In a search for the best smart plugs of 2020 we thoroughly vetted more than 50 models, then bought the 10 best for some hands-on, side-by-side testing. After using each one of these plugs on a daily basis for controlling lamps, fans, entertainment systems, and heated dog beds (yes, our pets are spoiled) we found that we'd only recommend 7 of the 10 models we tested to our readers, thus we cut our selection down to those 7. Through this process we discovered the ease of setup for each model, how intuitive their associated apps are, and how easily each bounces back from a WiFi or power outage. Our top picks cover everyone, from those that just want to be able to turn a lamp on before they get out of bed, to those looking to build a sophisticated smart home.
The Best Smart Plugs of 2020
Currant WiFi Outlet
Of all the plugs we tested the Currant Wifi offers the most seamless user experience. This intuitiveness begins with the associated app, which gives you the option of creating a dedicated Currant account or just signing in with an existing Facebook account. Continuing this expedient setup, there is a quick-start option for Alexa that can pair the plug with your Amazon network without having to fuss around in the Alexa app. The actual outlets are thoughtfully placed on the side of the plug, reducing the overall profile and making it more amenable to sliding in behind a desk or couch. You can even flip to the orientation so the outlets point to the right or left depending on the given situation. Perhaps most importantly, this plug was one of the most reliable that we tested, quickly snapping back to attention after internet outages. All this is buoyed by some advanced features like energy usage monitoring, power-saving modes, and general scheduling and notifications.
The biggest limitation of the Currant is its lack of compatibility with either Apple Home and If This Then That (IFTTT). While the vast majority of smart homes are likely running on Alexa or Google Assistant (both play nice with the Currant), not being able to experiment with the increasingly popular IFTTT could be seen as a key limitation by some. This is especially true if your heart quivers at the idea of a fan automatically turning on whenever the Weather Channel App says it gets too hot (yes, that's a thing you can do with IFTTT). The list price of this device is also a bit on the steep side, though it often sells for much less at many online retailers. If you mostly want to be able to set schedules for your lights, be able to summon certain appliances just by talking to Alexa or Google, and to track the energy usage of those appliances, this plug offers all you need and then some, all in a simple and user-friendly package.
Read review: Currant WiFi
Best on a Budget
Apart from retailing at an impressively low price, the WeMo Mini is one of the few plugs on the market that doesn't require creating any accounts or enabling Alexa skills to get it hooked up to your smart home. Just download the app, scan the QR Code on the plug, and you're good to go. Alexa can then discover the device with a simple, "Alexa, discover devices." From there you can easily set schedules and control devices from your phone or via a virtual assistant. Speaking of Virtual assistants, the WeMo is compatible with All Amazon, Google, Apple, and IFTTT smart home platforms.
While the Mini offers all the basic functionality you could want from a smart plug for an enticingly low price, it is a bit resistant to change. Switching the plug to a new WiFi network required a reset that was much more involved than its initial setup, making it a poor choice for those that switch apartments and/or WiFi routers frequently. It also was slower than most other devices in reconnecting after a WiFi outage. But if you're just looking to be able to turn some things on and off remotely and don't mind a bit of a reset wait when your WiFi goes out, the WeMo Mini is one of the best deals we've found.
Best Smart Powerstrip
TP-Link Kasa Smart WiFi Power Strip
If you have a TV, soundbar, and streaming device all hooked up to a powerstrip, all of those things are still drawing power, even when not in use. Enter the TP Link Kasa Smart WiFi Power Strip. It offers 6 independently controlled smart outlets, all in a surge-protecting power strip. This allows for putting your entertainment center on a schedule, or to completely shut it down from your phone when not in use. The strip can also monitor how long each outlet is turned on. All of that functionality is controlled with a well-designed app that makes managing schedules/settings for up to 6 different devices surprisingly straightforward.
The biggest downside of such a fully-featured device is that the initial setup is a bit more complicated, requiring making an account, confirming via email, and manually linking to the smart home moderator of your choice. The same can be said for switching networks, which requires a full reboot of the device. We also found that it took the Kasa Power Strip a little longer to find its bearings after a WiFi outage than some of its competitors. Those small annoyances aside, we still feel the Kasa is the best solution for those that have a need for multiple, independent smart outlets in one location.
Read review: TP Link Kasa Smart WiFi Power Strip
Best for Outdoor Use
TP-Link Kasa Outdoor
For outdoor use, the TP-Link Kasa Outdoor provides a lot of functionality for a relatively low price. Offering 2 independently controlled outlets, with a single plug you can put a set of deck string lights and a birdbath bubbler on separate schedules. This plug also works with almost every smart home system, allowing it to seamlessly integrate into almost any existing setup.
The only minor downsides of the Kasa Outdoor are a slightly more complex than average installation process, and a slight delay in rebooting after a WiFi outage. However, both of these annoyances feel trivial when considering the otherwise great performance.
Read review: TP-Link Kasa Outdoor
Why You Should Trust Us
Authors Michelle Powell and Max Mutter have been using, testing, and writing about smart home devices for more than 4 years. In that time they've purchased and conducted hands-on testing of more than 100 such devices. At any given time Max and Michelle have a dozen smart home apps on their phones controlling even more smart locks, WiFi thermostats, security cameras, and robot vacuums. This full and long-term immersion into the world of connected home devices gives them significant insight into the usefulness and overall performance of the smart plugs currently on the market.
For this review we spent weeks throwing every challenge and mishap at these plugs that we could. We controlled them with Alexa, Google, and Siri, used them in conjunction with If This Then That applets, and installed their accompanying apps on both Android and iOS devices. We then wanted to see how well each plug would handle adversity, so we both cut off their power and shut off the WiFi. Upon turning everything back on we timed how long it took each plug to regain its feet, and noted if user input was required to regain functionality. We also spent some time living with each plug, creating schedules for turning lights on and off and using them to summon our coffee makers in the morning, all to get a feel for how well these devices incorporated themselves into normal daily life.
Value is always an important thing to consider, but when it comes to smart plugs there isn't too much to be gained. While we think the Currant WiFi Outlet offers the best overall value and that the WeMo Mini offers the best bang for your buck, the differences are somewhat minor. Most plugs, when calculated on a per-outlet basis, cost about the same, and in general offer very similar performance with only a few minor (though possibly important) differences.
Choosing the Right Smart Plug
Though virtual assistants like Alexa and Siri have been ubiquitous for nearly a decade now, leveraging that technology into anything more than inquiring about the weather or asking how old George Clooney is has been relatively slow in coming to widespread fruition. Enter the smart plug. These simple, WiFi-enabled devices fit into standard wall sockets, essentially linking any appliance that gets plugged into the wall to the limitless possibilities of the internet. You can turn things on and off via your phone or by yelling commands at your favorite virtual assistant, set schedules for individual appliances, and even have a fan automatically turn on when it gets to a certain temperature (or when it's George Clooney's birthday, if you really wanted to).
Why Get a Smart Plug?
The possible uses for smart plugs are seemingly infinite, so we'll just list a few of the most common to help you figure out if purchasing one might make some small aspect of your life a bit better/easier.
Remotely Summon Appliances
Think turning a space heater on before leaving the comfort of your comforter, turning lights on before entering a dark house, or turning lights off before starting a movie without leaving the couch. You could even use one to turn on a coffee maker or kettle and get your morning drink brewing before you even get out of bed. Many also use a smart plug to start their 6-hour slow cooker recipe midday, ensuring it's hot and ready when they get home.
Editors' note: things like space heaters, while generally ok to use with smart plugs, probably shouldn't be put on autonomous schedules. You wouldn't want to forget to reset the schedule before leaving for vacation and then have the heater turn on every day while unattended.
It's an old trick to put a few lamps on a timer so that they turn on and make it look like you're home even when you're on vacation. However, we all remember the scene in Home Alone when the burglars identify the empty house based on the lights turning on at the exact same time every night. Many of these plugs have 'away' modes that will turn lights on and off in a slightly more randomized, natural feeling pattern, ensuring that Joe Pesci won't steal your jewelry. Some can even adjust based on the local sunset time for a slightly more organic pattern.
Even when in standby mode things like TVs, computers, and other appliances still draw non-trivial amounts of power. However, crawling behind couches and under desks to physically unplug these things can feel like an insurmountable hurdle. Connect those devices to a smart plug and you can remotely cut power whenever you'd like. You can even set a schedule for each plug, ensuring your TV doesn't draw any juice while you're at the office. Granted the plugs themselves will still draw some power, but it will generally be much less than a traditional appliance would otherwise.
Beyond just saving energy by cutting power, some of these devices can actually measure exactly how much power each one of your appliances is using. That kind of data can often be enlightening and may lead to some behavior changes that could have a big impact on your electric bill.
Policing Childrens' Technology Use
Some plugs allow you to implement usage limitations, enabling you to enforce the 2-hours of TV rule automatically. You could also set a schedule, so the TV can only be turned on between 5 and 7. Editors' note: if your kids have already read 1984, this is almost certain to lead to some sarcastic Big Brother comments.
Considerations for Picking a Smart Plug
In general, as long as you're using a simple WiFi-connected smart plug (more on that in a bit), there isn't really a bad choice to be made. All that we've tested pass a minimum bar for functionality and differences between them are somewhat minor. In fact, if you already have one plug and are looking to get more, it's more than likely it would be simplest to just get more of the same so they are all connected to the same app. However, if your home has yet to be smart-ified by these devices you can definitely make a better decision by paying attention to a few key things.
Does it Need a Hub?
This review focuses on WiFi plugs, meaning all these devices can converse directly with your home's WiFi. These types of products are by far the simplest and, for most people, can make their homes smarter with the least amount of hassle. Some plugs require a smart hub to function — essentially a separate device that acts as an intermediary between the plug(s) and your internet. The most popular hubs are Zigbee and Z-Wave. Apple HomeKit requires a hub of sorts, as you'll need an Apple TV, HomePod, or iPad in order to access HomeKit devices remotely. If you already have a smart device that uses a hub, it may make sense to get a plug that links to that hub. However, if you're just getting into the smart home game, or your current smart devices don't require a hub, we'd suggest going with a plug that connects directly to your WiFi. It keeps things a bit simpler, and doesn't tether you to a specific system if your smart home needs or tastes change in the future.
Smart Home/Virtual Assistant Compatibility
Whether you're a fan of Alexa, Siri, or Google (we're still not sure why Google's assistant doesn't get a name) you'll want to make sure whatever plugs you buy are compatible with your chosen digital sorcerer. Support for Alexa and Google is almost universal, while Siri (Apple HomeKit) users will have to be a bit more discerning.
If you were hoping to create more sophisticated automated triggers, like having your lights turn on when you pull into the driveway, you'll want to make sure the plug you choose can work with IFTTT (If This Then That). Though not the easiest platform to use, IFTTT allows you to create protocols across devices and services, something the company has affectionately named 'applets.' So you can do things like create an applet that says, "If my phone's location services say I'm in the driveway, then turn on the plug connected to my lamp," or, "If the Weather Channel app says it's hotter than 75˚, turn on the plug controlling my fan."
Energy Monitoring, Scenes, and Other Abilities
Pretty much every plug on the market will allow you to control devices remotely and to set schedules for them, but there are some more advanced features you may want to be on the lookout for. Energy monitoring can actually tell you how much power your appliances are using. Some plugs that don't offer this can monitor runtime, which is obviously less precise but can still be helpful in confronting your energy usage. Many plugs offer scenes, which is a fancy way of saying you can program a setting that, at the push of a button or voice command, controls multiple devices at once. For example, you could program a 'leaving' scene, say, "Alexa I'm leaving," as you walk out the door and have all of your plugs turn off.
For simple things like lights, this isn't a worry. However, if you're planning to plug in a larger appliance, say a portable air conditioner, you'll want to make sure the plug can handle the load. Most plugs have a maximum power of 1.8 kW, but some go as low as 1.2 kW. You'll want to make sure the peak power of whatever appliance you're using doesn't exceed your smart plug's limitations.
It may not seem it, but the extra inch (or more) that a smart plug adds to your outlet is fairly significant. If you then must plug an appliance into the front of said plug it may preclude you from using outlets that are hidden behind couches or other furniture. Some plugs get around this problem by placing the outlet on the side of the device, resulting in a much slimmer overall profile.
Physical vs. Electrical Switches
This isn't a consideration for smart plugs, but the appliance you want to use them with. If the said appliance has a physical on/off switch, then you're good to go as you can leave the switch in the on position and then control it remotely with your smart plug. If the appliance just has a power button, or worse, a touchscreen type power control, you may be out of luck. This could indicate an electrical switch, which just registers the first button press as power on, then the opposite for every consecutive press. In that case you could cut power to the device with a smart plug, and then when you turn the plug back on the device will just power up into standby mode and not actually turn on. The best way to test if your device has an electrical switch is to turn it on, unplug it, then plug it back in. If it screams back to life upon being plugged back in, you're in luck! If it doesn't, it likely has an electrical switch that will make using the device with a smart plug problematic.
Setup and Rebooting Time
Two areas where we found plugs to display noticeable differences were in their setup processes and their ability to recover from a spontaneous internet or power outage. Some models require that you download an app, create a new account and confirm it via email, and then re-sign into that account within the corresponding virtual assistant app of your choice. Others offer much quicker processes, where you can just sign in using an existing account (like Facebook or Google) and then have your other smart devices discover the plug without having to deal with any additional apps.
Likewise, we found that some plugs sprung right back to attention when we flicked the WiFi or power off and then back on, while others took a few minutes. While better performance in these two attributes is certainly a plus, you won't have to deal with initial setup nor rebooting too often (unless you live in an area with frequent power/internet outages).
Smart plugs are both the easiest and cheapest way to add some connected functionality to your current appliances and devices. Whether you want to remotely turn on your slow cooker while at work, set your lights on a schedule, or even have your fans and space heaters react to the weather outside, the right plug can make it happen. We hope this article has helped you decide if you want to start peppering your outlets with smart plugs and, if so, which ones you want.
— Max Mutter and Michelle Powell