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A Bluetooth 'smart outlet' is cheap and simple, but also limited

Jon Turi, @jonturi
04.03.15
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The lights turn on and environment controls go into full swing as you approach. With a simple remote, you're able to bend appliances to your will. It's the ideal Jetsonian smart home and it's no longer the future; you can have it today. By picking up some connected switches and bulbs, it's easy to get your old-fashioned digs into space-age shape. The cost of admission can be a little steep, though, once you factor in the requisite hub required to tie many of these pieces together. Plus, it's not always a one-touch setup. Nyrius Electronics wants to cut out the complexity and high cost from this equation with its series of intelligent Bluetooth-connected devices. The company already offers a colorful smart LED lightbulb and it's expanding the line to include a new Smart Outlet that's currently in the middle of a Kickstarter campaign. This app-controlled outlet fits into standard three-prong sockets, letting you manage the power of plugged-in items with your mobile device. With a price tag of $40 each, it could be a viable solution -- especially if you're on a budget. Keep in mind, though, there are some inherent limitations to this type of design.

Gallery: Nyrius Smart Outlet | 5 Photos

As promised, the setup is easy: Just plug the Nyrius device into a wall socket and connect whatever appliance you wish to control. (Since the device is a bit chubby, you won't be able to fit more than one per outlet, even if it's a two-gang type.) Download the Nyrius Smart Outlet application (available for Android and soon on iOS), pair with the outlet as you would any other Bluetooth device and you're off. The feature set in the app is also very straightforward: Manually control power, set proximity to turn power off when you're out of Bluetooth range (and on when you return) and set a timer to automatically power on/off on a schedule -- even if you're not around.

These smart outlets are a bit wide, so you'll only get one into even a two-gang setup

My house is pretty dumb, so when this Bluetooth smart outlet crossed my desk, I figured it would be a good jumping-off point to start doing some upgrades. Most of my kitchen appliances won't benefit from a timer -- my coffee maker already has one -- so I stuck to the basics and hooked up my living room lamp. It's an LED bulb, which means there's little energy or cost savings in having it turn off every time I leave the room. Also, unless you have a relatively small apartment, allowing you to stay in Bluetooth range from all corners, the Proximity feature may drive you a little nuts. If it's a cozy enough space, shutting off lights in another room with the remote power control is a lazy satisfaction and switching on devices that need time to warm up in the morning -- but aren't smart enough to do it themselves -- could save you some precious time.

If you've got a roommate or spouse, though, things could become complicated fast. The Smart Outlet doesn't support multiple concurrent pairing sessions, so it's usually one person in control (unless you want to set up a new session every time). The mobile app's on/off and proximity controls manage power at the outlet level. If you shut things off when you walk away, any other people in the house will have to go to the wall socket to turn things on again. If they happen to try the appliance's power switch to turn it on and it doesn't work, they may leave it in the off position. That will negate your app's control until you flick the switch again. It's worth keeping these things under consideration when choosing this type of outlet. It works well for the desk lamp at my office, though, turning on as I approach. Oh, and if you need to restart your phone, that seems to trigger the Proximity feature and if it's a lamp that's connected, you'll find yourself sitting in the dark.

Accessing the status and controlling the power for your connected devices is another thing that the Bluetooth variety of products don't offer. Unlike cloud-accessible systems, you're stuck with controls that only work within the standard 33-foot range.

Obviously, the Nyrius Smart Outlet attempts to be simple and convenient, and in that respect, it succeeds. You get a programmable timer along with the Proximity feature and basic power controls from your mobile device. With the Android app you can control up to seven outlets and iOS users will max out at a total of three. If you can get over issues with Bluetooth range limitations, shared environments and the occasional restart-induced blackout, this could work for you. It's a relatively affordable device that lets you dabble in the Internet of Things and make some first steps toward increasing your home's IQ.

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