Belkin WeMo Mini Wi-Fi Smart Plug review: This itty-bitty, Siri-friendly smart switch is still a best buy

WeMo's app will walk you through the setup process.

Screenshots by Ry Crist/CNET

To sync everything up, you'll follow the app's instructions and plug the WeMo Mini in, then wait a few seconds for it to start broadcasting its Wi-Fi signal. After connecting to that signal, you'll return to the app, where it'll tether the plug to your home network.

In my tests, this pairing process was typically pretty sluggish, often timing out and requiring me to force-quit the app. After launching it back up, the WeMo Mini would always be online and ready to go... but still, not a great first impression.

The app timed out during the setup process on more than one occasion, but everything worked after I restarted the app.

Screenshots by Ry Crist/CNET

Things got better from there, though. To Belkin's credit, the app seemed noticeably faster than the last time I tested it out for a post from the CNET Smart Home. Unlike in that round of tests, I didn't encounter the problem where my switches were listed as unresponsive.

The WeMo app's rules engine is helpful and easy to use.

Screenshots by Ry Crist/CNET

The WeMo app offers a simple and intuitive rules engine that lets you get your feet wet with home automation. You could, for instance, create a rule that turns a lamp on at sunset, or when a WeMo motion detector catches you walking into the room.

In my home, I have a rule that turns off a space heater every night at 1 a.m. If I ever forget to turn it off, WeMo will remember for me and keep it from running all night. Most importantly, the app makes it really easy to create those kinds of automations.

Syncing up with the Amazon Echo smart speaker was a cinch, too. Once the plug is up and running on your home network, just ask Alexa to discover new devices. Within seconds, she'll detect the WeMo Mini and add it to her list of supported gadgets, and you'll be able to tell her to turn it on and off using whatever name you picked for it in the WeMo app.

Commands like these worked perfectly in my tests, and in my own home, where I've regularly used an Amazon Echo to turn a lamp plugged into a WeMo Switch on and off for over a year now.

Controlling the switch using the Google Home smart speaker, with which Belkin's WeMo gear will soon enjoy native compatibility, should be just as easy once that integration is up and running. For deeper automated controls, it's fairly simple to connect your WeMo gear with the free online service IFTTT, too.

And remember, if you're turning your switches on and off with voice commands and automations like these, then you'll rarely need to open the app at all. I have a set of lights in my home that turn on automatically every night at sunset thanks to a WeMo Switch and an automation rule in the WeMo app. It's worked every night for years now, and I honestly can't remember the last time I've used the app itself. Talk about set and forget.

WeMo devices are not discoverable from outside of your home's Wi-Fi network.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Let's talk security

With the rise of internet-connected devices in our homes comes some legitimate security concerns, but Belkin's on pretty solid footing here. The company has done an admirable job of responding to potential vulnerabilities with regular firmware updates, and uses standard transport layer encryption for all transmissions to and from WeMo devices.

I spoke with a Belkin representative about how WeMo handles security last year -- this is what the company said:

"We have a dedicated security team that works at every part of our software development lifecycle, advising software and systems engineers in best practices and making sure WeMo is as secure as possible. Our devices are not discoverable from anywhere on the Internet outside the home's Local Area Network and we do not modify the home router's external firewall settings or leave any ports open to allow exploitation. We also have a mature and robust security response process that allows us to respond quickly and decisively to push out critical firmware updates in the event of a vulnerability or attack."

As with a lot of smart home gadgets, a lot of it comes down to how well secured your home network is. Setting strong passwords and then updating them regularly is a good start, and if you need additional guidance, we've got you covered.

Ry Crist/CNET

Good thing, small package

At just $30 each (or less), the WeMo Mini is one of the most affordable smart plugs on the market, and it's a perfect fit with voice controllers like the Amazon Echo or Google Home smart speakers. Integrations with IFTTT, Apple HomeKit and with the Nest Learning Thermostat let you go even deeper into home automation if you choose.

All of that is why the WeMo Mini is one of my go-to recommendations for folks interested in trying out home automation, but fearful of the complexities and the high cost of buying in. Like the original, it's a smart, simple way to get smarten things up at home, and the new, less obtrusive design is leaps and bounds better than before. Even now, coming on two years since its introduction, it's still an MVP of the modern connected living space.

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