Even the most retro home can be given a high tech makeover these days – thanks to Wi-Fi, smartphones and the Internet of Things. Take the humble wall socket. Or rather the bulbous lump at the end of the cable that you plug into it, yes the plug. It’s going high tech too.
The Wi-Fi enabled, internet connected Smart plug enables you to do that seemingly impossible thing – switch something on of off without you physically having to wander over the wall socket its plugged into and flick the switch. Now you can switch it on or off from anywhere – whether that’s at home, at work, on holiday or somewhere in between.
Such is the popularity of smart plugs - and smart homes, of course – that all kinds of big brands are getting in on the act. You’ll know people like Belkin and TP-Link from their Wi-Fi routers, of course, but then there are companies such as British Gas and Panasonic that are having a crack at smart plugs too.
Rounded up here are five of the best – all will work wirelessly with your smartphone or tablet. Enabling you to turn the super-computer in your pocket into a virtual switch. Oh, but there’s so much more to them than that.
How to buy the best smart plug for you
The best reason to buy a smart plug is that you can embed it into the rest of your smart home setup. For one thing you can set up ‘zones’ that enabled you to smartly control devices in a particular location in your home (your living room or kitchen, say) and then activate them at will.
The other is that you can set scenes – automatically switching on lights and other appliances when it gets dark, for example. You can also use geofenced triggers to automatically switch items on and off as you get closer to, or further away, from home.
Imagine coming home to a warm house, with music from the radio filling the air, lights from table lamps and fairy lights twinkling. Now we’re talking right? The smart home and your smartphone can do that. And smart plugs have an important role to play.
So without further ado, let’s crack on, shall we?
Our pick of the best smart plugs you can buy
1. Belkin WeMO Insight Switch
A smart plug for smart people
No. of sockets: 1 | Indoor/Outdoor Use: Indoor only | Connectivity: 802.11n W-Fi (2.4GHz) | Compatible with: Android 4.1 or later; iOS 8 or higher
Like most smart plugs, the Belkin WeMo Insight Switch fits between your actual wall socket and the regular plug of the device you want to control - making it a bit like a mains adapter. In this particular case the Belkin WeMo Insight Switch works both with your existing Wi-Fi network (or a 3G/4G mobile internet connection) to enable you to switch anything that’s connected to the Insight Switch on and off.
You can also use the accompanying IOS/Android app to tell you how long the lamp or whatever you have connected has been used for, and how much it’s cost you in electricity. You can also add a schedule, so connected devices switch on and off automatically at preset times - you could use it to automatically switch off the TV once your child has used up their screen time, for example.
Another reason to love the WeMo Insight Switch is that it also works with Amazon Alexa, the Nest Learning Thermostat, and task automator apps such as IFTTT.
2. Hive Active Plug
A great way to extend your Hive system
No. of sockets: 1 | Indoor/Outdoor Use: Indoor only | Connectivity: not stated | Compatible with: Android, iOS 8 or higher
Designed to work in conjunction with British Gas’ Hive Hub, the Hive Active Plug works just like the Belkin WeMo Insight Switch does – handy for those times when you need to check whether you left the iron on, or just fancy boiling the kettle for a cup of tea while you’re still lying in bed upstairs.
Naturally the Hive Active Plug is controlled using the free accompanying Hive iOS / Android app and includes a scheduler that lets you switch connected devices on or off up to six times a day; and to create actions that work in conjunction with each other: switching on the kettle, radio and a connected lamp when a door or motion sensor is triggered, for example.
The only real catch is that Hive Hub requirement: the Hive Active Plug won’t work without one.
3. Elgato Eve Energy
Ideal for Apple HomeKit - and not much else
No. of sockets: 1 | Indoor/Outdoor Use: Indoor only | Connectivity: Bluetooth 4.0 Smart | Compatible with: iOS 10, tvOS 10
Elgato used to specialise in TV tuner and video capture products for Apple devices – only now its switched its focus towards smart home tech instead. Good move. Elgato’s Eve Energy smart plug is still Apple-centric, which limits its appeal a little, but it also offers deep compatibility with Apple HomeKit – including via Apple TV with tvOS 10 – and gives you the ability to create geofences, triggers actions and scenes using the free accompanying Eve app.
Unusually the Eve Energy relies on Bluetooth 4.0 Smart rather than a Wi-Fi, which means that you’ll need a 4th-generation Apple TV as an intermediary if you want to switch connected devices on and off away from home.
4. TP-Link HS110
Amazon Echo-ready smart plug
No. of sockets: 1 | Indoor/Outdoor Use: Indoor only | Connectivity: 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi (2.4GHz) | Compatible with: Android 4.1 or higher, iOS 8 or higher, Amazon Echo
This smart plug from networking specialists TP-Link has everything you need to remotely control connected devices whether you’re at home or away. The driving force for the product is the free Kasa app for iOS and Android devices, which connects to the TP-Link HS110 via your wireless router. It can also be controlled with your voice, provided you have an Amazon Echo.
The Kasa app is easy to use and enables you to switch the smart plug on or off, create custom actions and set a schedule that can trigger connected devices to switch on and off automatically throughout the day.
A step-up from the TP-Link HS100 smart plug, this one includes energy monitoring, so you can see how long a connected device has been active for – and how much its’s costing you when it’s switched on.
5. Panasonic Smart Plug KX-HNA101EW
Smart plug for Panasonic Smart Home systems
No. of sockets: 1 | Indoor/Outdoor Use: Indoor only | Connectivity: DECT (1.88GHz-1.90GHz) | Compatible with: Android 4.1 or higher, iOS 8 or higher
Designed to be used as part of Panasonic’s Smart Home system, which enables up to 50 devices to be connected to a single hub. As such, the Panasonic Smart Plug won’t work on its own – limiting its appeal to casual buyers, or those starting on out on their smart home journey.
Having said that, the Panasonic Smart Plug has much to commend it – like other smart plugs you can use it to remotely connected devices on an off (even when you’re away from home) and you can use the accompanying Home Network app for iOS and Android.
Somewhat unconventionally it relies on DECT wireless radio technology rather than Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, but it does offer one-push pairing with other devices and has a long operating range of up to 50m indoors.
The green LED button on the Smart Plug’s front acts as both a status indicator and a conventional switch, which is useful. It also includes over-current protection, so in the event of a short-circuit or current overload situation, it will automatically switch off and send you a notification telling you what’s happened.