The best smart plugs in 2023

Smart plugs are one of the simplest smart home devices. They let you handle things like lamps, fans, humidifiers, and simple coffee makers with your voice or an app. Some of them can also help you save money on your energy bill. You can also set up plans and routines, either through the app that comes with a plug or through the smart home platform of your choice.

But, like other Internet of Things (IoT) gadgets, which system works with which plug depends on whether they are compatible, and each brand’s app has different features. We put ten popular choices to the test to find out which ones are worth getting.

What to think about before you buy a smart plug
Know what a smart plug can and can’t do before you buy one. They work best with things that have a switch to turn them on and off, which makes lamps and other lights perfect for them. A smart plug can help you move some air around with a plug-in fan before you get home. You can put coffee grounds and water in a basic coffee machine the night before and wake up to a fresh pot of coffee. You could also set an air filter to only run when you’re not there instead of leaving it on all day. But a good device wouldn’t need to be set more or have a standby mode.

Install and use
It’s not hard to add a smart plug to your house. The first time you join, you’ll use the app from the manufacturer. After that, you can add the plug to a smart home ecosystem that works with it. Both the brand’s app and your smart home app will let you name the plug, set schedules, and program “routines” that handle multiple smart devices at once. But you can probably guess that an app from a manufacturer only lets you control goods from that brand. If you want to control a plug from TP-Link’s Kasa, a bulb from GE’s Cync, and a camera from Wyze, you’ll need to use a smart home platform, which means you’ll need to think about compatibility.

Getting along
Smart home devices link through wireless protocols, and they often use more than one to talk to your phone, smart speaker, internet connection, and sometimes even each other. Most smart plugs use WiFi, but some newer ones use Thread, which is a low-power network standard. It’s safer than WiFi, tends to be more reliable, and as more Thread devices are added, the range gets better because of the mesh technology. These things need a Thread border router, like an Apple HomePod or TV, an Amazon Echo from the fourth generation, or a Google Nest Hub.

Matter is a new wireless standard that will make it easier for different brands and makers to work together. It will also make security and reliability better. Right now, there are only a few of these smart plugs, and they work with WiFi, Bluetooth, and Thread networks. If you want to handle these things while you’re away from home, you need a controller that stays at home, like a smart speaker. If the device also uses Thread, you might need a smart speaker like the ones above that can act as a border router. If all of this sounds hard to understand, it is. Matter claims to be simple, but it hasn’t done that yet.

When setting up a Bluetooth device for the first time, most plugs, including all Matter plugs, use the short-range protocol. Some can still work with Bluetooth if nothing else is available, but the link isn’t as reliable and you won’t be able to control the plug when you’re not at home or maybe even just on the other side of the apartment.

Since Matter is still new, it may be easier to think about the method you’d use the most from the same company. There are four big “branded” smart home platforms: Amazon’s Alexa, Google Home, Apple’s HomeKit, and Samsung’s SmartThings. The first two are suitable with both iOS and Android devices and work with the most brands. HomeKit doesn’t just restrict apps to Apple devices; it also works with fewer plugs. If you want to, say, tweet to turn on your lights, you can also use open-source software like Home Assistant or the more powerful IFTTT. For our research, we only used the four biggest companies. Nearly every plug we looked at made it clear on both the package and the retail product page which systems it works with.

There’s no rule that says you can’t have more than one home helper. You could have an Echo Dot in the basement, a HomePod in the living room, and a Google Nest Mini in the kitchen. Each could run its own compatible devices. You only need to pair the right smart home platform with the right device (and then remember which speaker handles what).

Taking turns
Once a plug is set up with your platform and voice assistant of choice, anyone can handle it by just talking. If someone else wants to use their phone to control things, things get harder. Google makes it easy by letting you ask someone by simply tapping the “+” button in the Google Home app. Whoever you invite will have full access to all of your connected devices, including cams. Only do this with the people you trust the most.

HomeKit makes it easy for someone else to use an app, but like most Apple products, it only works with other iOS users. Amazon doesn’t let you share access to your connected home gadgets, only to your Echo.

Many smart plug makers let you share control through their app by sending an email invitation to another person. But this only lets you use that type of devices. As Matter grows, I hope that multi-admin tools will become more common.

How we chose the best smart plugs
Before deciding which smart plugs to test, we thought about which brands Engadget writers have had the most positive experiences with, both as reviewers and as people. We also looked at reviews from other sites. Then we looked at things like price, how well they worked together, and how popular they were. I bought ten smart plugs from eight different companies. I set each one up with its own app and then added it to all smart home apps that worked with it. I used an iPhone 11, Galaxy S10e, Echo Dot, HomePod mini, and Nest Mini to test the plugs on several lamps that I plugged in. I could use the apps and voice commands to handle the plugs at home and when I was away. I set up habits and schedules and moved the plugs to different outlets, including ones in the basement, to see how far they could reach.

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