Cheap Alexa smart plugs from China are my holiday jam

My latest tech addiction is making my dumb appliances smarter

Cheap smart plugs from China are my jam
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I’ve gone mad for smart plugs. I’m absolutely bonkers for them. Cheap ones that is. By cheap, I’m talking sub-$20 devices. Sure, Ikea’s new Tradfri smart plugs only cost $10 but you’ll need a Tradfri Gateway too, so that’s another $30 on top. And also, the Tradfri platform is, well… patchy. Take my word for that.

Getting back to my original point though – buying cheap smart plugs is my new tech addiction. I used to be into putting smart home buttons all over my house – but now it’s all about making dumb things smart.

Happy Techmas to me…

It all started a couple of weeks back when we put the Christmas tree and the Christmas lights up around the house. Last year, like a man living in 1993, I just had the two main sets of Christmas lights on timers (timers!) and the other two I turned on and off by hand (BY HAND!) everyday. I may as well have been lighting gas-lamps.

This year, the obvious thing was to control them with some smart plugs. The trouble is, the collection of smart plugs that I already have – review samples sent to me over the years from the big brands – are currently all being used for some ‘crucial’ task; and are tied up in so many Alexa, Google Assistant and HomeKit (and Wink and Tahoma and Yonomi and Stringify… I test this stuff for a living, don’t forget) automations, that there was no way I was going to make use of these – even temporarily for the holidays.

People that know me know there’s no way my brain could have coped with that. Imagine, just imagine, having a smart plug labelled ‘Xbox’ in multiple apps and systems that's suddenly able to turn the Christmas lights on and off… not on my watch.

So I turned to Amazon, and the absolute plethora of smart plugs coming in shy of $20 on offer there. In the spirit of tech journalism, I didn’t just buy a few from the same company. I bought a bunch from all over the place. By “all over the place” I mean, the results page on Amazon. They all come from China.

My buying criteria was simply limited to whether they worked with Alexa or not, as Amazon’s digital assistant is the main driver in our household. My thinking was that it doesn’t’ really matter how good/bad the companion app is to use, as long as I could get the plug listed as a device in the Alexa app, I’d never need to ever use the app bar the initial setup.

That’s the beauty of Alexa (and Google Assistant – HomeKit is still too much of a closed shop) – that it really just ties all of your smart devices together in one place. That was already an obvious thing and is one of the main reasons the smart home revolution has accelerated so much over the past couple of years. But with smart plugs, it’s taken things to a new level for me.

The smart plug guided tour

As mentioned, it started with Christmas… “Alexa, turn the Christmas lights on” (group); “Alexa, Merry Christmas” (routine)… and the like, but that was just was just the terminus a quo. I'm plugging them in all over the house:

  • Coffee machine (despite it having its own low-power and heat-up timer function): check
  • Hand held vacuum cleaner (which only plugs in to charge): check
  • Microwave (basically an LED clock using no power whatsoever when not cooking): check
  • Tumble dryer (because I always forget I’ve used it and leave stuff in there and it beeps all night): check
  • Kettle (with push button so I can turn it on before I go to bed, but with no power from the wall): check

That’s it actually. You probably expected a longer list, what with my comparison to a crack addiction. but add those five to the four Christmas ones and that’s nine (NINE) cheap smart plugs powering my house.

TL;DR… Smart plugs are really cheap now and, if you’re happy to put up with crap apps where English was clearly not the dev team’s first language, you can make use of Alexa and co. to create to handy groups and clever routines.

TAGGED    smart home

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