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iHome iSP5 SmartPlug review: Despite help from Siri, the iHome SmartPlug struggles to stand out

You can get stuck in a reset loop when adding your device a second time. Screenshots by Andrew Gebhart/CNET

On yet another occasion, after I reset the plug, I added a new device, took it through the setup process and then got an error message telling me the device was reset, taking me back to step 1, even though I'd completed the process of getting it connected. I was stuck in that loop for a while. I'd reset the plug to allow the app to find it, go through the setup process, name the plug, then get the error message and have to start over.

Old plugs tend to linger next to dead buttons on your app and new ones can take a long time to populate on the apps of additional users. It'll get there eventually for your family members, but if you want to use a different Apple device yourself, it might never happen. Using the same iCloud account and the same iHome log-in on an iPhone that I used on my iPad, I couldn't see the homes or devices I'd set up, no matter what I tried. I'm not sure if that issue is on Apple or iHome, but I found it majorly annoying.

The setup issues I encountered with the iOS app were mostly minor, but they show that the software of the iHome SmartPlug still needs polishing.

HomeKit fun

Once it was up and running, I enjoyed using the iHome iSP5 SmartPlug on iOS. It's responsive. The app has a tab for your devices, with a button just to the left of their names, letting you switch them on and off, and they react almost instantaneously.

The app has tab for your home where you can you organize your devices into the various HomeKit buckets, and it also has a tab for rules. Thanks to online rule maker IFTTT, I've come to expect a lot of rule systems with smart devices. Via IFTTT, you can train your devices to work together in lots of useful and interesting ways. When your phone senses you're home, you can have your lights turn on, your doors unlock and your garage door open. When it's time for bed, you can have your place lock itself down and adjust the thermostat accordingly.

With iHome's plug, the rule system is just a timer, meaning you can set times when you want your various devices to turn on or off. The timer is smart enough that if you've set it to turn off at 10 p.m. and it's already off, it won't switch it back on, but it's still a pretty simple system.

Supposedly, more advanced rule functionality is coming to HomeKit with iOS 9 . At that point, this plug could come closer to reaching its potential as an interconnected device if it can respond to input from other HomeKit sensors.

You can tell Siri to flip your device on or off, too, and I quite enjoyed trying out the many possible voice commands.

In addition to a settings tab, letting you add users and edit your account, the last tab in the iHome Control app lets you set scenes. You can pick from the predetermined scenes such as "Dining" or "Party" or you can name your own.

I liked using iHome's iOS app. Screenshots by Andrew Gebhart/CNET

Scenes let you program multiple devices to respond to a single command. As with buckets, it's very much overkill for a single plug, but it'll get much more useful as HomeKit's device lineup fills out. Plus, setting scenes with Siri is awesome.

I programmed my lamp to turn on when I set the dining scene. Then, I simply told Siri to, "Set the dining scene." She responded, "Your wish is my command. And lo, Dining Scene." My light turned on and I laughed at the surprising display of competent smart-home voice controls with personality to boot.

Similarly, you can control your devices by name directly ("Turn on the Bat Signal!") Finally, you can control devices by the name of your buckets as well. So I could tell Siri to turn off all devices in my home, "Gotham," or the zone I specified for my lamp, "Wayne Manor."

Setting scenes enables cool Siri commands. Screenshots by Andrew Gebhart/CNET

HomeKit makes these voice commands possible, but it's iHome's app that makes it easy to organize your devices into HomeKit's buckets and -- once you get through the setup process -- makes using your device with HomeKit fun.

A work in progress

HomeKit isn't perfect. With iOS 9, you'll supposedly be able to control your devices remotely just by linking them to iCloud. For now, to give Siri commands when you're not home, you'll need an Apple TV , and a ton of patience to wade through the confusing and tedious setup process.

The iHome Plug allows you to get around this by just opening the app and controlling your device with buttons when you're not home. Since it connects directly to your Wi-Fi router, it doesn't need HomeKit to enable all remote functionality as the Elgato Eve Room with its Bluetooth-only signal does.

If you do want Siri controls on the go, you'll need to have an iCloud account linked to an iCloud.com email address, then you'll need to turn on the iCloud Keychain in your device settings, then you'll probably need to sign out and sign back into to both your Apple TV and your device, and possibly even reset your HomeKit buckets on your device to get it to work. It's a pain.

With iOS 9, the setup could be streamlined. iOS 9 will supposedly also enable push notifications and more advanced rules linking devices from different parties. In other words, if you want simple voice controls, HomeKit and the iHome Plug are ready for you now. If you want more than that, you'll need to wait, and that could be a problem for the iHome SmartPlug. Right now, it's one of the few HomeKit-compatible options on the market, which makes its lack of features acceptable. Soon, it'll have lots more competition, and since it only does one thing, it could easily get lost in the crowd.

A crowded field

Coming in October, the iDevices switch will cost only $10 more than the iHome SmartPlug. It'll connect directly to your Wi-Fi router, but will also include a Bluetooth antenna, allowing you to bridge Bluetooth specific peripherals to the cloud. Upcoming HomeKit locks such as the Schlage Sense will take advantage of that feature.

The Grid Connect ConnectSense Smart Outlet ups the price to $80, but includes two smart outlets, a USB port and a ZigBee antenna, again allowing it to double as a bridge.

If you just want to control lights, the Lutron Caseta Wireless Lighting Starter Kit is available now, and permits dimming as well, but you have to purchase the whole kit for $230 to get this functionality.

Insteon has a plug that can work with HomeKit, but it's a $60 model you need to install, and you need to buy the HomeKit-compatible Insteon Hub to make it work. Preorders for that hub shipped this summer, and it'll be widely available soon.

There are many non-HomeKit options, the most notable of which is the $60 Belkin WeMo Insight Switch , which monitors energy usage and allows remote control of your outlet. Belkin's Plug is also compatible with IFTTT, allowing you to connect it to IFTTT's broad library of smart home products.

Even when working right, the Android app is disappointing. Screenshots by Andrew Gebhart/CNET

Because of the many available smart plugs, I'd pass on the iHome version if you have an Android device. Even once you do get past the buggy setup, the app is bare-bones. You don't have any voice control, or organizational systems. You can see your devices listed and set those time-based rules, and that's it.

The verdict

The iHome iSP5 sits in a precarious position. On the one hand, I have trouble recommending it now, because both the iHome Control app and Apple's HomeKit still need polish. On the other hand, waiting on the iHome SmartPlug probably won't make it look better, as more well-rounded HomeKit devices will hit the market soon.

I'm allowing myself a third hand here, because once you get it set up, the iHome SmartPlug works well enough with your iOS device now that it makes sense for those looking for simple smart control of home items like lamps and fans. At $40, it's also not unreasonably priced. It's just too feature-poor to recommend. You should definitely look elsewhere if you're an Android user. HomeKit helps a little bit if you have iOS, but even that advantage -- the ace up its sleeve -- will disappear soon.

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