round smart plug

What is a Smart Plug?

Smart Plugs are a staple of every Smart Home. Smart Plugs allow you to control remotely simple devices, like a desk fan or Christmas tree lights. In essence, Smart Plugs allow you to convert dumb devices into smart ones that you then control with using Smartphones, Voice Assistants, and with Home Automation systems.

Below you’ll find answers to the most common questions regarding Smart Plugs.

What Is A Plug?

Like most devices at home, plugs go by a few different names. You might call it a plug, wall outlet, electrical outlet, socket, or maybe even an AC Power Plug if you’re especially technical. All of these refer to the same device, and for simplicity, I’ll use the word “plug.” 

A plug provides electricity to another device that you connect it to. Generally, a plug is attached to a wall in your home. Plugs usually look like this if your in the U.S.:

Typical U.S Plug
Typical U.S Plug

If you’re in Europe, you likely see plugs that look like this:

Typical European Plug
Typical European Plug

In either case, plugs are usually controlled by a switch on the wall, or some other switch that controls the electricity flow to the device that’s connected to it.

What Is A Smart Plug?

A Smart Plug has the same features as a normal plug and then some. At the basic level, a Smart Plug provides electricity to some other device you connect to the plug itself, just like a normal plug.

By making the plug “smart,”you gain more features like the ability to turn the power on and off remotely via your Smartphone or the Voice Assistant of your choice. To do this, Smart Plugs also require hardware to connect to your home network.

The main benefits of a Smart Plug are the ability to control the power of a simple device via a Smartphone or a Voice Assistant, and letting you create some cool Home Automation tricks. Installation is dirt simple, as well. In most cases, you simply plug in the Smart Plug and then walk through the steps to get the device connected to your home network.

Next, let’s look at some of the differences between the various Smart Plugs out there.

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:

SupportFeature LevelDescriptionExample Command
On/OffBasicTurning the plug on and offTurn on the plug
QueryBasicChecking the status of the plugIs the plug on?
MeteringPremiumAbility to check the power usage of the plugN/A

Although Smart Plugs are pretty similar across the board, feature-wise, companies are looking to differentiate themselves in other areas.

Form Factor

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.

Style

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.

smart plug strip
Example of style

Metering

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.

Example of Metering from an Eve Smart Plug
Example of Metering from an Eve Smart Plug

Ecosystem Support

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.

FAQ

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. Check out this post on Device Setup for more details.

What are the differences between U.S. and Europe Smart Plugs?

There are several differences between the plug types, including a few that I left out from above.

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.

Summary

Besides Smart Lights, Smart Plugs are the easiest to use, quickest to set up, and overall most useful smart device to own. With Smart Plugs, you can turn some of your normal devices, like fans or lamps, into smart devices and control them remotely with your Smartphone, Voice Assistant, or with Home Automation Systems. 

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.

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