iRealm Smart Plug 2.0 review: This smart home gadget lacks any redeeming features

Since first reviewing the product last November, I’ve had Lutron’s Caséta Wireless Dimmer on my bedside table, which I use to control my reading lamp. The tiny Pico remote makes it easy to control the light without having to crawl out of bed, and it’s never given me a minute of trouble in close to a year.

On its website, smart home upstart iRealm positions itself directly against similar products from Lutron and Wemo with a handy checklist showcasing the many ways in which its competing Smart Plug is superior. It’s a brazen but ultimately Quixotic exercise.

I take no joy in telling you that the iRealm Smart Plug is one of the worst smart home products I’ve tested to date—and possibly the single worst tech product I’ve reviewed in my career. The people behind iRealm seem genuine and earnest, and I don’t want to offend, but my duty is to you the reader and potential buyer. And as a potential buyer, you should categorically run to any alternative. Allow me to tell you why.

irealm smart plug in wall 2iRealm

A smart plug with a cable? No thanks

Let’s start with the hardware. Rather than featuring a wireless remote, like the Caséta product mentioned above, the iRealm control unit is wired to the outlet via a cable of roughly 6 feet in length, which allows the two components to be separated from one another, ostensibly allowing for piecemeal upgrades later. The outlet portion of the kit is large but reasonably attractive, jutting out to one side of the socket but, in a rare minor plus, keeping the second outlet free and unblocked. At the other end of the cable you’ll find the iRealm controller, and if it wasn’t covered in icons it would look rather stylish, too.

irealm smart plug 2 Christopher Null / IDG

A frequent sight in the app: 100-percemt brightness, but showing the light is turned off.

The controller is a small touchpad that lets you turn the plug on or off with a tap, or you can use the dimmer features by sliding your finger up and down on the illuminated left side of the pad.

Though tapping to turn the outlet on and off is easy enough, dimming is quite tricky. First, it’s not that intuitive. There are eight dimming levels on the unit, and you swipe up or down over the lights to move up or down a single level.

If you want to dynamically brighten or dim, you swipe and hold –at least in theory. In my testing, getting dimming to work at all often required multiple attempts just to get the brightness to move up or down a single tick, and the swipe-and-hold function was even more difficult to properly execute. On the Caséta, I just click the dimmer button a couple of times to lower the light level. With iRealm, doing just about anything was a frustrating exercise of trial and error that never improved after days of testing.

As bad as the hardware is, iRealm is at its worst when it comes to its half-baked mobile app. After creating an account, you put the iRealm product into pairing mode by pushing a button on the control unit with a pen or paperclip. The app then searches for the iRealm and pairs it to your Wi-Fi network—again, in theory. This simply never worked on my home network; troubleshooting with iRealm drew suspicion that the problem was my Xfinity mesh network, which—as many modern routers to—uses the same SSID for both its 2.4- and 5GHz bands.

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