I’ve long used Belkin’s $35 Wemo Insight Switch in my home, both for automation and energy monitoring. Now, Fibaro has a new, competing product called the Fibaro Wall Plug. It comes in two options: a $50 version and a $60 model that adds an integrated USB plug. I’ve been testing a review unit of the latter and it’s a great, if not more expensive alternative, that has some automation limitations depending on which hub you use.
Yes, you’ll need a hub for the Wall Plug because it uses a Z-Wave radio for connectivity. In my testing, I connected the Plug to a SmartThings hub — technically an Nvidia Shield TV with Samsung SmartThings USB Link — but to use all of the Plug’s smart functionality, you’ll really need a Fibaro Home Center controller and the Fibaro mobile app. I’ll explain why in a bit.
From a design standpoint, the plug is elegant. I like the look of it and also the fact that it doesn’t cover up the second outlet in your wall, which some smart plugs can do. The rounded corners and small-ish size of the 2.32-inch plug look very modern and clean. If you’re looking for something a bit more powerful-looking consider some general purpose timing relays to create some additional energy automation.
Note that since SmartThings doesn’t natively support the Fibaro Wall Plug, I had to install two custom handlers so that the SmartThings hub would recognize and report usage on both the main outlet and the USB port. It’s a pretty easy, cut-and-paste process, but worth noting.
Once that’s done, there’s not much else to the installation of the Fibaro Plug though. You simply triple click a button on the Plug to put it in pairing mode and use your hub to complete the process. I was able to pair it with my SmartThings hub in under a minute.
Once connected, you just plug in any standard electrical or USB device to the Fibaro unit. I used it to power the Raspberry Pi we set up for our IoT Podcast VM and also some other appliances, such as my Keurig coffee maker and June oven. I also added the Plug to both my Amazon Echo and Google Home accounts so I could turn the plug on or off with voice commands. The Fibaro Plug worked with both assistants for basic power commands.
Monitoring energy usage
One of the unique features of the Fibaro Plug is the LED ring on the front of it. The color of the ring changes to indicate how much power the plug is drawing based on seven unique colors including white, red, green, blue, yellow, cyan or magenta. The latter, for example, shows between 1350W and 1800W.
Initially, the LED ring didn’t light up when the plug was under a load. A quick reset of the Plug (hold the Plug button until the LED turns yellow, let go and quickly tap the button) fixed it. Plus, you can see that information in real time or view the historical use with the SmartThings app for both the main outlet and the USB port. The LED is configurable if you don’t want it on at all or if you want to customize the colors for different power usage levels.
The SmartThings app can also control the state of the Fibaro Plug, meaning with one tap on your phone, you can turn the Plug on or off. You can even do this when away from your home. Personally, I like to have it always on since most appliances have their own power switch. However, if you’re planning to use the Plug with a lamp, this is an easy way to turn that light on or off, even if you’re not using a smart bulb.
It’s tricky when it comes to automation and getting information from the Fibaro Plug, however. Yes, you can create automations that turn the plug on or off — helpful for lights — but that’s about it in the SmartThings world. And unless you use the Fibaro hub and app, you won’t get energy alerts. And although it would be nice to know if my refrigerator lost power, I can live without the notifications on energy usage. But my plans for automating the plug fell a little short when using SmartThings with it.
For example, I’d like to put one of these plugs in our master bathroom and have my wife use it with her hair dryer. Why? Because drying her hair is the last thing she does in the morning before she heads down to the kitchen. If I could automate the kitchen light based on the power draw of the hair dryer, she’d automatically enter a well-lit kitchen. The only way I can see to do this would be to use a Fibaro gateway and corresponding Fibaro app.
Regardless, the Fibaro Plug works well if you understand the hub and software limitations when using it with SmartThings, which could eventually change with an updated device handler. If you do have a Fibaro Home Center, you’ll get all of the impressive functionality the Plug offers.