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Smart Home

Want to buy a smart plug? Read this first

There's a surprising variety of smart plugs out there. Here's how to decide which is right for your home.

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Chris Monroe/CNET

If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times. Smart plugs are one of the most underrated smart home products out there. No, they aren't the flashiest, but they can automate dumb products in your home with ease and bring them into your smart home ecosystem. To make sure you get the best fit for you, consider these categories when shopping for smart plugs. 

Read more: These are the smart plugs we recommend

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Check compatibility

The first and most important thing you need to know is which voice assistants you want your smart plugs to work with, since not all smart plugs work with all voice assistants.

Compatibility here is vital, because that's what allows you to control dumb devices with your voice and incorporate them into the rest of your smart home. 

If you use Apple HomeKit exclusively, you won't have as many options, but iHome and iDevices are two good places to start. Their plugs work with HomeKit and they offer outdoor models for patio lights or equipment.

If Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa is your smart home's command center, you'll have plenty of options. Just check the product description to make sure the plug you want will work with it. Here's our page of compatible smart home products.

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Find the right features

Picking the right smart plug largely depends on knowing which features you want. Here are just a few of the options you'll find in many smart plugs.

Energy monitoring

This feature monitors how much electricity, in kilowatt-hours (kWh), your devices are using per day, week or month. This information is typically displayed in the smart plug's corresponding app. This one from TP-Link monitors your energy consumption, and works with Google Assistant and Alexa.

If you're concerned about vampire energy or just want to keep your power bill low, energy monitoring features can help.

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Screenshot by Molly Price/CNET

Scheduling and scenes

By adding a smart plug to a small appliance, light, fan or TV, you can schedule your device to turn on or off automatically.

Lots of smart plugs offer this option, and it's useful for morning routines or shutting everything down at bedtime. Some smart plug apps even allow scheduling that repeats each day or at sunrise and sunset.

If your smart plug works with Google Assistant or Alexa, you can also incorporate it into scenes or routines triggered by a simple phrase like, "Alexa, movie time" to dim the lights and turn on your TV. 

Away modes

Perhaps one of the more practical uses for smart plugs is a feature often called Away Mode. Set the date and time ranges you'd like this function to operate, and your plug will randomly turn on and off to simulate someone being home while you're away.

Read more: Put your smart home in 'vacation mode' while you're away

Don't forget about design

Smart plug design is tricky. Most models are bulkier than you might expect and it's not always easy to tell if the shape will work for your outlet.

For example, if you plan on using the smart plug along with another regular item or second smart plug, you'll need to be sure it doesn't block adjacent outlets. 

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David Priest/CNET

That's easier said than done, as even some of the smaller-looking plugs are just the wrong shape to accommodate a neighboring plug. My favorite space-saving plug? The Eufy Smart Plug Mini

Whether you're smartening a coffee maker or a big-screen TV, smart plugs can make dumb devices work with your smart home. Picking the right plug is just about knowing what you want it to work with, what you want it to do and where you want it to fit. 

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