I’ve said before that smart plugs could be considered the ‘meat & potatoes’ of a smart home, and even though I’ve pulled back massively from using them myself, I still use a few in the home to turn a couple of things on and off when the plug sockets are harder to reach. Two of the few smart plugs currently in use are Thread enabled – The Eve Energy smart plug, and today’s item for review, the Wemo Smart Plug, previously referred to as a the Wemo Mini, due to its size compared to the original Wemo smart plug for North America – which is, ironically, now dubbed the Wemo Mini, despite being larger..! That aside, today I’m taking a look at this plug, and how it performs, as well as a brief size comparison to its main competitor, Eve Energy.
With Wemo’s new line of devices, including the Video Doorbell and the Wemo Stage Scene Controller (review here, video here), the company go to some length to ensure customers know that these devices are exclusive to HomeKit, at least until Matter establishes itself perhaps. Not only that, these devices will not work in any Wemo app, and are therefore tied to the Home app, and third-party HomeKit apps. This is stated on the box quite clearly, with even the ‘Works with Apple HomeKit’ (soon to be ‘Works with Apple Home’) badge in both English and French. Alongside this, there’s the ever more common ‘Built on Thread’ badge.
The rear of the box just goes through an overview of what it does and its features, including the size of the plug allowing it to be stacked with another plug, and not blocking both outlets. This is something that was the case with both WiFi models and is usually the case with a lot more smart plugs now that components allow for a smaller overall size.
There’s very little in the box, and why would there be, with only the smart plug, a concise user manual, and document outlining all manner of legal jargon etc. The manual comes with a HomeKit QR code, although you’ll also find one on the plug itself.
THE SMART PLUG
I’ve had a few smart plugs in my time, with some ridiculously large (Opro9 Smart plug), and others very compact (Vocolinc Smartbar), but this has to be the smallest North American Smart plug (for HomeKit) to date at only 53.7mm / 2.11in wide, and 30mm / 1.18in high.
As previously mentioned, the plug comes with a HomeKit code, although it’s not a QR code, only containing the 8-digit code. The reason for this is that, like the Stage Scene controller, and the video doorbell, this comes with NFC Pairing, hence the NFC icon in place of a QR code. More on that later. The opposite side is home to a large power button and a small status LED that simply lights up in white in normal operation when the plug is on. Aside from that, there’s nothing else to see in all honesty. It’s just a smart plug. Of course, the Thread support is what sets it apart from almost all other smart plugs. Here are some specs;
- Supported by Thread
- Bluetooth compatible (used if Thread isn’t available)
- Native HomeKit integration (this plug is not supported in the Wemo app)
- NFC touchless pairing
- On/Off switching up to 15A/1800W
SETUP IN HOMEKIT
As the new Wemo devices are exclusive to HomeKit and also don’t work with any Wemo app, you can add them directly to the Home app, or any third-party HomeKit app. Even though the plug has NFC built-in, when adding it, I simply couldn’t get NFC to show up, so I eventually added it by scanning the code. I’ve actually heard others with the same issue, notably Eric Welander. Still, with the code, it was easy enough to add. My WiFi network is split into 2.4GHz and 5GHz networks, and I usually have my iPhone connected to the 5GHz network for speed. One of the benefits of adding a Thread device, at least in my case, is that if it’s a 2,4GHz WiFi device I’m adding, I have to connect to the 2.4GHz network in order to pass those 2.4GHz WiFi details over to the device in question. As Thread devices don’t directly connect to a WiFi network, it doesn’t matter which network my iPhone is connected to.
Whilst NFC pairing didn’t work at the time it was needed, once the device was added, I did try to see if the NFC chip was subsequently picked up by my phone within the Home app, and oddly enough it worked, although as you can see in the fourth screenshot, by that time it was already added, and as such the app told me the same.
If you’re not too familiar with or are new to HomeKit, then once the device is added, you do need to assign it to a room and name the device. In addition, because smart plugs are almost always used to control other devices, you get (admittedly somewhat limited) options as to what kind of device they appear as in HomeKit; a power point (which is what it is), a light, if for example, you have a lamp plugged into it, or fan, for the same reason.
Most smart plugs are fairly bare bones these days, and in the case of the Wemo, there are no extras at all. Eve Energy has power monitoring, although this is only available directly within the Eve app, as standard, and as the Wemo doesn’t have an app, there’s nothing to show. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing unless you want to keep an eye on energy usage, as for the most part, it’s just for turning a dumb device on and off, using a smart plug.
WEMO AND THREAD
Even though the Wemo plug uses Thread, unless you have an app capable of giving you a bit more information on that aspect, it’s not easy to tell if it’s using Thread or Bluetooth. Luckily, the Eve app has a dedicated section that shows all your Thread-enabled devices, along with a few extra details. There’s one caveat, however, as in order to see this extra level of detail, you do need at least one Eve Thread device. As I’ve already gotten an Eve Energy smart plug, I’m covered. You can see my Thread network in the app, with the Wemo Smart Plug part of it. As it’s a permanently powered device (i.e. it’s plugged into a power outlet and not battery powered), it also acts as a Thread Router, which allows it to act as a Thread signal repeater, essentially. Battery-powered Thread devices can only act as endpoints, and can’t help spread the Thread network’s signal.
Thread Routers should not be confused with Thread Border Routers, which in HomeKit are currently restricted to an Apple TV (2021 model) or a HomePod Mini. Thread Border Routers act as de facto hubs for Thread devices. The difference between a Thread Border router and, say, a Zigbee hub, is that Zigbee child devices have to be bound to a specific hub. if that hub fails, all connected devices go offline. With Thread, assuming you have more than one Thread Border Router (I currently have four, all HomePods Mini) if one of them fails, your Thread devices simply connect to the next available Thread Border Router. That’s the theory at least, and as none of my Minis has failed at this point, I can’t say for sure if this actually happens or if the process is seamless. Let’s hope it is.
SIZE COMPARISON WITH EVE ENERGY
As previously stated, this is the smallest HomeKit plug for the North American market that I’m aware of, and as you can see in the images above, it’s smaller than the Eve Energy in all dimensions. That’s not to say it’s better than Eve Energy, and in at least one way, the Eve is better due to its energy monitoring functionality, but purely on size, the Wemo has it. Not only that, but if we’re talking price, then once again the Wemo Smart Plug is more budget-friendly, with the price at the time of writing this review listed as US$24.99 on Amazon.com, compared to the Eve Energy on the same site, priced at US$39.95. Eve does offer a 2-pack at US$69.95, bringing the price per plug down to US$34.98, but that’s still almost $10 more per plug. If you don’t need energy monitoring, the Wemo wins on both price and size, but does it work as well?
THE WEMO SMART PLUG IN USE
I’ve been using the Wemo Smart Plug on Thread for a few months now, and I’ll cut to the chase here – it hasn’t let me down once. Yes, it might be hard to believe for some people, who have justifiably stated that they wouldn’t go near a Wemo device again, based on past experiences, but these seem to all have been based on Wemo devices that use WiFi, not Thread. What could be at issue is the WiFi chip inside these older devices, so taking that out of the equation, and replacing it with a Thread chip, the issue shouldn’t exist. So far, it seems to have been the case for me, as the plug just works time and again, with no lost connections in HomeKit, and no reset required. To back up the theory that having Thread has fixed a commonly reported issue with Wemo devices, I’ve found the same with my Eve Energy smart plug; no disconnections, and no reset required to date, and I’ve actually had the Eve Energy even longer. This points to Thread being essentially more reliable than WiFi inside of a device, although I could just be lucky of course. I think not though.
Aside from that, as it’s just something that turns on and off, there’s not a lot to report on like would be the case with a colour bulb, for example, so all I can tell you is that I’ve been very happy with the performance so far. The small size is great for my particular needs, and is at a price point I’m willing to pay, even when there are much cheaper smart plugs out there, like the recently released Switchbot smart plug, that is selling for just US$14.99. At this point, if I can find a device that uses Thread (or Zigbee) as opposed to WiFi, I’ll take it every time, as my goal is to strip back on smart devices that simply don’t need a WiFi connection for the small packets of data they typically send and receive. WiFi is overkill in these cases. WiFi is perfect for smart cameras and the like, but smart plugs, not really.