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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 in a jiffy. To make sure you get the best fit for your home, consider these categories when shopping for smart plugs. 

Read more: These are the smart plugs we recommend | These smart plugs are the secret to a seamless smart home

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 devices with your voice and incorporate them into the rest of your smart home. 

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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. Older smart plug models may require a smart home hub, but many new ones connect directly to your home's Wi-Fi through their companion mobile app. 

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.

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 you keep an eye on your consumption. 

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Screenshot by Molly Price/CNET

Scheduling and scenes

By adding a smart plug to a small appliance like a coffee maker, lamp, 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, adjusting for the time as the daylight hours change throughout the year.

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 an occupied 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.

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David Priest/CNET

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. 

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 plugs? The Eufy Smart Plug Mini and the Amazon Smart Plug

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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