This Thing Rules

Feel like a magician with Samsung's SmartThings Wi-Fi Smart Plug

There are few things you can control these days, but your designer banana lamp can be one of them.

I love smart home kit. Despite the inescapable privacy concerns that stem from having speakers dotted around my apartment that listen to me, there's something utterly magical about being able to say something and, mere seconds later, witness my wish being granted. Lately, the verbal instruction that's been filling me with the most glee is, "Hey Google, turn on Banana," followed closely by its corollary, "Hey Google, turn off banana." What's the source of this endless mirth and merriment? A sub-$20 Samsung smart plug.

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My requirements for a smart plug were as follows:

  1. Affordability (as I intended to buy multiple units)
  2. Diminutive dimensions (because I can't condone plug-spreading)
  3. No need for a hub (I already have a Philips Hue hub, but dedicated hubs are a pain and largely unnecessary now, even from Philips)
  4. Google Home support (despite my lack of enthusiasm for Google's most recent wares, it's the bed I've chosen, and prostrate myself in it I must)

Extra points would be awarded for consumption monitoring because — while not essential — the internet had convinced me I could have it in addition to the other things I wanted without pushing the price up too much.

Ask and you shall receive — A few hours of reading later, Samsung's SmartThings plug seemed like the best bet. I wound up buying four while they were on special for $15 apiece in mid-July. And I haven't looked back.

Setup is as easy as downloading the app, scanning the QR code next to the pins, plugging it in, and following a few on-screen instructions. The whole process takes around two minutes. And you'll know it's worked when the discreet LED on the top right of the face of the plug gently pulses green.

Craig Wilson / Input

As with most hub-less smart home gear, you'll need a 2.4GHz Wi-Fi network for Samsung's plugs. Connecting to my Google Home app was similarly efficient, and made it easy to add the plugs to specific rooms and routines. And though I haven't needed to, I've checked and I can absolutely stack two on top of each other in an outlet if I need to.

Knowledge of power is power — Aside from the feeling of omnipotence smart plugs bestow, the reason I wanted them was to save electricity. I hate the idea of transformers, chargers, and adapters drawing electricity when idle. I stuck one between the power strip I use at my desk and the wall, and have it scheduled to turn on just before 8 a.m. and off again at 10 p.m. I can always override it if I wish to (whether with a voice command, or using the physical button on the left-hand side), but take comfort knowing my laptop, Sonos speaker, and various chargers aren't drawing power when I'm not using them. It's not just cold comfort, either.

Craig Wilson / Input

I can (and do) check the app for real-time or historical power use. If you're similarly consumption-curious you should know the limits. The maximum current the plug can handle is 15 A and it's rated for a wattage load of 1,800 W at 120 V. Unless you plan to use it to monitor your Tesla Powerwall that's probably a perfectly acceptable range. If you're running a small crypto-mining rig, for instance, it might be perfect.

Caveat emptor — Here's the only serious caveat that, while it didn't apply to me, might apply to you: The plug only works with Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, and Samsung's Bixby (which, granted, no one I've ever met uses). It doesn't work with Apple's HomeKit, but you can get the Samsung SmartThings app on iOS, so if you're just looking to schedule things or don't mind using Samsung's app you're good to go. I don't envision this being a problem, because I know precisely as many people using HomeKit exclusively as I know using Bixby. None. Nada. Zilch.

Craig Wilson / Input

Obviously, a smart plug is also no use for something with a physical switch — like most electric kettles — or something that, after being powered off requires a physical button press to power on (like my projector).

But for anything else, a smart plug is a great investment. With some prudent scheduling, it'll pay for itself in short order, and it'll make you feel like a magician, without the attendant social awkwardness that comes from pulling coins from behind strangers' ears or asking them to pick a card, any card.