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What if the electric kettle you got 10 years ago could start boiling water as you got ready in the morning, or you could double check whether or not the iron was still on while you wondered about it on the highway?
It’s possible to get new appliances that let you do that (and probably a whole lot more), but you can add these features to your existing gadgets by simply connecting them to a smart plug
What Are Smart Plugs (and What Do Smart Plugs Do)?
Smart plugs are tiny gadgets that are connected between your appliance and your outlet. Once it’s set up, a smart plug will allow you to turn your appliance on and off through an app on your phone (iOS or Android) or with your voice through a smart-home hub like the Amazon Echo.
The smart plug needs to be connected to your home WiFi network to work, but once it’s hooked up, you can control it (and your appliance) from anywhere in the world. You can also program it to turn on and off on a set schedule. These features aren’t quite as advanced as the ones you’d get in a new, fully-smart appliance, but if you get creative, you can do some really cool things, like scheduling your major appliances to turn off at night to reduce your daily power consumption.
Which Smart Plugs Should I Get?
Smart plugs have become really popular over the past few years, and they generally fall into three main categories. I’ve recommended one option in each category below, so you can find the best one for your needs. None of these plugs require a smart hub or any other accessories to work properly.
Smart plugs: Traditional smart plugs are small, rectangular boxes that get connected to your outlet. The have a plug on their front end where you connect the appliance to control it.
Smart outlets: If you don’t mind some DIY work, you can replace your old outlet with a smart one. It looks the same as a traditional outlet, but allows you to control the appliances connected to them from your computer, tablet, smartphone, or smart-home hub. The main benefit to installing a smart outlet is that it looks a lot cleaner.
Smart power strips: If you want control over several devices, your best bet is a smart power strip. These can contain between three and six smart plugs, so all of the appliances in a certain part of your house can become smart. Each plug can be controlled independently. A nice touch is that these power strips usually contain a surge protector, which can help keep your devices safe in case of a power outage or blown fuse.
1. Amazon Smart Plug
If you’re looking for a simple way to make one of your appliances smarter, Amazon’s Smart Plug is your best choice. To use it, insert the Smart Plug into your outlet, connect it to your WiFi network through Amazon’s Alexa app (available on iOS and Android), and wait for the LED light on the front of the plug to turn blue.
Once it’s set up, you can connect any appliance to the Smart Plug, and control it through Amazon’s Alexa app on your iOS or Android device, or using your voice through an Alexa-enabled device like the Amazon Echo or Fire TV Stick. The Smart Plug can be configured to turn on and off on a set schedule, or be controlled manually. You can also set the Smart Plug to be part of a routine, which allows you to control multiple smart-home accessories at once using Amazon’s Alexa.
For instance, you can set up a morning routine that includes turning on your coffee maker through the Smart Plug, and turning on the smart light bulbs in your kitchen by saying “Good Morning” to your Alexa-enabled device. You get to customize the phrase that triggers the routine and which actions and accessories are associated with it, so play around a little bit to find ones that work best for you.
This level of flexibility makes Amazon’s Smart Plug stand out, and allows you to use it as a building block to make more parts of your home work together without a lot of effort.
2. TP-Link Kasa WiFi Outlet
If you don’t mind a little DIY project, and want your home to be smarter without looking cluttered, TP-Link’s Kasa WiFi Outlet is the right choice. Once it’s installed, you can plug your appliances directly into either outlet, and control them from anywhere.
What makes this WiFi outlet so great is its clean, subtle look. It’s the same size and shape as a traditional outlet, and uses the same wiring, so installing it shouldn’t take more than about 15 minutes. The only tool you’re going to need is a screwdriver. If you feel uncomfortable doing any electrical work, please ask an electrician to install the outlet for you, and if you do undertake this home upgrade yourself, don’t forget to disconnect the power line to the room you’re working in.
It may take a little extra work, but once it’s installed and connected to your WiFi network TP-Link’s WiFi Outlet works the same way Amazon’s Smart Plug does. You can control the appliances plugged into either outlet through TP-Link’s Kasa app (available on iOS and Android) or by asking a smart-home hub. This WiFi Outlet supports both Amazon’s Alexa and the Google Assistant, so you can set it up using either one.
If it’s linked to Amazon’s Alexa app, you can work either of the appliances connected to this outlet into a larger routine, which is especially useful if both of them are used around the same time, or work together. There’s no getting around the fact that setting up this WiFi Outlet is more labor intensive than just plugging in a Smart Plug, but if you like the clean look of your home, or enjoy a good project, it’s the right choice for you.
(Note: This smart outlet does need a ground wire to work, so if your outlet has two holes instead of three, this project will require more work)
3. APC Smart Power Strip
If you want to make a lot of devices smart at once, charge your devices without power adapters, and keep all of your gear safe in case of a sudden power surge, APC’s Smart Plug Wi-Fi Power Strip is the way to go.
Like Amazon’s Smart Plug, this smart power strip gets plugged into your existing outlet. It has six outlets, three of which are smart, and four USB ports, so you can charge your phone or tablet without using up one of the outlets. Once it’s connected to power and your WiFi network, you can control anything connected to the three smart outlets on the power strip using an app (iOS or Android), or an Amazon Alexa-enabled device. If it’s set up to work with Amazon’s Alexa, you can add any of the appliances connected to smart outlets on the power strip to be part of a larger routine with other smart-home accessories.
The biggest advantage APC’s power strip has over the other options on this list is that it’s also a surge protector. Surge protectors absorb excess power to protect your electronics from getting fried. One of the most important measurements when determining a surge protector’s effectiveness is how many joules of power it can take before it’s overloaded. This one from APC is rated to handle 2,160 joules of energy, which can prevent electrical damage from happening to larger electronics like home theater equipment and computers.
It may take up more space, but the extra features built into APC’s Smart Plug WiFi Power Strip more than make up for its size. This is the right fit for people who want more control over their larger appliances, and want some additional protection from unpredictable accidents.
4. TP-Link Kasa Outdoor Plug
If some of the appliances and gadgets you want to control are on the outside of your house, TP-Link’s Kasa Smart Outdoor Plug is the best option.
This is a standard smart plug, which means one end gets plugged into your outlet, and you connect your appliances to the other side. It has two outlets, which you can control individually, that are covered in a thick shielding TP-Link says has earned an IP64 durability rating. This rating means the smart plug is dust-proof and waterproof enough to withstand a “splashing of water” aka rain.
Once it’s plugged in and connected to your WiFi network, this outdoor smart plug works the same way as the other ones in this guide. It can be controlled by your smartphone via an app (iOS and Android) or with an Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant-enabled smart speaker. The ability to add outdoor electronics like string lights or a bug zapper to your Amazon Alexa routines, or set them on a timer, opens up a lot of smart home opportunities for people with backyards or patios.
An important thing to note is that because this plug is outside, you’ll need a strong WiFi network to reach it. TP Link says this plug can work from up to 300 feet away from your router, but that’s only if your connection isn’t spotty. If you want to extend your wireless network I recommend upgrading to a mesh WiFi router system, which uses multiple, interconnected routers to create a large, consistent, and fast connection throughout your home.