What exactly is a Smart Plug? This seemingly simple question opens the door to a world where everyday appliances meet modern technology. As an engineer with over a decade of experience at Apple and Amazon, and a writer for Smart Home Explained, I’m here to shed light on how these ingenious devices can transform your home.
Table of Contents
- How Do Smart Plugs Work?
- What Can Smart Plugs Do?
- Security and Privacy
- Frequently Asked Questions
How Do Smart Plugs Work?
At their core, smart plugs connect to your home Wi-Fi network, enabling remote control. They work as an intermediary between your power outlet and appliances. You can turn devices on or off with a simple tap on your phone or a voice command. Some smart plugs also track energy usage, helping you better understand and manage your power consumption.
What Can Smart Plugs Do?
Smart Plugs don’t have very many differences between brands, but there are a few feature differences that make some Smart Plugs stand out.
- Basic Smart Plugs – only support On/Off functionality with a larger form factor (or shape) that could potentially block access to other outlets
- Premium Smart Plugs – support metering (or recording how much power is drawn) with a sleeker form factor (or shape)
Below are examples of Voice Commands for both feature levels:
|Support||Feature Level||Description||Example Command|
|On/Off||Basic||Turning the plug on and off||Turn on the plug|
|Query||Basic||Checking the status of the plug||Is the plug on?|
|Metering||Premium||Ability to check the power usage of the plug||N/A|
Although Smart Plugs are pretty similar across the board, feature-wise, companies are looking to differentiate themselves in other areas.
Form factor refers to how the plug is shaped and designed. Buying a Smart Plug with an awkward or bulky shape can put you in a bind if it doesn’t quite fit. Maybe it covers up another plug in the wall, or it could even be too wide to fit.
There are a handful of different Smart Plug styles, as well. It’s possible to find Smart Power Strips or Smart Surge Protectors where each plug on the strip is an individual Smart Plug on its own. You can also find Smart Plugs suited for outside your home, where it handles different environments well.
Metering is one of the most underrated features of a (Premium) Smart Plug that is really useful. Metering or Power Monitoring refers to the ability to record the amount of power being drawn from a plug. Premium Smart Plugs provide a Smartphone App with information regarding your power usage. If you’re curious as to how much power your device is using, this feature could be a game-changer for you.
Here’s an example from the Eve iOS App. I currently have my desktop computer hooked into one, which lets me see its power usage.
Each ecosystem has different Smart Plug support, as well. There are brands that only support Alexa, Siri, or Google or some combination of the three. But it’s rare to find a Smart Plug that supports all ecosystems. So it’s important to make sure the Smart Plug you buy does support the ecosystem you use. It’s also interesting to note that different ecosystems cost more than others.
Security and Privacy
A big concern when having all of these devices connected to your home network and internet is their security. Many smart devices out in the market today have poor security, which gives Attackers an easy way to access your new device and home network and use it for their own purposes. For more info, see this post on Smart Home Security. As a general rule of thumb before buying any smart device, do some research to make sure the brand you’re going with hasn’t had recent security breaches.
Frequently Asked Questions
How much does a Smart Plug cost?
Smart Plugs are generally the cheaper devices you can purchase within the Smart Home space. Since Smart Plugs don’t have many different features, companies tend to compete more on price–which is great for users. It’s not unusual to find deals for packs of Smart Plugs that help reduce the overall price.
For example, an Eve Energy has metering built in, but it only supports the Apple HomeKit ecosystem. The price is also higher for these plugs, at around $40 per. On the flip side, Amazon sells their own brand of Smart Plug for Alexa called Amazon Smart Plug. And as expected, it only works with Alexa. While it doesn’t have the metering feature, Amazon sells these for $25 per–significantly cheaper than an Eve Energy.
When do you use a Smart Plug?
Smart Plugs are useful to convert simple devices like fans and lamps into smart devices. There are a bunch of other things you can do with them, as well. Stay tuned for another post with some more ideas.
How do you install a Smart Plug?
The physical installation for a Smart Plug is one of the biggest benefits. It’s really simple. You plug it into the wall, and then you plug your device into the Smart Plug. That’s it; you’re done.
After getting the Smart Plug physically installed, you’re left with the software installation next. Generally, those steps are simply downloading a Smartphone App (based on brand) and then going through the steps to register your Smart Plug and connect it to your home network. Sometimes this part can be really painful.
To sum up, smart plugs are a key component in the smart home revolution, offering convenience, energy efficiency, and control. They’re an ideal starting point for anyone stepping into the world of smart home technology.
My favorite feature by far is the ability to track power usage, or metering. Because of this, I think it’s worth the splurge to purchase a Premium Smart Plug that includes this feature. Smart Plugs with metering allow you to save power (and money!) by turning off power-hungry devices when you don’t need them.
Have questions or experiences with smart plugs? Share your thoughts in the comments – your insights help everyone! For more information, explore our Smart Plugs Archives.