Zuli Smartplug review: The Zuli Smartplug's technology could make switches obsolete

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The Good The Bluetooth Presence technology is precise, plus energy tracking, Nest integration, and dimming all make this a veritable Renaissance plug.

The Bad The lack of remote access is annoying, and Android compatibility and user sharing both need to be made available before this plug is a clear industry leader.

The Bottom Line The Zuli Smartplug is a versatile and creative product, offering features that are new to the market. Its current quality warrants the cost of entry, and coming updates only sweeten the deal.

8.3 Overall
  • Features 8
  • Usability 9
  • Design 8
  • Performance 8

Zuli is marketing its new Smartplug as much more than a connected outlet. "Connect your lights and appliances to Zuli Smartplugs," says Zuli's webpage. "And enable them to adapt to your presence." Sure there's an app, but everyone has an app. What distinguishes the Zuli is its ability to sense your presence and react.

Zuli is also the only major smart outlet on the list of gadgets that work with Nest, which means it's shouldering a lot of responsibility for a sizable group of consumers. Luckily, the Zuli Smartplug really comes through, wringing surprising results from its Bluetooth technology, and scoring points for a great app interface. Although it's only iOS compatible at the moment, CEO Taylor Umphreys says Android compatibility isn't far off. So if you've got a Nest Learning Thermostat, or are interested in the future of Google's smart home integration system, keep the Zuli Smartplug on your radar. And though its price a little steep right now, selling for $60 per plug (roughly, that's £40 and AU$80), Zuli is worth the money.


Setting up the Zuli Smartplug is simple. No instructional booklet is included, because the app walks you through the process. Each screen gives you a single instruction, lets you follow it, then swipes aside for the next screen.

Screenshots by David Priest/CNET

I set up and re-set up three different Zuli Smartplugs three times each, and every time the process was seamless, taking only two or three minutes. Once you get the Smartplugs synced to your phone, you can use their base functionality, but to use their "Presence" feature, you'll have to take an extra step. This:

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Yes, I looked ridiculous walking around waving my phone and in a room for 60 seconds, but it was actually kind of fun, to be honest. And while I traced the edges of my room and moving around inside it, the plug calibrated, so in the future it could sense when I walked into or out of the room.

Overall, the setup is clear and straightforward. And the Zuli app interface draws the whole product together. Scheduling is easy, integration with Nest is a breeze, and working with multiple switches at once never bogs down the usability.

Design and features

When it comes to design, Zuli adheres to the philosophy, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." The body of the switch is compact, and glossy white face is fashionable, though it definitely doesn't redefine fashion. In lieu of the bold and customizable LED stripe on the iDevices Switch, the Zuli displays its hexagonal logo with a simple white LED backlight.

Chris Monroe/CNET

I like small body of the Smartplug, and I like the button used for manually toggling the switch on and off, but the whole thing doesn't do anything new. I'm still waiting for a smart plug to feature two outlets, and it looks like I'll be waiting awhile.

The Zuli really shines when it comes to app features, though. You can do all the usual stuff: turn electronics on and off from your phone and schedule commands. But you can also use the SmartPlug as a dimmer, monitor energy usage with it, and use its Presence feature to integrate with Nest. All that, and it relies entirely on Bluetooth.

Screenshots by David Priest/CNET

If you're following smart-home tech, you're likely aware of all the integration systems out there. What distinguishes them from each other is their method of communication between gadgets and users. Apple's HomeKit uses Wi-Fi to communicate; Nest's Weave will use a unique radio frequency for its communication protocol. Not to mention all the other companies using alternative protocols like Z-Wave and Zigbee. Of course, different protocols require a hub or gateway (usually an extra $150) to translate them into a language your phone or laptop can access.

Bluetooth, however, is its own animal. Your smartphone can almost certainly communicate with it, but waking up the Bluetooth connection between your phone and other devices can be slow -- especially when it comes to technology we expect to work efficiently, like lights. Plus, Bluetooth's range isn't as wide as Wi-Fi's, so many gadgets suffer from inconsistent connectivity when trying to issue commands from a distance. So when I see devices like Zuli's Smartplug that rely primarily on Bluetooth, I'm always a little wary.

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