The Smart home is becoming much less expensive and much less difficult to set up

TP-link logoOver the last year or two you may have seen advertisements for things like “smart lightbulbs” that can be switched on and off remotely by your mobile phone, but which cost an eye-watering amount of money. I’m sure I’ve seen them for £50 or £60. An awful lot of money for a one-trick pony. Not only that, but they also have to be connected via their own central “hub”.

TP-link Smart PlugThings are now changing. I recently came across the TP-Link Smart Wifi Plug (with energy monitoring) that does several things I want in one plug and which cost me just £25 from Argos. The same item is available from PC World at £35 and a version without the “smart monitoring” from Amazon at about £25.

So, what does it do?

Plug it into a socket and then plug your appliance (eg lamp, fan heater, laptop charger) into the smart plug. From your smartphone, you can then:

  • Schedule automatic switching on and off of the appliance
  • Schedule automatic switching on and off at sunrise and sunset (automatically moving the time as the seasons change)
  • Schedule “randomised” switching on and off so that while you are away you appear to be present (only useful when you are plugging a light into it, I suspect!)
  • Remotely switch the appliance on and off (over-riding the schedule, if one is set)
  • Monitor the appliance’s energy consumption over the previous one, seven, and thirty days

Apart from the fact that the plug does all these things for a very modest price, it is very easy to set up.

The steps you need to take are:

  • Download the app (for iPhone or Android)
  • Create an account (just the usual username and password)
  • Plug the device into a power outlet
  • Temporarily log your smartphone onto a special wifi network (that connects it to the plug)
  • Switch back to your normal wifi network
  • Configure the scheduling, etc, of the plug

Smart plug in actionThat’s it. You can even control your plug from Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant (if, unlike me, you don’t feel it just too creepy and invasive that Amazon or Google will listen to, and record, everything that takes place in your room).

It seems to me that the combination of a very reasonable price and easy setup should make this kind of “smart” device very much more popular. Notice that there is no mention of having to set up a special “hub” that grander and more ambitious “smart solutions” necessitate. All we are doing with this device is replacing older technology (eg a mechanical timer plug) with one that is a lot more capable (and silent – unlike some mechanical timers that audibly whirr and click).

While checking Amazon’s price, I noticed that there is another product that offers three such plugs in one pack for just £25.99. There is no mention, though, of who manufactures this one and my fear would be that the setup might be complicated, aided only by instructions written in Chinese. When TP-Link started selling routers in this country, they could be tricky to set up and the instructions weren’t very clear. Their router setup is now much improved and this smart plug is very easy to set up, with no such complications.

So, as long as you have a smartphone running at least IOS9 or Android 4.1, plus a wifi network, this product should work for you and be easy to set up.

And how apposite that this blog post should be coming out the day before we will all be crawling around the floor and under desks, changing mechanical timers because the clocks have changed. No more of that for me, thank you very much!

© 2011-2019 David Leonard
Computer Support in London
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