Switch Up and Turn On: Not Everything is Smart

In today's post I look at Smart Plugs, what they are, what they do, and how they can help you transform a home at the flick of a switch. 

Last week we looked at how to install and manage a Hive heating system, this week we bring you something a little different in our series on creating a smart home. Not everyone has or wants to invest hundreds of pounds in smart devices like Hive systems, cameras, watches, TVs, doorbells, kettles and so forth. However, you don’t necessarily need smart devices to make a smart home – smart plugs can help you work smarter!

In today’s post we look at Smart Plugs, what they are, what they do, how they work and how they can help you transform a home at the flick of a switch. 

What are Smart Plugs?

Smart Plugs comes in different shapes, different sizes, different brands and under different price tags. Generally a pack of two plus can set you back between £10 – £15 depending on the make. For example, the likes of TP Link will be at the higher end while something such as Amazon’s own brand will be at the lower end. 

The higher priced devices usually just have more features. For example you may find that Tp Link plugs have better compatibility with other household devices and can work with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant for Voice Control.

How Do Smart Plugs Work?

Really simple is the answer here, and again there are multiple ways that you can control a smart plug, either on your phone using the correct app or by voice control using an installed skill on the Alexa App that will then let you communicate with Alexa Echo to control the device.

To set one up is fairly straightforward, you only need to connect the plug to your router and to do this you will need an app. Now the app depends on the make of plug you have purchased as what you will find is a lot of apps support a lot of different plugs. For example, the plugs I have need the Smart Life app (which is also called the Smart Life Skill in Alexa).

TP Link tends to use the Tapo app, so it’s important to get the right app.

The general process should be similar for each plug, and it’s a case of creating an account on the app, adding a new device within the app (remembering to call it something you can remember such as Night Lamp), connecting it to your router using your connection details, and then you are up and running. Now you can control the plug (and whatever you plug into it) from your phone using the simple on/off button or setting a schedule.

In addition to this you can then use your Alexa app as mentioned above to connect an Echo device to your plug. To do this again depends on the plug, but in my example we will use the Smart Life skill. Simply enable the skill from your Alexa app and then link to your account using the login details you created in the phone app (this will link the account). The next step is to test it out by giving your Alexa Echo a command “Alexa, turn on night lamp”.

How You Can Use Them in Your Home

The beauty of a smart plug is that they are fairly cheap to buy and can often turn a non-smart device into a basic smart device that you can turn on or off in the app or by voice command with Alexa.

For example, in our house we have a salt lamp in the bedroom. It’s a great looking mood light but it isn’t smart. By plugging this lamp into a smart plug we have just made it that bit… smarter! So now rather than rummaging around for the switch at night we can say “Alexa, turn off the night lamp”, or we can turn the lamp on from downstairs before going upstairs.

Again, you can do this with a TV, whether it’s in your bedroom or downstairs, a smart plug will allow you to turn the TV on or off which is great if you have young kids who like playing hide and seek with the remote control, or a Wife who likes to leave the remote in the bed to get lost amongst the covers.

Almost anything that plugs in and you use frequently can also be made into a basic smart device using a plug. A kettle is another one, where you can leave the actual kettle switch ‘on’ but use the smart plug on/off functions to control it. “Alexa, turn on kettle”.

So by now you will know how to install Hive (buy your own Hive on Amazon UK) and use it on your phone or through Alexa, you will also know how smart plugs work and how you can use them in your home, so join us next week when we look into the security devices of a Smart Home, starting with another Amazon device called the Blink.

>> Check out the range of TP Link smart plugs and accessories on Amazon UK

>> See our Ring Doorbell 3 Plus review to see more Alexa smarthome integration examples

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