Smart Home Weekly: Getting Started with Smart Plugs

Transitioning your home into a smart home has all kinds of great benefits. The ability to control your lights without touching the light switch, or having your garage door open as you turn into the driveway, just a few of the many advantages. But transitioning to a smart home can be tough. Not only can it be costly, but many people are not sure where to start. The easiest place to start is by outfitting your home with smart plugs. These are cheap, and will work with anything that gets plugged in. So let's talk about getting started with them, and finding the best smart plug for your home and the best use-cases for them.

Deciding Which Smart Plug to Buy

This is perhaps the toughest part of buying a smart plug, deciding which one to buy. Many would say that the WeMo Smart Plug Mini from Belkin is the best choice, but there's also the TP-Link Smart Plug Mini which is another great choice. These both work with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, so you can tie them to your favorite assistant and then control them with your voice.

Now, looking at the bigger picture, it's a good idea to buy smart plugs from the same brand, or those that work with the same hub, like Samsung's SmartThings hub. That way you can control everything in your home through one app - if you don't want to use your voice. Now SmartThings is not the only hub out there, but it is one of the more popular ones. Z-Wave is another one that is worth looking into.

"Mini" Smart Plugs

One of the key things you'll want to look for, when buying a smart plug, is to make sure it's a "mini" one. Why? It's simple. When smart plugs first started coming out a few years ago, they were big and bulky. Which meant that when you plugged one in, it would cover both outlets. Essentially getting rid of one of your outlets in your home. Which is not a good thing. But within the past year or two, many companies have been able to make "mini" versions, which still have all of the same tech inside, but are longer, versus being taller. This means you could take two of the iDevices Switches and plug one into each outlet. Now both are smart, and can be controlled individually. These are usually a bit more expensive, but that is because they are newer. But still usually under $30 each.

Where to Place the Smart Plug

A good place to start would be with a lamp. If you have a lamp in your living room, you could plug it into the smart plug and then control it from there. With a smart plug, you could control when it turns on. Maybe you want it to turn on as the sun goes down, so it doesn't get dark in your home too quickly. You can schedule it to turn on at 5 or 6PM. But it basically takes that (old) lamp and turns it into a smart one.

Another good place would be in the kitchen. Maybe you want to save some electricity. You could plug in your microwave into the smart plug and keep it turned off when not in use. Although that likely wouldn't save you a ton of energy, but it could save you a bit. Then there's also the argument for your TV in the living room or den. While it is nice to be able to say "Hey Google, turn on the TV", it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to use a Smart Plug for your TV. Seeing as you typically have more than one item plugged in, in your entertainment center. But there is a solution. The Geeni SURGE. This is a smart surge protector with four AC outlets and four USB outlets. Each outlet can be controlled individually, so you can add a name to each outlet and turn each one of individually, or everything at once.

Using a Smart Plug

Smart Plugs are super simple. They will give you a taste of what can be done when you make your entire home smart, and make you want to buy more smart home products. But they are great because there might be some things in your home you don't want to get rid of  - maybe an old lamp, or another appliance - and you can make them smart by spending around $30 and getting a smart plug. The actual functionality of these smart plugs are very limited though. Basically you can turn them on or off, and set a schedule for them to turn on and off. But there is another feature that is making its way to more of these, and that is energy monitoring. So you can see how much energy each smart plug is using when the appliance is on versus being off. Which can be useful, especially if you're looking to go green.

Pros & Cons of Using Smart Plugs

There are plenty of pros for using smart plugs, like the ease of use, the price and flexibility. But what are some of the cons or disadvantages of using them? Well the first one comes back to its ease of use. They are easy to use, but functionality is a bit limited with these smart plugs. There's also not many multi-outlet options for smart plugs. There's the Geeni SURGE we mentioned earlier, but that is really the only one available. And if people want to make their entertainment system smart, we'll need more options for smart surge protectors.

Wrap Up

Smart plugs can be incredible for making that transition to a smart home. But it's important that you do your homework first. We would recommend getting something that worked with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant (also Siri/HomeKit, if for some reason you decide to switch from Android to iOS or vice versa, that way it'll work with any assistant, no matter which one you use). And also one that works with Z-Wave or SmartThings, so that way when you get more smart home products, everything can be controlled with one app. Smart plugs are still in the early stages of development, and they are actually a bit "dumb" at this point, in terms of functionality, but that will change in the next few years, as the IoT industry continues to evolve.

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About the Author

Alexander Maxham

Section Editor
Alex has written for Androidheadlines since 2012 as Editor of the site and traveled the World to many of the biggest Smartphone and Technology events. Alex has a background in Technology and IT and Deep Passion for Everything Android and Google. His specialties lay in Smartphones of all budgets, Accessories, Home Automation and more. Contact him at [email protected]
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