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, for that matter. Because smart plugs 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 let you control otherwise "dumb" devices, such as floor lamps and coffee makers, using your smartphone.
After testing a dozen plugs, we chose the TP-Link HS105 as our top pick. It typically costs around $35, is small enough so that you can fit two of them in an outlet, and has useful features such as an Away mode, which turns your lights on and off to make it look like you're home. Our best value pick is the iHome iSP6X; it costs less than $30, yet works with a huge range of smart home devices, and is fairly compact, too.
Latest News & Updates (March 2018)
- TP-Link's devices (which include smart plugs, switches, and lights) are now compatible with IFTTT, which lets you create additional commands for when the devices should activate. For example, you can set your lights to turn on when Uber drops you off at home. Here are some of the IFTTT applets available for TP-Link's Kasa app.
- Belkin WeMo owners can now connect their smart plugs to Apple HomeKit—provided you purchase the WeMo Bridge ($39.99). This small dongle plugs into your Wi-Fi router, and provides a secure link between your WeMo Mini (or other WeMo product) and Apple's smart home network.
- Fibaro's new Wall Plug, which connects to a Z-Wave smart home hub (such as Samsung SmartThings) has an LED light ring that changes color depending on how much power is being drawn, and can automatically shut off power if consumption goes beyond an amount set by the user. The LED ring can also be configured as a night light. A Wall Plug with a USB port is available now for $59.99, and a non-USB version will be available in April for $49.99.
TP-Link's HS105 smart plug has a compact design, which makes it possible to add two to an outlet. We liked the Kasa app, which was easy to use and has a robust set of features, such as the ability to create schedules and an Away mode that turns your lights on and off at random intervals while you're out of your house.
While iHome's smart plug doesn't have the Away feature we like so much in the TP-Link app, the iSP6X works with many more smart home systems, including Nest, Wink and Samsung SmartThings. Plus, it usually sells for about $7 to $8 less than the HS105.
iHome's outdoor plug can withstand the elements, which makes it great for powering all those tree lights and outdoor displays you put up every December. It only has one plug, though, so you may need several to get juice to all of your lights.
Although it's the most expensive of the plugs we tested, the Lutron Caseta kits offers something the others don't: the ability to dim your lights. Plus, Lutron's app has some great scheduling features, and it works with a lot of other smart home systems. This kit also comes with a Wi-Fi-bridge (a necessity) and a remote control.
Most smart plugs only let you plug in one device at a time, but the Geeni Surge lets you power up to eight—four using the regular plugs, and four via USB. What's more, you can control them independently using the Geeni app, or through Alexa or Google Assistant. Still, it's not perfect: The plugs are too close together, and the app has some sections that aren't in English.
Other Smart Plugs Tested
Belkin's WeMo Insight not only lets you turn your devices on and off but also provides information on your usage and electricity consumption, and even shows a running total of how much that device costs to run. All of this is wrapped up in a beautiful, user-friendly app. It works with Nest, Amazon Alexa and IFTTT.
The WeMo Mini is thin enough so that you can fit two of them per outlet. While it doesn't have energy monitoring like the Insight, the Mini does work with the same smart home systems, and has a helpful switch on the plug itself.
Leviton's plug-in dimmer is large, so you can use only one per outlet. The one limitation of Leviton's Z-Wave model is that you first need to connect it to a compatible hub, such as the Samsung SmartThings or Wink 2. If you want to go hub-free, you can get Leviton's smart plug with Wi-Fi, which sells for $39.
The Apple HomeKit-only Elgato Eve Energy Switch and Power Meter uses Bluetooth, rather than Wi-Fi, which limits the "smarts" of this device to a small bubble around your home. You have to wirelessly connect the Eve Switch to an Apple TV if you want to remotely control the plug from your iPhone. The shape of the Eve switch also means you can use only one per outlet.
How We Test Smart Home Plugs
Reviewing a smart plug isn't as simple as plugging it in. Well, it almost is. In addition to making sure the plug actually turns on the thing that's plugged into it, we also evaluate the plugs on several factors:
- Design: Can you fit more than one plug into an outlet? Does it have a physical on/off switch or indicator lights?
- Setup: How easy is it to connect the plug to your Wi-Fi network, and to its app?
- Scheduling: How robust is the scheduling feature in the app?
- Smart Home Connectivity: How many other smart home systems does the plug work with? Alexa and Google Assistant should be givens.
What To Look For When Buying a Smart Plug
There are tons of smart plugs available on Amazon and other online retailers, many of which cost less than $30, and work with Alexa. So how do you decide which is best? Here are some things to consider.
1. Will it block my other outlet? Some smart plugs are so big that if you plug them into a wall outlet, it will block the second outlet. That's a design fail. TP-Link's HS105, the iHome ISP6X, and the Belkin WeMo Mini are all plugs that are small enough to keep the other outlet free.
2. Will it work with more than Alexa? It's great to be able to say "Alexa, turn off my lights" and have the smart plug shut off your table lamp. But the better plugs will also work with Google Home, and some—such as iHome's—also work with Apple HomeKit.
3. Is the app any good? Many of the cheaper plugs have cheaper apps, which make it difficult to schedule when the plug should turn off and on. We've even found some that haven't been fully translated into English. While you'll need to download the plug's app before you purchase the plug, this step could save you a lot of frustration.
Smart Plugs vs. Smart Switches vs. Smart Lights
When does it make sense to get a smart plug versus a smart wall switch or a smart light bulb? For one, most smart plugs can be used to control more than just lights. For example, you could plug a coffee maker or floor fan into a smart plug, and have it turn that device on at a given time.
If you're using a smart plug primarily for lighting, it's best for floor and table lamps because you can use less-expensive bulbs. However, if you want bulbs that can change color or color temperature, then a smart bulb may be a better way to go. If all your lights are controlled by a wall switch, then you'll want a smart switch.