I get to review a lot of different things for this page, from the new iPhones to a self-driving Cadillac to power stations and solar panels.
Those are very cool, but they’re also expensive.
Today we are reviewing two inexpensive gadgets, and these are the kind that can make a difference in your everyday life.
EZVIZ Smart Plugs
Home automation can sound scary if you are not a techie, but anyone can start to automate actions around the house cheaply with some smart plugs and smart bulbs.
EZVIZ has two smart plugs, the T30-10A and the T30-10B.
The two plugs look very different, but they do the same thing — allow the user to turn the power to the plug on and off with a smartphone app.
They also have a power button on the plug so you can turn them on or off if your phone is not handy.
Both also allow the user to set up schedules to control the outlet at set times during the day or night.
I have my living room floor lamp connected to the T30-10B, and I have it set up to turn on every weekday when my alarm goes off to wake me up.
There are many things you can do with a smart plug, but not every item you plug in will work as expected.
Some electronic gadgets don’t have traditional on/off switches.
A simple lamp is either on or off, so if you leave the lamp switched on, the smart plug can control it.
A microwave oven is a good example of a device that cannot be powered by a smart plug.
A microwave does not automatically begin cooking when you plug it in — you need to press other buttons to make it start working.
But I have a Vornado fan that has a mechanical switch, and it works great with smart plugs.
I also have a Dyson fan/heater that has an electronic power switch that does not work with smart plugs.
Electronic switches usually stay powered off when electricity is turned off and then back on.
To check your appliance for compatibility, turn it on, pull the plug and then plug it back in. If the appliance starts working again, you can use it on a smart plug.
If you need to press a power button to turn it back on, you can’t use it on a smart plug.
What’s the difference?
The big difference between the two smart plugs (besides the form factor) is the T30-10B’s ability to show you energy usage statistics for whatever is connected.
My floor lamp has several LED bulbs in it, and when I call up the app, the T30-10B shows me that the outlet is drawing 34.71 watts of power and in the five hours it was powered on yesterday, the lamp used 0.16 kilowatt-hours of electricity. This is handy if you want to see how much power your appliances are using.
The smart plugs are set up through the EZVIZ app on your smartphone.
You’ll need to create a free account in the app, then log in and follow the directions to add the smart plug. You’ll use your phone’s camera to scan a QR code on the plug and then you’ll be asked to provide your Wi-Fi credentials so the plug can talk to your Wi-Fi network.
When the plug is connected, you’ll get a prompt to name it (I called mine Floor Lamp).
You can then use the app to turn the plug on or off.
The smart plugs can be connected to Alexa or Google Assistant for voice control.
To set it up, open your Alexa or Google Assistant app, go to the skills section of the app settings and search for a skill called EZVIZ.
Install the skill, then log in with your EZVIZ account credentials to link the smart plugs.
Then you’ll be able to control the plugs with your voice.
I have Alexa at my house, and in the Alexa app, you can group smart plugs with smart bulbs so you can tell Alexa to turn on the living room lights and she’ll turn on the entire group.
Cost and availability
The EZVIZ T30-10A costs $14 and the T30-10B costs $19.99. Both are available at Walmart.
Pros: Inexpensive, easy to set up, works well with voice control.
Bottom line: These plugs are a good way to begin your home automation journey.
TP-Link Kasa Smart Wi-Fi Light Bulb
Along with the smart plugs, I’ve been testing a new smart bulb from TP-Link, the Kasa Smart Wi-Fi Light Bulb KL125 (Multicolor), which sells for $14.99 or $24.99 for a two-pack at kasasmart.com. A four-pack is in the works for later this month at $34.99.
The bulbs were simple to set up. First, download the free Kasa Smart app to your smartphone.
You’ll need to create a free account and then touch the plus sign to add a new device.
Choose Smart Lights and then Smart Bulb and you’ll be walked through the setup process of getting the bulb to talk to your Wi-Fi and giving it a name.
In the app, your main job is to pick a color for the light.
There are some presets (white, red, green, blue) along with a color wheel where you can slide your finger around the wheel to pick a color.
You can save the color choices as presets. You can also choose the color temperature of the white light. The white light can be tuned from 2,500K up to 9,000K.
I prefer a more yellowish (warm) light at 3,000K, while others may like more blue in their white light (cool) at 6,000K or above. You can also dim the light on a scale from 1% to 100%, but when you get below 10%, it’s hard to see the difference.
The bulb can also be scheduled to turn on or off from the app and there is a tab to show your power usage for today, the last seven days or the last 30 days.
Like the smart plugs, the bulb can be voice-controlled by Alexa or Google devices, and the bulbs can also be controlled by Samsung SmartThings hubs.
The setup is the same as the plugs. Load the Kasa skill in your voice assistant’s app and you’ll see it appear in the device list. I put one of these bulbs in the light that hangs from my dining room ceiling. Naturally, I called it Dining Room, and I can control it by asking Alexa to turn on the dining room.
My living room and dining room are connected, so I added the dining room bulb to my living room lighting group in Alexa. Now the dining room light turns on and off when I ask Alexa to turn on the living room lights.
Pros: Simple to set up and control, inexpensive.
Bottom line: You can take a small step toward total home automation and control the color of your lighting as well.
Jim Rossman writes for The Dallas Morning News. He may be reached at jrossmandallasnews.com.