What are smart plugs?

Your old-school outlets are dumb. Smarten up your home with smart plugs

Maxcio Outdoor Smart Plug

Have you ever wished you could morph your average lamp, coffee maker, or air conditioner into a smart device you can control with your phone or with voice commands? Well, smart plugs are the genie that’s about to make your wishes come true. You can make just about any dumb appliance smart using just your Wi-Fi network and a smart plug. Here’s everything smart plugs can do and how to choose the right one.

How smart plugs work

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Using smart plugs is super simple. First, you plug a smart plug into an outlet. Then you plug something else (like a lamp or appliance) into it. Finally, you connect the plug to your favorite home assistant, such as Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant, or the smart plug’s app. From there the smart plug turns the power supply to the item you plugged into it on and off using commands sent from an app or smart home hub and your Wi-Fi network.

What are smart plugs used for?

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There are dozens of uses for smart plugs. Here are just a few to get your imagination turned on to all of the possibilities:

  • Turn on your coffee pot while you’re still in bed.
  • Control your window unit air conditioner or space heater without getting out of your chair.
  • Turn on lamps while you’re away to deter would-be burglars.
  • Turn off the oven, curling iron, or hair straightener you left on from your desk at work.
  • Turn on your holiday lights using a voice command.

Things to consider before buying a smart plug

There are several things to consider before getting a smart plug. First, make sure that the plug incorporates the type of command system you are more likely to use. For example, you shouldn’t get a plug that uses only its own app for commands if you strictly use Alexa.

Another feature to look for is energy monitoring. By plugging an appliance into this type of smart plug, you can learn just how much electricity your appliance uses, which can be particularly useful if you’re trying to decide on upgrading to a more energy-efficient model. The plug monitors how much electricity is routed through it to your appliance. Then, it sends a report to the plug’s app. Reports vary from app to app, but many let you see peak energy use hours and energy used over time. Quite a few smart plugs also give you the option to automatically turn on and off an appliance on a schedule so you can save electricity. Some good energy monitoring smart plugs include the WeMo Insight Switch, Elgato Eve and D-Link Wi-Fi Smart Plug.

If you’re short on outlets around the house, a smart plug with the ability to expand the number of ports on your outlet is a smart choice too.

Wasserstein Smart Indoor:Outdoor Plug

Don’t forget about location. Some outlets are intended for indoor use and some are meant for outdoor use. For outdoor use, some of our favorites include Maxcio, iDevices, and Wasserstein (we have a list of the best outdoor plugs here). For indoor use, the Satechi Dual Smart Outlet is a great choice for Home-Kit users. The ConnectSense Smart Outlet 2 provides the most flexibility in the smart plug world. It can be used with Amazon Alexa, Apple’s HomeKit and Siri, and Google Assistant. Or, if you don’t like any of those options, it can work without any smart hub at all.