Amazon Sidewalk is a shared public mesh network developed to extend the connectivity and reliability of low-bandwidth smart devices, even if they’re out of range or your Wi-Fi goes down.
To accomplish this wide-range shared network, Amazon takes a small portion of internet bandwidth from homes with Sidewalk-enabled devices, ultimately creating one, big public mesh network.
The service runs by turning devices, like Echo speakers and Ring cameras, into what the company calls Sidewalk Bridges. Think of them as network bridges that keep everything connected.
Here is a list of devices that double as Sidewalk Bridges:
Ring Floodlight Cam
Ring Spotlight Cam Wired
Ring Spotlight Cam Mount
Third generation and newer
Third generation and newer
Echo Dot for Kids
Third generation and newer
Echo Dot with Clock
Third generation and newer
All models and generations
In terms of data, Amazon says that the maximum bandwidth shared between neighbors is small. Amazon is capping the total monthly data used by Sidewalk to 500 megabytes, which is the same as streaming 10 minutes of HD video.
By sharing a sliver of your internet bandwidth with your neighbors, the idea is your devices can work over a much greater range. But it’s also this aspect of Sidewalk – sharing your home’s internet bandwidth with strangers – that concerns some users.
How to turn off Amazon Sidewalk
By default, compatible devices will automatically have Sidewalk enabled. But if you want to opt out of the service, you can turn it on or off quickly through the Alexa and Ring apps.
On the Alexa app
1. On your phone, open the Alexa app and tap More.
2. Select Settings and then tap Account Settings.
3. Tap Amazon Sidewalk and tap Disable.
On the Ring app
1. On your phone, open the Ring app and tap the three lines in the upper left-hand corner of your screen.
2. Select Control Center and then tap Sidewalk.
3. Tap the Sidewalk slider button.
4. Confirm your decision in the screen that appears.
Table of Contents: Masthead StickyEcho (4th Gen) (small)
Amazon’s popular Echo speaker has finally gotten a makeover.
Nearly six years after Amazon quietly unveiled the original Echo, the company has completely changed the speaker’s look, marking a big departure from the glowing cylinder that we’ve come to associate with the Echo since late 2014.
But the latest Echo is far more than just a cosmetic upgrade. Amazon’s most recent entrant to the smart speaker space also features a boost in sound quality, its own dedicated Amazon-designed processor that should make Alexa more responsive, and other extras, like a temperature sensor and a built-in smart home hub.
Taken together, the improvements represent the most significant upgrade to the standard Echo we’ve seen in years, helping it stand out in Amazon’s lineup. It’s a much more notable update than 2019’s third-generation Echo, which didn’t add much to the speaker other than improved sound quality.
But the new Echo also launched as Google and Apple have been investing more heavily in their own smart home speakers. Just days after Amazon unveiled the new Echo in September 2020, Google introduced its $100 Nest Audio. Apple, meanwhile, announced a smaller and less expensive version of its HomePod smart speaker for $100 called the HomePod Mini.
Here’s a closer look at what it’s been like to use the new Echo.
Amazon Echo 2020 specifications
Amazon Echo 2020
5.7 inches x 5.7 inches x 5.2 inches
Charcoal, white, and blue
3-inch woofer and dual 0.8-inch front-facing tweeters
3.5mm line in/out
Integrated smart home hub, temperature sensor
To say the new Amazon Echo looks different than its predecessor would be an understatement. Gone is the cylindrical shape that’s been a hallmark of the smart speaker series so far. Instead, the new Echo takes the form of a compact, fabric-laden orb that glows at its base when Alexa is listening.
The new Echo looks less like a traditional speaker than its predecessor, and that’s a good thing. It has more of a standout look that differentiates it from rivals, like the Nest Audio, and the spherical shape enables it to fit more naturally into my home decor. The placement of the glowing ring at the bottom of the speaker rather than at the top also feels less distracting.
But unlike the Nest Audio, which comes in black, white, green, pink, and blue, the Echo is only available in three colors: charcoal, white, and blue. For a device that most people will be prominently displaying in the living room or kitchen, it would have been nice to see a broader range of color options like those offered by Google.
Amazon’s new Echo has received a big boost when it comes to its most important job: serving as a home speaker. Amazon says its new speaker can now detect the acoustics of the room it’s in and adjust the audio accordingly, just like the $200 Echo Studio.
The new shape also gives the Echo better sound projection and richer bass thanks to its surface area to volume ratio, the company says.
The upgrade is certainly noticeable when compared alongside the third-generation Echo. Across the board, music sounds louder and much more open and full-bodied compared to its predecessor, with better bass as well.
The older Echo sounds a bit shallow in comparison, and isn’t able to fill the room with audio nearly as well as its successor. This is true whether I listen to pop, rock, or hip-hop on the new Echo.
It’s not quite as loud and clear as the $200 Sonos One, but it certainly comes a lot closer than the standard Echo ever has before.
Smart home hub
If controlling smart home devices is one of the primary reasons you’re interested in Amazon’s smart speaker, the new Echo will feel like a step up.
Amazon has built a smart home hub into the device much like it did with the Echo Plus speaker it introduced in 2017. That means you can quickly set up devices that use Bluetooth low energy or the ZigBee protocol – one of the major protocols that allows smart home devices to communicate with one another – without requiring a separate hub or bridge. It will also support Amazon’s long-range Wi-Fi network called Sidewalk when the feature launches on June 8.
Getting a Philips Hue light bulb up and running with the new Echo requires virtually no set up since it’s compatible with Zigbee. I simply screwed the light bulb into my bedroom lamp and asked Alexa to discover new devices.
After a few short moments, Alexa confirmed that my Echo had discovered the new light and added it to the “My devices” section of the Alexa app.
The third-generation Echo, on the other hand, requires a bridge in order to connect to the same Philips Hue light bulb. The Echo also has a leg up over Google in this regard since Google devices don’t offer voice setup for smart home devices and require you to connect through the company’s app.
The Echo series may be nearly six years old, but Amazon is only just introducing its own custom processor for its smart speaker line. Amazon’s new AZ1 processor promises to make Alexa faster and more responsive when processing requests. This functionality wasn’t available at launch but has since begun rolling out to the fourth-generation Echo and Echo Show 10.
However, the fourth-generation Echo is only slightly faster than the third-generation Echo at answering basic questions in my experience, often only beating it by less than a second.
The new Echo also comes with another unexpected addition: a temperature sensor. This makes it possible to not only ask Alexa for the weather outside, but also the temperature indoors.
For many, the decision to side with an Echo device or Google Nest device will largely depend on what ecosystem best suits your needs.
Amazon’s Alexa and the Google Assistant can both handle many of the same tasks, but also offer their respective perks. Alexa, for example, supports a wider variety of smart home devices, as the company says there are more than 140,000 gadgets that work with Alexa. Google, on the other hand, supports more than 50,000 internet-of-things devices.
Alexa also has some extra skills, including the ability to detect sounds, like breaking glass and alarms, when you’re not home. Google requires a Nest Aware subscription for this, whereas Amazon offers these features as part of the free tier of its Alexa Guard service. And of course, Alexa makes it incredibly easy to shop on Amazon via your voice.
The Google Assistant, however, has generally performed better when it comes to answering general knowledge questions, which should come as no surprise considering it has the world’s most popular search engine at its disposal.
In a 2019 test conducted by Loup Ventures that involved asking the Google Assistant, Amazon’s Alexa, and Apple’s Siri 800 questions, Google answered 93% of those queries correctly. Alexa answered 80% of them correctly while Siri correctly responded to 83%.
Google’s smart speakers also have extra features, like an interpreter mode that translates full conversations into another language, which is more sophisticated than Alexa’s ability to translate individual phrases and words.
Privacy is also crucial for a microphone-equipped device meant to sit in your living room or bedroom. Amazon, Google, and Apple have all come under scrutiny in the past over their previous policies when it comes to sharing saved recordings with human annotators for the purposes of improving their voice assistants.
Both the new Echo and Google’s Nest Audio include a physical button for turning off the microphone.
But unlike Google and Apple, you must opt out if you don’t want your voice recordings to be used by Amazon to help improve Alexa’s functionality. You can do this from the Alexa app under the Alexa Privacy section in the settings menu.
Google doesn’t retain audio by default, and announced last September that users would have to opt in to a setting that enables the search giant to share recordings with human reviewers to improve the Google Assistant.
That said, both Amazon and Google have announced privacy updates over the course of the past year. Amazon now allows you to choose to automatically delete your voice recordings after Alexa has processed your request.
You can also delete all of your previously saved voice recordings just by asking Alexa, or you can ask Alexa to send you a link to privacy settings for your device in the Alexa app.
Google also launched new features earlier this year for telling its voice assistant to forget an utterance that was detected by accident and asking the Google Assistant for more information about Google’s data collection policies.
Google recently announced a Guest Mode for the Google Assistant as well, which, like Incognito Mode, prevents Google from saving queries to your account or offering personalized responses.
The bottom line
With improved sound, a sleek new design, and a built-in hub for setting up smart home devices, the new Echo feels like a significant upgrade for Amazon’s smart speaker.
The standard Echo model has inherited some features from its more premium predecessors, such as the $200 Echo Studio’s ability to adjust audio to match a room’s acoustics, and the integrated smart home hub that debuted on the $150 Echo Plus from 2017.
As a result, the new Echo feels like the right balance of quality audio and convenience for most people in need of a basic smart home speaker that’s not quite as high-end as the Studio, but more powerful than the $50 Echo Dot.
That could make it more difficult for rivals, like Apple and Sonos, that specialize in offering superior sound quality to compete with Amazon’s latest Echo. It also feels like an execution of the vision that Amazon has been working toward for a while when it comes to the Echo: a home speaker that doesn’t make big compromises when it comes to audio quality or smart home features.
If you have a third-generation Echo, you probably don’t need to upgrade immediately. But if you have an older model or were thinking about purchasing a second Echo anyway, you’ll certainly appreciate the upgrades.
Pros: Improved sound, attractive new design, built-in smart home hub makes it easy to set up devices
Cons: Not as much choice when it comes to color selection compared to Google, Amazon still saves and uses your voice recordings by default
Hundreds of Amazon employees also tested out the device and complained of its lack of intelligence.
One manager, who had to fill out a spreadsheet every week explaining what questions he asked and how the device responded, said, “It would hardly ever give me the right answer.”
Another tester said it was a stupid product, adding that the device was “doomed” because it “didn’t work for shit.”
But eventually engineers at the company figured out how to make the “Doppler,” smarter. In 2014, Amazon released the first version of its novel Alexa device. Within five years, the company sold more than 100 million devices with Alexa built in.
Use of the Alexa devices soared during the pandemic, as people started using them more to connect, and even to find out what day of the week it was. Now, it has helped people find where to get a COVID-19 vaccine and schedule an appointment. Amazon didn’t immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment on this story.
In his last shareholder letter, Bezos said that when he started the company in 1997, “we hadn’t invented Prime, Marketplace, Alexa, or AWS. They weren’t even ideas then, and none was preordained. We took great risk with each one and put sweat and ingenuity into each one.”
Smart plugs can control multiple connected devices, adding automation to lights or small appliances.
Most smart plugs are simple, but more complex installations can control every outlet in your home.
The Wyze Plug 2-pack is an affordable, flexible option that’s great for smart home novices.
Smart plugs or outlets rank among the most intuitive, flexible, and useful smart devices you can buy. These simple devices can add smart remote control and automation to anything that uses a standard home power outlet.
Smart plugs are the perfect entry point for smart-home devices but are also critical for any advanced smart-home system. You could add a smart plug to every outlet in your home or even replace the in-wall outlets with smart outlets for a seamless system.
Wyze, TP-Link, and Lutron offer a variety of options, whether you want a single smart plug, a power strip, or a whole-house system.
The Wyze Smart Home Plug is an affordable, simple, reliable option for those new to smart-home devices or experts who need basic features.
Sold in a two-pack that’s less expensive than solo competitors, each Wyze Smart Home Plug is small enough to fit a pair into a standard home power outlet. The plugs connect to your home’s Wi-Fi through an app-based setup process and can be controlled with that same app after setup is complete.
The plug supports Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, so it’s possible to control it through voice commands. Aside from turning plugs on or off, the Wyze app provides basic shortcut and scheduling features so you can automate when devices are powered on. Wyze also supports IFTTT integration for users wanting more complex automation.
While the Wyze Plug is often a great value, sales on competitors can sometimes dip prices lower. The Wyze product ecosystem is expanding but remains a bit limited compared to Philips or TP-Link. Apple’s HomeKit isn’t supported, either.
Still, the Wyze Plug is a smart choice for most people. It’s affordable, effective, and has options for expansion and customization without overwhelming novices.
The best smart plug for future expansion
TP-Link is well-known in the smart-home space, and the Kasa Smart Plug HS103 is among the company’s most popular products.
The TP-Link Kasa Smart Plug HS103‘s feature list is almost identical to the Wyze Plug. The Kasa 103 is small enough to fit two plugs in a standard power outlet at once. It connects over Wi-Fi and is controlled through an intuitive smartphone app.
The plug supports voice control through Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant and is compatible with those ecosystems. TP-Link’s app includes basic automation and grouping, with more advanced automation available through IFTTT.
How do you choose between the Wyze and TP-Link Kasa plugs? It’s a choice between simplicity and expandability. Wyze’s app has a slight edge in approachability. Its product ecosystem, though not robust, is easy to understand. TP-Link’s Kasa ecosystem is massive and more difficult to navigate, but you can find products that Wyze doesn’t have, like smart LED light strips and light switches.
Smart plugs are useful but are limited to just one or two devices. That doesn’t work in a home office, home theater, or any other room where multiple appliances are plugged in to a power strip. TP-Link’s Kasa Smart Wi-Fi Power Strip HS300 is a good solution.
You’ll find six power outlets, each of which can be controlled or automated individually. The surge protector also has three USB-A ports for charging smartphones or tablets, though they’re “dumb” ports that don’t support remote control or automation. For the outlets, you’ll be able to monitor energy consumption via the app.
This smart power strip supports most of the features of the Kasa Smart Plug HS103, including voice control with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, though it’s not compatible with IFTTT. The Kasa Smart app can be used to group devices or set automation schedules. This is a Wi-Fi device, so no smart hub is required.
As with TP-Link’s smart plugs, this power strip is a great value. The price is as low as smart power strips go, yet the features offered are similar to more expensive alternatives.
The best smart power strip for Apple HomeKit
The Eve Energy Strip is an expensive smart power strip with a premium look that will fit in well alongside an organized, minimalist home office.
The Eve Energy Strip is ideal for those who don’t want to pair their $3,000 iMac with unattractive smart-home plugs. Based on its price and design, perhaps it’s not a surprise that Apple HomeKit is the only smart-home ecosystem it supports.
There’s more to the Eve Energy Strip than looks, though. HomeKit integration makes it wonderfully simple for users heavily invested in Apple’s ecosystem, and Siri voice control is supported. The power strip connects over Wi-Fi.
The intuitive app supports the usual features, like scheduling and grouping, and throws in energy monitoring. Eve’s energy monitoring interface is easy to understand and can help target devices that are consuming more energy than expected.
Eve’s product ecosystem covers some very specialized use cases. This includes water sensors, window sensors, and a weather station, all of which are HomeKit compatible. None of the company’s products are affordable, but they’re great if you care about the design and durability of your smart home devices.
The best smart plug for Apple HomeKit
The WeMo Mini Smart Plug has some great features, but its HomeKit support is its biggest draw for those who use Apple’s ecosystem.
WeMo’s Mini Smart Plug is among the smallest and most attractive sold right now, but those aren’t the only reasons to buy it. This plug’s killer feature is simple. It supports Apple HomeKit.
That’s not its only feature, of course. The WeMo Smart Plug also supports Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. It connects over Wi-Fi and has a simple, app-based setup process that’s among the most intuitive around.
Other smart plugs offer the standard range of features for less. A single WeMo is often sold for more than a pair of smart plugs from other brands. Still, the WeMo Smart Plug is the most affordable option for HomeKit fans, making it an easy choice for Apple enthusiasts.
Most smart plugs are designed for indoor use, which means they aren’t resistant to extreme heat or cold and will fail if exposed to moisture. TP-Link’s Kasa Smart Wi-Fi Outdoor Plug KP400, however, has an IP64 weather-resistant certification. It is completely sealed against dust intrusion and can survive splashing water.
In addition to durability, the Kasa KP400 turns a single plug into two. That’s great because the average home never seems to have enough outdoor outlets.
The Kasa KP400’s features are otherwise the same as indoor plugs. It supports Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and IFTTT. It uses the same Kasa Smart app as other TP-Link Kasa products, so you can expect simple installation, plus support for groups and scheduling. The plug connects over Wi-Fi.
Despite its added durability, the Kasa KP400 is just a few dollars more expensive than indoor plugs, which makes it a great value.
Enbrighten is among the few brands selling smart home outlets designed to be installed directly into a wall. The Enbrighten 55256 Smart Receptacle keeps the typical, flush look of a power outlet, which many homeowners will prefer. It’s also a better option for tight spaces where even small smart plugs could cause clearance issues.
The Enbrighten 55256 connects over the Z-Wave standard, which means you’ll need a Z-Wave-compatible smart-home hub. This smart outlet doesn’t have its own app. Instead you’ll use the interface provided by your hub to control it. Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant integration remain available.
This smart outlet is operating on a different wavelength, both literally and figuratively, from other smart plugs on this list. It’s designed for smart-home systems installed by a DIY enthusiast or a professional. There’s nothing simple or intuitive about it.
Enbrighten offers a range of similar products that support either Z-Wave or Zigbee. While the 55256 is the model we list, we recommend you examine the entire product line before buying. The company’s products are best installed together as part of a system instead of added piecemeal over time.
Unlike other plugs here, the Lutron Caséta Wireless Starter Kit kit comes with a base station that is required to use the outlet. This is a must-have. Lutron uses its own proprietary wireless solution that is not compatible with Wi-Fi, Zigbee, or Z-wave.
Despite this, Caséta’s Wireless Smart Bridge is broadly compatible with many smart home systems. It can be integrated with Apple HomeKit, Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, IFTTT, Samsung SmartThings, and Sonos.
The company also offers an extensive selection of powerful smart-home devices, including numerous switches and sensors. Lutron’s Caseta is designed for whole-home integration that will potentially control every light, fan, and switch in a house. It’s a reliable and attractive ecosystem that justifies its high price.
How to choose a smart plug or outlet
There are a few things to think about before buying a smart plug or outlet.
Smart plugs vs. smart outlets
Most of the products listed here are smart plugs. A smart plug is connected to an existing power outlet and other devices or appliances are connected to the plug.
Smart plugs are inexpensive, easy to use, and don’t require permanent installation. They’re great for both homeowners and renters. They do have downsides, however. Smart plugs add bulk to a wall outlet, which can be a problem if you have furniture directly in front of it. They can become confusing to manage as additional plugs are added, since each plug is listed and managed individually.
Smart outlets are an integrated solution that replaces existing hardware in the walls, so they’re not meant for renters. They’re more complex to install and may require a professional. They can be easier to use in the long run, though, if you intend to make every outlet and switch in your home a smart device.
Can you mix and match smart plugs and outlets from different brands?
There are dozens of smart plugs and outlets available. Most are easy to use out of the box but managing them can be a hassle as you try to expand your smart home.
Most smart plugs provide two options for control and management. The first is the app provided by the company that makes the smart plug. This will only work with devices made by that company.
Your second option is a broader platform like Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, or Apple HomeKit. These can control devices from multiple brands, but the level of control you have over any specific device may be limited.
The existence of platforms like Alexa, Google Assistant, and HomeKit means you can mix and match smart plugs and outlets from different brands. Compatibility between devices is not guaranteed, though, and you’ll need to install the app linked to each brand for initial setup.
You can mix and match if necessary, but your devices may not communicate as well as if they were from the same manufacturer.
What’s the difference between Wi-Fi, Zigbee, and Z-Wave?
All smart plugs and outlets are wireless, but they may use different wireless standards. Wi-Fi, Zigbee, and Z-Wave are the most common standards used today.
Wi-Fi, which is by far the most popular, is the same standard used to connect PCs, smartphones, game consoles, and other devices to your local Wi-Fi network. It doesn’t require new installation or setup of a wireless hub because most homes already have a Wi-Fi router. The only problem is network congestion. Large numbers of smart-home devices can clog up a Wi-Fi network, slowing connections or causing reliability issues.
Zigbee and Z-Wave are the other common wireless standards. They require a wireless hub that can communicate with compatible devices. Large homes may need multiple hubs. This adds to the cost and difficulty of setup, but Zigbee and Z-Wave tend to be more reliable when used to handle numerous connected devices.
It’s possible to use devices designed for different standards together if a platform is used as a bridge. For example, Zigbee, Z-Wave, and Wi-Fi connected smart-home devices that are compatible with HomeKit will appear together in the HomeKit app.
With that said, it’s best to minimize mixing different wireless standards for the same reason it’s best to avoid mixing brands. The added complexity can make your smart-home system more difficult and time consuming to manage.
What we’re looking forward to testing
Manufacturers previewed dozens of new smart-home devices at CES 2021 in January. These included several attractive smart plugs that could be worth your attention when they hit store shelves.
Lutron Caséta Outdoor Smart Plug: This is the first outdoor plug for Lutron’s popular Caséta smart-home system. It’s larger, more durable, and more expensive than the TP-Link Kasa plug that we recommend. The Caséta plug is likely overkill for most people but could be perfect for those already invested in Lutron’s other products.
Konka Smart Plug: Konka, a Chinese brand best known for its televisions, announced a full line of smart-home products at CES 2021. This includes both single and dual-outlet smart plugs and a smart power strip. Pricing and availability haven’t been announced.