Smart home automation and smart technology is definitely on the rise in popularity and commonplace. While it’s not a big step to move toward smart home gadgetry if you’re already well within the techy front lines, it’s a significant, and often overwhelming, concept for those who don’t dabble as much in the latest and greatest tech innovations. If you’re new to the smart home world, don’t worry – smart plugs are the perfect first step toward making your home smarter and life easier. You can easily add smart control to your existing outlets, simply by plugging in the smart plug.
What is a Smart Plug ?
A smart plug is, just as its name implies, a plug or secondary outlet that contains integrated technology to increase function and convenience – in other words, smart plugs turn anything into a kind of smart device. Smart plugs plug into a traditional wall socket. The new “smart” outlet that is now available to you (as you plug your device into the smart plug) is upgraded with features such as scheduling, remote control, and monitoring for power usage, among other things, through an app on your smart phone or other device.
The best smart plugs tend to integrate with other smart home components, such as Apple HomeKit, Amazon Alexa, or Nest-driven ecosystem. In these cases, you may even simplify the operation of your smart plug device by using just your voice to control it. More commonly, though, is your control via an app on your smart phone or a separate remote control included with the purchase of the smart plug itself.
Smart Plug General Applications
Smart plugs have a variety of applications for everyday use, as well as uses for special circumstances such as vacations. Here is a brief list of the best smart plug uses:
- Heating or Cooling. Fans, window AC units, space heaters.
- Lighting. Table lamps, desk lamps, any light that is plugged in (not hard-wired). Smart plugs typically include customized scheduling options to automatically turn lights on/off, which helps to deter burglaries when you’re gone for extended times (e.g., vacation) because it will look like you’re home.
- Small Appliances. Coffee maker, clothes iron, white noise machines, curling or flat iron.
Pros and Cons of Smart Plugs
As with any technological advancement and innovation, there are pros and cons of using smart plugs in your space. Both the benefits and disadvantages of smart plugs are outlined below:
Benefits of Smart Plugs
Anything becomes a smart device.
When you plug a device into a smart plug, you can then control the device through remote control or an app on your smart phone.
Schedule device’s operation.
Often, through the best smart plugs, you can create schedules for your devices (e.g., lights will go on and off on a schedule or randomly) to move your home more toward smart home automation in the quite simplest and least invasive way possible.
Most smart plugs, at this point, won’t break the bank; many are between $30-$50. When you weigh this cost against the cost of smart home systems, it makes the upgrade to smart home life pretty appealing.
You can use your smart phone or tablet to schedule your device’s on/off status, based upon your energy preferences and/or daily routine. You can control many smart plugs from anywhere via the app. Some smart plugs also come with a separate remote control, so you don’t have to worry about having your smart phone handy at home.
Increased variety and availability.
One advantage of smart plugs is that, as they grow in popularity, there are more designs and options available to consumers to choose what smart plug is actually the best fit for them.
Disadvantages of Smart Plugs
Outlet blockage potential.
While it’s not the case for every smart plug, it is often the case that a smart plug has a larger footprint than a single outlet, which means that you might have to sacrifice the second plug availability in order to plug in your smart plug.
Increased depth required.
In smaller spaces where every square inch counts, a smart plug extends the required depth to plug into an outlet. When your plug is located behind other furniture, such as a sofa or bookcase, these precious inches can make a significant difference on the smart plug’s desirability and/or usefulness.
While smart plugs are a cost-effective way to introduce smart home control into your home, they do still have a price tag above and beyond a traditional wall outlet. So you’ll need to weigh the convenience and usefulness of the smart plug against the cost to determine if it’s a good option for you.
Product Comparison of The Best Smart Plugs
Below is a comparison of a variety of smart plugs on the market today. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but it will help get you started in your research to determine which option will provide the best smart plug for your home and lifestyle.
The iDevices Switch provides simple setup, user-friendly energy monitoring, and seamless integration with Amazon Alexa and Apple HomeKit without requiring any additional smart hub. It is also compatible with either android or iOS devices. Not only that, but iDevices Switch is an aesthetically sleek and modern smart plug, with its minimalist casing. An LED “night light” strip can be any color you want. It takes up only one outlet on your wall, and its own outlet is positioned on the side. This is beneficial if you want to use this smart plug behind a bookcase or sofa, as it doesn’t require a double-distance of plugs from the wall itself.
In addition to a thoughtfully designed smart plug, the iDevices Switch app doesn’t disappoint in functionality and ease of use. Setup is easy, with no wi-fi network information required for the ultimate in hassle-free installation. A consistent wi-fi connection between the intuitive app and the smart plug is maintained, even if the plug has to be relocated in another outlet in the house. You can create unlimited schedules for your device to turn on or off, based upon your preferences or daily routine. The remote control function of the app works well at a distance, even from outside the house. Energy monitoring information is provided through the app with daily, weekly, monthly, and even yearly cost and usage estimates.
The TP-Link Smart Wi-Fi Plug provides an excellent combination of features at a very low cost, making it one of the best smart plugs in terms of value. It’s also incredibly simple and elegant, aesthetically, which means it will integrate seamlessly into your existing décor. The energy monitoring feature is useful, and its reliability and responsiveness make the TP-Link Smart Wi-Fi Plug a solid addition to any smart home. It is on the larger side (100.3mmx66.3mmx77mm) and will block the top outlet if plugged into the bottom. But if plug space isn’t a huge issue, you’re going to appreciate this smart plug’s benefits. Integration with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant is a useful feature as well, and the app is designed with the user in mind.
The TP-Link Smart Wi-Fi Plug app is easy to install on either android or iOS smart devices, and, once installed, maintains a reliable connection between smart plug and app. This means that, even when you’re not at home, you can still control whatever device is plugged into your smart plug. There is an integrated count down timer feature, which automatically turns off the device or appliance at that point if you’ve set a time limit previously. One nice feature, the “Away” feature, will turn your plugged-in lights on and off at random times while you’re on vacation, to discourage potential break-ins.
View in gallery
The TP-Link Smart Plug Mini shares a lot of characteristics with the TP-Link Smart Wi-Fi Plug, including easy setup (on either iOS or android devices), a usable app with remote control options, schedule programming, Amazon Alexa compatibility, and the “Away” mode, which randomly turns on/off plugged-in lights to deter burglars. As its name suggests, it is one of the smaller smart plugs on the market and only covers one single outlet without blocking adjacent sockets no matter where you plug it in. The convenience of this compact design does result in a slightly larger cost, however, so it’s an important feature to determine its priority…or not.
No hub is required, making this standalone smart plug really straightforward and beneficial. There is no energy monitoring on this smart plug, but if that’s a feature you don’t need, this is an excellent smart plug choice for the smaller space resident. This plug is responsive, reliable, and maintains a solid connection with wi-fi, so you can control your plugged-in devices anywhere you have internet via the app on your smart phone.
The Etekcity Volston Wi-Fi Smart Plug Mini Outlet is very easy to install, connect, and maintain a connection with. It can be controlled via an app on your smart phone or other device, allowing you to manage the connected device(s) from anywhere. You can program custom schedules for your devices to automatically turn on and off as needed, which is useful for space heaters, fans, lights, Christmas lights, and even things like a coffee maker so it’s ready to go first thing. The small, circular shape mimics the footprint of a traditional socket, although you’ll need to plug Etekcity in the lower socket if you want to use the upper socket.
Etekcity Voltson smart plugs are compatible with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant for voice control. One of the most appealing aspects of smart plugs, including the Etekcity Voltson Wi-Fi Smart Plug Mini Outlet, is that you can eliminate wasteful standby power and reduce energy usage. This particular smart plug allows you to track the power usage of your plugged-in device to determine which devices use the most energy, allowing you to make modifications and adjustments as needed to reduce energy waste. This not only results in annual energy cost savings (some estimates up to $100/year), but it also can extend the life of your plugged-in device.
The Belkin WeMo Inside Smart Plug provides a useful range of features, such as power monitoring and integration with many smart home networks (e.g., SmartThings, Alexa, Nest, Google Home, and IFTTT). Its sleek design makes the Belkin WeMo an attractive smart plug option. You can remotely control any plugged-in device, including setting schedules, through the WeMo app from anywhere you have Internet, 3G, or 4G connection – essentially, you have control over your plugged-in devices anywhere, anytime. You can also use voice control via compatible smart home systems.
One great feature of the Belkin WeMo is an “Away Mode,” which you can set while you’re gone for an extended time, to power your lights on and off and make it seem like you’re home. Some disadvantages of the Belkin WeMo, however, include a larger rounded design that can block both outlets, and the app is not as user-friendly as some of the other smart plugs available. That being said, the Belkin WeMo Insight Smart Plug is reliable and consistent and certainly meets the needs of a basic smart plug. It allows you to monitor your energy usage from your smart device in real-time, so that you know just how much it’s costing you to run that space heater all morning.
The iHome iSP8 Wi-Fi SmartPlug is designed to be compact, to take up less space on your outlet, and is compatible with both android and iOS and integrates with an array of smart home systems (e.g., Alexa, Google, HomeKit, SmartThings, and Wink). It also offers energy monitoring features and a one-button remote control so you can operate the plugged-in device even without a smart phone. (The remote control works up to 35 feet away, even without line of sight.) The iHome iSP8 plug is responsive to global remote access, 24/7, and is reliable. It also provides power consumption statistics for the plugged-in devices, such as window A/C, fans, space heaters, lights, lamps, coffee makers, sound systems, etc., which means you can make educated adjustments to decrease energy usage and save money.
One major advantage of this smart plug particularly in the small space is that, due to its thin design, it won’t block the outlet above or below. This also means you can easily plug in two iSP8 smart plugs for maximum smart home tech. iSP8 is designed for indoor use only, and for appliances with a max of 1800 watts. It is wi-fi enabled and does not require a hub to facilitate your ability to control home electronics such as lights, heaters, fans, and even sound systems.
The D-Link Wi-Fi Smart Plug allows you to turn on or off your plugged-in indoor device(s) from wherever you are via the mobile app on your smart phone or tablet. You can also program schedules for your devices. An integrated thermal sensor within the D-Link Wi-Fi Smart Plug helps your devices to not overheat by automatically turning off heat-threatened devices or appliances. This smart plug is on the boxier side of smart plugs (it must be plugged in strategically so it doesn’t block the second wall outlet), yet it is exceptionally functional. Through the D-Link app, you can easily access energy monitoring information to ultimately save on energy costs.
The D-Link smart plug boasts an incredibly easy setup, as is pretty much the case with most smart plugs: simply plug in the smart plug, then connect to an existing wi-fi network by pressing the WPS button on the smart plug and on the router. Connection takes just a couple of minutes, and you’re on your way to a smarter device. D-Link is compatible with Amazon Echo and Google Home, so you can use your voice to control the device’s on or off status. This is the ultimate convenience.
While there are many smart home upgrades available on the market today, few are as simple and straightforward as the smart plug. These devices provide so much control and convenience at very little cost or effort. As you are conducting your research to determine which is the best smart plug for you, keep in mind spatial constraints such as the smart plug’s size, depth, and other outlet blockage potential, wi-fi compatibility, thermal sensing, indoor/outdoor appropriate usage, app ease of use, and compatibility with other smart home systems. This is an excellent first step toward smart home automation or an easy and budget-friendly addition to your existing smart home system.