When Amazon announced their own line of Alexa-enabled electronics earlier this year, it was no surprise to see a smart plug on the list. It’s typically one of the first products consumers purchase when dipping their toes into the smart home market. And on top of it, products such as Belkin Wemo’s mini smart plug topped Amazon’s best seller list last holiday season. This was a chance to create a useful product that’s exclusive to their popular Echo devices.
Familiar Design that Easily Connects to Echo
For veteran smart plug users, Amazon offers up a familiar design. The rectangular grounded plug measures 3.2 inches by 1.5 inches and is built to not block the adjacent outlet. There is a small LED indicator light on the front along with a manual on/off button along the side in case the internet is down. While my personal preference is having that button on the front, you probably won’t use it enough to matter.
Where this smart plug really shines though is in the setup. The plug uses Amazon Wi-Fi simple setup which is part of their self-proclaimed “frustration-free setup” program. This means that if you have an existing Echo device (2nd generation or higher) connected to your wireless network (2.4 GHz only), all you have to do is plug it in and ask Alexa to discover new devices. In fact, you might not even need to do that as I was given a notification on my phone of a new device being made available (you need the Alexa app for iOS or Android for this). That was it. I was ready to start using my new smart plug.
Now if you’ve used any sort of 3rd party smart home products in the past, you know it can be a chore to set up. First installing an app on your phone (sometimes from a company you’ve never heard of that requires an account). Connecting your phone to the plug, then getting the plug to connect to your Wi-Fi. And then if you want it to work with your Amazon Echo devices, you have to go through another process in the Alexa app. So wiping out that process is a huge step forward. Especially if this is a gift to a less than tech savvy family member.
Basic Features with No Power Monitoring
The Amazon Smart Plug has many of the standard features found from popular competitors. You can control things through the Alexa app or using voice controls. That means you can turn on your living room light from your couch or from halfway across the world. There is a simple scheduling option too if you want your plug to turn on/off at specific times of day. You can even setup a “routine” as they call it where multiple devices in your home are controlled through one voice command. For instance you can say “Alexa, time for bed” and have that routine turn off a couple lights in the house while turning on a fan simultaneously by your bed.
Unfortunately, there are some more advanced features missing. Power monitoring has been a favorite of mine which this plug misses out on. There also isn’t an away mode that can be found through companies like WeMo and TP-Link. Away mode is a system that will randomize turning on and off the plug throughout the day to give the impression someone is home. You can still accomplish this through scheduling or just manually through the app.
Only Works with Amazon Echo
While this checks all the boxes for a simple and easy-to-use smart plug, it’s biggest flaw is in compatibility. While Amazon has made it work flawlessly with their own Echo ecosystem, they’ve completely neglected other hubs and speakers. This isn’t an accidental omission either, it’s been Amazon’s strategy in almost all their in-house products. They want you to use their products and their products only.
Now if your home is already built around multiple Echo devices and you’re happy with Alexa voice controls, this isn’t a problem. We’re not talking about putting in hundreds of dollars worth of smart bulbs. It’s a $25 smart plug. So if you do happen to switch to another system someday, you’re not losing out on much.
However for those who use Google Home, Apple HomeKit, Samsung SmartThings, Stringify, or even IFTTT, you’re out of luck. There is simply no compatibility available. And while products routinely add new partners over time, I wouldn’t bet on Amazon changing their stance here. So if you’re someone who uses these other systems or simply wants to keep their options open, the Amazon Smart Plug should be a hard pass.
Solid Entry Level Smart Plug for Alexa
In a nutshell, this is a basic smart plug that gets its value from the seamless integration into your current Alexa ecosystem. A fine option if you’re looking to control a lamp through Alexa or to start the coffee maker before your alarm hits. While it’s standalone price isn’t all that great, Amazon is bundling it with products like the Echo Dot at extreme discounts. That’s where you’re going to find the best value.
But if you fancy yourself a more advanced user who doesn’t mind a few extra minutes of setup, I’d probably stick to brands like Belkin or TP-Link. Their plugs offer a handful of other features and are compatible with just about any system you can throw at it.