Outlet Plugs That Make ‘Dumb’ Devices Smart
One of the easiest ways to make your home smart is by using a so-called "smart plug," which lets you control various small appliances without needing to be in the room — or the country. Since they are easy to use and very affordable, starting at less than $30 per switch, anyone with a smartphone can get in on the convenience (and dare we say, fun) of smart home technology.
At their most basic, smart plugs will let you control otherwise "dumb" devices, such as a floor lamp or coffee maker, using your smartphone. However, other smart plugs have additional features, such as a built-in Wi-Fi range extender, or provide a running estimate on how much an appliance costs to run on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. While there are some limitations for what kind of control you can have over the appliance — most switches offer simply on/off or dimming capabilities — there's no question that home switches will make your life a little bit easier while helping you save money. The best part is, this category of gadgetry is only in its infancy and its capabilities are improving at breakneck speed.
Best Overall: iHome ISP5 Control Smart Plug
The inexpensive iHome Smart Plug is quick to set up, easy to use and has the best voice-control capabilities out of the crop we tested. Not only is it compatible with Siri and Apple HomeKit, but it also works with Amazon's Alexa. Starting at around $30, the iHome Smart Plug doesn't offer a lot of extra bells and whistles, but what it does, it does well.
iHome's current app is a big improvement on previous versions and even allows you to update the appliance icons. You can group devices by room or category, and since it's connected via Wi-Fi, you can control devices from anywhere you have the app and an Internet signal.
While the Smart Plug works effectively on its own, it can be incorporated into a comprehensive home automation system, hence its compatibility with Home Kit, Wink and Nest. While it lacks extras, such as energy monitoring, this is the one to get if all you're looking for is an inexpensive smart plug.
- Fast setup
- Basic on/off control from anywhere with Wi-Fi
- Excellent voice control
- Compatible with Apple, Amazon and Nest home automation
- No electricity or usage data capture
- No dimming capabilities
Best Budget Switch: TP-Link WiFi Switch
With the TP-Link HS100 WiFi switch, you can control appliances from anywhere. This switch has simple features and a user-friendly app to provide excellent control at a discount to some of the other switches in this category. You can turn any appliance on or off from any smartphone or tablet, provided you have Wi-Fi connectivity.
This switch also allows you to schedule when to turn on or off an electronic device, and its user data helps you determine what those usage habits are. Another impressive capability for a budget product like this is the ability to control limitless appliances through the app, provided you have enough switches to do so.
The TP-Link HS100 is compatible with Amazon Alexa but no other smart home systems, which is a bummer, but at less than $30, it is not a bad tradeoff.
- Android and iOS compatible
- Low price
- Remote control through Wi-Fi
- Controls a limitless number of appliances through the app
- Doesn't collect information on energy usage or cost
- Limited compatibility with other smart home systems
MORE: Best Smart Home Hubs
Best Dimmer Switch: Lutron Caseta Wireless Smart Lighting Dimmer Kit
While this product is pricey, one of the better things about Lutron's switch is that it has not one, but two plugs, so you can control more than one device at once. Also, this is one of the only switches that lets you dim lights connected to it. The Caseta comes with dimmer controls, both on the plug itself and on a small remote, so you don't need to open an app on your smartphone.
While you can control up to 50 plugs from the Lutron app, you'll need to link the plugs to Lutron's Wi-Fi bridge. You can get a pack of two plugs and the bridge for $200, or get the plugs ($59 each) and bridge ($80) separately. The app lets you group plugs together and create schedules. Plus, it works with a wide range of smart home systems, including Alexa.
- Built-in dimmer
- Comes with remote
- Works with lots of Smart Home systems
- Requires hub to control remotely
Belkin WeMo Insight Switch
Belkin's WeMo Insight provides a lot for the money. Downloading the app was easy, though there was no QR Code within the instructions to bring you directly to the app download page, unlike other devices in this crop. Setup proved trickier than some other plugs, but once the installation wrestling match was over, this switch was one of the best-performing of the lot we tested.
It also offered the most statistical information of this collection of devices — and looked good doing it. You get a heaping helping of usage, electricity-consumption information, and even a running tally of how much that device costs to run. All of this is wrapped up in a beautiful, user-friendly interface. It works with Nest, Amazon Alexa and IFTTT.
What's more, you can turn devices on or off from any smartphone. You can control a limitless number of switches and appliances, provided you have the bandwidth to do so.
- Remote Access
- Detailed Usage and Cost Data
- Setup can be tricky
iDevices WiFi Switch
For a switch exclusively compatible with iOS devices, setting up the iDevices WiFi Switch isn't as seamless as one would think. There are a handful of settings that need to be programmed before the switch can be used properly. For example, you'll need to activate your iCloud drive, keychain, Synchronize Custom Home and Enable Home Data and Restart Devices App settings. Once these tweaks have been made, however, the switch is a solid Wi-Fi control for a number of small devices and appliances.
The iDevices dashboard looks intimidating, but can be used to control numerous systems in your home, including a thermostat, an outdoor switch, a lamp socket and a shower speaker. It works with Amazon Alexa and Apple HomeKit. The app can control as many small appliances as you can set up.
The iDevices dashboard allows you to keep track of usage and energy consumption as well as control many different appliances within your home via any Wi-Fi connection. A very clever feature is a built-in nightlight that can be controlled remotely, and in myriad different color shades. It's also easily voice-controlled using the Siri function of your iOS device.
- Switch is part of larger, wide-ranging home automation system
- Voice-controlled using Siri, Alexa
- Built-in nightlight in many colors
- Energy consumption data capture
- Setup can be tedious
- Dashboard can appear complicated
Zuli Smart Plug
One of the pricier smart plugs, the Zuli is sold in packs of three for $84. However, it has a feature it calls "presence," which will automatically turn on the lights in a room if it detects your smartphone.
Setup was frightfully easy. The appropriate switch begins glowing once you choose it in the app, and within about 20 seconds, you're turning your lamp on and off, as well as dimming it (assuming it is a dimmable lamp or light bulb to start with). The app can control a limitless number of electrical devices.
Zuli smart plugs are Android and iOS compatible and the app is simple yet attractive. There are only a handful of "things" you can do with the app, but that's what makes it so good. With the Zuli app, there are no excessive bells and whistles or hard-to-understand or obscure features.
Because Zuli is limited to Bluetooth connectivity, you won't be able to turn on your TV from work to comfort your dog. Also, range inside the home becomes an issue. For example, when I wanted to turn on my air purifier or air conditioner in my bedroom from the other side of the apartment, I could not.
Zuli is still pricey, but could be worth it for those with lots of dimmable lights and lamps. Zuli is one of the few smart switches on the market with the ability to brighten or dim your (compatible) lights. It is compatible only with the Nest smart home system.
- Dimming control of compatible lights
- Efficient and intuitive setup, app, controls
- High-end design
- Bluetooth Only
- iOS Only
- Limited smart home compatibility
Other Switches We Tested
Satechi IQ Plug
The Satechi IQ Plug is a small cube-like switch that has an intuitive, simple-to-use app. It has a timer function to turn off your device(s) after so many hours, and you can use the scheduler to, say, turn on your coffee maker early in the morning. While the Satechi website claims the IQ Plug is compatible only with iOS devices, I found an app in the Google store listing Satechi as the developer. It is not, however, compatible with other smart home systems.
Because Satechi's plug uses Bluetooth, you cannot control devices or appliances from remote locations, as you can with iHome's switches. Satechi says the control range of the IQ Plug is 49 feet, but with walls and other obstructions, it seems that the range is more like 20-30 feet. But you can control up to 10 of the plugs with the app, giving a wide range of control and data collection of your family's usage habits and cost.
Regardless, the IQ Plug app offers a wealth of information ― electricity usage, appliance usage habits and estimated cost to run that particular appliance. The app uses all manner of visual depictions, from line graphs to RPM-like displays similar to what you'd see on your car's display. With a bright and airy design and colorful visuals, the app is a lot of fun, which is saying something, given the somewhat vanilla statistics the app aggregates.
- Control up to 10 devices simultaneously within the app
- Excellent app visuals
- Helpful data collection
- No remote access
- Confusion regarding Android compatibility
- Does not work with other smart home systems
D-Link's entry-level Wi-FI smart plug has been around for more than two years, which says a lot about its performance: solid and consistent, but not particularly cutting edge. Setup can be a real pain in the neck, but that's what led us to the switch's strongest point: technical support. There's a definite possibility you're going to need it ― especially if you're like me and failed to read the instructions carefully. After talking to its tech support for a few minutes, I was able to get the switch online, turning my spider lamp on and off via the D-Link switch and its comprehensive smart home app.
The app is not only well-designed and logically laid out, but offers the ability to control seven different kinds of smart devices: smart plug, hub, sensor, alarm, camera, smart meter and smart lock. Suffice it to say, D-Links smart plug is just one of a host of smart home products, which can all be controlled remotely through the smartphone app.
Back to this switch: The DSP-W110 isn't going to give you energy consumption and usage data, or be able to dim your lamps, lava or otherwise. But you will get the ability to turn on and off most any small appliance or electronic device through an easy-to-use app, and it's compatible with a number of other smart home systems.
- Excellent technical support
- Simple, easy control of appliances and electronics
- App can control up to 99 switches
- Setup can be frustrating
- No dimming capability
- Limited compatibility with other smart home systems
TRENDnet Home Smart Switch with Wi-Fi Extender
If you're going to buy a smart switch to control one of your electronic appliances, why not also make it a wireless Wi-Fi range extender? For about the price of the extender itself, you can do both with TRENDnet's Home Smart Switch with Wi-Fi Extender.
There's nothing fancy about the device's app interface. In fact, it's a black, white and gray bore. Nonetheless, this device does two helpful things well. First, it's a terrific Wi-Fi range extender, blasting a solid signal throughout the second and third floors of my home.
Secondly, this switch gives you the basic ability to turn on or off an appliance or device of your choice. And when I say basic, I mean it: This switch requires only a home Wi-Fi network, yet doesn't work with any home automation systems. It's essentially a range extender with the ability to turn on or off one electric device.
Now, this may be an anomaly, but the device produces a high-pitched noise when controlling the electronic device along with a subtle click that scared the heck out of my dog. It may be nothing, but if you have a dog and it reacts negatively to the sound, you'll know Bruiser isn't alone. (We've reached out to TRENDnet for a replacement unit, and will revisit this issue).
- Strong Signal Booster
- Signal Level Light on Front
- Easy to use
- Clunky design
- App is basic in design and functionality
- Doesn't work with other smart home devices