- 1 The First Step Towards Home Automation
- 2 Quick Look: Top 5 Smart Plugs and Outlets
- 3 Geeni ENERGI Energy Tracking Wi-Fi Smart Plug
- 4 D-Link W110 Smart Plug
- 5 Zuli Smartplug
- 6 iHome iSP8 SmartPlug
- 7 Belkin WeMo Mini Smart Plug
- 8 Insteon 2663-222
- 9 Overall thoughts
The First Step Towards Home Automation
Smart outlets represent – at least most of the time – the most simple and easiest first step towards automating your home. They act as a gateway into a world filled with all kinds of smart devices, devices which can, in unison, provide a greater measure of convenience and security in your own home, or even provide functionality you didn’t even know you needed.
While some smart outlets are more complex, relying on hubs and networks with other smart devices, most smart plugs on the market today are quick, one-stop solutions with the potential to be integrated into a more complex system. We’re going to look at plugs and outlets of both categories in this guide.
With actual outlets, devices that you’ll be building into the wall and will be fixed in location, the process of getting them up and running is a tad more complex, but not terribly so. Most of these rely on existing home automation networks, or at least a hub, so we recommend that more experienced users look into these, or those who plan on setting up a larger system. Oddly enough, these devices usually pack fewer features for higher prices.
Plugs, on the other hand, are simpler devices which, as the name suggests, you simply plug into the traditional outlets your house already has. Other devices can be plugged into these plugs to supply power, and this is really where the whole “smart” thing comes into the picture, as you’ll be able to control and monitor the device plugged into the plug. Many of these carry the option to be linked with home automation systems for more features, but they can all be used as standalone devices for simpler purposes.
There are a few things to look out for when buying smart plugs. Generally, the price should float around the $40 mark, with few devices going over. If you’re looking at a more expensive product, check the specs to make sure you’re actually getting your money’s worth, though for those products on our list, we’ll do that for you.
The most basic feature you’ll find in every smart plug and outlet is the ability to remotely turn on or off the devices plugged into them with companion applications. Whether the device boasts further functions usually depends on the price point, though there are some cheaper models that pack more of a punch. Common features include IFTTT compatibility. This refers to If This Then That, which is a simplification of a common programming concept which sets up conditional functions. Some devices allow for more complex programming, designed for integration with other smart appliances spread throughout the home.
Plugs are more convenient to use, cheaper and have more functions than outlets do, so we’ll take the plug first in the guide. You can find our reviews of the outlets near the end of the guide.
Quick Look: Top 5 Smart Plugs and Outlets
|1||Belkin WeMo Mini||• Away Mode security feature|
• IFTTT and Alexa compatibility
|• Away Mode|
|• No consumption tracking|
|2||iHome iSP8||• A remote control device|
• Global remote access
|• Extremely wide range of compatibility|
|• Disconnection results in shutdown|
|3||D-Link W110||• IFTTT Support|
• Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant support
|• Discreet status indicator|
|• No power consumption tracking|
|4||Geeni Energi||• Global remote control|
• Compatible with Alexa and Google Assistant
• Many features
|• Status light is obtrusive|
• Lack of IFTTT
|5||Zuli Smartplug||• Compatibility with Nest Thermostat and Philips Hue|
• Light and temperature presets
|• Motion tracking|
• Consumption tracking
|• Only compatible with iOS|
• Motion tracking requires at least three devices
Geeni ENERGI Energy Tracking Wi-Fi Smart Plug
The Geeni Energi is a relative newcomer to the market and represents an ideal entry level product in the world of smart outlets. This budget device is a plug, not an outlet that requires any special installation, meaning you’ll have it up and running in no time.
The Energi packs a surprising amount of features relative to its price and is designed with convenience in mind. It can be used on its own without any other Geeni products, or smart home appliances of any kind. However, it can also be used in unison with other devices in a larger system.
The Geeni Energi is more than the garden variety smart plug which lets you turn things on and off remotely. While that’s all you’d normally expect for this price, the Energi also tracks power usage, showing you exactly how much energy the plugged in device is eating.
While knowing is half the battle, the Energi also lets you cut back on that energy consumption. Unlike other wi-fi devices which only work when the phone or tablet with the app installed is connected the same network as the device, the Energi can be controlled from anywhere with an internet connection – even halfway around the world.
Left the lights on when you left home, but only remembered when you’ve already arrived at your destination? No issue, just turn them off through the app. Additionally, you can set schedules when the Energi turns itself on and off, giving you one less thing to worry about.
The Energi also seeks to appeal to an audience more experienced with smart appliances by being compatible with both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, allowing you to control the plug with voice commands. Any long-time Trekkie who had entertained fantasies of going into their room and saying “computer, lights” with actual effect need dream no longer.
One small issue many users have brought attention to is the device’s finicky connection history with Amazon Alexa. Often times it takes several tries and a healthy helping of luck to get the two gadgets to start speaking to one another, however it almost always ends up working. Another nitpick is the rather bright green status indicator light that is always on when in use, as this might prove distracting during night-time.
The Geeni Energi is definitely a strong start for the manufacturer, and has us excited to see what their designers come up with in the future. This device is a fantastic choice for entry level smart plugs offering bang for buck value.
D-Link’s W110 addition to the Mydlink family shares many similarities with the Geeni Energi. Falling into the same budget price range, the experience that D-Link brings to the table as a manufacturer may be already enough for some buyers to woo them over. However, the W110 isn’t an exact mirror image of the other device, with one feature switched out.
The W110 is a tad large, and the body of the device extends upwards meaning that in houses with vertical dual sockets where the top and bottom feature different wattage, this might be an issue. Plugging the device into the lower socket would cover the upper one, though this is a fairly specific issue that is likely rare in practice.
One of the best features of this smart outlet is IFTTT support, something the competitor lacks. This feature truly shines when used in unison with other devices, though some limited usage can be gained from the scheduling function.
The W110 has, as mentioned above, the ability to schedule on and off hours when it automatically flips the switch. If the wi-fi connection is cut for whatever reason, it remembers that schedule and continues to function accordingly, meaning remote control is the only feature lost.
The application allows for long distance control, meaning you won’t be needed to be connected to the same network as the device. For voice control, the W110 is compatible with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. Unfortunately, this device does not boast energy usage tracking, which is likely the trade-off for IFTTT.
If you’re planning on investing in a wider range of smart home appliances, the W110 works in perfect harmony with other Mydlink devices, allowing all of them to be controlled from a single app, and be connected in more complex IFTTT functions.
Basically, if you’re looking at this price range, whether you prefer usage tracking or IFTTT is the only deciding factor, save for a small nitpick – the D-Link W110 has a much less obtrusive status light than the Energi does.
The D-Link W110 smart plug is perfect for customers who are looking to go small. This is the peak of the entry level market for these devices and thanks to IFTTT they fit into a more complex system just as well, meaning you won’t be throwing them out and replacing the plugs when the time comes to upgrade your full home automation suite.
The Zuli Smartplug is a highly ambitious product that fails to achieve its potential due to a few critical flaws… flaws such as cutting out a massive market segment right off the bat: the application only supports iOS, not Android nor Windows Phone. This is a pretty glaring issue, essentially making this product exclusive to Apple customers. An Android version is allegedly in development, but it has been in Beta for three years with no updates.
Now that we dealt with the elephant in the room, time to deal with the elephant’s youngling also standing in the cramped room, awkwardly. The main draw of the device, the ‘sense’ feature, only works if you buy at least three of these things, which adds up to be quite an investment.
The device itself is relatively small, extending lengthwise instead of vertically, making it more convenient for dual socket setups. Unfortunately the Zuli plugs have quite a poor reputation for being unreliable based on customer feedback, with many connection issues with the application.
If you do end up buying three or more of these smart outlets, the main feature they boast will be unlocked. The three devices working in unison (while in the same room) will detect when you enter and when you leave the room, and perform functions based on this variable. You can program many presets as to what the devices should do when you enter, what they should do when you leave, and with how much a delay they should do these things. This feature itself is really convenient and a massive boon, but we feel it comes with too much baggage.
The Zuli plug can also add a dimming function to any lamp, regardless of whether it has such a function built into it. Now, if common sense alone doesn’t tell you that such a feature is simply impossible, various reports of the feature simply not working at all will tell you what you need to know. Trying to force the issue with older lamps will see you burn through many a bulb in the process.
When multiple devices are used in unison, there is a neat preset feature which can control the dimness (when applicable) and the temperature based on the motion tracking feature outlined above. This way, the level of illumination will be perfect the moment you step into a room, and the temperature will be as well soon after.
While the Zuli lacks Alexa or Google Assistant support, it is compatible with Nest Thermostat and Philips Hue to offer greater control over an existing home automation system. These hubs would be tied into the preset feature of the Zuli, controlling temperature and dimness over a larger area within the house.
The device also tracks energy usage, and also calculates things like estimated monthly expense based on the use, carbon footprint and how much time the device was active.
We really want to like Zuli’s smartplug, however the good features it brings to the table are overshadowed by the issues by far too great a margin to let us truly recommend it.
iHome iSP8 SmartPlug
The iHome iSP8 introduces us to a higher price range for these types of devices with some additional features. The form factor of this plug has been designed in a way to ensure convenience and space conservation, meaning it won’t be covering any unused sockets when in use.
This plug comes with a bonus feature we haven’t seen in any other device, and that we didn’t really consider at all before learning it has it – a separate, physical remote. A small plastic stick with a button on it to let you turn the thing on and off. Obviously the device has a companion app for regular usage, however the extra little remote can be used for a multitude of purposes, not last among them giving guests or children control of the plug and device or devices attached to it.
The iSP8 packs some of the widest compatibility we’ve seen, being able to network with Nest devices, Google Assistant, Smart Things, Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit and Wink, making it the most universally accessible device for home automation enthusiasts on the smart plug market.
In addition to compatibility, the iSP8 features global access so long as you’re connected to the internet, along with power consumption tracking and scheduling. Unfortunately, one shortcoming of the plug is that when it loses connection to the wi-fi, it stops functioning altogether and defaults into the “off” setting.
The iHome iSP8 represents one of the top smart plugs on the market today. With many of the essential features backed up by a one-of-a-kind bonus, it is going to be a favorite of many users.
Belkin WeMo Mini Smart Plug
Belkin has been in the home automation game for a while now and the WeMo Mini is the result of years of experience – experience that shows. This is one of the most reliable smart plugs out there with all the essential features, including one that we particularly love: the WeMo Mini doubles as, albeit a rather limited, security device to boot.
Beyond reputation, the WeMo line of products boast some of the most solid builds in the industry, and breaking one of these things by accident won’t be a frequent occurrence by any measure. While maintaining a wi-fi connection is a task carried out not only by the plug (your router needs to play ball too), with the WeMo Mini, you’ll be disconnecting a lot less frequently than with most other devices.
The WeMo Mini has a really neat feature that lets you secure your home while you’re away with a tricky bit of illusion – away mode will randomly turn on devices and turn them off again (obviously we suggest using this feature with lights first and foremost) at various intervals to make it seem like there is activity in the house, dissuading burglars from trying to get in and steal your valuables.
The WeMo Mini is compatible with Amazon Alexa for voice control, and Nest Thermostat for temperature control. TIt also boasts global remote access, so you can control the devices plugged into the WeMo Mini from anywhere in the world.
Unfortunately, this smart plug does not track energy consumption, but it makes up for that omission with IFTTT support and scheduling.
Why It’s Our #1 Choice
The Belkin WeMo Mini embodies everything a user might want from a smart plug. It isn’t obstructive, it’s easy to use and set-up, can be controlled from anywhere in the world, can be linked to Amazon Alexa for voice commands and the Away Mode feature is a nice bonus on top of this all.
Being our top pick doesn’t mean it is without flaw, but no device is, and the lack of energy consumption tracking isn’t a deal breaker.
The WeMo Mini will be a fantastic addition to the home automation system of any experienced user, as well as a nice way to test the waters of users new to this niche. In either case, this is our top pick from all available devices.
Moving on from the world of plugs to outlets, our readers will immediately see why we prefer the former. Outlets generally have fewer features, are more expensive and more of a hassle to install.
Keep in mind that to actually use the remote functions of this outlet, you’ll need to buy one of Insteon’s many hubs, each with a different set of features and specifications. The functionality of your outlet will depend on which hub you buy, and here we’re only looking at the features of the outlet itself.
The Insteon 2663-222 is a dual-socket outlet and the main draw here is that you can control the two sockets on the same outlet independently of one another. While remote control is tied to a hub, the face of the outlet has two switches for each socket.
Many of this smart outlet’s other features are, as mentioned above, linked to which hub you buy. However since, as an outlet, you’ll be building this device into the wall of your home, it’s a boon that it comes in a wide variety of colors to fit any interior design direction.
We can only recommend this device if you’re ready to become a loyal Insteon customer, buying a hub and outfitting your entire home with these outlets, otherwise there just isn’t any point to it.
At the end of the day, a universal suggestion to keep in mind is that you should generally look at plugs instead of outlets when seeking to get remote control over your devices at home. Plugs are much more convenient in pretty much every way, and considering the price difference, you’d be better off buying one plug for every socket in your house than outfitting the whole thing with smart outlets. Not to mention the greater range of functionality that plugs provide.