Heads up! This product is available on amazon.com now with a 15% discount, so get one while stocks last.
Smart power strips are that semi-rare beast that gives you three smart outlets in once device, which not only allows you only take up just the one wall socket while giving you ‘smart’ control of three devices plugged into it (fan, lamp, TV etc.), but by having a standard plug on the end of this product that goes into the wall socket, you totally negate the potential issue you get with many of the current smart plugs, that tend to block the adjacent spare outlet, due to the size of the plug itself.
One such device is the Vocolinc PM2 Smart Power Strip, which we’ll look at in some detail.
All of Vocolinc’s packaging follows the same basic principles; product image on the front, Vocolinc’s green colour flanking the sides and rear of the box, 3 instances of the HomeKit code, and a well protected device inside. You really can’t fault them in this regard, and this is exactly what you get here, although in this case I’d say they went the extra mile in terms of presentation. The box is quite large and it wouldn’t be a shock for some other companies to lessen the size and strength of the packaging to keep costs down (at the expense of protection I might add). So when you get a product presented like this, it leaves you with a sense of confidence that the company cares about not only the product, but its public image. The front of the box is just the product along with the (very important) ‘Works with HomeKit’ badge. The rear goes into specs and requirements. When you open the box, there’s an added flap that covers the power strip, with a nice line-drawn image of the product, along with a pocket holding the manual and one of three HomeKit codes, plus a small customer service booklet. On opening this flap, you then get to the strip itself, which is really well packed. Not only this, but the surrounding protective packaging gives you pointers to the functions of the buttons and lights, along with a very simple 3-step setup procedure. I’ll say it again – ‘Extra Mile’.
Now, I already have a couple of Koogeek power strips, and they’ve served with distinction ever since I’ve had them, so they’ve sort of set the bar for my expectations, which the Vocolinc will have to at least match. So with that in mind, the first impression I got when taking the strip out of the box is both the size and weight. It has some real heft, which is only compounded by the size of it. This is heavier (at least from my recollection) than the Koogeek, and this is no bad thing given these will be sat in one place for the most part, and don’t want to be moving around too much. So far, so good. It’s longer than the Koogeek, coming in at 325mm in length as opposed to 270mm for the Koogeek. This shouldn’t necessarily be seen as a benefit or negative point, assuming this will be placed in a location with more than enough space. However, there is a very good reason for the PM2 to be longer, in that the sockets has been afforded more space between each other, with the Koogeek offering 23mm between sockets and the PM2 giving 35mm. This may seem irrelevant, but most people have come across a bulky power supply that takes up more space than they’d like, so the extra space between sockets really does make a difference in these cases. Both the Koogeek and the PM2 come with 3 USB ports, which we’ll cover later. So on first impressions, they’re pretty much the same, aside from the dimensions and spacing. The main power cable is approximately 2m/6ft long and feels really durable.
Going into the details of the device, there are three buttons in total – two on the front and one on the side; The first button is a simple power button. This will kill the power to the sockets, which effectively takes them offline. This would be for either an emergency, or in situations where you might be gone for a day or so. This button has to be pushed down firmly, resulting in a ‘click’, so in effect it’s a true physical on/off switch, which help you avoid accidental presses. The other button, located at the opposite end, near the USB ports, is more of a ‘soft’ button, in that there’s a click, but the button doesn’t go in or out physically. This button serves three purposes; first and foremost, it kills the power to the switches, just like the other button does, however, this button will not disconnect the outlets from wi-fi, so the outlets remain connected to HomeKit, and will simply appear as on/off in the Home app. The second function gives you a visual indicator of the network connection of the device, hence the wi-fi LED icon on the button. Solid blue indicates a connection, whilst a flashing icon indicates disconnection or some other issue. The third function is simply for resetting the device, should you need to do so. The last button of the three is located on the side near the first button, and is a simple power reset button, should the PM2 cut out due to a power surge. It should be noted that the PM2 also has power surge protection built-in.
Taking a look at the three smart sockets themselves, each is labelled with a letter, so you’ve got ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘C’, which when you initially add the device to your HomeKit setup, will appear as such. Each socket also has a corresponding colour LED, with A, B and C having red, orange and green LEDs respectively. If you press the ‘soft’ on/off button, these LEDs will turn off to indicate that there’s no power going to the sockets, but there doesn’t seem to be any way to turn these LEDs off while still keeping the sockets online, which would be handy if you were to have these on in a darkened room and didn’t want the lights to show (or keep you awake for example). They do serve to help you see them in the dark though, so it could be a positive point, depending on how you look at it. Regarding the outlets, the one thing that the Koogeek does have over the PM2 is that it has individual power buttons for each outlet, whereas the PM2 only has the one button to turn on/off all three. This is a bit of an oversight, and whilst it could be argued that we should be getting away from physical switches, with automation and voice control taking over, there are still many good reasons to have physical switches. It is in the end, only a minor point, as it isn’t that often that I personally find myself using the physical button at all, but that’s just me. Each of the sockets is capable of handling up to 1800w, so they’re suitable for most standard appliances.
The great addition that the power strip gives you is three USB ports, with one of them providing Qualcomm 3.0 ‘Quick Charge’ capabilities. The other two USB ports are standard, but will charge an iPhone or iPad without a problem. Note that I’ve not gone into testing how much faster the ‘quick charge’ port charges.
Moving to the rear of the device, you have another instance of the HomeKit code (the other two are inside the lid of the box and in the instruction booklet. The only main feature on the back is a pair of recesses for mounting the strip to a wall or other vertical surface. This is especially handy if you have pets or small children for example, and want this to be out of reach. The base also has 6 rubber feet, although they’re not very firmly fixed, and as you can see in the first picture above, they can easily come loose and get mislaid. If you want to use the feet for stopping it from slipping around on smooth floors, I’d advise glueing them permanently in place.
Installation is really very simple, as you would expect, and whilst there’s instant access to turning each outlet on or off via the individual tiles in the Home app, there isn’t a lot else available in terms of additional functionality. However, if you use Vocolinc’s LinkWise app, you do get access to the energy monitoring feature that allows you to keep track of the energy usage. The app allows you to monitor active wattage for each outlet, when something is plugged in and active, as well as keep a record of monthly and yearly usage, which includes use for the current day. If you want to get really accurate cost figures, you can edit the ‘cost per kWh’ in the settings too. In the settings you even get information on how strong the connection between the device and your network is, in case you encounter any connection issues. If I’m honest, I’m not a massive fan of this or any 3rd party apps for basic controls, much preferring the clean simplicity of the original Home app, but if energy monitoring is of importance to you, this is a really handy function that justifies having the app. Even if you don’t need such a thing, it’s good to keep the app for updates, and unlike many other companies, Vocolinc are regularly updating their devices to make sure everything works.
So, this all looks good on paper (or pixels…?), but how well does it work in practice. Well, I’ve had the PM2 a few months now and when I first installed it, there were updates available and there have been more since then, which is reassuring, and shows that squashing issues is important regardless of whether a product has been out a while or is brand new. When I first started using it, I did find that it did periodically become unreachable. Thankfully this was fixed a few updates ago, and whilst I’m not sure why this happened to begin with, my network isn’t the best, to be honest, and having experienced similar issues with some other devices, albeit only very occasionally, I’m pretty sure it’s for this reason. The only other possible issue I did think was down to the Vocolinc Cloud service. Now you don’t need to use this service if you’re exclusively in the HomeKit camp, but if you want to use Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant, you’re going to need to register your devices via the service. Whether this Cloud service could be the root of my connection issues, I’m not sure, but it’s unlikely, due to the fact that HomeKit doesn’t rely on this service to function. One final thing to note is that Vocolinc also make a very similar product called the PM2E, which is almost identical but only has two USB ports, with neither being ‘Fast Charging’ ports.
At the end of the day, there are only a few choices for power strips out there that work with HomeKit, and this ticks all the boxes – except maybe for the individual on/off buttons. This isn’t an issue for me personally, and given the generous space between the outlets, the Fast Charging USB port, and the ability to hang this from a wall, then this does have the edge over the Koogeek, just. It’s also really solidly built and I’m not sure the same can be said for many other smart outlets, whether they have single or multiple outlets.
Full disclosure: Vocolinc provided HomeKit News with the PM2 Smart Power Strip for the purpose of this review. No other compensation was made or requested.