Without any special features, the only thing that sticks out about Monster's connected plug is the cost.
Connected plugs are a great way to get started with the smart home. Plug anything you want into one and you can control that formerly dumb device remotely. That's the idea behind the Monster Central Power Control Kit. As opposed to fiddling with the dials of those old fashioned lamp timers, plug your light into this device and set up a schedule with Monster's app. The Monster plug will even tell you how much energy your device is using, and let you customize the readings to your local utility pricing.
Beyond that, you can set up more complex rules via the compatible Presence Pro Energy app, and Monster's plug offers surge protection. It's a neat, useful trick to add simple smarts where you want it most, and Monster pulls everything off competently. Except, it's not a new trick. In fact, the connected plug is one of the most common smart home devices you can find, with models available from Belkin , D-Link , iDevices , Quirky , iHome , Insteon , and more. Monster stands out from this crowd solely because of its $140 price. Comparatively, its features fall short of the competition and since the best of the rest cost between $50 and $60, the price makes the Monster Central Power Control Kit a terrible value.
I was disconcerted by the Monster Plug from the get go. It's big and black and bulky. The front has three lights that turn green when it's connected. It feels like something out of a sci-fi movie from the '80s.
It's long, but the prongs sit at the top of its backside. Plug it into a bottom outlet, and you'll still be able to access the top one. To use it, you'll need to plug the electronic you want to automate into Monster's own outlet, which sits on the bottom of the device.
Included in the package with the plug is a base unit you'll need to hook to your router. Monster's plug is the only one we've encountered that needs a separate hub to establish a connection. It's an outdated appendage, especially since it won't help any third-party accessory reach the cloud. You'll be using up space on your router for a hub that only talks to Monster plugs.
That said, it does make setup simple. The Belkin WeMo Switch is a great $50 smart outlet that remotely links to your Wi-Fi without needing a separate hub, but getting it connected the first time can be tricky. With Monster, plug the hub into the wall and your router. A light on the front will blink a few times as it gets set up, then turn solid green after a few seconds to show it has a signal.
Then you can download the free Monster app and scan the QR code on the plug to add it to your account. It's a quick and painless process that should let you start automating soon after you open the package.
You can buy the Monster Power Control Kit from Monster's website. It's also available via People Power, the makers of the free Presence app. Finally, you can find it via typical online retailers such as Amazon and Walmart. The $140 kit includes the plug and the hub. You can buy additional plugs for $70 a piece.
A lot of retailers selling the switch have discounted it heavily. On Amazon, it's currently $65 total. Walmart sells it for $71. Even Monster's own site has discounted the kit down to $120. Those discounts seems like great deals, but really they just make the kit reasonable.
Monster also sells a kit with three plugs for $170. Additional three plug units cost $110. On this model -- the 300MC as opposed to the 100MC -- only one plug allows app control, but all three get the benefit of energy-monitoring and surge protection.
At this time, all models of the Monster Power Control Kit are only available in the US.
Once you're setup, plug the electronic you'd like to automate into the Monster device, and manually switch it on. Then the app, available for both iOS and Android, can take the reigns.
You can name the device to keep things distinct should you add more plugs to your system. You can flip the device on or off from near or far with your phone or tablet. You'll also see an energy reading made to look like your car's speedometer.
Via the devices "Analyze" screen, you can see charts showing the power usage over the day, week and month. You can see the cost of that power usage over the same time periods as well, and you can customize what units it shows and how much they cost via the settings.
Finally, the device has a "Programs" screen to let you set basic schedules. You won't be able to turn things on or off at sunset, or on a regular looping schedule -- like switching it on and off every 45 minutes -- but you can say you want it to turn on or off at a certain time, and specify days of the week for that command.
Outside of the device page of the app, on the Monster app home screen, you can access a couple of other simple functions. Again, the settings let you customize your energy readings, but it also lets you instruct a "Home and Away" command. You'll find both buttons at the bottom of the home screen, and you can program what you want the plug to do when you come home or go away.
Unfortunately, because the app won't link to anything besides the Monster plug, your options are pretty much limited to having the device turn on or off when you come home or leave, and it doesn't have geofencing, so you'll have to pull up the app and hit the button when you want to execute one command or the other. In other words, its just a way of putting an extra power button on the home screen that can sync multiple plugs at once.
Buttons for "Tips, Market, Vampires, and Help" round out the main screen of the app. Help puts an icon over all the other buttons, letting you get more info on their function, but the rest are next to useless. "Vampire" just gives a list of common energy suckers, "Tips" links out to a twitter list on energy efficiency from People Power, and "Market" is currently broken, directing you to the People Power app.
I don't know why Monster felt the need to crowd the home screen with info that doesn't adapt to you and that you can pretty much find anywhere on the internet, but I'd have preferred it just open up to a list of your devices. It would have meant one less button press to flip your plugged in electronic on or off. As it stands, it takes three after the app is open. When you're home, you might miss being able to walk over and flip a switch manually, but doing that would take control away from the app.
That's a common problem with these smart plugs though, and in terms of scheduling, energy monitoring and remote functionality, the Monster plug works just fine. It reliably turns on and off with both the device's dedicated button and via the home and away command. It lagged on occasion, but never more than a second or two.
It's a plain but competent plug. The issues arise when you ask it to be part of a larger automated home.
The Monster plug gains functionality when you use it through the Presence Pro Energy app. Presence lets you turn an old iPad or iPhone into a motion sensing security camera for free. It's a cool idea and it works well, but we found it also lacking in interoperability compared to the similar Manything app.
With the full integration of the Monster Plug, People Power's features have gained a little depth, but it's still a closed system. Monster works with Presence. Presence works with Monster and a handful of similar devices. That's it.
Using the Monster plug through the People Power app, though, gives you all of the features you have in Monster's first party app, plus you can create more advanced rules with it. Switching back and forth caused significant lag, but there's no reason to go back to the Monster app once you start using Presence Pro.
The rules in Presence function similarly to the popular online platform IFTTT . When something happens with one device you can have it set off a trigger with a different device. For instance, if you have the Presence camera set up, you can establish a rule where if it senses motion around the time you get home from work, then the Monster plug can turn on the entertainment center you have plugged into it.
Being able to talk with one other app fluently doesn't help Monster's plug come anywhere close to catching up to the competition. IFTTT has hundreds of channels you can access with the compatible Belkin WeMo switches. Upcoming plugs from iHome and Grid Connect will be compatible with Apple's HomeKit once that launches, letting you control them with Siri and link them to any other HomeKit product.
With a smart plug, you either want simple automation or a way to connect outstanding electronics to a larger smart home. Monster takes care of the former, but so do all of the other options that cost a lot less, and it downright fails at the latter.
Energy monitoring is a nice touch, but the WeMo Insight Switch has it too, costs $60, looks a lot better, doesn't require a hub, and lets you do more with the information. With Belkin and IFTTT, you can set rules based on energy readings to turn off the TV after a certain amount of time or only allow your window air conditioner to run until it has used a predetermined amount of power. With the Monster plug, even in the Presence app, you don't have access to any energy-related triggers.
Monster's last possible means of redemption lies in its surge protection. If that's a huge advantage for you, I recommend the $80 Quirky Pivot Power Genius .
If you look at Monster's product from another angle -- that it's a kit with a hub and a plug, not just a plug with a crutch that the rest don't have a need for -- maybe the $140 price makes a little more sense. $70 is still a lot for a plug given that the regular WeMo switch costs $50 and the Insight costs $60, but it's not ridiculous.
The other half, the $70 for a hub, is actually not bad. Wink's Hub is $80, and on its own the Smart Things Hub costs $100. Except, those other hubs do a lot more. Wink can communicate with a wide variety of devices. It's an open platform that can read all sorts of signals, from Bluetooth to Zigbee to Z-wave and even a few more. SmartThings also has a wide breadth of third-party integration and has its own IFTTT channel.
Again, Monster's hub talks to the Monster plug. That's it. Maybe Monster will release more products in the future to expand its repertoire, but there's no indication of something coming soon. It's a hub with only one road leading to it. It doesn't have antennas for common signal protocols like Zigbee or Z-Wave, so even if Monster expands their first-party offerings, there's little hope the hub will be as versatile as the rest.
Even at the cheaper prices readily offered by retailers, you're buying into the smart home with a closed off system that'll limit your options for future growth when so many others would encourage it.
Monster might be counting on its well known name here. I have trouble thinking of any other justification for the ridiculous $140 price point. Since a number of consumers are still unfamiliar with the smart home, Monster might seem like a great, established place to get started. Rest assured, there are lots of better options.
We liked the $50 Belkin WeMo Switch , and the $60 Belkin Insight Switch if you want energy readings. The $80 Quirky Pivot Power Genius offers surge protection, and lots of plugs do the job competently for less. Upcoming models from Grid Connect and iDevices will even include antennas so they can act as a hub while automating power. The $140 price means I can't recommend the Monster Central Power Control Kit to anyone. Even at a discount, it's an unexciting, limited option in a rapidly growing field.