Amazon Smart Plug review: Everything should be so easy

By | 17th October 2018

Amazon's smart plug brings a new meaning to the term "plug and play."

I've been using the Amazon Smart Plug for a few days, and I'm convinced it's the best hardware product Amazon has ever made.

I'm no stranger to smart plugs. I have an assortment of them in my house, ranging from hard-wired old-school Wemo and Insteon plugs to inexpensive iHome socket adapters to "green" models like Edimax's offerings. They're a great way to transform any dumb device into one smart enough to turn on or off on command. They work because they're simple and it's hard to build something that only does one thing which doesn't work.

What's usually not simple is setting things up. Some plugs are harder than others to get working well, especially with something like a voice assistant, but every one I've tried has needed some tech literacy to install and get working properly. Until now.

Smart and simple

Amazon Smart Plug

$25 at Amazon

A fantastic Alexa accessory.

If you're invested in the Alexa ecosystem, the Amazon Smart Plug works beautifully, is super reliable, and dead simple to set up. Google Assistant users, on the other hand, should look elsewhere.

The Good

  • 15 Amp input and output
  • Proper 3-prong design
  • Foolproof setup
  • Bypass switch

The Bad

  • No Google Assistant integration
  • Price

Does what smart plugs do On/Off

A smart plug really isn't all that smart. They probably will be one day, but for now, all they need to do is turn on and off via a command from other software over your Wi-Fi network. There are about 25 well-known and safe brands of smart plug to choose from, and they all will do what smart plugs do.

On the hardware side, Amazon's Smart Plug isn't much different than most of the others. It's the "adapter" type that you plug into an existing socket and no tools or persons who know how to wire things are needed. It doesn't cover both outlets in a standard wall socket, it's indoor-use only, and it's not designed for any sort of medical device or a thing you shouldn't leave unattended like a space heater. As mentioned, plenty of companies make the same thing, and some are a few dollars cheaper, even.

What makes the Amazon Smart plug a standout is the Alexa software. Namely, Amazon's Frustration-Free Setup program. We'll go through the setup routine and why it's special, but first some technical specs.

CategorySpecification
Input100 - 120 VAC
60 Hz
15 Amp
Output (resistive)120 VAC
60 Hz
15 Amp
Output (inductive)120 VAC
60 Hz
10 Amp
Output (motor)120 VAC
60 Hz
1/2 HP
Output (incandescent)100 - 120 AC
60 Hz
TV-5
Operating Temp0 - 35 Celcius
IP ratingIP30

If these don't mean much to you, it's OK. Keep your Amazon Smart plug indoors, don't use anything that would normally trip a breaker or blow a fuse, and don't even think about using it to run something like a loved one's oxygen compressor or other medical devices. It will work with everyday things you keep plugged in all the time and can leave unattended.

Amazon Smart Plug Frustration-Free Setup

As mentioned, what sets the Amazon Smart Plug apart from the crowd is Amazon's Frustration-Free Setup program. You can click that link for all the dirty details, but here's a quick rundown. As long as you have one of Amazon's second-generation Echo products up and running on your home Wi-Fi, any other new Amazon product needs only to be plugged in for automatic setup to happen.

I ordered a pair of second-generation Echo Pluses and an Echo Sub, and the Echo Pluses were already up and running when my Smart Plug arrived. I opened the box the Smart Plug came in, plugged it into the wall and opened the Alexa app on my phone. No more than 5 seconds later, I was greeted with a notification that my new Smart Plug was named "First plug," and I could turn it on by saying "Alexa, turn on First plug" and set up was done.

I wondered what would happen if I didn't have a second-generation Echo, so I unplugged them but left my original Echo running and did the same thing with another Smart Plug (seriously, buy a handful of these things). I opened the Alexa app as instructed, tapped the add new hardware button and only had to tell the app to use my existing saved Wi-Fi network to get the very same result.

This is important. If you've ever had to "use an object with a small point to press and hold the connect button, then tap the Add Hardware button in the app" or manually enter a router's IP address or any of the other voodoo some smart plugs require for set up, then you know that not everyone is going to be able to figure that out. And nobody really wants to have to figure it out.

This is how it should be done. I'll expect every smart thing to connect this easily in the future, and if it doesn't, any reviews will be adjusted accordingly.

Amazon Smart Plug My wishlist

While not exactly things that belong in the "cons" column, there are some things I hope to see in a "plus" version of the next generation of the device. These all would significantly add to the price, which is already a bit high, but there's room for them to happen.

  • A weatherproof option. I like being outside. I want to have things outside with me to be smart.
  • A GFCI option. I have several aquariums and would love to ditch my mess of timers in favor of smart plugs. Ditto for the makeshift bar I have on the deck.
  • Decor colors. Visit the electrical aisle in any hardware store and you'll see that not everyone wants white outlets. Not everyone wants white smart plugs either, and brown, ivory, black, and taupe are all standard colors in this space.
  • Surge protection. Lightning happens.
  • USB ports. Power all the things by placing a small transformer and USB port on the side.

Nothing here is essential, and the lack of these options shouldn't affect your buying decision unless you only want to have a smart plug for a specific application. This is more of a "thinking aloud" list to promote discussion and encourage options in a device that is this darn good.

Amazon Smart Plug One major flaw

The Amazon Smart Plug does not work with Google Assistant. While companies like IFTTT and smart people will try to make it happen, it might not ever work with Google Assistant. This is a pretty major issue, one that may negate all the glowing praise I've heaped upon this thing. And I can't blame anyone for passing on one because of it.

Amazon and Google (and FireTV and Ring and Nest by association) are in the midst of a lover's spat that probably won't ever be properly resolved. It started the same way a perceived feud between Google and Microsoft did — over ads and YouTube.

Google offers an API for any company to build a great YouTube app. The company doing the building of said app must allow all of Google's ads to show in the app and pre-roll before any video playback. When the builders hate the ads and won't use the API 100% the way Google wants, things get ugly and lawyers write letters.

Meanwhile, you and I don't have a proper YouTube app unless it's on Android or iOS, we can't buy all of Nest's products on Amazon, Alexa support for Nest products gets worse instead of better, and Google will never add native support for Amazon hardware in Google Assistant.

This is a big deal if you use Google Assistant instead of, or in tandem with, Amazon Alexa. Big enough to not buy an otherwise amazing little gadget.

Amazon Smart Plug Should you buy it?

If you primarily use Google Assistant to control the smart products in your house, no. Don't buy this in the hopes that someone gets it working. Buy one of the other smart plugs out there that already work.

If you don't need a smart plug to work with Google Assistant, this is a great product and we all should support products that promote easy setup.

4.5 out of 5

I have to judge a product on its intended purpose and unashamedly give the Amazon Smart Plug 4.5 stars, with the half-star loss because it could be $5 cheaper. It's by far the easiest smart product to setup I've ever come across and it could be the poster child for any "it just works" campaign. Amazon's Alexa platform is excellent and the company is on the verge of beating Google at its own game — innovation. The Smart Plug can be worked into custom skills and might be exactly what you've been looking for.

I heartily recommend this to anyone who is happy to stay inside the Alexa ecosystem and think it's one of the best products Amazon has ever built even though it's also one of the most simple.

See at Amazon