Smart wifi plugs work with your existing plug sockets or extension leads to connect standard home appliances to your wifi network. This lets you control them with an app on your phone or with voice control using a smart speaker without the expense of upgrading to smart devices. Connecting a lamp, kettle, television or any other home device to a smart plug allows you to turn them on or off without finding the switch to operate them manually. You also get the peace of mind of being able to check you didn't leave something switched on while you're out.
What is a wifi smart plug?
Smart plugs are a straightforward and inexpensive way to 'upgrade' regular appliances from around £9 each. For example, instead of buying a smart kettle that connects to the wifi and costs much more than a standard kettle, you can plug your ordinary kettle into a smart plug. You can then control the kettle remotely, for example, from the bed, so you have boiling water ready for a fresh cuppa as soon as you get up.
Smart plugs work with regular power sockets and power strips; you simply plug them in and then connect to the manufacturer's app on your phone or tablet. If you have a smart home device such as Google Assistant, Apple HomeKit or Amazon Alexa, you can link the smart plug to use your voice assistant to control it. Just check the smart plug you buy is compatible with the smart product you use. Some smart plugs also work with the app If This Then That (IFTTT), which lets you operate several devices from different suppliers or brands.
Once up and running, you can plug in whichever home appliance or device you want remote control of lamps, televisions and gaming consoles, kitchen appliances like coffee machines and more. There are many uses for smart plugs, which can be a boon to your daily routine. For example:
- Smart plugs are a game changer if you have awkward-to-reach wall sockets, and they can make it easier to turn devices off instead of leaving them on standby. One of the most commonly quoted uses for smart plugs is to turn Christmas lights on and off without crawling behind the Christmas tree!
- If you regularly leave the house and then wonder whether you turned something off, a smart plug will give you the answer without having to turn around and go back home to check.
- You can use a smart plug to turn a slow cooker on while you're out so that dinner's ready just when you want it.
- A lamp plugged into a smart plug in your hallway can help you void fumbling around looking for a switch when you arrive home after dark.
- Gadgets like heated clothes airers and electric blankets are becoming popular as many of us are looking for cost-efficient ways to keep warm. A smart plug can set a timer for these, potentially making them even more cost-efficient.
When buying a smart plug, think about which socket you want to use it with, and check there is enough space for the smart plug and appliance plug.
There are some appliances where having a smart plug won't really add convenience; for example, a washing machine or dishwasher needs to be programmed after being switched on, which a smart plug can't do (yet!). There are also some appliances it's safest to avoid using smart plugs with – freezers, fish tanks, medical equipment – just in case something happens to your wifi connection.
Be aware that smart plugs draw a tiny amount of energy even when your appliance is switched off, as they need to stay connected to the wifi to 'listen' for your next instruction.
Are smart plugs worth it for people with vision impairment?
Smart home products can help make day-to-day life at home with sight loss easier. You can use smart plugs to switch devices on and off using your phone or with voice commands, limiting how often you need to go in search of manual switches. Many allow you to set up schedules based on your routine, so you can automate appliances to come on, for example, when you usually get home.
Smart plugs can be a good way to dip your toe into smart home products because they don't require a big investment to get started or need to be professionally installed. You simply plug them into existing sockets, connect the smart plug to your wifi, and then plug in your normal appliance. You can start with one smart plug and try out different appliances, buying more later if you find it helpful. If you already use Alexa, Google Home or Siri, check the smart plug you want is compatible before buying and that the manufacturer's app is compatible with accessibility features on your device.
Best smart home smart plugs
How we choose the best smart plugs
Probably a smart plug's most important feature is that it's compatible with any smart home device you already use. Functionality to look out for when choosing a smart plug include:
- Compatibility with the operating system on your smartphone or tablet (Android, iOS and so on) or with the smart speaker or home device you use. Most smart plugs are compatible with Amazon's Alexa, Google Assistant, and Apple HomeKit. Look for compatibility with IFTTT if you want to use multiple brands.
- Energy monitoring, with some but not all smart plugs offering this feature so that you can monitor the energy usage of your appliance.
- Connectivity: most smart plugs connect directly to your wifi, but some brands require a hub plugged into your wifi router to work (such as the Hive Hub or Hue Bridge). Some also offer Bluetooth connection, which means you can control them without connecting to wifi but with limited range.
- The option to set a schedule for the smart plug to switch on and off according to your chosen routine.
- The ability to group smart plugs and control several devices at once.
- We've included smart plugs for indoor use, but you can get smart plugs for outdoor use too.
Here are some of the popular smart plugs available in the UK:
Frequently asked questions
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