Smart plugs can upgrade any outlet. Here are the smart plugs I recommend.
There's now a smart version of just about everything you can plug in. However, from TVs and speakers to lightbulbs and coffee makers, not all devices in your home are "smart." But you can still take control of almost anything that plugs in by way of an app or possibly with your voice via the use of a smart plug. And most of these smart plugs are on sale right now.
The best smart plugs will give virtually anything you plug in -- lamps, fans, decorative lighting, night-lights and so on -- the "smart" treatment by controlling the power to said device. They're similar to upside-down outlets you can turn on or off from a wall switch -- only instead of manually flipping a switch, you use your phone, voice or a preset schedule to control the flow of power.
Read more: Want to Buy a Smart Plug? Read This First
Some smart plugs come with added features, such as energy monitoring or IFTTT (short for "If This, Then That") capabilities. But for the most part, your smart plug's role is to simplify the control of power to whatever you've got plugged in. Though smart plugs serve the same basic purpose, not all of them are the same. Pricing, functionality and compatibility with home assistants like Alexa, Google and HomeKit will vary by device.
CNET has tested more than a few smart plugs over the years. In this most recent round, I've tested 10 or so in addition to those we've previously checked out.
Read more: These Smart Plugs Are the Secret to a Seamless Smart Home
I liked the Leviton D215P-2RW smart plug right out of the box. For a smart plug, it has a sleek design. I'm particularly fond of the little corner window that acts as a button to manually turn the device on and off and as an indicator light -- features that most smart plugs keep separated. It's also slimmer than most smart plugs I've seen, which is nice if you're working with a limited space.
Design aside, I found the Leviton smart plug easy to set up and the app is pleasantly simple. The home screen displays all connected plugs (or other Leviton smart devices) and their status, along with the ability to switch them on or off with a tap. Setting a schedule for the plug was also easy and intuitive.
Another standout feature of the Leviton smart plug: It plays nice with all three of the major smart home ecosystems. I had no problem connecting the smart plug to my Google Home Mini, but I did have to download the Leviton "skill" in order to connect to Alexa -- an extra step, but one that only took about 30 seconds.
Leviton is also compatible with Apple HomeKit (I connected via an iPad, but Homepods and Apple TV devices will do the job better), which is unique for a smart plug, as the majority of them only work with Alexa and Google. The new universal smart home standard Matter, arriving later this year might help with that, but for now, Leviton is one of the few smart plugs compatible with Apple's Home ecosystem.
We've tested the TP-Link Kasa Smart Wi-Fi Plug Mini before and, prior to trying out the Leviton smart plug, it was our pick for best overall. It's still a great plug with a small, space-saving design, but it lacks the appeal and compatibility to continue its reign as "best overall."
This smart device works with Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa via your Wi-Fi network, and the Kasa app (Android and iOS) offers plenty of detailed options for customizing scheduling, away modes and timers.
What you won't get? This Wi-Fi smart plug doesn't offer energy consumption data, a USB port or HomeKit compatibility. To be fair, most smart plugs can't do all that, either, so don't let that turn you away from this one unless you really need those features. If you're interested in scheduling and using voice control and voice commands, TP-Link's smart plug is a great choice to control a light switch or other connected device.
The Emporia smart plug comes with much of the same functionality as other smart plugs -- instant on/off control, scheduling, Alexa and Google compatibility -- not to mention the rounded edges that made the device feel a bit less bulky than others. What stood out most to me, however, was the app's focus on energy monitoring.
From the home screen display, you can see connected devices and their on/off status along with how much energy they are currently using. Tapping the plug or power icons will take you to the on/off settings, or you can tap on the device name to see a graph of your plug's (that is, whatever's plugged into it) energy use over time.
The Management screen lets you prioritize Emporia devices to automatically turn off if you approach a set peak energy demand goal, automatically consume excess solar energy and, of course, create a custom schedule. There are other energy monitoring and consumption features, but that's the gist of it.
Emporia's app is certainly useful and informative, but speaking strictly from a standalone smart plug standpoint, it can get mildly in the way of actually using the smart plug. I had to play with it a bit to figure out that "Management > Time-of-use management" was the means to create a schedule, and turning the plug on and off from the Home screen wasn't set as a default.
There's also the consideration of whether or not the thing you've got plugged into your Emporia smart plug is worth the in-depth monitoring. Most smart plug applications are for lamps, nightlights, fans and other fixtures that are relatively low on the energy consumption scale. Still, if you want a smart plug that monitors your energy use and allows for more energy-efficient customization than other plugs, this is the one for you.
Speaking of apps, GE's Cync app is nothing short of delightful. The initial smart plug setup took me through a series of simple, step-by-step instructions complemented by soft, home-inspired imagery in the background. The setup also prompted me to connect to Alexa and Google devices, something I had to navigate to within the app or go to a hub to do with other smart plugs.
Once your smart plug is set up, you can control on/off settings from the home screen or tap "Routines" to set a schedule. There are a number of other functions and settings you can play with, such as grouping devices together for simultaneous control or creating "scenes" with custom settings -- like turning off a set of lights before starting a movie or changing the smart light bulbs to your team's color on gameday.
If it sounds complicated, you can get a user-friendly, eye-pleasing breakdown of how to use all the various Cync features under Settings > App Tutorials.
I'm getting away from the smart plug a bit, but that's because the GE Cync app is clearly intended to incorporate multiple devices and support total home automation. Of course, you can use the smart plug on its own, but the app invites you to do much more.
Two for the price of one here. The HBN smart plug is one of the few I've seen with two independently controlled outlets. Even with the extra outlet, the smart plug isn't that much wider than other single plugs, and it's still compact enough to plug something else in above or below it.
I'm sure there are quite a few uses for a dual smart plug, but plugging my Christmas tree lights into one and a corner lamp into the other immediately comes to mind. Currently, I have a light fixture and a fan plugged in and the ability to independently control one or the other is pretty nifty.
The HBN app reminds me of the Leviton app in its user-friendly simplicity. I can turn either switch on or off from the app or by voice command via Alexa or Google. Each outlet is nameable, so you can turn off a single outlet by saying "Alexa, turn off Switch 2," or control both outlets at once by referring to the device name.
You can also create separate schedules for each outlet. Here at home, I've set my fan to come on during these sweltering Southern summer days while the lamp is programmed to come on at night. Again, pretty nifty.
There are dozens of smart plugs out there from companies large and small, and while we haven't tested every single one, we've tried out many of the ones you'd come across online or at your local big box store. Here's a quick look at other notable options. All are compatible with Alexa and Google (excluding the Amazon Smart Plug), but not HomeKit unless specifically noted. Again, Matter could change that in the near future.
Smart plugs are one of the cheapest and simplest ways to add smart technology to non-smart devices such as lamps, nightlights and fans.
A smart plug will give you control over the flow of power to plugged-in devices via an app on your phone or using your voice when paired with a compatible home assistant like Alexa or HomeKit.
Smart plugs also enable you to create schedules to automatically turn the device on or off at specified times. Some plugs come with other features such as energy use monitoring, but conveniently turning your devices "on" or "off" is the main purpose of a smart plug.
When choosing the best smart plug for your needs, start by identifying which voice assistant you'll be using, if any. Most plugs are compatible with Alexa and Google, but finding one that is compatible with HomeKit may be more of a challenge. Most smart plugs will display online and/or on the box which voice assistants are compatible with the device.
Next, compare the size and style of each smart plug. Most smart plugs are compact, but some can be rather bulky and may block access to other outlets. Some are rectangular, others may have rounded edges or a circular shape, which tends to blend in better with the wall plate. Pick the one that best fits your home's style and space.
Extra features like energy monitoring and USB charging can add even more control and convenience, but consider how often you may use these added features before paying a higher price for a smart plug that does more than you need it to.
Smart plugs themselves do not lower energy consumption, but use of a smart plug is a great way to control and potentially lower your energy use. Setting a schedule for a light to turn off at a certain time, for example, will keep it from staying on continuously.
Some smart plugs, such as the Emporia Smart Plug, feature energy-use monitoring along with automatic settings to turn devices on or off depending on your energy consumption. Again, the smart plug itself does not save energy, but using a smart plug and taking advantage of its features can help keep your energy use in check.