In the time that we’ve been covering home energy management devices, we’ve not seen anything quite as unique as Visible Energy’s UFO. We first learned about the UFO when it flew onto our radar earlier this year. On paper, the UFO came off as intriguing. Here we have a white “flying saucer” that allows up to four electrical devices to be connected and monitored on an iPad or iPhone through a home WiFi network. The concept seemed almost as futuristic as the UFO looked but, as we all know, looks aren’t everything. So, we got ourselves a review sample and set about putting the UFO through its paces to learn if it deserves a place in today’s modern, energy conscious home.
We’re all about saving paper here at Earthtechling, but Visible Energy takes the notion to the extreme when it comes to packing up the UFO. Inside the UFO’s box was the UFO, a card with safety, legal and warranty information and a separate card simply directing the user to a website for setup instruction. That’s it. No user manual or superflous product schwag.
Features and General Impressions:
On the outside, the UFO appears very straightforward: a flexible silicon dome that makes up the top half of the unit can be lifted up to expose four color coded power outlets arranged around a central column. Above each outlet is an LED indicator that glows green when the UFO is plugged in.
With the dome inverted, the UFO looks like it could double as a serving bowl for snacks at a party; but don’t dump the Chex mix in there just yet. Ultimately the dish is meant to be pulled back down in order to conceal the power cords inside. Besides that, the top of the UFO glows green, yellow or red to provide a visual cue for the amount of energy that is being consumed-one of the unit’s primary features.
There are four semi-circle cutouts in both the top and bottom half of the UFO where the dome and base pieces meet. Not coincidentally, these holes line up with each of the power sockets located on the central column and are intended for power cable management. This is a strange design point, considering the UFO is meant to be seen alongside the components it is connected to. With such a cable management system, there will be four cables jutting out North, South, East and West of the device which is neither a practical nor an attractive proposition.
It is within the UFO’s central column that the real magic takes place. Somewhere inside the column resides a wireless Internet adapter and enough circuitry to monitor energy use for wireless data reporting. The data’s final destination is the “Energy UFO” app available for iPhone and iPad.
As previously mentioned, all set-up instructions are located online at one of Visible Energy’s website pages. Separate instructions exist for iPhone and iPad owners, which was our first clue that the user experience differs greatly depending on which iDevice is used-more on that during the performance evaluation.
As described by Visible Energy, the set-up process appears very simple. First, plug in the UFO, ensuring nothing is connected to it yet. Next, pull out your iPhone or iPad and select the UFO amongst a list of available “access points” in your device’s WiFi setup section. Doing so creates an Ad-Hoc network that will allow you to use the free Energy UFO app available for download at the App Store.
At this point, the Energy UFO app is fully functional, but for convenience, you can set the UFO up to connect to a WiFi network. This setting is recommended for those that routinely use their WiFi router for their iPhone or iPad’s internet access.