Review: iHome iSP5 SmartPlug gives dumb appliances a brain

Posted:
in General Discussion edited August 2015
Longtime "Made for iPhone" accessory maker iHome is diverting course from its bread-and-butter bedside alarm clock/radios toward the burgeoning connected home sector. Its first product, an app-connected, HomeKit-compatible smart plug called...SmartPlug, was released Thursday and AppleInsider has the review.




The idea behind SmartPlug is simple: transform nearly any plug-in appliance up to 1800 watts -- from lights to air conditioners -- into a "smart home" gadget by placing a network-connected control module between it and a wall socket. And, despite a few issues with HomeKit, iHome has delivered.

Design

In many ways, SmartPlug can be thought of as an outlet replacement, along the lines of similar remote control "WeMo" socket sets from Belkin and permanent solutions from Insteon. But instead of breaking out a screwdriver and pliers to fiddle around with bare home wiring, you simply plug SmartPlug in like a wall wart power supply




Aesthetically speaking, SmartPlug isn't much to look at, but that's a good thing. The solidly constructed device blended in quite nicely with our white walls and matching faceplates, while the matte finish doesn't draw the eye. The LEDs do stand out, however, and while they serve a purpose we would have liked to see them in a more inconspicuous location.

SmartPlug is fairly compact and, ignoring the LED-lit iHome logo, looks somewhat like an purifier when plugged in. A standard three-prong plug pops out the back, while a single three-pin grounded outlet is positioned out front, ready to accept lamps, fans and other appliances. Users can cycle power or reset SmartPlug with a single multifunction button located on the device's top-right shoulder. Operating status is displayed via two LEDs, one in the bottom left denoting power state and a smaller green/red light near the button for pairing and connectivity status.




Users can easily fit two SmartPlugs on a standard U.S. wall outlet. In addition, the modular, self-powered design allows for quick transport to other receptacles or rooms as needed.

Usage

Setting SmartPlug up is as simple as plugging it in and pairing with iHome's free iHome Control app. Those intending to control SmartPlug through HomeKit must enter in an Accessory Setup Code, a unique eight-digit number used to located individual devices on a home network.

iHome wisely opted to use Wi-Fi instead of Bluetooth for its communications backbone, negating the need for a wireless data transfer hub.

As with products from other manufacturers, SmartPlug's most useful controls are only available in the iHome Control app, meaning those already invested in a separate smart home ecosystem will have to deal with yet another proprietary control scheme. Apple device users can operate SmartPlug using the iOS HomeKit umbrella protocol, but for now that control is limited to toggling outlets on and off. Advanced features like scene creation, timers and usage history live in iHome's app.




On the plus side, iHome Control offers granular control over multiple devices, each assigned a label based on a tiered naming convention; home, room and appliance. For example, users with more than one SmartPlug in a single home can label one "Living room light" and another "Bedroom fan" to keep things organized in-app. These tags are also used to help HomeKit and Siri decipher which outlet to control.

SmartPlug setups can be further customized by grouping rooms into zones and applying time-based on/off rules. Scenes is another customizable control option that lumps individual SmartPlug settings into macros, like "Movie" or "Dinner." Unfortunately, geofencing support is not yet an option.




Since we only had a single plug on hand, we were unable to test out support for coexisting multi-zone installations. We did re-label our test unit -- "Living room fan," "Bedroom light" -- to test out HomeKit interactions, which worked as well as Siri's ability to correctly recognize words. Interestingly, Siri refers to each SmartPlug as "your outlet" instead of its assigned name, a small foible that could lead to some confusion as to what is powered and what isn't. HomeKit lets users confirm system status remotely through Siri, for example by asking, "Is my bedroom fan turned on," but again the virtual assistant responds in reference to "your outlet." The only sure-fire method we found is to open up iHome's app and check from there.

It should also be noted that we ran into some HomeKit peculiarities when transporting SmartPlug from room to room. In some cases, Siri would fail to recognize the device even though it was plugged in, connected and "seen" by iHome's app. We were able to force identification only by entering the app and cycling SmartPlug's power.

Conclusion




The SmartPlug is a solid first foray into the connected home sector for iHome. It marries reliable operation with an inconspicuous design and a level of fit and finish to be expected from a well-established accessories company. iHome's Control app is functional, but we would like to see more meat added in future updates. Granular scene settings, support for geofencing and a UI more consistent with Apple's iOS design come to mind.

With a $39.99 cost of entry, SmartPlug is on the high end of connected sockets and might be a bit hard to swallow for iHome's target demographic. However, the benefit of owning a smart home device that just works out of the box -- most notably without frustratingly buggy software -- justifies the price tag.

Score: 4.5 out of 5

Pros:
  • Fast response time
  • HomeKit support
  • No hub required
Cons:
  • No geofencing rules
  • HomeKit is still unstable

Where to buy

The iHome iSP5 SmartPlug sells for $39.99 and can be purchased through iHome's website, as well as internet retailers like Amazon.com.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 30
    dreyfus2dreyfus2 Posts: 1,069member
    Did iHome say anything about international models being planned? Could certainly use a few of these...
  • Reply 2 of 30
    solipsismysolipsismy Posts: 5,099member
    dreyfus2 wrote: »
    Did iHome say anything about international models being planned? Could certainly use a few of these...

    I'm typically not a fan of such things but this product I could put to use in a few places. I'm not too keen on the price but I also don't think it's a barrier.
  • Reply 3 of 30
    welshdogwelshdog Posts: 1,653member

    Seems like a solid entry into the home automation arena. I've been using Insteon for years and have a fairly extensive setup using Indigo on a Mac Mini to control my system.  It is very stable and The Indigo Mac app is very capable. They also provide an iOS app for remote access away from home which also works we.  I have Insteon water leak detectors on the washer and the ice maker which can send me texts if there is a leak.

     

    I hope Apple and their partners like iHome can manage to put all the various parts together in a way that works smoothly, securely and can be easily configured.  The Insteon system is good, but it can easily becomes very complex as you add devices and features.  That is not a problem for me, but it limits mass appeal.

  • Reply 4 of 30
    slurpyslurpy Posts: 5,107member
    The app looks hideous.
  • Reply 5 of 30
    iHome needs an app icon designer ASAP
  • Reply 6 of 30
    umutumut Posts: 1member
    check Xiaomi product only for $10 !

    %u5C0F%u7C73%u667A%u80FD%u63D2%u5EA7

    http://item.mi.com/1144100002.html
  • Reply 7 of 30
    dacloodacloo Posts: 890member
    How does a product with so many issues get a 4.5 star rating? I guess because this is really an advertisement.

    Also, I'll start investing in smart home stuff once all communication is routed through apple's home kit app, not yet another third party app. Seems an early adopters product to me at the moment.
  • Reply 8 of 30
    mike1mike1 Posts: 1,820member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by SolipsismY View Post





    I'm typically not a fan of such things but this product I could put to use in a few places. I'm not too keen on the price but I also don't think it's a barrier.



    Really!? If it works, $40 is a bargain.

  • Reply 9 of 30

    As more of our lives and now are homes join the online world what risk will this pose to our privacy and the safety of our homes? 

  • Reply 10 of 30
    elijahgelijahg Posts: 756member
    Not sure this will be too popular unless Apple open sources (at least the protocol) for HomeKit. I'm not going to switch from Apple gear, but it would be pretty silly to build into your house a system that uses a proprietary protocol that's only usable with one manufacturer's device. Apple's got quite a history of changing something which may well be for the better, but at the same time making it incompatible with the old. I can just imagine HomeKit 2.0 coming out with a new iPhone, and HomeKit 1 devices built into the house not working with it. No thanks.
  • Reply 11 of 30
    nolamacguynolamacguy Posts: 4,758member
    dacloo wrote: »
    How does a product with so many issues get a 4.5 star rating? I guess because this is really an advertisement.

    wrong. just because you don't like so,etching doesn't mean someone else who does is getting paid to say so. that's childish nonsense.
  • Reply 12 of 30
    nolamacguynolamacguy Posts: 4,758member
    elijahg wrote: »
    Not sure this will be too popular unless Apple open sources (at least the protocol) for HomeKit. I'm not going to switch from Apple gear, but it would be pretty silly to build into your house a system that uses a proprietary protocol that's only usable with one manufacturer's device. Apple's got quite a history of changing something which may well be for the better, but at the same time making it incompatible with the old. I can just imagine HomeKit 2.0 coming out with a new iPhone, and HomeKit 1 devices built into the house not working with it. No thanks.

    homekit is a value add for the Apple ecosystem, it would make no sense to open source it to android users. none.

    also, Apple is not the single device manufacturer -- many manufacturers can, do, and will make devices that leverage this single protocol.
  • Reply 13 of 30
    2oh12oh1 Posts: 501member
    Any chance this device can be toggled using OSX? I own a Belkin WEMO, and I cannot overstate how much I hate the thing because it can only be controlled using iOS. I'd be thrilled to replace it with a device I can toggle using hotkeys on my Mac. I control my Philips Hue lights using hotkeys on my Mac, and it's fantastic... but that frigging WEMO piece of garbage can only be toggled using iOS. Well, it also works with ifTTT, but that's laggy enough that it's terrible for anything you'd want to work instantly, like an on/off switch.
  • Reply 14 of 30
    fallenjtfallenjt Posts: 3,971member
    What is the point of this crap, saving energy? How much does it save you? With that price, it will take you 20 years to break even...smart device for dumb purpose actually.
  • Reply 15 of 30
    solipsismysolipsismy Posts: 5,099member
    fallenjt wrote: »
    What is the point of this crap, saving energy? How much does it save you? With that price, it will take you 20 years to break even...smart device for dumb purpose actually.

    :???:
  • Reply 16 of 30
    vmarksvmarks Posts: 651editor

    Because HomeKit is a framework, unless they change the syntax to make things incompatible, it should continue to work for as long as the framework is in iOS.

     

    There is no HomeKit app in iOS8 - the Apple interface for controlling all these things is Siri. If Siri works well for you, HomeKit unifies all the different manufacturer devices in Siri.

    If Siri doesn't work well for you, you end up using separate apps.

     

    With HomeKit, you can use many devices from many manufacturers - as long as you use an iPhone. If you want to use Android, you either use Works with Nest, or wait for Brillo/Thread/Weave. (Brillo is a reduced Android, Thread is more or less zigbee with 6LowPan, and Weave is Google's framework similar-ish to HomeKit.) In typical Google fashion, there is no guarantee that Weave things will Work with Nest. They're two separate developments.

  • Reply 17 of 30
    vmarksvmarks Posts: 651editor
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by 2oh1 View Post



    Any chance this device can be toggled using OSX? I own a Belkin WEMO, and I cannot overstate how much I hate the thing because it can only be controlled using iOS. I'd be thrilled to replace it with a device I can toggle using hotkeys on my Mac. I control my Philips Hue lights using hotkeys on my Mac, and it's fantastic... but that frigging WEMO piece of garbage can only be toggled using iOS. Well, it also works with ifTTT, but that's laggy enough that it's terrible for anything you'd want to work instantly, like an on/off switch.

    You toggle this with Siri or it's own app.

     

    I agree, unlocking the phone, opening the app, tapping on the switch is about two steps too many. Holding down the home button and telling Siri is not all bad. If you need a Mac hotkey, you need some other product.

     

    But you should be able to program the WeMO with some scripting - their API is relatively open, they work with Amazon Echo...

  • Reply 18 of 30
    2oh12oh1 Posts: 501member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by vmarks View Post

     

    you should be able to program the WeMO with some scripting - their API is relatively open, they work with Amazon Echo...


    Huh?  Belkin's API for WEMO used to be as locked down as locked down gets.  And buggy as hell.  Have they updated it?  What I really want is to be able to control my WEMO Switch (which isn't a switch.  It's a plug) using terminal or applescript so I can then create hotkeys for it using BetterTouchTool.

  • Reply 19 of 30
    smsmsmsm Posts: 4member

    "SmartPlug gives dumb appliances a brain." No where in the story does it explain how the appliance gets a brain. This is a dumb switch that just turns on and off whatever is attached to it. Does it do anything more then the Wemo I already own? It sounds like the same product.

  • Reply 20 of 30
    vmarksvmarks Posts: 651editor
    2oh1 wrote: »
    Huh?  Belkin's API for WEMO used to be as locked down as locked down gets.  And buggy as hell.  Have they updated it?  What I really want is to be able to control my WEMO Switch (which isn't a switch.  It's a plug) using terminal or applescript so I can then create hotkeys for it using BetterTouchTool.
    http://developers.belkin.com/wemo/sdk

    http://eric-blue.com/my-projects/belkin-wemo-api/




    http://www.issackelly.com/blog/2012/08/04/wemo-api-hacking/

    Have a look. You can very likely do what you want with Wemo.
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