Never be in the dark again
By Harold Glicken
In the developing world of smart home devices, there are several that will light up your life.
One of them, the Insteon package of electrical plugs and switches,can be used to set up lighting zones in your house.
Most smart home products turn lights and other devices on and off at different times in different rooms, based on whether a person needs to be in the room. There’s no forgetting to turn off the lights, either: they’re programmed to turn off after I go to bed, except for one inside light and the outside light.
So far, the system has worked reliably.
The Insteon device uses a hub that is programmed to talk to the various plugs and wall switches. Setup is initially complicated, and it took awhile to figure out how to program the hub in the iPhone app, which communicates with the hub on a wi-fi network. It can also be programmed on an Android phone.
Like similar devices, the Insteon uses small attachments for electrical outlets. A lamp plugs into the attachment, which is plugged into the wall. Two or more lights can be controlled with one adapter using a standard extension cord. Wall switches require an extra wire that may be missing in older homes.
I hired an electrician to do the job. Switches and plugs in two rooms, for seven outlets and wall switches, set me back $400, including labor. Simple timers, the kind you might find at Home Depot , that are easy to self-install and use, would have set me back about $75, but what fun is that for a gadget freak?
The Insteon hub is compatible with the Amazon Echo. I ask Alexa, Echo’s helpful assistant, to turn off the dining room light, and she complies without complaint.
In my aversion to leaving well enough alone, on Cyber Monday I asked Alexa to tell me about some deals that were available on Amazon. She came up with the TP-Link Smart Wi-Fi Plug for $13 (normally $30 to $50 on Amazon), which, like the Insteon setup, works with Alexa. The Smart Plug works on wi-fi networks, wherever you are. Like the Insteon devices, it plugs into the wall, and a lamp plugs into the device. I tested only one, with a desk lamp. It worked as advertised.
The Smart Plug can only be controlled fully from an iPhone or Android phone; trying to use it on an iPad allows for turning the switch on and off only.
There are icons for programming the switch. Icons can be named; I assigned an icon showing a person coming home to turn on the Smart Plug. Another icon was programmed to turn the TV on. Each device has its own icon. The icon has to be tapped to turn on a light, for example, which, I suppose is handy when you have to enter a dark room. But for my money, that’s what light switches are for. Gadget freaks will prefer the coming-home icon. I count myself among them.
But, like the Insteon devices, the Smart Plug has its limitations. It can’t turn some appliances on, because they need to be manually activated.
It’s much easier to program the Smart Plug compared with the nerdy Insteon. Both are programmed with a phone, but the Smart Plug uses iPhone-type clocks; setting on and off times in the Insteon app requires more steps.
The Smart Plug has a random on-off program that’s handy for when you’re away from home. There’s also a countdown features that turns lights and other devices on and off. I suppose you could use the feature when you leave your home and need a few extra minutes of light.
The Smart Plug is slicker and the software is more polished, but when darkness descends, the Insteon works as advertised, too. If you went with Insteon, I’d recommend staying with it. Both devices cost about the same; if you’re not handy, you may need to hire an electrician to set up Smart Plug wall switches. If you want devices that are easier to program, I’d recommend the Smart Plug to light up your life.