New Video – Smart Plugs With A PHYSICAL Remote (Why & How!?)

I was recently playing around with a smart plug, and I didn’t have an Echo device – or my smartphone – nearby. I therefore started wondering whether it was possible to control the smart plug with a physical remote.

As it turns out, there’s quite a few options open to you – but funnily enough, the “really expensive” Philips Hue line-up is actually the cheapest!

The video timestamps are:

  • 0:00 Intro
  • 0:30 Why do you need a remote?!
  • 1:02 Philips Hue might be the best option..!
  • 2:40 Hue’s smart plug manual
  • 3:25 Setting this up in the Hue app
  • 3:48 Showing this working
  • 4:44 Innr might be a little cheaper…
  • 5:30 Controlling with Bluetooth: possible?
  • 7:55 Other options open to you
  • 9:06 Using smart hubs
  • 10:20 Wrapping up

Video Transcript

Hello, I’m Tristan from Smart Home Point. Some people wonder whether any smart plugs exist on the market that can be controlled with a physical remote (alongside the usual voice and app control – the smart functionality – that we expect from all smart devices). And the answer is yes, you can get such a product – or set of products.

But before going onto this – and showing how you can do this – you might be wondering why you actually need a physical remote with a SMART plug. After all, if it’s smart, why use some old fashioned remote?!

(Cut scene) PLAY, PLAY MUSIC! On! It just no worky! (taps desk with remote). Play!

But if you’re in a room without a smart speaker and your smart phone isn’t nearby, a physical remote is actually really useful and convenient, because it allows you to easily turn the plugged-in device on or off. Plus it’s kind of nice to have a physical backup if your internet goes down.

Anywhoo, going back to smart plugs which support a physical remote – I’m now going to say something that no-one has ever said before – in the history of the entire world:

(Cut scene) *Sighs* Yes, Philips Hue is the cheapest option by far.

*SHOCKED*. That’s right, Philips Hue actually wins the day here. As I’ll show in this video, whilst there’s a few different options available, Philips Hue is generally the cheapest.

Now before I go any further, I should point out that a smart plug can be controlled with your voice, with phone apps, automated schedules, and a whole load more. If all you want is to turn an outlet on or off with a remote, you can already buy these for less than $20 (as you can see on the screen). They use simple, RF (radio frequency) based technology, they’ve existed for ages, and they work really well. So if you want that, buy that.

But if you want a SMART plug – with all the extra smart features that this offers – but you also want a physical remote control alongside this, you may be thinking that you’re out of luck. If you’ve just done some quick Googling or Amazon searches. Fortunately, there are a few options for you.

Firstly, as I hinted at earlier, Philips Hue is actually one of the best and most versatile options here. This is because they sell a smart plug, whilst also selling a range of Hue accessories such as the motion sensor and a dimmer switch – and this is basically a remote control (it has ON and OFF buttons, after all!).

Now if you look at the Philips Hue smart plug manual (yes, I’m weird and still read manuals for things!), you can see clearly that it DOES work with the dimmer switch – which is option C at the bottom – and it can also be paired with the Hue Bridge – which is option B.

Option C basically involves not having a Hue Bridge, and instead pairing the remote directly with the Hue Smart Plug via Zigbee (just like you can do with light bulbs, up to 10 devices). Now this directly using Zigbee. Whilst this is cool, this basically makes the Hue Smart Plug… non-smart. Un-smart? Whatever the word, it’s not a smart plug anymore if all you do is this – you may as well just buy the $20 RF plugs that I showed earlier.

Going back to option B, as you can see on the screen, this work really well. I plugged my Hue Smart Plug in, and added it as a new device within the Hue app. It usually takes a few seconds before appearing in the app. Once it appeared, I then went over to my already configured and already setup, Dimmer Switch and set it to control my smart plug. It was all really simple, really seamless, and it works really well.

Okay so if I pick up the Dimmer Switch, the Philips Hue Dimmer Switch, you can see the laptop is on. If I click the OFF button, it goes off, you can see from the red LED that it’s no longer charging my laptop. If I click ON, then it comes back on there and my laptop starts charging again.  It works really easily, OFF is OFF, and obviously ON is ON and it really quickly it comes back on as well. 

Awesome, well done Philips Hue! It’s weird, whenever I compliment Philips Hue I feel like I should hold up a troll face sign or something because so many people on YouTube bash them, but I’m being serious – the Hue range has a diverse set of products which work really well and they allow some really easy, really accessible home automation – such as this.

But of course, there’s downsides here. For newcomers, the price is going to be an issue. If you don’t own any Philips Hue products already, you’d have to shell out on a Hue Bridge, and a Hue Smart Plug AND a Hue dimmer switch – which could end up costing you $100, which obviously isn’t ideal!

So I wanted to explore other options. Firstly, instead of using the Hue Smart Plug, you can buy another Zigbee-based smart plug – such as the one from Innr. This works out at $12.50 less than the smart plug from Philips Hue – although the fact that you get two in a pack means that you will pay a bit more overall if you actually only need one smart plug. But if you wanted two and you’re happy with the Innr option, this will work well because it can be added to your Hue app as normal and it can be controlled with the Hue Dimmer Switch in the normal way because it’s all just Zigbee based, it works really well through the Hue Bridge. The Innr smart plug is really highly rated and it has all the usual features and voice assistant integration that you’d expect.

One downside is that the Innr smart plug doesn’t support Bluetooth, which the Hue Smart Plug does. So moving back to “Philips Hue land”, can you use a simple Bluetooth remote – such as this one – to act as a remote control for your Hue Smart Plug? Well, this costs me under £3 on eBay and it can be used to take photos on smartphones and cameras, but unfortunately it can’t also be used – simply – as a remote for the Hue Smart plug.

This is because after experimenting a bit, the Hue Smart Plug is essentially a “closed” product. There’s no button on there that says “PAIR”. Okay, so it can’t be easily used to pair and auto-connect to other devices like you get with a smartphone – or even a car. This means that a Bluetooth remote can’t freely be used with the Hue Smart Plug. In Bluetooth mode, the only OFFICIAL way of controlling the Hue Smart Plug is with the Hue Bluetooth app.

UNOFFICIALLY, whilst the Hue smart plug does naturally “expose” itself as a Bluetooth Low Energy device – meaning that you can use an app like “nRF Connect” to actually connect to it – none of the methods of controlling the smart plug is actually obvious.

Now there are some third party Philips Hue Bluetooth clients on Github – programming clients – which allow you control over it (which can even be run from a laptop with Bluetooth), but there are two general issues with this general approach:

Firstly, the Philips Hue Bluetooth API is unofficial. They never openly advertised it, unlike the main Hue API that is really well documented. This makes integration with the Smart Plug over Bluetooth is potentially unreliable and subject to change.

Secondly, this is all a bit academic (or technical). If you want to use a simple Bluetooth remote – such as this – you can’t. This wouldn’t know how to interact with the Hue Smart Plug to turn it on and off. You’d need a much more expensive programmable Bluetooth device – or remote – which can pair with devices and almost be programmed. OR you need a Bluetooth enabled device in the middle – such as a Rasberry Pi or a laptop – to capture the Bluetooth button presses from this, and then control the Hue Smart Plug using the programming clients I mentioned earlier. But at this point, you’re better off going down the main Hue Bridge route and using the Dimmer Switch – or using a smart hub, which I talk about later.

So is the Philips Hue ecosystem the only option for doing this? Well no, if you were lucky enough to buy an Echo Button, before they got discontinued that is, these can be used to kick off Alexa routines. And Alexa routines can be used to turn smart plugs on and off. I’ve tested it, it does work. In other words, a smart button which is Alexa-compatible could be used to control any Alexa-compatible smart plug – including the Kasa and GOSUND plugs which are under $10 each. So that would be quite a cheap option.

BUT the big downside here, of course, is that Echo Buttons no longer exist – they got discontinued. And there’s very, very few Alexa-compatible smart buttons available that’ll work “out the box” with an Echo – most need extra hubs or hardware, which is expensive. One option is Flic buttons which recently added Alexa routine support, however these require the purchase of a separate hub (to make everything work) and thus the overall cost – as you can see on the screen here – would be substantially higher than the Philips Hue option (even if the Flic buttons are pretty cool!).

Right. all this talk of programming Bluetooth APIs and using smart buttons with Alexa might make you think of an obvious question to ask: can’t you just use a smart hub to get a smart plug with a remote?

And the short answer is yes, of course you can. If you already have a smart hub, this is probably the easiest option here, and cheaper than using Philips Hue’s stuff. There’s many, many options here of course. You could use RGBGenie remotes and pair this with Hubitat (or SmartThings). Then you can pair a smart plug with the hub as well, and then link the remote with the hub. And then this would work so you can use the remote and smart plug to control each other, which would work like the Philips Hue option I demonstrated earlier.

Or you can combine a Lutron Pico remote with the Lutron Caseta Pro bridge, and then pair the Lutron devices – and also a smart plug – with a compatible hub such as Hubitat, again.

Or you can use HomeAssistant, or HomeBridge and drive things via HomeKit. Or Google Nest. To be honest, there’s tonnes of different options here, you just need to make sure that everything – the remote, and the plug – is compatible with the hub.

If you’re already experienced with smart homes and you own a suitable smart hub, this will be the best option for you. After all, why would you want to go out and buy a Philips Hue Bridge – or Hub – when you already have a smart hub? However if you’re brand new to smart homes, going down the smart hub route will be expensive and confusing – at first.

So that just about wraps up today’s video. In short, if you’re new to smart homes (or you already have a Philips Hue Bridge), Philips Hue’s smart plug and dimmer switch will be the most convenient – and cheapest – option open to you. As I shown earlier, it works really well. There’s no delay between pressing the button on the remote and the smart plug turning on and off. It’s all quick and seamless. I hope you found this video useful. If you did, please click the thumbs up button and don’t forget to subscribe. Thank you!

About Tristan Perry

Tristan Perry is a software developer who is passionate about tech gadgets, DIY and housing. He has therefore loved seeing smart homes hit the mainstream. Tristan also has an academic background (in Math & Computer Science), and so he enjoys digging into the technical ways that smart home devices work.

Tristan owns close to a dozen Amazon Echo devices, way too many Philips Hue bulbs and lightstrips, a boat-load of Ring Cameras and Doorbells... and a bunch of other smart home devices too (from Reolink, Google Nest, GLEDOPTO and others).

If you have any questions, feedback or suggestions about this article, please leave a comment below. Please note that all comments go into a moderation queue (to prevent blog spam). Your comment will be manually reviewed and approved by Tristan in less than a week. Thanks!

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