iHome iSP5 SmartPlug review:

Despite help from Siri, the iHome SmartPlug struggles to stand out

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3 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

The Good Once you get it set up, using your iHome iSP5 SmartPlug with your iOS device is easy and even fun. iHome's app allows you to organize your home into rooms and zones, and I got a kick out of controlling the plug with Siri.

The Bad Setting the plug up proved problematic on both iOS and Android, and the bare-bones Android app isn't worth the effort. Even on iOS, iHome's plug really only does one thing, whereas similar devices can also monitor energy use or talk to other peripherals.

The Bottom Line Avoid the iSP5 SmartPlug if you're an Android user. For iOS, it's worth considering given the HomeKit compatibility and relatively low cost, but if you want to start building a larger smart home, I'd wait for a more robust HomeKit option as at least two will hit retailers by the end of 2015.

6.7 Overall
  • Features 6.0
  • Usability 6.0
  • Design 7.0
  • Performance 8.0

The iHome iSP5 SmartPlug has an ace up its sleeve. On its own, it doesn't do anything extraordinary. Plug it into a wall socket, plug one of your ordinary electronic devices into it -- such as a lamp -- and connect the iHome Plug to your Wi-Fi network, and you'll be able to control the socket remotely and smarten up an otherwise dumb device. It's a cool idea and an easy way to try out smart-home technology at a reasonable price, but it's an idea shared by more than a dozen other connected devices.

Most of those competing smart plugs do more than iHome's version. The Belkin WeMo Insight Switch monitors energy usage and lets you program your plug with online automation service IFTTT. Other plugs offer surge protection , or antennas for Bluetooth or ZigBee , making it so they can act as bridges for other smart devices.

The iHome plug does one thing only, and there can be setup glitches. Once it's up and running, it does its task quickly and consistently. Despite that, iHome would be largely forgettable except that it works with HomeKit, Apple's proprietary smart-home software. That software allows you to control the iSP5 with your voice, and iHome's iOS app makes it easy to organize your smart home with HomeKit. Soon, iHome could get lost among the competition once more well-rounded HomeKit plugs hit the market. For now, the iHome SmartPlug does just enough to be worth a look as an inexpensive way to start a Siri smart home.

You can purchase the iHome iSP5 SmartPlug now from the company's site and Amazon for $39.99. It's compatible with iOS and Android via the free iHome Control app. The iSP5 is not currently available overseas.

Simple smarts for dumb electronics

Made by iHome, an electronics company best known for its speakers, the plug looks simple and unassuming, with a white front and back nicely accented by a gray top and sides. It's small, as it should be, and designed to extend horizontally so as to only take up one outlet when in place.

The iHome SmartPlug doesn't block the adjacent outlet. Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Plug it in, then plug in the device you want to control. Lamps and fans are obvious choices, but the iHome SmartPlug will work with anything as long as it doesn't use more than 1,800 watts of power.

A button in the top right corner allows you to turn the switch on and off manually -- a nice touch. Press it and you'll hear the familiar, pleasing click of turning on a lamp. When the switch is on, the company logo in the bottom left corner shines white. In the upper right, a small green LED lets you know you have a Wi-Fi signal.

The iHome logo shines white when the plug is switched on. Tyler Lizenby/CNET

That LED could prove problematic for some, as it's always lit when the plug is connected, so it could be bothersome in a dark room such as a bedroom.

Setup stumbles

In order to make the iSP5 useful, you'll need to sync it with your home Wi-Fi Network. The app will guide you through the steps of the process, which can be as easy as holding the button on the SmartPlug to reset it, then adding a new device to your iHome Control app and picking the right network.

The process can be that simple, but on numerous occasions, particularly on Android, we found that it wasn't. (There turned out to be a simple solution to our problems, which I'll explain below.) After you reset the plug, you'll press a button in the app to add a new device. You'll identify the device with an eight-digit PIN you'll find on a sticker on the bottom of the plug or on the quick-start guide included with the package.

Use your eight-digit code to identify your device in your app. Tyler Lizenby/CNET

The plug then connects to your Android phone, and uses your phone to search for and connect to your Wi-Fi router. Except, on numerous occasions, as my phone switched from my Wi-Fi signal to the plug's for the sake of that direct connection, I saw an error message, "Start session timeout," and had to start over.

After a couple of tries, my phone made it past this step, and I was able to identify the correct Wi-Fi signal and input my password. iHome connected the plug and started "Finishing Wi-Fi setup" and then stopped. The app spun in place for a while, then told me no device was found and took me back to the add-device screen.

After this setup glitch, the plug looked like it had found my network. Its LED blinks green after a reset while it's searching for a signal, and turns solid green once it finds one. The Android setup resulted in a solid green signal, but the plug was nowhere to be found in the app, and since it wasn't blinking green anymore, I had to reset the plug again to get the app to register a nearby new device so I could try setting it up again.

This happened numerous times on my Samsung Galaxy S5 . A coworker's S5 ran into the same problem a couple of times, but eventually made it through the setup. Another Android phone, the Nexus 6, ran into the same hurdle that my phone did, and was also unable to make it through the process.

Eventually, after talking to representatives from iHome, we found a fix to the issue. With certain versions of Android Lollipop, you have to turn off your mobile data to prevent it from interfering with the plug's signal during setup. Sure enough, once I did that, I finally got the setup to finish.

The Android setup often resulted in an error message. Screenshots by Andrew Gebhart/CNET

On iOS, the process was seamless, or at least it was the first time I set up the plug. The iHome app is obviously much more in tune with Apple hardware than Android, and it connects the plug to your Wi-Fi network much more quickly. You'll still need to enter the PIN for the device, and your Wi-Fi password if you have one. Otherwise, getting connected to your Wi-Fi network is quick and painless.

You'll encounter a couple of extra steps beyond connecting to your router with the iOS app, but these relate to organizing your home into HomeKit's buckets. To review, HomeKit runs in the background of iOS 8 , and enables compatible third-party devices to talk to each other via a standard set of rules, allowing you to organize devices from various companies and control them by voice via Siri.

You'll be prompted to name your home, HomeKit's biggest bucket, as soon as you open the iOS app and create your iHome account. Then, you'll connect your plug and provide it with a name, and you can even assign it to a room and that room to a zone if you want to take advantage of all of HomeKit's organizational structure. There's no need to set up zones unless you have several HomeKit devices, but iHome deserves credit for making it easy to do in the app.

Setup on iOS can be quite simple. Screenshots by Andrew Gebhart/CNET

To share control of the device, select "user management" under the settings tab of the app. You can even share a device from an iOS to an Android device, though it doesn't work the other way around.

You can invite multiple family members to share control of your device. Specifically, you share access to all devices within a home. You can't specify control beyond HomeKit's biggest bucket, but at there's at least some separation of what you're sharing. So, for example, your partner can manipulate anything you set up at your place without gaining control of the devices you have at your office.

You'll need to give additional users a PIN if you want them to be able to control your devices remotely, and I like the extra security step. It's one thing to let a friend play with your smart devices while they're visiting and using your Wi-Fi, it's another to grant them control at any time, from anywhere. Even with the PIN, additional users will never be able to rename or alter the settings of your devices.

You can add users to any of your home buckets, even with Android devices. Screenshots by Andrew Gebhart/CNET

That PIN setting, though smart in theory, ended up contributing to a few glitches I discovered while trying to reset the plug. Fortunately, you won't need to do this if you're just moving it around within your home. Unplugging it and replugging it doesn't reset the settings. Give it a moment after you plug it back in, and it'll hop right back onto the established network.

You will need to reset the plug if you move it from your home to your office and want to set it up on a different network. When you do that, you won't be able to use the same name for the plug you used before, which was a shame for me, as I'd wanted to keep using the name "Bat Signal."

You can get your used names back if you really want to, but you'll have to reset all of your HomeKit buckets in your device settings to do so.

The minor annoyance of picking a new name aside, setting up the plug a second time revealed a few flaws in the iOS app. On a couple of occasions, the app couldn't find the plug for the second setup. I had to reset the plug again, and restart my iPad to get it to work. On another occasion, I couldn't change the name for the plug I set up. The app was convinced I wasn't the creator of the home, and thus, locked me out of this feature, even though I was using the same device with the same log-in as when I initially set it up.

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