Illustration Credit: Timothy R. Butler/DALL-E/Stable Diffusion/Wyze Labs

Sometimes a Timer Needs a Camera

By Timothy R. Butler | Posted at 9:25 PM

With freezing temperatures nearing, I started the annual pilgrimage of my plants. Armed with past success overwintering geraniums, peppers and various other non-hardy plants, I wanted to up my game. A little talked about Wyze accessory to add a smarts to a grow light is at the center of my plan.

I have a window the plants can go by, but even with daylight from it, a basement is a pretty dark place. My plants look like they’ve survived, not thrived, when they come out each spring. To help, I picked up a few grow light lamps with adjustable arms when Aldi had them on sale. One problem: the only power in my basement near that window was a light socket with a two-way power outlet adapter screwed into it.

These adapters traditionally have a light bulb socket in them so that you can plug something in and still have light. I didn’t want to leave the light socket empty if I were going to plug the grow lamps into the socket adapter and leave it on, so I picked up a traditional Sylvania light bulb-type grow light to go alongside the lamps I’d already purchased. While the lamps had timers to turn the light on and off, the grow light bulb did not.

My goal was not to simulate Alaskan nightless summers, so I started digging for a plan. Other “alphabet soup” fly-by-night brands on Amazon offered grow light bulbs with timers built-in, but I get nervous leaving something plugged in all the time from a company whose name is unpronounceable.

When it comes to having something run for a set number of hours per day, an old fashion mechanical timer plug (the kind people have used for decades on Christmas lights or to “fool” crooks when traveling) is an obvious choice. A smart plug would make for another straight-forward solution. These assume one has an electrical outlet and not a socket for a lightbulb, unfortunately.

I remembered seeing awhile back that Wyze, the smart home company, made a USB “lamp socket adapter” for powering one of its cameras. Their site advertised it could turn on dusk to dawn, but wasn’t clear if one could use it to schedule a grow light on a more arbitrary schedule. Wyze’s Support chat was not the most confidence instilling about whether it could do what I wanted, but I decided to give it a whirl.

The light socket adapter does require a Wyze Cam v3 to be its “brains” (and not the newer v3 Pro or “OG” models, neither of which can turn it on and off), but given that Wyze makes my favorite low-cost smart home cameras, and they even had a deal on a refurbished v3, the whole project came to $35.

Setup started straight forwardly, but an unhelpful error message made it downright convoluted. I set up the Wyze Cam v3 and then attempted to add the adapter in the camera’s accessories menu. I ended up in a vicious loop of being told that I need to upgrade firmware or, alternately, reboot the camera, before adding the light socket.

Neither reported instruction related to the problem. The specially shaped USB plug that connects the Wyze camera to the Wyze socket hadn’t fully seated. It was connected enough to power the camera, but not enough for the camera to control the socket. A more helpful error message would have saved me an attempt to delete and completely reinstall the device and several fruitless attempts to update the firmware.

Clearing that hurdle, the Wyze app’s rules tool allowed me to setup the socket, turning on and off my grow light at any time I chose, as I hoped. Once configured, light socket works like any smart plug you may have tried.

Except it didn’t. The light alternated between immediately shutting off or shutting off after a few minutes. If I went into the app and manually tuned it on, the light frequently turned itself off before I could even exit the app.

I discovered that an otherwise nifty feature of the socket caused this malfunction. In addition to being controlled by manual switching, rules or dusk-to-dawn settings, the socket can use the camera’s motion sensing ability to turn on the light when there is activity. A bug inexplicably causes the light to shut off after short intervals, far shorter than I’d configured the motion detection mode to stay on and even when the light was activated manually or via rules, rather than motion.

I turned motion detection off and the socket has been working as expected since.

I only purchased one socket, but the company promotes the ability to pair multiples so that, say, several lights on the exterior of a home can be activated at once. Assuming that works as advertised, the additional lights would only need the $10 light socket adapter, not the socket and camera pair.

Wyze has proven to be my favorite smart home device company. The bumps on setting up the light socket were clearly not ideal, but the end result is exactly what I wanted. The company’s low prices combine with nice smart home devices and an app that works more reliably than those of big names like Ring and Blink (both owned by Amazon) or Arlo.

Wyze cameras also sport MicroSD card slots for local recording as a free alternative to cloud-based video storage. If one prefers to use the cloud, all Wyze cameras support free still pictures when the device detection motion or a competitively priced Cam Plus cloud plan, which adds cloud video recording and a few perks that you may or may not want.

(The company deserves kudos for how it handled rolling out Cam Plus. At first, AI detection was supposed to be free and on-device. But after Apple purchased the company Wyze had partnered with to provide that and they had to move AI detection to the cloud, Wyze offered a name-your-own price plan to existing users. Operating on the honor system, the company allowed people to name any price, including zero. Too many of these smart device providers think nothing of pulling the rug out from under users of existing devices; Wyze deserves respect for picking a better way, even at risk to their bottom line.)

Is my new setup overkill for keeping my plants alive? Sure. But now I have a live “plant cam” to look at them growing and a smart light socket to keep the lighting going. Given that this $35 project let me avoid having to run new wiring to plug in lights, it saved me from a much bigger overkill choice. I’ll take it (Wyze Labs, Wyze Cam v3 with Lamp Socket Adapter, $39 or refurbished for $35; wyze.com).

Timothy R. Butler is Editor-in-Chief of Open for Business. He also serves as a pastor at Little Hills Church and FaithTree Christian Fellowship.

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