Photo of Belkin smart switches

5 Questions To Ask Before Buying a Smart Switch 2015

Tired of coming home to a dark — and cold — house? A smart switch may be an easy, and easily affordable, answer.

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A smart switch, (or smart plug or smart socket), is an AC outlet that allows you to remotely control a device that's plugged into it from a smartphone or tablet app.

You plug the smart switch into a standard AC wall outlet, plug a device such as a table lamp into the smart switch, download the smart switch app, then pair the smart switch to your home Wi-Fi network.

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In some cases, you can just pair the switch to your phone via Bluetooth. You'll now be able to turn that device on or off from the app, or create schedules for when it goes on or off automatically.

Relatively affordable, running between $40 to $80 depending on the brand and style you choose, smart switches aren't going to dent your wallet too badly. But you may want to run through some simple questions, and check off what you really need to control before making a decision on the device right for you.

Photo of a TP-Link Kasa smart switchSmart plugs bring smartphone and voice control to 'dumb' devicesTP-Link

GearBrain's noted five questions you'll want to run through first before buying a smart switch:

  1. What are the ergonomics like? Will the bulky smart switch block the second wall outlet? Some switches place their smart AC outlet on the side. That arrangement usually means the device doesn't jut out from the wall preventing you from backing a piece of furniture against it — or accidentally knocking the switch out if you brush quickly by it.
  2. How many smart outlets do I need? Most smart switches have one AC outlet, but some are equipped with two, such as the On/Off dual outlet from Insteon. There's even a smart power strip with four smart outlets.
  3. What's the switch compatible with? Does the smart switch work independently with its own control app or can be incorporated into a larger smart home system so all your smart devices operate from a single app? If you have any interest of expanding your smart home devices in the future, opt for a switch with ZigBee or Z-Wave compatibility at a minimum.
  4. What can you control? Check the app aligned with the switch you select to make sure you can control the connected device as desired — or, at the very least, the usual on/off and scheduling options.
  5. Are there any added features? Some switches add a USB charging jack, a night light or other niceties that add smart value to the smart switch. Worth considering if you're a heavy smart device user.
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