Best Smart Plugs of 2020
Best Overall Smart Plug
Currant WiFi Outlet
Of all the plugs that we tested the Currant Wifi offers the most seamless user experience. The associated app offers the option of creating a dedicated Currant account or signing in with an existing Facebook account. There is also 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 easier to slide in behind a desk or couch. You can even flip the orientation so the outlets point to the right or left depending on the geometry of your outlets and furniture. Perhaps most importantly, this plug proved to be one of the most reliable that we tested, quickly snapping back to attention after internet outages. This is rounded out by advanced features like power usage metrics and power saving modes that can sometimes help you leverage the plug into savings on your electricity bill.
The biggest limitation of the Currant is that it lacks compatibility with 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 end up being a key limitation. The list price of this device is also 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 Basic Smart Plug
Some of the most useful applications of a smart plug are also some of the most basic, things like being able to turn a fan or space heater on and off without leaving your bed, or turning on a lamp without groping in the dark for a light switch. In these situations, the WeMo Mini shines. Not only does it sell for a budget-friendly price, but it also offers one of the most intuitive installation processes around. It is one of the few plugs on the market that doesn't require creating an account 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. 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 plug for an enticingly low price, it doesn't rebound or adapt well. Switching the plug to a new WiFi network requires a reset that was much more involved than the initial setup, making it a poor choice for those that switch apartments and/or WiFi routers frequently. It was also slower than most other devices in reconnecting after a WiFi outage. However, as long as you don't experience too many WiFi outages or don't mind being a bit patient when you do, the WeMo Mini offers a great user experience for a relatively low price.
Best Bang for the Buck for Alexa Users
Amazon Smart Plug
If your burgeoning smart home is centered around Alexa, the Amazon Smart Plug is one of the easiest and most economical ways to expand its purview. This simple plug is a breeze to setup and use if you already have an Alexa account and the corresponding app installed on your phone, and it is relatively simple to use the same app to set schedules and adjust settings. You can also easily use Alexa Routines to have the plug interact with your other smart devices, such as turn on a lamp when your Alexa-enabled security camera senses motion. And, of course, it works seamlessly with aLexa voice controls.
This plug is fairly basic, so it doesn't offer advanced features like energy usage monitoring. It also lacks broder smart home compatibility, with IFTTT possibly the most notable exclusion. Despite these minor drawbacks, this plug is an excellent way to expand the abilities of your Alexa ecosystem.
Read review: Amazon Smart Plug
Best Smart Powerstrip
TP-Link Kasa Smart WiFi Power Strip
Home entertainment systems are some of the most notorious "energy vampires" around, with all of those TVs, soundbars, and streaming devices still drawing energy even when they've been powered down. 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 you to virtually unplug your entire entertainment system, either manually through a command on your phone or automatically by setting a schedule, eliminating that wasteful electricity usage. The strip can also monitor how long each outlet is turned on, providing insight into your energy usage habits. 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 more complicated. It requires you to make an account, confirm via email, and manually link to the smart home moderator of your choice. The same is true if you need to switch WiFi 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 require multiple, independent smart outlets in one location.
Read review: TP Link Kasa Smart WiFi Power Strip
Best for Outdoor Use
TP-Link Kasa Outdoor
The TP-Link Kasa Outdoor, in our opinion, is your best bet for outside use. It provides a lot of functionality for a relatively low price. It offers two independently controlled outlets attached to a single plug, which allows you to have 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 most any existing setup.
The only minor downsides of the Kasa Outdoor are that the installation process is slightly more difficult than average, and there is a small delay in rebooting after a WiFi outage. However, both of these annoyances feel trivial when considering its otherwise great performance.
Read review: TP-Link Kasa Outdoor
Best Runtime Tracking on a Budget
TP-Link Kasa WiFi Lite
Measuring how often you use a certain high-energy appliance is often the first step in reducing your electricity usage. If you mostly want a plug in order to track how often you use a certain appliance, or to confront how much time you actually spend laying on the couch watching TV, the TP-Link Kasa WiFi Lite is a simple, low-cost option. This slim plug can fit behind most furniture and allows you to get instant runtime statistics on your phone for less than most of the competition.
In order to unlock the TP-Link Kasa WiFi Lite's cheap runtime tracking you'll have to contend with a slightly more involved setup process (more often than not you'll need multiple apps and accounts to link the plug to a virtual assistant) and a slight delay in recovering from WiFi outages. However, these annoyances are relatively minor and certainly don't diminish from the usefulness of the plug's runtime tracking features.
Read review: TP-Link Kasa WiFi Lite
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 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 plugs currently on the market.
For this review, we spent weeks throwing a series of challenges at these plugs. 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 both cut off their power supply and shut off the WiFi. Upon turning everything back on we timed how long it took each plug to reorient itself and noted if user input was required to recapture 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 incorporate themselves into daily life.
Value is always an important thing to consider, but we found that the range for smart plugs is relatively narrow. We feel that the WeMo Mini offers a great value for most people, that the Alexa Smart Plug is a great deal for Alexa users, and that the Currant WiFi Outlet provides good bang for the buck for those seeking advanced features like energy usage monitoring.
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 a relatively slow evolution. 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. You can 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
Here, we have in mind functions like turning on a space heater before leaving the cocoon of your comforter, turning on lights 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 to get your morning drink brewing before you get out of bed. Many people also use a smart plug to start their slow cooker recipe midday, ensuring it's hot and ready when they get home.
Editors' note: you should always be careful when putting devices on autonomous schedules. While this like space heaters are often compatible with smart plugs, leaving one on a schedule could mean inadvertently having it turn on when you're not home and it's unattended, presenting a potential hazard.
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 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 more organic pattern.
Many home gadgets and appliances, including many TVs, computers, and kitchen devices, still draw non-trivial amounts of power when plugged in but not in use. Smart plugs help you get around this issue. These devices not only let you completely turn off appliances from your phone, but you can also put them on schedules, ensuring your devices won't be needlessly using power while you're not at home.
Beyond saving energy by cutting power, some of these models can measure exactly how much power each one of your appliances is using. That kind of data is a powerful tool that can inform some behavior changes that could have a big impact on your electric bill.
Policing Childrens' Technology Use
Some plugs let you set time usage limitations, automatically turning off a TV or video game after it's been turned on for more than 2 hours in a 24 hour period. Even if a plug doesn't offer such a feature, it will likely offer scheduling features that would allow you to set the TV or video game to only be usable between 5 and 7pm. You just have to make sure your kids don't figure out how to unplug the smart plug and plug their device directly back into the wall.
Considerations for Picking a Smart Plug
The good news is that we've yet to find a truly terrible plug, therefore it's unlikely you'll end up with a device that is completely unusable. In fact, if you already have a smart plug that you at least like and are looking to buy another one, we'd usually recommend sticking with the same company just so all of your plugs can easily live within the same app. However, if you're searching for specific advanced features, like energy usage monitoring, or are seeking compatibility with a specific virtual assistant or smart home ecosystem, you're going to want to pay attention to the specifics.
Does it need a hub?
This review focuses on WiFi-enabled plugs — devices that 'talk' 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 the internet connection. 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
One of the most useful things a smart plug can do is enable a wide array of voice commands for different appliances. This requires the support of a virtual assistant like Alexa, Siri, or Google Home. No matter which assistant you currently use or are planning on using in your home, you'll want to make sure whatever model you choose is compatible. For the most part, support for Siri and Google Home is almost universal, while Siri (Apple HomeKit) users will have to be much pickier in the models they choose.
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 advanced features you may want to look out for. Energy monitoring can tell you how much power your appliances are using. Some plugs that don't offer this can monitor runtime, which is less precise but can still help confront 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 most devices, like TVs, lamps, and fans, you won't need to worry about maximum power thresholds. If you want to use a smart plug with a more power-hungry device, however, you'll want to make sure that plug can handle the load. These devices may include air conditioning units, refrigerators, or toaster ovens. 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 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.
Similarly, we found that some models can spring right back to attention after a WiFi or power outage, while others take a few minutes or even longer to find their bearings again. Others still often require some sort of manual reboot after losing the WiFi connection. Our top picks perform well in this regard, all dealing with losses of connection without missing a beat.
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