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8 Sep 2019

Seven things you didn't know you could do with a smart plug

Whether you're looking to improve your home security setup or want to make your appliances more accessible, a smart plug can get the job done

A smart plug can turn any of your home appliances into smart products, letting you control them even when you're away from home. We've rounded up some tricks that can save you time and money, and give you peace of mind.

There's only one difference between a 'normal' plug and smart plug, but it's a big one - wi-fi support. With a smart plug in the wall, you can interact with it using your smartphone or tablet.

As smart plugs can be controlled remotely, they'll come in handy if you want to turn on an appliance while you're out of the room. You can also plan ahead and schedule the plug to turn on and off at certain times, perhaps if you want a heater to warm up for example. And you can pick them up for under £30.

How to set up a smart home - streamline your everyday routines

Tips and tricks: seven things to try with a smart plug

1. Keep your home secure

If you're jetting off on holiday, you may want to schedule actions with your smart lights before you head off. Setting them up to turn on every so often in the evening while you're away will give the impression you're still at home.

You might want to tell your neighbours about your crafty plan, but people walking past your house won't have a clue.

2. Prepare a meal ahead of time

Some slow cookers already come with dedicated mobile apps that let you use them remotely. But if your slow cooker isn't internet-enabled by default, a smart plug lets you make the upgrade.

You can control the supply to your slow cooker with a smart plug. So you might decide to turn on the slow cooker remotely via your mobile just before you start your journey home from work.

Tempted by a slow cooker? Our expert tests have uncovered the best slow cookers money can buy.

3. Limit screen time

If you need to limit the time your little ones are sat in front of a screen, a smart plug will let you schedule viewing times. You can use these to control the power to a TV, smartphone charging ports or an internet router.

You can combine the smart plug's powers with parental controls that come pre-installed with iPhone models and most Android smartphones.

If your phone runs on iOS, head to Settings > Screen Time. From there, you'll be able to confirm your identity as a parent, configure screen times and monitor app use.

On Android, you can try downloading the free Family Link app from the Google Play Store. This app keeps a record of app activity and lets you set daily screen-on time limits.

4. Set the perfect temperature

Using a smart plug, you can schedule temperature changes for fans and plug-in heaters. You might want to drift off with the fan on, but a smart plug will stop it from running all night long. In other words, you'll be able to use your smart plugs to conserve energy and potentially save money.

cat in front of electric heater

5. Control your devices with your voice

Amazon's own smart plug comes with built-in Alexa voice support. That effectively adds voice control to any electrical socket in your home, letting you turn gadgets on and off without having to reach over to the plug. All you'll need to do is say, 'Alexa turn on plug'.

With the Alexa smartphone app, you can create routines for your Amazon smart plug. You can create a morning profile that switches on the lights and starts up your coffee machine with a single voice command.

6. Accessibility

Being able to control plugged-in appliances wherever you are is an obvious benefit if you don't want to be or can't move around, such as in later life.

Popular smart home services such as Howz home care come bundled with a system of smart plugs that you can set up around the house. An accompanying smartphone app will let you keep an eye on what each plug is doing.

For more details on using smart home products in later life, consult our guide on smart home devices and security systems.

7. Automate your Christmas lights

With the end of the year fast approaching, now could be a good time to invest in some smart plugs to control your Christmas decorations.

If you're concerned about energy use, a top-notch smart plug will give you peace of mind. You'll be able to use your smart plug to switch off the Christmas lights automatically at set times each evening, with the action being repeated for as long as it needs to be.

How to set up a smart home

Smart products are all about cutting corners. The best internet-enabled gadgets are flexible and make your life easier, automating mundane tasks and leaving you to enjoy your free time. They come in all shapes and sizes, with popular picks including smart doorbells and smart thermostats.

Each type of smart product is designed to help you out with specific tasks. We've tried and tested these smart products in the Which? test lab:

  • Smart lights - voice-controlled lighting that can be controlled via a smartphone. Some options, such as the Philips Hue lights, come in a range of customisable colours.
  • Smart thermostats - generally more sophisticated than traditional thermostats, these smart alternatives let you turn up the heating even if you're away from home.
  • Smart doorbells - capable of streaming live video to your smartphone or tablet so you can see who's knocking without having to get up off the sofa.
  • Smart home security systems - these combine the features you'd expect from a traditional burglar alarm with 'smart' extras such as cloud storage for saved video clips.

See our advice on getting started with smart products and have a read of our guide on how to set up a smart home.