Feature Story  

The best smart plugs in 2024

Wed, Jul 10, 2024
Is it difficult to turn on a lamp by hand? No, but it is convenient to say a few words and have all your lights turn on (or off). In the year or so that I've been testing and using smart plugs in my home, I've enjoyed not muddling through the early-evening dark, because my lights come on an hour before sunset. I don't stumble blindly to the kitchen for midnight water; instead I ask Alexa to snap on a lamp. And when the heat wave we now call summer makes my office an oven, I tell Siri to switch on the fan by the door. For all their convenience, smart plugs can vary widely in compatibility and reliability, so we tested units from the major players out there to come up with recommendations for the best smart plugs for whichever smart home ecosystem you prefer. Table of contents Best smart plugs What to consider when buying a smart plug How we tested the best smart plugs Other smart plugs we tested Best smart plugs The best outdoor smart plugs Most people will likely use outdoor plugs for two things: patio lighting and holiday string lights. The devices are designed for the outdoors with ingress protection rating of IP64 or higher, which means they're impervious to dust and can handle splashing water from rain and sprinklers. They have a longer Wi-Fi range than indoor plugs, for obvious reasons, and many have dual outlets, with individual control over each one. Setup is the same as for indoor plugs: you'll use your phone to help the plug find your Wi-Fi using its companion app. The only tricky part is getting your phone within Bluetooth range of the plug (which it uses to initialize setup) and in Wi-Fi range at the same time. I had to awkwardly stand at a triangulated point in the middle of my driveway to get things communicating properly. Once set up, the plugs will communicate using your router for voice and app control and your phone needn't be anywhere near the plug. What to consider when buying a smart plug Before you buy one, it helps to know how a smart plug works best. They are designed for things that have an on/off switch, making them great for turning lamps into smart lights. If you want a plug-in fan to move some air around before you get home, a smart plug can help. You can load a basic coffee maker with grounds and water the night before and wake up to a fresh pot in the morning. And instead of an air purifier running all day, you could set it to just run when you're away. But gadgets that needs to be programmed further, or requires a stand-by mode, isn't ideal. If you want to control built-in lights, you'll need smart switches, which are more involved than smart plugs as they can involve installation. Some smart plugs can even monitor how much energy they use and display those figures within their companion app. That might not be much use on its own, as lamps with LED bulbs consume very little energy, but it could help you keep tabs on your overall energy consumption. Setup and use Adding a smart plug to your home is relatively simple. You'll use the manufacturer's app to initially connect, after which you can add the plug to a compatible smart home ecosystem so you can use voice control and other features. Both the brand's app and your smart home app will let you name the plug, set schedules and program "routines" which provide automation for multiple smart devices at once. But as you can guess, a manufacturer's app only lets you control products from that brand. If you want whole-home automation, operating, say, a plug from TP-Link's Kasa, a bulb from GE's Cync and a camera from Arlo without switching apps, you'll need to use a smart home platform, which means you'll need to consider compatibility. Compatibility Smart home devices connect through wireless protocols, often using more than one to communicate with your phone, smart speaker, router and in some cases, one another. The majority of smart plugs use Wi-Fi, but some have recently incorporated Matter, a relatively new wireless standard intended to solve integration issues between different brands and manufacturers, while also improving security and reliability. More of these smart plugs are coming to market and, for now, most Matter devices work via Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and a low-power mesh network called Thread. Matter requires a controller that stays at home, like a hub or smart speaker, to manage things when you're out and about. As for Bluetooth, most plugs, including all Matter plugs, use the short-range protocol to get the device set up for the first time. Some can continue to run on Bluetooth in the absence of another option, but the connection isn't as reliable and you won't be able to control the plug when you're away from home, or perhaps even just on the other side of the apartment. Because Matter is relatively new, it may be easier to consider the manufacturer's system you'd use the most. There are four major "branded" smart home platforms: Amazon's Alexa, Google Home, Apple's HomeKit and Samsung's SmartThings. The first two work with the widest range of brands and are compatible with both iOS and Android devices. HomeKit not only limits app access to Apple devices, but it's also compatible with fewer plugs. You can also turn to open-source software like Home Assistant or go with the larger functionality of IFTTT if you want to, say, have your lights turn off when your Uber arrives. For the purposes of our testing, we stuck with the four big players. Nearly every plug we looked at clearly stated which platforms it works with, both on the packaging and retail product pages. Of course, there's no rule that says you have to stick with one home assistant. You might have an Echo Dot in the basement, a HomePod in the living room and a Google Nest Mini in the kitchen, each controlling any compatible devices. My kid has a great time telling Alexa to turn on a light then asking the Google Assistant to turn it back off. Photo by Amy Skorheim / Engadget Hubs and smart plugs All of our top picks recommended here don't require a hub and connect directly to your home's Wi-Fi router. That means if you already have wireless internet and a smartphone or tablet, you can quite literally plug and play. The exception is Apple's HomeKit. If you want to pair up a compatible plug with that platform, you'll need a HomePod speaker, Apple TV or an iPad that stays in your home to enable remote control when you're away. Some smart plugs require a hub regardless of which platform you use. For our guide, we focused on the simplicity (and lower cost) of options that work on their own, but hub-dependent devices may make sense in certain situations. Some companies, like Aqara for example, make a vast range of smart home products, adding automatic shades, window sensors, smart locks and air quality monitors to the more traditional cameras and plugs. If you're going all-in on one brand and plan to get a plethora of connected devices, a hub can keep your Wi-Fi network from getting too crowded and provide a more seamless setup with reliable connectivity. Sharing Once a plug is set up with your platform and voice assistant of choice, anyone can control the plug just by talking. If someone else wants to control things with their phone, things get more complicated. Google makes it easiest, allowing you to invite another person just by tapping the + button within the Home app. Whomever you invite will have full access to your connected devices – including cameras – so this is only for people you trust the most. HomeKit makes it similarly easy to grant app access to someone else, but as with most things Apple, it only works for other iOS users. Amazon only allows you to share access to your Echo, not your connected home devices. Many smart plug manufacturers allow you to share control through their app by inviting another person via email. But this only grants access to devices of that brand. Hopefully as Matter expands, multi-admin features will become more widespread. If you get a new Wi-Fi network Most people will wirelessly connect their smart plugs to their home's Wi-Fi router. Matter, Z-Wave, Thread and other smart home protocols can work over local networks, but for most setups, the signals telling your plugs what to do will be dispatched through your router. If you happen to get a new one (like I did when it became clear my very basic gateway could not handle the number of smart home devices being tested) you'll need to take a few steps to get everything reconnected. Depending on the brand, the steps may simply involve using the plug's companion app to update your credentials (network name and password). Or it will require deleting the device in the companion app, doing a factory reset (typically by pressing the onboard button for 10 seconds) and setting up the plug like it's brand new. GE Sync and Emporia plugs allow for a credentials update via their apps, others, like TP-Link Kasa and Meross plugs require deletion and a factory reset to get along with your new network. Amazon's smart plug updates automatically after updating the associated Echo device. How we tested the best smart plugs Before we decided which smart plugs to test, we considered brands Engadget staffers have had the best experiences with, both in review capacity and personally. We also checked out other online reviews. We then looked at factors like price, compatibility and relative popularity. I got ahold of ten indoor smart plugs and four outdoor versions from eight manufacturers. I set up each one using its companion app, then added it to all compatible smart home platforms. Plugging in a cadre of lamps and string lights, I tested the plugs using an iPhone 11, Galaxy S10e, Echo Dot, HomePod mini and Nest Mini. I accessed the plugs via the apps and through voice commands and controlled them in my home and away from it. I programmed schedules and routines and moved the plugs to different outlets, including ones in the basement to gauge range. For the outdoor devices, I plugged them into an outlet in the garage (approximately 85 feet from my Wi-Fi router) and an outlet attached to the back of the house. Here's every smart plug tested before settling on our top picks: Amazon Smart Plug Emporia Smart Outlet* GE Cync Indoor Wyze Plug Roku Indoor Smart Plug SE Belkin Wemo smart plug with Thread TP-Link Kasa EP25 TP-Link Kasa Ultra Mini EP10 Meross Wi-Fi Dual TP-Link Kasa KP125M (Matter) Eve Energy (Matter) Aqara Smart Plug (hub required) AmazonBasics Outdoor Smart Plug (outdoor) Wyze Plug Outdoor (outdoor) TP-Link Kasa Outdoor EP40A (outdoor) TP-LINK Outdoor Dimmer KP405 (outdoor) *Emporia issued a recall on its smart plugs purchased before August 1, 2023 due to a potential fire risk, though no incidents were reported. The plugs have since been updated to resolve the issue and are back on sale. We'll be testing the revised version for an upcoming update to this guide. Other smart plugs we tested Meross Matter plug (MSS115) I wasn't able to test the Meross Matter plug fully. It requires Wi-Fi splitting, a process that's certainly possible for the average consumer, but more involved than it should be, considering the more than dozen other plugs I've tested don't require such a step. The plug itself also blocked the other outlet. Meross has an updated version of the Matter device on the way, one that looks to solve both issues and we'll update this guide accordingly once we've had a chance to test it. Roku Smart Plug Roku's smart home gear is basically Wyze equipment with an app and packaging that are more purple. The Roku smart plug performed just fine with both compatible voice assistants (Alexa and Google Assistant). The companion app doesn't offer scheduling that revolves around the timing of the sunset in your area, but the plugs go for less than $10 each and if you've got a Roku TV or streaming device set up and want to keep everything on-brand, it could be a fit. Aquara Smart Plug The Aqara plug requires an Aqara hub. In tests, the connectivity was solid and the companion app allowed for useful if/then automations that can rope in other Aqara devices like locks, window shades, cameras and more. The plug also worked well with voice assistants from Amazon, Google and Apple. As a stand-alone plug, however, it's tough to recommend the nearly $100 combo to anyone who isn't planning to get a complete Aqara smart home setup.This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/best-smart-plug-131542429.html?src=rss
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