Here’s a plug for smart plugs.  They are power outlet adapters that also tap into a home’s WiFi network. Consumers can then power on or off simple home fixtures—lamps, TVs, and so on—from any Internet-connected smart phone using a smartphone app. The app can be used to program devices as well—say, to automatically turn on a lamp before someone’s scheduled arrival home.  D-Link, Belkin (Wemo), Panasonic, TP-Link, iDevice, Samsung and others are now selling these “smart” plugs for anywhere between $20-60 per device.  In the near future, it promises to give you remote control of your lighting, kitchen appliances and other devices.

Smart switches are the perfect introduction to smart-home technology. You don’t need fancy hubs, programming skills, or an installer on speed dial to use them. If you’ve got a smartphone and an empty outlet in your house, you can automate something easily. Putting even just one smart switch into your home can ensure that you’ll never enter a dark house; add a few and you can control items such as household fans, speakers, slow cookers, air conditioners, and more.

Belkin’s WeMo Smart Plug is among the better selling smart outlets. It gives any normal power outlet an Internet connection. To use the Belkin WeMo Insight Switch, you need to download the iOS or Android app, plug in the smart outlet, and connect it to your Wi-Fi network. From there you can set schedules and timers for your Insight Switch (or multiple compatible devices).  It’s easy to set up and use, doesn’t take up as much space as other models we tried, and performs consistently, with a better range of useful features (such as customizable alerts) than the competition. It also plays nicely with both iOS and Android portables—unlike some of its competitors—and integrates with several other smart-home protocols and devices. All you need to do is plug the Insight into an existing outlet and install the app to get started with home automation. Importantly, it supports IFTTT (“if this then that”), so you can create home-automation “recipes” to use it along with other smart devices in your home. The switch even works with the Amazon Echo and Google Home, allowing you to turn on a lamp, fan, or other electronic device with the sound of your voice.  We found it to be fairly easy to install (although not easy to reset if you change your wifi system).   While it retails for between $35-$39, it is beginning to be offered at a substantial discount.   Recently, we noticed it being sold at Costco for under $20 each.

Similarly, the TP-LINK HS100 Wi-Fi Smart Plug is a cost-effective option that integrates well with Amazon.  It is consistently priced at 1/3 to 1/2 less than other smart plugs and integrates well with Alexa and Google Home.   Amazon has been offering it as a part of a bundle with its Echo devices for about $12.  We’ve tested it out and find it is comparable to the WeMo smart devices.   At the current time, it does not support Apple’s HomeKit.

The iDevices Switch is a solid runner-up. It performs all of the standard smart-switch features very well, but adds Apple HomeKit integration. In July it also became Alexa-compatible, allowing users to control it with an Amazon Echo, Dot, or Tap.

The DSP-W215 is compact but larger than some of the other switches. When plugging it in, make sure to stick it in the top outlet in order to keep the bottom one free. It was easy to set up but requires jumping through a few additional hoops if you need to set it up manually (e.g., if your router doesn’t have a WPS button). That said, we do love that it works with other D-Link devices, IFTTT, the Amazon Echo, and Apple TV (but not HomeKit). It also has identical iOS and Android apps with options to control power remotely and create schedules, group devices, and track energy usage.

Remarkably, IKEA has not aggressively entered this market.  It’s TRADFRI smart bulbs are about 5-years-in-the-past and IKEA salespersons confirm that the TRADFI bulbs may or may not be accessible by Amazon or Google.   It’s surprising that IKEA has chosen to shun smart plugs and is limiting its offerings to smart bulbs that are incompatible with other Smart Home systems.