There are multiple ways that you can begin to make your home smart, but definitely one of the easiest and cheapest ways to dip your toes into the smart home world is to get a WiFi smart plug.
WiFi smart plugs are exactly what they sound like. It’s a plug. It has WiFi built in. When you first get the plug (TP or otherwise) you download the corresponding app, it locates the plug and then the two are best friends and connected to your WiFi. These have been on the market for a few years now, however they never really found their calling before. It sounds cool to be able to turn something off with your phone, but in reality the process went something like this:
- Find your phone
- Unlock it
- Find the smart plug app
- Click on it and wait for it to open
- Turn on/off plug
This is also probably the best case scenario as if you’re anything like us you never update your apps and you will have to update the app before using it. Also in some apps you will have to click on a menu which houses the on/off button, so potentially there could be 7 steps involved. This is versus either the old school way of using a remote control or getting up and actually walking to your lamp to turn it off (don’t judge us for using extremely complicated technology to perform such simple actions please).
There were/are good use cases for these however. A common one was people using the app while they we on holiday to turn on TVs, Stereos, lights etc. However now that select models of these smart plugs allow you to connect them to Alexa/Google Home and interact through voice, thereby eliminating the need to always use the app.
One of the first movers and popular smart plugs is Belkin with their WeMo Switch Smart Plug, however at close to £50 a pop (it is on sale at time of writing for £27! jump on it if you read this in the next few days!) it has left a gap at the bottom of the market for cheaper alternatives. This is where TP-Link comes in. Right now on Amazon the price for the TP-Link plug is £24.99. For the fledging smart home enthusiast, this allows you to pick up 2 of these plugs and an Amazon Echo Dot and have change from £100. You then have all you need to be able to walk into your sitting room and ask Alexa to “turn on my room” and voila. Your TV and lamp turn on. For less than £100 you have a smart home or at least a smart room.
Cheap is great, but as any Irish mammy will tell you, you usually “get what you pay for”. So how exactly does TP-Link sell their plug for half the price of Belkin? What corners do they cut? Well we have been using the TP-Link smart plug for about six months now and we’re not sure if we can tell you why the Belkin is twice the price…
We do think the WeMo is the better looking plug and has a nicer design, however functionally the TP plug is alot shorter than the WeMo. The total length of the WeMo is 20cm, with the TP coming in at half the length at 10cm. It is also less than half the width at 6.6cm versus the WeMos 14.6cm. These measurements do matter as even though the TP has less of a profile, it is still far larger than an ordinary plug and those with multi-plugs jammed in the back of entertainment centres might find that these can be a tight squeeze. (side note: lets phase out the bulky 3 prong plug).
The Kasa app that the TP Link ships with isn’t anything to write home about, but is quick to load and gives you the on/off button on the first app screen which saves time. Hooking up your TP plug to the Alexa is also painless.
- Download the app,
- Enter your email to create your “Kasa” account
- Go to your Alexa app
- Download the Kasa skill
- Enter your Kasa account details
- Click the “activate skill” button
Thats it. If you do buy two or more, you can also click on the “manage devices in smart home” button in the Alexa app which will allow you to name each plug and put them in a group. You can then also name that group. For example calling two plugs “room”, allowing you to control them both with one command (like the above “turn on my room” example).
In use the TP link is extremely dependent on the strength of your WiFi connection. If you have alot of people in your house using WiFi at the same time or your plug is far away from your router then expect Alexa to tell you that “the device cannot be found” about 20% of the time. Again your success rate will vary depending on the strength of your WiFi and how much the drops annoy you will depend on what action you are trying to achieve. If like our example you have it connected to a lamp then just get up and turn it on yourself you lazy sod.