty-nine dollars? Fully subsidized? And it doesn't appeal to business customers because it doesn't have a keyboard. 
  • Reply 9 of 14
    GeorgeBMacGeorgeBMac Posts: 2,356member
    "That is, if a stove can be remotely turned on, it can be used to remotely start a fire and burn down a home."

    For this money, it absolutely should include the ability to cut power to the stove.  And no, being able to turn on and off the power to the stove doesn't imply that a hacker could turn on your stove remotely.  If you leave your house and the stove is turned off, it won't magically turn on by doing the equivalent of flipping the circuit breaker for the stove off and on.
    I think the safe and valid assumption is:   If a hacker wants to hack, he will....   Nothing is burglar proof.  Nothing is hacker proof...
  • Reply 10 of 14
    GeorgeBMacGeorgeBMac Posts: 2,356member
    It's great that the product does what it says and does it well...  That's progress.
    But, I doubt the usefulness of this product (aside from peace of mind) because, in my experience, few fires are caused by unintentionally leaving a stove on.

    While volunteering for my local Red Cross Disaster Action team I found that most house fires were caused by stupidity:   either by improper electrical wiring (one guy hooked his coax cable into his electric box -- it didn't work well) and fires while cooking with oil.  (One guy started to heat oil to cook french fries but then, realizing he had no potatoes, intentionally left the stove on while he went to the store.  When he returned, his house was well done).

    But, the flip side is:  While working as a nurse with disadvantaged clients, I found that many of them heated their apartments by leaving the the stove burners on...  It worked fine as long as there was nothing on the stove.
    ... As a result, while I check my stove before I leave, I make a practice of never leaving anything on the stove.
  • Reply 11 of 14
    shaminoshamino Posts: 398member
    sc_markt said:
    More like "internet of government surveillance and hackers playground".
    Does this have anything to do with this device or just a general observation about IoT?

    Personally, I want the ability to monitor my own property all the time.  But I don't want anybody else to have that ability.  This means smart devices, but ones with good security and encryption systems where nobody else (not even the manufacturer) has access to the keys.
    For this money, it absolutely should include the ability to cut power to the stove.  And no, being able to turn on and off the power to the stove doesn't imply that a hacker could turn on your stove remotely.  If you leave your house and the stove is turned off, it won't magically turn on by doing the equivalent of flipping the circuit breaker for the stove off and on.
    Depends on your stove.  If you have digital controls, then yes, I would assume that a power-on event (equivalent to plugging it in) won't do anything other than make the displays light up (and forcing you to reset the clock).

    But if your home has an older/cheaper stove without digital controls, then plugging it in while a knob is in the "on" position will definitely cause it to start heating.
  • Reply 12 of 14
    AppleZuluAppleZulu Posts: 312member
    There is a disconnect (pun intended) in the article's discussion about the relative merits of (not) being able to use this device to switch on or off the stove/oven. The assertion is that not being able to do so is a good thing, because someone could hack it to switch it on and set your house on fire. That actually makes no sense. All this thing could conceivably do is switch the power to your stove/oven on or off. For someone to hack it and set your house on fire, you would have to have first used the device to switch off the power, then left a burner knob switched on, and then left something flammable sitting on that burner. For the lawyers, I suppose that's a risk, but for the rest of the world, it's not. The likelihood of a malicious hack and house fire resulting from that scenario is far less than the likelihood of the device alerting you that you've left something on and then letting you cut the power in order to prevent a fire or other damage.

    I suppose some idiot might think it a bright idea to leave a kettle on the stove with the device switched off, with the intent that they'd turn it on and heat up for tea on the way home. That would be a dumb idea. The solution to all this is to enable the app to cut the power remotely, but only be able to switch it back on if someone is physically present. A little switch mounted above the stove that's wired or unwired to the device could be used to reset it and turn the power back on. Such a scenario would surely block hackers and morons alike, whilst satisfying the most caffeinated of lawyers.
    edited July 2017 shamino
  • Reply 13 of 14
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 4,940member
    "That is, if a stove can be remotely turned on, it can be used to remotely start a fire and burn down a home."

    For this money, it absolutely should include the ability to cut power to the stove.  And no, being able to turn on and off the power to the stove doesn't imply that a hacker could turn on your stove remotely.  If you leave your house and the stove is turned off, it won't magically turn on by doing the equivalent of flipping the circuit breaker for the stove off and on.
    I think the safe and valid assumption is:   If a hacker wants to hack, he will....   Nothing is burglar proof.  Nothing is hacker proof...
    Yet it's still not possible to physically turn-on a stove if it's turned off, merely by toggling power to the outlet. His point is valid -- a hacker can't turn on the thing if it's off, even if he hacked the outlet.
  • Reply 14 of 14
    shaminoshamino Posts: 398member
    AppleZulu said:
    All this thing could conceivably do is switch the power to your stove/oven on or off. For someone to hack it and set your house on fire, you would have to have first used the device to switch off the power, then left a burner knob switched on, and then left something flammable sitting on that burner.
    Agreed, for this specific device.

    I think many are confusing it with a "smart oven" where the full set of controls are Internet-accessible.  That would be a bit different.
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