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Monday, September 30, 2019

Why You Shouldn’t Buy In-Wall Smart Outlets

A TP-Link smart plug with various suggestions for items it can control like fans and slow cookers.

For the best smarthome experience, you should consider installing in-wall light switches instead of smart bulbs. You might think the same would apply to in-wall smart outlets. But that’s not the case. Smart plugs are usually a better way to go.

When it comes to your smarthome gadgets, you have lots of choices. Do you use Z-Wave or ZigBee, Google or Alexa, smart switches or smart bulbs, smart outlets or smart plugs? For some things, like Z-wave versus ZigBee, the decision isn’t clear cut. But for others, like smart outlets versus smart plugs, the choice is simple. In most cases, you should go with smart plugs. They’re easier to install, just as capable, generally cheaper, and don’t take up much more space than smart outlets.

Smart Plugs Don’t Need Wiring

The back of a smart outlet, showing the unit is 1.5 inches deep.
Smart outlets are significantly larger than a dumb outlet. GE

Smart plugs are dead simple to install. Plug one into your outlet, then plug something into it. Finally, connect an app. Smart outlets, on the other hand, require you to turn off a relevant circuit breaker, uninstall an existing outlet, wire up the new smart outlet, seal everything back up, and restore power. Then you’ll still have to connect the app, just like the smart plug.

And that’s assuming the smart outlet actually fits into the outlet cavity. If your home is older, it probably doesn’t leave much room to spare, and smart outlets are significantly larger than a standard dumb outlet.

Any electronic device can malfunction, and that’s worth keeping in mind. If your smart plug is acting up, all you have to do is unplug it. But if something is wrong with your in-wall smart outlet, you need to switch off the circuit breaker and disconnect it from your home’s wiring. That can be difficult if it’s late at night and you’ve just killed all the lights in the room when you flipped the circuit breaker.

All the trouble might be worth the effort if smart outlets came with extra features, but they don’t.

Both Have Identical Features

Installing a smart light switch instead of a smart bulb comes with advantages. Whether you turn off the lights by voice, app, or switch, everything stays in sync. And when someone does flip the switch, it doesn’t kill the intelligence of your lights. Compared to smart bulbs, smart light switches add to the overall convenience of your smarthome and make it more accessible to guests and extended family.

But when it comes to smart switches and smart plugs, the features are the same. You get a convenient way to cut and restore power to the appliances plugged into the gadget. Some versions offer additional features like energy monitoring or sensor integration, but you’ll find those same features in either smart outlets or smart plugs. There are no exclusive features for smart outlets.

Smart Outlets Usually Cost More Than Smart Plugs

Two Wyze Smart Plugs side by side.
At $15 for two, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a smart outlet this cheap. Josh Hendrickson

When it comes to cost, smart plugs are the clear winner too. You’ll find smart plugs in Z-Wave, ZigBee, and Wi-Fi formats, usually with basic on and off features. For a little extra, you can sometimes pick up energy monitoring to keep an eye on how much electricity you are using. Generally, you can expect to spend as little as $15 for a two-pack of Wyze Plugs up to $30 each for a TP-Link plug with energy monitoring.

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