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Technology.

27 September 2021

How to buy the best smart plug

Smart plugs can turn simple appliances into smart gadgets – but our tests find that some are better than others.
FW
Felix Wilson

A smart plug is device that plugs into a wall socket, with another socket to plug an electrical appliance into. 

At their most basic, smart plugs allow you to turn your devices on and off from your smartphone. But some models have additional bells and whistles that make them more useful than others.

Head to our roundup of the best smart plugs to find the right model for you

How do smart plugs work?

Most smart plugs connect with an app on your smart phone through wi-fi or Bluetooth. Once you’ve connected to the smart plug using the app, you can control it remotely. Smart plugs are best used with simple devices, such as lamps. You won’t see much benefit with anything that requires more than one step to turn on, such as a television or washing machine.

Will a smart plug work with my smartphone?

Most smart plugs have separate apps for Android and iOS users, so there shouldn’t be a problem connecting to the vast majority of smartphones. If you’re using an older version of these operating systems, be sure to check the minimum version requirements before you buy.

That said, we strongly advise that you update your phone’s software to its most recent version. Keeping old versions might be convenient, but it increases your risk of being hacked. If your phone no longer receives software updates, it might be time to consider a new one.

Amazon Echo speaker for smart plug

How to connect your smart plug to Alexa

Many smart plugs are compatible with Alexa – Amazon’s virtual assistant. This allows you to control the smart plug using simple voice commands. Usually compatible smart plugs are marked ‘Works with Amazon Alexa’. This means it works with the service, but doesn’t have a built-in microphone – so you’ll need to use your phone or, in some cases, an Echo device.

Connecting your smart plug to Alexa should be simple enough using the app that comes with the plug. The exact menu settings will depend on your smart plug, but you’ll usually find Alexa in Settings. Clicking this should prompt you to sign into your Alexa account, after which you’ll confirm that you want to link the two apps.

Once this is done, you should be able to control the smart plug either through its own app or through Alexa.

How to connect your smart plug to Google, Apple, Philips or Hive devices

Other virtual assistants such as Siri and Google Assistant work in much the same way – all you should need are the correct apps and account details for each. Depending on the plug, you may also need an Apple Home hub or Google Nest device.

Some smart plugs are compatible with other smart home hubs – such as the Hue Bridge or Hive Hub. The main advantage to these is that they allow you to control many of your smart products, like lighting, heating or security, from a single app. These hubs can be pricey though, so you might consider another smart plug if you don’t plan to (or already) use them in other areas of your home. 

What can I do with a smart plug?

Sometimes there’s no real benefit to techifying everything in your home. But in some cases, smart plugs can be a handy thing to have around.

Turn devices on and off with your voice (or an app)

If you’ve ever had to crawl under a Christmas tree to turn the lights on or off, you’ll appreciate this function. It’s also useful for switching off other devices with fiddly controls, or where the plug socket is hidden by furniture. Some apps let you group sockets together to turn multiple devices on or off with a single action.

Set schedules and timers to turn devices on and off when you’re not around

The most commonly touted reason to use this feature is to make your lamps or radio come on occasionally while you’re away from the home, to give the impression somebody is still in. There are other uses though – you could, for example, program it to turn your slow cooker on at a certain time.

Measure how much power your appliances use

Some smart plugs have built-in energy monitoring features, which let you see how much power your devices are using. Want to know how much more efficient your dishwasher’s eco setting is? Or what the energy difference is between a ‘3’ and a ‘5’ on your fridge’s thermostat? Just plug it in, fire up the app and you’re good to go.

How much do I need to spend on a good smart plug?

You’ll see cheap smart plugs selling for as little as £5, while the most expensive we’ve tested could set you back more than £40. The good news is that there are some decent models on the affordable end of the scale.

We regularly see smart plugs with features such as scheduling, voice commands and energy monitoring in the £10-15 range, making this a good price to start looking. More expensive models are usually designed to connect to other smart home products – like security systems, lighting or even your thermostat.

Best cheap smart plugs

Only logged-in Which? members can view our recommendations in the table below. If you’re not yet a member, join Which? to get instant access to our smart plug results plus all of our online reviews.

  • 88%
    £12.99

    This smart plug is tempting enough based just on the price, but it also happens to be one of the best we’ve tested. It might lack some of the fancier features that more expensive models have, but it’s excellent at doing everything a smart plug should be able to.

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  • 87%
    £17.98

    This affordable smart plug comes with some surprisingly good features. This includes energy monitoring, which lets you see exactly how much power your appliances are using. If you’re not worried about energy monitoring, you could save a couple of quid by choosing another plug in the same range, which is otherwise practically identical.

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  • 85%
    £9.99

    We were impressed by this smart plug, which is widely available in supermarkets and on the high street. It’s not quite a Best Buy, but it’s still more than up to most tasks – and well worth picking up if you see it at the right price.

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Pricing, recommendations and test scores correct as of September 2021.

Are smart plugs secure?

In a previous investigation into smart plugs, we’ve unearthed a whole host of issues that could put at risk your security, privacy and even safety.  

This included flaws that could allow hackers to control your smart plug, steal your wi-fi password, work out when you’re likely to be away from home, and even burn your house down.

We test every smart plug for potential security flaws and flag them in our reviews – so you can rest assured that your personal data will stay private.

See our full list of smart plug reviews to find the right model for you.