Smart plugs are simple smart gadgets that plug into any standard outlet and allow you to control that outlet remotely via a phone or smart home hub. You can even set up a schedule — for example, making an outlet turn on at sunrise and off at sunset.
By plugging in certain things into a smart plug, you can create a much efficient, more convenient home. Want that old air conditioner to turn on before you get home? How about a coffee grinder that grinds beans automatically at the same time as your morning alarm? Smart plugs can make all of that possible.
Many NBC Select staffers use smart plugs daily. Along with recommending some of our favorites, we spoke with smart home experts on what to look for when shopping for one.
Our top picks
- For Google Home: Kasa Smart Plug
- For Amazon Alexa: Amazon Smart Plug
- For the outdoors: GE Cync Outdoor Smart Plug
How we picked our favorite smart plugs
We spoke with experts to better understand some of the more technical aspects of smart home plugs. Combining their advice with Select staffers feedback from using various models, we choose smart plugs using the following criteria:
First-hand experience: We focused on smart plugs that the Select team has used on a daily basis.
Top-rated: We only chose products with at least a four-star average rating from customers on Amazon.
Compatibility: We included a range of smart plugs that are compatible with different smart home ecosystems like Amazon Alexa, Google Home, Apple Homekit and Samsung SmartThings.
Our favorite smart plugs of 2023
All of our top picks come from well-established smart home brands like Amazon, Kasa, and Cync. The smart plugs we put on our list allow you control devices remotely from an app and let you create on/off schedules. We include important details like the plug’s size, compatibility with voice assistants and additional features like energy monitoring, which shows you the energy usage (and potential energy bill) of a particular outlet, at the bottom of each recommendation.
For Google Home:
These Kasa smart plugs are what Select editorial projects manager Rebecca Rodriguez uses at home. She uses them to automate non-smart appliances like her air purifier and sound machine — both switch on automatically around bedtime and shut off in the morning. They were easy to set up and connect to Google Home, says Rodriguez.
The plugs let her control her devices remotely, which came in handy during the Canadian wildfire season. “When the air quality in New York was really bad, I was able to turn on my air purifier from the Google home app while at the office, which gave me such peace of mind for my two kitties at home,” says Rodriguez.
Works with: Amazon Alexa, Google Home | Energy monitoring: No | Power output: 15A | Size: 2.62 x 1.5 x 1.57 in
For Amazon Alexa:
Folks who already love using Amazon devices should consider this Amazon smart plug. Select associate updates editor Zoe Malin uses Amazon Echo devices often, and this plug fits easily into her smart home. Setup using the Amazon Alexa app took her less than five minutes, and “could not have been easier or more straightforward,” she says.
Like Rodriguez, Malin uses this smart plug to keep certain appliances on a schedule — like the heat lamp for her pet turtle Angie. “I set a schedule so the plug turns on at 9AM and off at 10PM,” says Malin. “If I’m traveling, this gives me peace of mind because I don’t need to ask a pet sitter to remember to do it.”
Because it is synced to Malin’s Amazon Echo Dot smart speaker, she also uses voice commands to control the smart plug.
Works with: Amazon Alexa | Energy monitoring: No | Power output: 15A | Size: 3.2 x 1.5 x 2.2 in
For any system:
These Kasa Matter smart plugs are the most compatible on our list, able to connect with Amazon, Apple, Google and Samsung smart home apps and hubs. These smart plugs are also some of the very first to be compatible with Matter, a new tech protocol aimed at increasing cross-compatibility between smart gadgets. They are also capable of energy monitoring — the Kasa app shows the energy usage (and potential energy bill) of that particular outlet.
I use this smart plug to help schedule the older window air conditioner I have in my bedroom. I have it set on a schedule to turn on automatically when I usually sleep (10PM) and turn off about 15 minutes before I wake up (6AM). Having my AC turned off before I wake up helps me get out of the bed on time — otherwise I get tempted to sleep in under my cozy duvet.
I went through the setup twice: once using the Kasa mobile app and once scanning the Matter QR code on the plug through Google Home. Both methods were easy and only took me a few minutes to complete. If you have a compatible smart home hub, setup via Matter is a little faster, as you do not have to download the Kasa app or make a Kasa account. All you have to do is scan the QR code on the plug through an app like Google Home or Apple Home, and the device is added.
Works with: Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit, Google Home, Samsung SmartThings | Energy monitoring: Yes | Power output: 15A | Size: 2.62 x 1.5 x 1.57 in
For the outdoors:
An outdoor-specific smart plug can be good for things like patio string lights and weather-resistant speaker systems. This one from Cync can be placed in any standard outlet and offers two ports to plug-in devices. Each port has a plastic cover that acts as an overhang to protect it from bad weather. The entire device has an ingress protection rating of IP64 rating, meaning it is protected against dust, debris and splashing water.
The Cync outdoor smart plug has a 4.4-star average rating from over 3,000 customers on Amazon. While I have not used this outdoor plug, I use a Cync indoor smart plug, and find it reliable and easy-to-use with the Cync app, Amazon Alexa or Google Home.
Works with: Amazon Alexa, Google Home | Energy Monitoring: No | Power output: 15A | Size: 4.09 x 2.9 x 4.09 in
How to shop for smart plugs
Functionally, smart plugs are largely similar to each other, says Patrick Miltner, VP of software product management at Savant, a home automation company. In other words, their main goal is to add smart functionality to a regular outlet.
That said, not all smart plugs are exactly the same. Some, like the Kasa Matter plug, are capable of energy monitoring — which can help you keep an eye on the energy cost of larger appliances like air conditioners. Others, like the Amazon Smart Plug, are only compatible with one smart app (Alexa). “Pricing, functionality, compatibility and software capabilities are the potential differences to consider,” says Melissa Mohr, director of smart home at Amazon.
Below are some things to keep in mind as you shop for a smart plug:
Smart home compatibility
Members of the Select staff use smart home apps like Amazon Alexa and Google Home to help unify smart devices, especially if we have gadgets from multiple brands. These apps make it possible to control all your devices in one place, mostly circumventing having to use multiple apps.
Because these unifying apps are so convenient, it is important to check the compatibility of your smart plug. Make sure it works with the app you use most often for all your other devices.
As you move beyond basic functions with a smart plug, your unifying app and the individual brand app become much more important, says Miltner. More advanced features like scheduling usually require an app, and cannot be easily controlled with voice commands.
The device you’ll be plugging in
“Smart plugs can control power to many small household appliances like lights and coffee makers, as long as [those appliances] have an on/off switch,” says Mohr. But something to keep in mind is that, when using a smart plug, you are controlling the flow of electricity, not the appliance itself. A smart plug that is turned off doesn’t just turn off the appliance that’s plugged in, it shuts off the flow of electricity to the plug.
For example, my Kasa Matter smart plug is scheduled to turn on at night and off during the day. That means that, if I tried to manually use my window AC that’s plugged in during the day by pressing the buttons on the unit, it wouldn’t work because there is no power coming from the outlet. I would instead have to open the app, use voice control with a connected smart home hub, or use the manual on/off button on the side of the smart plug itself.
In this way, smart plugs are excellent for scheduled and remote control, but are not necessarily as flexible when it comes to doing things manually. Consider what you’ll be plugging into a smart plug, and if it will be easier or harder to use because of it.
Meet our experts
At Select, we work with experts who have specialized knowledge and authority based on relevant training and/or experience. We also take steps to ensure all expert advice and recommendations are made independently and without undisclosed financial conflicts of interest.
Patrick Miltner is the vice president of software product management at Savant, a home automation company.
Melissa Mohr is the director of smart home at Amazon.
Why trust Select?
Harry Rabinowitz is a reporter at Select who has covered consumer technology for years. For this piece, he leveraged his personal experience and the experience of the Select team using smart plugs in their daily lives. He also spoke with smart home industry experts and conducted thorough research of other top-rated smart plugs.