Every room in your house has them: power outlets, and they’re about as dumb as technology can be. To create a true smart home, you need to upgrade the way your wiring works, so that it can be controlled, managed, and monitored from afar.
You could hire an electrician to rip out your existing outlets and replace them with smart in-wall models, but there’s an easier, less-expensive way: Stick a smart plug in those outlets. They work just the way they sound: The outlet in the wall doesn’t change, you just configure the add-on plug using an app, connect it to your network, and use it to control whatever’s plugged into it.
Smart plugs are handy in all kinds of ways. Some models have built-in dimmers, so you can adjust the brightness of the lamp that’s plugged into them; others can power small appliances, such as a fan or space heater. Others can be scheduled, so you can make your home look lived in while you’re away on vacation, or so that you can limit the hours your kids can play video games or watch TV.
Which smart plug is best for your home? Here are our top choices, plus a shopping guide that will help you decide which one is right for you if none of our picks fits your needs.
Best smart plug for most people
There’s a lot to like about Belkin’s Wemo Mini Smart Plug, starting with the form factor that allows two of them to be plugged into the same duplex outlet. It’s also inexpensive, with a street price around $28, and its compatible with both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. Add the $40 Wemo Bridge, and you can integrate this smart plug into a HomeKit ecosystem, too.
For simpler needs, the Geeni Energi is a solid choice at an affordable price. While it’s somewhat lacking in the looks department (and it will block the lower outlet if installed in the upper socket), it makes up for that by piling on the features. First off, it’s hubless thanks to its Wi-Fi radio, so you won’t need extra hardware to get it up and running. Geeni’s app is also easy to work with, and while it doesn’t work with HomeKit, it does support both Amazon Alexa and Google Home, so you can still enable voice control if you have the appropriate assistant. Energy tracking is also built in.
The ConnectSense outlet is fully HomeKit-enabled, includes an extra (always-on) USB port for any additional power needs, and it offers energy management and monitoring features. While its $60 price tag might seem expensive, remember that it’s providing two controllable outlets instead of one—and, as a bonus, it works fantastically.
What to look for when shopping
Smart plugs might seem like a commodity, but they cover a wide range of design styles, capabilities, and compatibilities. If you’re in the market for a smart plug, consider how your environment—and what you plan to connect to the smart plug—matches the following list of features.
As always, full reviews of all the smart plug hardware on the market follow at the end of the buyers’ guide.
Indoor vs. outdoor: Most smart plugs can only be used inside, since they aren’t weatherproof. (These are almost invariably white in color.) Weatherized switches (almost always black) are clearly denoted as safe for use outside.
Hub requirements: If you need to control the switch through a third-party hub like SmartThings or Wink, that’s one more piece of gear you’ll need to budget for. In many cases, a switch vendor will also offer its own hub as an option, though these can be limited in flexibility and features. Using a hub will also make it easier to interconnect various devices, so if you want to press a single button to turn on both overhead lights and lamps at the same time, a hub’s a great way to get this done.
Wireless standard: As with all smart home gear, smart plugs support one of several wireless technologies, including ZigBee, Z-Wave, or Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi plugs typically don’t require a hub—your router serves that role—while ZigBee and Z-Wave models do. You’ll also encounter two proprietary standards: Clear Connect, used in Lutron’s Caséta products; and Insteon, a hybrid of wireless and powerline home networking.
HomeKit support: If you’re looking for compatibility with Apple’s HomeKit devices (and want to tell Siri to turn lights on and off), you’ll need to look for this support, which should be well-labeled on a product’s website and packaging.
Voice assistant compatibility: Many smart plugs work with Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, or both. Support for Apple’s Siri is less common, but not hard to find. If you have Amazon Echo, Google Home, or Apple HomePod smart speakers in your home, you’ll love being able to turn sockets on and off with voice commands.
Power limitations: You can’t plug anything into a smart plug. Most are rated to handle just a few hundred watts of power consumption, which is fine for a lamp or a coffee maker, but you might encounter problems if you connect a hair dryer or a professional blender to one. Power plug manufacturers tend to bury their maximum wattage ratings in the fine print, so check carefully beforehand if you expect the outlet to support high-draw appliances.
Number of plugs: Designs vary widely here. Some smart plugs replace a single plug, some replace two. Some designs offer two plugs, but only one of them is smart; the other is an always-on pass-through plug. Whichever design you choose, be sure to consider the physical design of the device itself. Many of these devices—even those with a single-plug design—cover up both wall sockets, which can greatly limit their utility. Smart power strips—which offer multiple, individually controlled smart plugs in a single device—are also entering the market. TechHive recently showered praise on a model from TP-Link.
Grounded or ungrounded: Some smart plugs offer only two-prong, ungrounded power. (This is done in part to dissuade you from attaching heavy machinery to the outlet.) If you need three-prong, fully grounded electricity, be sure to purchase one of the many smart plugs on the market that includes this feature.
Energy monitoring features: Curious as sto how much power your connected device is sucking down? Energy monitoring features let you use the device’s mobile app to track power consumption over time, giving you a better argument to use against your wasteful, wasteful children who never turn off the TV.
Integrated dimming: If you’re hooking up a lamp to a smart plug, you can easily turn it into a dimmable lamp if the switch includes an onboard dimmer. These switches include hardware buttons to control dimming directly on the switch itself in addition to app-based control.