Testing the best smart plugs and outlets

I’ve started to read into what kind of smart power outlet to buy but there are so many outlets on sale that I got lost in the details. I couldn’t decide from what I read which one to order. So I’ve ordered 8 different types…

I’ve started to read into what kind of smart power outlet to buy but there are so many outlets on sale that I got lost in the details. I couldn’t decide from what I read which one to order. So I’ve ordered 8 different types…

One of the early predecessors of smart devices is the timer plug, which has been around for decades. You can buy the simplest types – a round-shaped plug with a mechanical watch – for about USD 5. The more complex electric ones that can be programmed to different settings cost about USD 25. We’d had a few of these at home (for example the timer for the light in the fish tank), so I got curious about what the latest generation of this device, controllable via a cell phone, can do.

How I tested?

For this review, I installed every device once. Then I reinstalled each of them in a different network. I marked down the time and the number of trials needed for the second installation in my summary table. Unfortunately, reinstallation didn’t work wonders for any of the devices. The problems I saw at the first installation would reoccur.

I compared the following features and characteristics:

  • Price: all devices were purchased at the same time, in early May 2018.
  • Number of attempts to install the device: how many times I had to start from scratch.

  • Time spent setting up the app: how long it took (in minutes) for the operating plug to show up in the app.

  • Wi-Fi: is the device Wi-Fi enabled? Those that are often send out their own open Wi-Fi signal – I’ll discuss this later in detail.

  • Bluetooth: it is most often used to speed up installation.

  • Remote access: you can check the device while you’re away simply using the cell phone network.

  • Manual switch: does the device have a physical button to switch it on and off?

  • Energy use monitoring: kWh meter.

  • Cost estimation: does the app offer the option to set a kWh/HUF input?

  • Everyday scenarios: for example, “I got up.”/”I’m going to bed.”

  • Timer: Can you set the plug to turn on or off in a given hour, on a given day?

  • Presence simulation: The outlet turns on at random times for random periods to simulate that you’re home when in reality you’re away. You should connect a lamp to the outlet so that the switching on and off is visible.

  • Timed shutdown: the outlet can be set to turn off after being on for a set amount of time.

  • Sunrise/Sunset: the device checks for the time of the sunrise and sunset for the location programmed.

  • Event control: for example, if the kWh meter reaches a pre-set number, the outlet shuts off.

  • Software usability: my own subjective opinion on a scale of 1-5 (1: it makes my head hurt – 5: kicks butt).

  • Sofware language: the language of the text in the app.

  • Nest: communication with this system: www.nest.com
  • IFTTT: communication with this system: www.ifttt.com
  • Amazon Alexa: does it work with voice control?

  • Google: does it work with voice control?

  • Apple Siri: does it work with voice control?

  • Apple Homekit: communcation with this system: developer.apple.com/homekit/

 

That damned security risk

Before going into details, let’s tackle an important conceptual question. If you control the power outlets remotely, do you open up the house to all sorts of security problems?

Let me explain:

  • for these devices to be controlled remotely, they first ask for permission to join the internal Wi-Fi network (the home network).

  • after that, the device connects to a server in the cloud (online), run by the manufacturer, and communicates with this server.

  • the bigger and more well-known the manufacturer, the more you can trust it to protect its server properly. But you also need to pay attention to how long the manufacturer offers support for the device. Once the support period ends, chances are the server will no longer be properly protected, either. And then if a hacker gets into the manufacturer’s neglected server, he/she can easily get into your home network, too. Why is this bad? Because on your home network, you have more vulnerable devices. These include the network drive where your pictures are stored, the webcams, even the baby monitor.

  • moreover, devices connecting to the Internet require regular updates, which are easily forgotten when you’re busy with your life. Yet these updates are very important for cybersecurity.

  • another important issue: some of these devices have their own Wi-Fi signal; you set them up using Wi-Fi. With such devices, once you installed them, you must check that the Wi-Fi signal is no longer broadcast. If it isn’t, you’ll have nothing further to do.

  • Maybe you can detect my unease to let a device like this connect to the Internet. What is the solution then? I limit the device to the home network, and I’ll check in from the outside using a safe VPN connection. Once the VPN is activated, the mobile network opens a checked gateway to home, and my phone will think that it’s at home. Unfortunately, setting up your home VPN requires quite an effort or a good friend who knows this stuff.

Phew, this is solved then. And I can switch the power outlet on and off on my phone even from work! But what happens if your significant other also wants to enjoy switching the device on and off remotely? Well, that’s not going to happen. Without the manufacturer’s central server, these plugs can only be paired with one device.

In summary, you have a choice to make:

  • you allow the power outlets to go “outside,” which means you’ll have an ID/password pair that you can set up on your phone as well as on your girlfriend’s/boyfriend’s phone

  • you won’t allow the power outlets to connect to the internet directly, meaning you can only control them with one device. If this device is the tablet you hung on the wall at home, you’ve lost the remote access function.

Choose the option you prefer… finding a really good solution would be a lot of complicated work, and even then it would come with many compromises. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. First let’s take a look at the power outlets tested.

A comparison of power outlets

Product

Belkin WeMo Switch

Edimax Smart Plug

Elgato Eve Energy

Emos Wi-Fi Plug

Hama Wi-Fi Plug

iSmartAlarm Smart Wi-Fi Plug

myDLink Smart Plug

tp-Link Smart Wi-Fi Plug

Price

USD 36

USD 44

USD 50

USD 46

USD 31

USD 43

USD 37

USD 37

No. of installation attempts

3

2

1

1

2

2

3

1

Time spent setting it up

15

10

3

2

4

4

18

4

Wi-Fi

x

x

x

x

x

x

x

Bluetooth

x

x

x

x

Remote access

x

x

x

x

x

x

x

Manual switch

x

x

x

x

x

x

x

Energy use monitoring

x

x

x

x

x

Cost estimation

x

x

x

Everyday scenarios

x

x

x

x

Timer

x

x

x

x

x

x

x

x

Presence simulation

x

x

Timed shutdown

x

x

x

Sunrise/Sunset

x

x

x

Event control

x

x

x

Software usability

4

1

5

4

3

3

2

4

Software language

English

mixed

Hun

English

English

English

English

Hun

English

Nest

x

IFTT

x

Amazon Alexa

x

x

x

x

x

Google

x

x

Apple Siri

x

x

Apple Homekit

x

A description of smart power outlets/plugs

BELKIN – WEMO SWITCHimg_5282 (1)

Impressions:

Setting the timer is a piece of cake – as long as you’re good at detecting invisible icons. That’s because the days in the setting are not visible until they are selected. You also need to figure out by trial and error that selecting days means stopping rather than allowing the timer. The default setting is the same time for every day. This is useful, but it was unclear.

Remote access: Remote access is only allowed if you enable it.

Pros:

  • the function of being away but pretending to be home works really well. It takes setting the timer once to set when to have this function on. This can be switched on and off quickly.

  • as an extra, the power outlet can be set to shut off automatically. You can set the number of minutes after which the outlet becomes inactive. This, possibly combined with a motion detector, may come in handy for controlling the reading light by your favourite armchair. You’ll never have to use the switch here again.

  • it can communicate with nearly everything. For Homekit access, you need a dedicated Belkin device.

  • although this is only a power outlet, WeMo offers a whole range of devices to automate your home.

Cons:

  • for some reason or other, it took ages for the plug to find the Wi-Fi and my phone. I was really close to giving up on it and marking it as “failed to install.”

  • no energy use monitoring

Conclusion: if a power outlet requires so much effort to set it up, that’s an F from me. I wouldn’t buy it again.

 

EDIMAX – SMART PLUGimg_5280 (1)

Impressions:

You’ll need a lot of patience with this one. For some reason, the software spends more time showing you the hourglass cursor than actually working. The Hungarian and unknown Asian characters together would unsettle even the most patient ones of us.

When trying to set the timer, my reaction was, “no sane person would come up with something like this.” (well, this was what I meant but my words were a bit less sophisticated.) For every single day, a hidden menu option had to be turned on to start setting the timer. It took about 10 minutes to get rid of the “timer off” sign this way. As you can guess, the timer is rather simple but at least it’s easy to understand: you set on what days (or everyday) the device should turn on and off and when. That’s it.

Remote access: You have to use it.

Pros:

  • The energy consumption function allows you to turn off the power outlet if the consumption reaches a pre-determined value. You can choose a daily, weekly or monthly value here.

Cons:

  • Unusably slow software: I did figure out at the end why it was so slow. For every data request, the software sends the request to the server in the cloud, which then communicates with the smart plug. The data take the same roundabout way in the other direction, too. The server is likely not optimised for access from Hungary.

  • The software’s firmware update didn’t work.

  • It can send you emails on all sorts of statistics of your power consumption, but for that it requires your email password. I strongly recommend not to give out this information to an app like this.

Conclusion: the app was made for patient people who think they will live for 300 years. I wouldn’t buy it again.

ELGATO – EVE ENERGYimg_5281 (1)

Impressions from use:

The software was not made for a single power outlet but for a whole apartment. In accordance, you have to programme everyday scenarios because it’s not the device you’re setting the timer for but the scenarios. This is quite a drag for one device but wonderful for your whole apartment. When programming events on the timer, you can set it to check not only the time but the outlet’s usage or the volume of the usage (kWh consumption, Voltage, Amp).

Remote access:Not included by default.

Pros:

  • the software works like a charm. You can program all sorts of things, and then you can use them very easily.

  • since it’s compatible with the Apple Homekit system, you can add a “guest” to control the device at home. You can control via the Apple system who has access to what.

  • it checks consumption and estimates costs

  • the smallest power outlet I’ve found

Cons:

  • it relies on Bluetooth communication, so the area it covers can only be extended with additional devices (such as Apple TV). This is not a problem for small apartments. But if you live in a larger home or one with more than one floors, this may give you some headache.

Conclusion: if I can make the Homekit system see it through the additional device, then this is a great plug (further testing is required). – I’d buy it again.

 

EMOS WI-FI PLUGimg_5287 (1)

Impressions:

Setting it up was easy-peasy.

Remote access: You have to use it.

Pros:

  • simple as can be

Cons:

  • very few extra functions such as event control.

  • you can get more bang for your buck with other devices

Conclusion: given the price, this should be much smarter – I wouldn’t buy it again.

 

HAMA WI-FI PLUGimg_5284 (1)

Impressions:

The software is very buggy. For example, I set the time for the timer, then went on to choose the days. Once the days were selected and I went back to the time, I saw that the software forgot the time that I’d already set. Another problem I encountered was that sometimes a setting didn’t appear to be saved when in fact it was. So I’ve set the same timer setting three times.

Remote access:You have to use it.

Pros:

  • price.

  • if you don’t want to change the settings too often, then the software is easy to use.

  • this was the only device in the test that came with a Hungarian manual.

Cons:

  • software bugs

  • certain functions were only included so that the manufacturer can say they are included (everyday scenarios)

Conclusion: this is the bare bones version of the smart power outlets. The only reason why I wouldn’t buy this again is that I’d either buy an old-school mechanical timer, or I’d skip two dinners and buy a smarter kind.

 

ISMARTALARM SMART WIFI PLUGimg_5288 (1)

Impressions:

It kind of works as it should but the software didn’t leave an impression.

Remote access:You have to use it.

Pros:

  • worked as promised.

Cons:

  • you can get more bang for your buck with other devices

Conclusion: given the price, this should be much smarter – I wouldn’t buy it again.

 

MYDLINK SMART PLUGimg_5283-1

Impressions:

I plugged this in the power outlet and started the installation. Then suddenly it asked for a PIN code that’s printed in tiny fonts on the inside of the plug.

I was surprised to see a temperature function. But it’s unclear what temperature it checks. I’m guessing it’s its own inner temperature because the display said 36 degree Celsius in a 21 degree Celsius room. This does not make sense.

The timer allows you to repeat turning on and off. In theory, this would simulate your presence when you’re away. But the time periods are always the same, so in practice this doesn’t work well.

For event control, it offers two options: reaching 30 kWh or reaching 90% of something. I have no clue what these are.

Remote access: You have to use it.

Pros:

  • it’s appealing because it appears to have a lot of functions.

Cons:

  • it’s appealing and then you’ll see that most functions are half done (e.g. event control). A big disappointment.

  • they couldn’t pay me enough to go through the installation again.

Conclusion: Hell no, I wouldn’t buy it again.

 

TP-LINK SMART WI-FI PLUGimg_5285 (1)

Impressions:

All of them should be like this.

Remote access:Remote access is only allowed if you enable it.

Verdict: A big YES: I’d buy it again.

 

 

So which smart power outlet / plug is the best? Which one should you buy?

The winner of this roundup is clearly the tp-link Smart Wi-fi Plug.

The Elgato-Eve Energy would be the runner-up for its flawless software and perfect design. As I said, further testing of this device is required. It’s worth giving this a shot for the Homekit compatibility. If it works, you don’t need to open up your home network and you could still control the power outlet from more than one phones. Third place is not awarded to any of the devices unfortunately. As seen above, all have major issues.

PS.: The goal of this piece was to help you guys. Not buying any of the six not recommended plugs will save you quite some trouble.

 

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