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How to replace Edge as the default browser in Windows 10 — and why you shouldn’t

Microsoft has been struggling to get people to use its Edge browser for years. Even though the company made Edge the default browser in Windows 10, users left in droves, most of them flocking to Google Chrome — and with good reason. Edge was underpowered, had difficult-to-use features, and offered very few extensions compared to Chrome and Firefox.

Now Microsoft has launched a new version of Edge that’s based on the same technologies that drive Chrome. The new Edge is a much better browser, and there are compelling reasons to use it. But you might still prefer to use Chrome, Firefox, or one of the many other browsers out there.

Note that even if you’ve previously set up another browser to be your default, it might have been changed since then. When there’s a major Windows 10 upgrade, the upgrade recommends switching to Edge, and you might have inadvertently made the switch.

Whatever the reason, if Edge is your default Windows 10 browser, it’s easy to switch. to the browser of your choice. As I’ll show you, it only takes a few minutes.

The instructions in this article assume that you’ve installed the latest version of Windows 10 — version 1909, a.k.a. the November 2019 Update. If you haven’t installed it, the screens you see may vary somewhat from what you see here.

Why you might want to stick with Edge

The new Edge will be automatically delivered to most Windows 10 Home and Pro users via Windows Update, while enterprise users will likely get it only when their IT departments roll it out. If you’ve been using the old Edge as your default browser, the new one will be your default as well. If you’ve set another browser as your default, the new Edge won’t automatically override your preference — but like all browsers, it will ask if you want to make it the default.

It’s probably worth at least trying out the new Edge. The browser offers a clean design with intuitive features. The biggest drawback to the old Edge was its paltry selection of browser extensions, but because the new Edge uses the same rendering engine as Chrome, it can run Chrome extensions, which number in the thousands. And unlike Chrome, Edge offers tracking prevention, which blocks ad providers from tracking you from website to website.

In my tests, Edge also feels faster than Chrome and uses on average 14% less RAM. And it has some interesting features worth trying, such as the ability to launch a website as if it’s an app.

All that said, you might not be interested in trying out the new Edge, or you might try it and decide you still prefer Chrome, Firefox, or another browser. You may, for example, like Firefox’s ability to alert you when a website covertly uses your computer’s processor to mine cryptocurrency in the background, without your knowledge. Or you might like the way Chrome’s Omnibox (the place you type URLs and searches) can do things like perform math functions, convert currencies or answer questions such as naming the capitals of U.S. states without having to search the internet.

If you want to use another browser as your default, here’s what to do.

How to designate another browser as your default

The first thing you need to do to switch to another browser as your default is to install the other browser on your system. After that’s done, click the Windows 10 Start button and click the Settings icon that appears on the left-hand side of the screen. (It looks like a little gear.) You can also type “settings” into the search box and click the Settings result that appears at the top of the screen.

change edge default win10 1 settings IDG

In the Settings app, select Apps > Default apps. The Default apps screen appears. It shows the default apps for email, maps, playing music and videos, viewing photos, and more. To change the default browser, you’ll have to scroll down toward the bottom of your screen.

change edge default win10 2 default apps IDG

Near the bottom of the screen, you’ll see Microsoft Edge under the “Web browser” listing. Click the Microsoft Edge icon and you’ll see a pop-up with a list of your installed browsers.

change edge default win10 3 choose new browser IDG

(Side note: The pop-up also has a “Look for an app in the Microsoft Store” option, but if you click it, you won’t find Chrome, Firefox, Opera or any other browser you’ve likely ever heard of. Clicking it launches a search of the Windows App Store for the term “http,” which turns up a motley collection of apps, from file downloaders to an app that dims your Windows background to make it easier to view videos. There are also some little-known browsers listed, such as Super-Fast Browser and BlueSky Browser. Try them out if you like, but keep in mind that they’re Windows Store apps, and as a general rule, Windows Store apps are underpowered compared to desktop apps like Chrome, Firefox and Opera.)

Click the browser that you’d like to be your default browser. No need to restart; your work is done.

This story was originally launched in September 2017 and most recently updated in February 2020.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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12 Android tips you shouldn’t miss from 2019

Ah, the holidays. No matter what style of winter celebration you prefer (I’m a Festivus man myself), late December is a fine time for kicking back and regrouping for the coming year.

That means it’s also a fine time for contemplating that crazy little computer in your pocket and what steps you can take to make it even more powerful — because guess what? A few minutes of tuning up now will make your life infinitely easier throughout all of 2019. Think of it as a gift to yourself — one that keeps on giving and, best of all, doesn’t cost you a single dime.

In case you missed any of ’em the first go-round or maybe just didn’t have the time to try everything out, here are some of my favorite productivity-boosting Android tips from 2019. Pour yourself some cocoa, polish up the ol’ Festivus pole, and give yourself the gift of finely tuned technology.

Optimizing Android

10 hidden tricks for making the most of Android 10’s gestures

Get around your phone faster than ever with these easy-to-miss advanced shortcuts for Android 10’s gesture system — hopefully coming soon to a phone near you, if it isn’t there already.

How to take full advantage of Android 10’s privacy-reclaiming powers

Follow these fast steps to make sure you get the full benefits from one of Android 10’s most important additions.

Android security checkup: 16 steps to a safer phone

An updated 2019 version of my annual (and always non-alarmist) end-of-year checkup — 20 minutes now to keep your phone in tip-top shape for the next 12 months.

13 easy ways to cut back on data use in Android

Some simple tips to stop burning through unnecessary mobile data and start saving money.

Advanced shortcuts and actions

30 time-saving tricks to try with the new Google Assistant

Google’s revamped Assistant can do some really useful stuff — if you know what to ask. (And even if you don’t have the new Assistant interface just yet, you will soon. Hang onto this!)

8 handy hidden features for Google Calendar on Android

Upgrade your agenda with these out-of-the-way options in the Google Calendar Android app.

13 handy hidden shortcuts for Gboard on Android

Seriously useful shortcuts to help you fly around your keyboard like a (very nerdy, non-life-saving) superhero.

Apps worth exploring

6 efficiency-enhancing Android apps

Clever, Android-only tools that’ll save you time so you can get straight to work.

9 useful Google apps you probably aren’t using

A collection of easily overlooked Android apps that are all made by Google — and all worth your while.

The best Android launchers for enhanced efficiency

Ready to make your Android home screen more organized and effective? These are the apps to do it.

The best privacy and security apps for Android

Forget malware scanners or over-the-top security suites: These are the tools that’ll actually improve your security and protect your privacy for the coming year.

The best travel apps for Android

Just in time for the holidays, some standout Android apps that’ll save you time, headaches, and even money for your next travel adventure.

Bonus: My, how far we’ve come

Android versions: A living history from 1.0 to 10

Explore Android’s ongoing evolution with this freshly updated visual timeline of versions, starting B.C. (Before Cupcake — an eternity ago!) and going all the way to this year’s Android 10 release.

Thanks as always for reading — and happy holidays to you and yours!

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[Android Intelligence videos at Computerworld]

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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A Chrome security setting you shouldn’t overlook

We spend tons o’ time talking about Android security settings — like the added Android 10 option to limit how and when apps are able to access your location. Often lost in the shuffle, though, is the fact that the Chrome desktop browser has some significant security options of its own, and they’re just as critical to consider.

In fact, Chrome has an easily overlooked setting that’s somewhat similar to that new location control feature in Android. It’s attached to every Chrome extension you install, as of not that long ago, and it lets you decide exactly when an extension should be able to see what you’re doing on the web and be made privy to all the details (yes, even those details) of your browsing activity.

Suffice it to say, the setting’s incredibly important. And if you’re anything like me, you might find a few eyebrow-raising surprises when you take the time to look into it.

So don’t wait any longer: Here’s how to see precisely how much of your web browsing data different Chrome extensions are accessing — and then to take back control so they’re shown only what’s genuinely needed.

Four steps to smarter Chrome security

All right, first step: Type chrome:extensions into your browser’s address bar, then one by one, click the Details box for every extension listed on the page.

That’ll pull up each extension’s full information rundown. And that brings us to our second step: On each extension’s page, look for a line labeled “Site access.” With some extensions, you’ll simply see text saying “This extension has no additional site access” — meaning the extension isn’t ever able to see what you’re doing as you browse this wobly, wacky web of ours. Easy enough. Move on.

But with other extensions, you’ll see one of three levels of access listed:

  • On click — meaning the extension is able to see and alter what’s in your browser only when you actively click it (and then only for the site that’s currently open in that specific tab)
  • On specific sites — meaning the extension is able to see and alter what’s in your browser only when you’re on the specific site or sites listed here
  • On all sites — meaning the browser can always see and alter what’s in your browser, all the time, without any restrictions

Now, depending on what an extension is supposed to do, it may or may not legitimately need access to see and change your browsing data on any of those levels. An ad-blocking or script-blocking extension, for instance, clearly needs to be able to see and alter every page you open if it’s gonna detect and then block certain types of content for you.

But realistically, the vast majority of extensions don’t need that much access. If anything, they need to see what you’re browsing either only on a specific URL or only when you actively click ’em to activate their function. And yet, quite a few Chrome extensions request unlimited ongoing access to your web browsing data — more than a third of all extensions, according to an analysis conducted earlier this year — and when looking through my own list of installed Chrome extensions, I found some pretty perplexing examples.

For instance: The official Save to Pocket extension, whose entire purpose is to save an article to my Pocket account for later reading whenever I click its icon, gives itself access to read my data on all websites, all the time. Let me repeat: The extension’s only actual function is to save an article when I click its icon. There is absolutely no reason the software needs to be able to see and access everything I’m doing on every web page, all of the time. And yet — well:

Chrome Security Setting: Pocket JR

No bueno.

Another one that caught me off-guard: the official Authy Chrome extension, which exists solely as a shortcut to open the full Authy app for two-factor authentication code management. This thing has no business knowing what I’m doing on the web at any given moment. And yet — here we go again…

Chrome Security Setting: Authy JR

That’s where step three comes into play: When you come across an extension like that — and when you’ve thought it through carefully and concluded that lowering the access level won’t affect any legitimate function the software needs in order to operate — adjust its permissions by clicking one of the lower-access options in that same area.

Here’s the catch: You may run into some instances where an extension will fail to work without the level of access it initially requires. With Pocket, for instance, I changed the extension to be able to access my site data only when I click its icon — which should, in theory, be all the thing needs to perform its limited job — and now, whenever I click its icon, I get an error informing me the page I’m viewing can’t be saved. That means I’ll have to decide whether to keep using the extension despite this apparent overreach or to ditch it entirely and replace it with an alternate solution (like the service’s simple bookmarket that accomplishes basically the same thing without asking for any access to my web browsing data).

With most extensions, though, you shouldn’t see any difference in how things work after decreasing their permissions in a sensible manner. With Authy, I changed the extension to be able to access my site data only when I’m on the website (because, curiously enough, there’s no way to disable the permission entirely, so that seemed like the best way to effectively remove it). And then I directed a few choice curse words at the company for claiming such wildly unnecessary broad access in the first place. Aside from feeling disproportionately pleased with myself for my creative choice of profanity (which, regrettably, I can’t reprint here), my situation now is identical to what it was before, practically speaking.

Other extensions whose permissions I adjusted without issue included a simple utility for identifying color codes, a tool for saving any image on the web as a PNG, and — how ’bout this? — Google’s own official Save to Google Drive extension. All of those extensions claimed the ability to read site data all the time by default, when all they really need to function (and all that’s really justifiable for them to have) is the “read on click” setting.

Now, to be fair, it’s pretty unlikely most of these extensions did this for nefarious reasons. This granular approach to Chrome extension security settings has only existed since last October — and before that point, extensions were given just the binary option of requiring access to all browsing data or none. The three extensions I just mentioned were last updated prior to the point of that switch (which is a problem in and of itself, too, but we’ll save that subject for another day), so it’s likely their broad default site access permission was just a legacy carryover sort of thing. (The same is true for Authy — though notably not for Pocket, whose extension was last updated this past July.)

Regardless, though, I now have the ability to correct that in most cases. And so I did. And so should you.

One more thing: I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that anytime you install a new extension from the Chrome Web Store, you’re shown a pop-up with a list of the permissions the extension requires. And, yes, included in that collection are the extension’s default settings for when it’ll be able to read and change data on sites you’re viewing.

Chrome Security Setting: Extension Permissions JR

But look: Even the most astute of us is prone to occasionally clicking through such screens without carefully considering their implications. We’ve all done it. We’re only human. (Well, most of us are, anyway. No offense, but I’m not 100 percent sure about you.)

So, step four: Once you finish cleaning up your current Chrome extensions’ security settings, make it a personal policy from now on: Don’t just click through those disclosures. Closely review the permissions for every new extension you install — then think about whether you should change the data-viewing permission any given extension claims by default.

The beauty of Chrome’s current setup is that you don’t have to give any extension the full level of data-viewing access it tries to demand. But it’s up to you to think it through every time — and then to take action to reclaim control over your personal data when needed.

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[Android Intelligence videos at Computerworld]

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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How to Use Port Knocking on Linux (and Why You Shouldn’t)

Hand knocking on a closed door.

Port knocking is a way to secure a server by closing firewall ports—even those you know will be used. Those ports are opened on demand if—and only if—the connection request provides the secret knock.

Port Knocking Is a “Secret Knock”

In the 1920s, when prohibition was in full swing, if you wanted to get into a speakeasy, you had to know the secret knock and tap it out correctly to get inside.

Port knocking is a modern equivalent. If you want people to have access to services on your computer but don’t want to open your firewall to the internet, you can use port knocking. It allows you to close the ports on your firewall that allow incoming connections and have them open automatically when a prearranged pattern of connection attempts is made. The sequence of connection attempts acts as the secret knock. Another secret knock closes the port.

Port knocking is something of a novelty, but it’s important to know it’s an example of security through obscurity, and that concept is fundamentally flawed. The secret of how to access a system is safe because only those in a specific group know it. But once that secret is out—either because it’s revealed, observed, guessed, or worked out—your security is void. You’re better off securing your server in other, stronger ways, like requiring key-based logins for an SSH server.

The most robust approaches to cybersecurity are multilayered, so, perhaps port knocking should be one of those layers. The more layers, the better, right? However, you could argue that port knocking doesn’t add much (if anything) to a properly hardened, secure system.

Cybersecurity is a vast and complicated topic, but you shouldn’t use port knocking as your only form of defense.

RELATED: How to Create and Install SSH Keys From the Linux Shell

Installing knockd

To demonstrate port knocking, we’re going to use it to control port 22, which is the SSH port. We’ll use a tool called knockd. Use apt-get to install this package onto your system if you use Ubuntu or another Debian-based distribution. On other Linux distributions, use your Linux distribution’s package management tool, instead.

Type the following:

sudo apt-get install knockd

"sudo apt-get install knockd" command in a terminal window.

You probably already have the iptables firewall installed on your system, but you might need to install the iptables-persistent package. It handles the automatic loading of saved iptable rules.

Type the following to install it:

sudo apt-get install iptables-persistent

"sudo apt-get install iptables-persistent" command in a terminal window.

When the IPV4 configuration screen appears, press the space bar to accept the “Yes” option.

Press the space bar to accept the "Yes" option in the iptables-persistent IPV4 screen.

Press the space bar again in IPv6 configuration screen to accept the “Yes” option and move on.

Press the space bar to accept the "Yes" option in the IPv6 configuration screen.

The following command tells iptables to allow established and ongoing connections to continue. We’ll now issue another command to close the SSH port.

If someone is connected by SSH when we issue this command, we don’t want them to be cut off:

sudo iptables -A INPUT -m conntrack --ctstate ESTABLISHED,RELATED -j ACCEPT

"sudo iptables -A INPUT -m conntrack --ctstate ESTABLISHED,RELATED -j ACCEPT" command in a terminal window.

This command adds a rule to the firewall, that says:

  • -A: Append the rule to the firewall rules table. That is, add it to the bottom.
  • INPUT: This is a rule about incoming connections.
  • -m conntrack: Firewall rules act upon network traffic (packets) that match criteria in the rule. The -m parameter causes iptables to use extra packet matching modules—in this case, the one called conntrack works with the network connection tracking capabilities of the kernel.
  • –cstate ESTABLISHED,RELATED: This specifies the type of connection to which the rule will apply, namely ESTABLISHED and RELATED connections. An established connection is one that’s already in progress. A related connection is one that’s made due to an action from an established connection. Perhaps someone who is connected wants to download a file; that might happen over a new connection initiated by the host.
  • -j ACCEPT: If the traffic matches the rule, jump to the ACCEPT target in the firewall. In other words, the traffic is accepted and allowed to pass through the firewall.

Now we can issue the command to close the port:

sudo iptables -A INPUT -p tcp --dport 22 -j REJECT

"sudo iptables -A INPUT -p tcp --dport 22 -j REJECT in a terminal window" command in a terminal window.

This command adds a rule to the firewall, that says:

  • -A: Append the rule to the firewall rules table, i.e., add it to the bottom.
  • INPUT: This rule is about incoming connections.
  • -p tcp: This rule applies to traffic that uses the Transmission Control Protocol.
  • –dport 22: This rule specifically applies to TCP traffic that targets port 22 (the SSH port).
  • -j REJECT: If the traffic matches the rule, jump to the REJECT target in the firewall. So, if the traffic is rejected, it’s not permitted through the firewall.

We must start the netfilter-persistent daemon. We can do so with this command:

sudo systemctl start netfilter-persistent

"sudo systemctl start netfilter-persistent" in a terminal window.

We want netfilter-persistent to go through a save and reload cycle, so it loads and controls the iptable rules.

Type the following commands:

sudo netfilter-persistent save

"sudo netfilter-persistent save" in a terminal window.

sudo netfilter-persistent reload

"sudo netfilter-persistent reload" in a terminal window.

You’ve now installed the utilities, and the SSH port is closed (hopefully, without terminating anyone’s connection). Now, it’s time to configure the secret knock.

Configuring knockd

There are two files you edit to configure knockd. The first is the following knockd configuration file:

sudo gedit /etc/knockd.conf

"sudo gedit /etc/knockd.conf" in a terminal window.

The gedit editor opens with the knockd configuration file loaded.

The knockd config file in the gedit editor.

We’ll edit this file to suit our needs. The sections we’re interested in are “openSSH” and “closeSSH.” The following four entries are in each section:

  • sequence: The sequence of ports someone must access to open or close port 22. The default ports are 7000, 8000, and 9000 to open it, and 9000, 8000, and 7000 to close it. You can change these or add more ports to the list. For our purposes, we’ll stick with the defaults.
  • seq_timeout: The time period within which someone has to access the ports to trigger it to open or close.
  • command: The command sent to the iptables firewall when the open or close action is triggered. These commands either add a rule to the firewall (to open the port) or take it out (to close the port).
  • tcpflags: The type of packet each port must receive in the secret sequence. A SYN (synchronize) packet is the first in a TCP connection request, called a three-way handshake.

The “openSSH” section can be read as “a TCP connection request must be made to ports 7000, 8000, and 9000—in that order and within 5 seconds—for the command to open port 22 to be sent to the firewall.”

The “closeSSH” section can be read as “a TCP connection request must be made to ports 9000, 8000, and 7000—in that order and within 5 seconds—for the command to close port 22 to be sent to the firewall.”

The Firewall Rules

The “command” entries in the openSSH and closeSSH sections remain the same, except for one parameter. This is how they’re comprised:

  • -A: Append the rule to the bottom of the firewall rules list (for the openSSH command).
  • -D: Delete the command from the firewall rules list (for the closeSSH command).
  • INPUT: This rule is concerned with incoming network traffic.
  • -s %IP%: The IP address of the device requesting a connection.
  • -p: Network protocol; in this case, it’s TCP.
  • –dport: The destination port; in our example, it’s port 22.
  • -j ACCEPT: Jump to the accept target within the firewall. In other words, let the packet drop through the rest of the rules without acting on it.

The knockd Configuration File Edits

The edits we’ll make to the file are highlighted in red below:

The knockd config file in the gedit editor with the edits highlighted.

We extend the “seq_timeout” to 15 seconds. This is generous, but if someone’s manually firing in connection requests, he might need this much time.

In the “openSSH” section, we change the -A (append) option in the command to -I (insert). This command inserts a new firewall rule at the top of the firewall rule list. If you leave the -A option, it appends the firewall rule list and puts it at the bottom.

Incoming traffic is tested against each firewall rule in the list from the top down. We already have a rule that closes port 22. So, if incoming traffic is tested against that rule before it sees the rule that allows the traffic, the connection is refused; if it sees this new rule first, the connection is allowed.

The close command removes the rule added by openSSH from the firewall rules. SSH traffic is once more handled by the pre-existing “port 22 is closed” rule.

After you make these edits, save the configuration file.

RELATED: How to Edit Text Files Graphically on Linux With gedit

The knockd Control File Edits

The knockd control file is altogether simpler. Before we dive in and edit that, though, we need to know the internal name for our network connection; to find it, type this command:

ip addr

The "ip addr" command in a terminal window.

The connection this machine uses to research this article is called enp0s3. Make a note of the name of your connection.

The following command edits the knockd control file:

sudo gedit /etc/default/knockd

"sudo gedit /etc/default/knockd" command in a terminal window.

Here’s the knockd file in gedit.

The knockd control file in gedit.

The few edits we need to make are highlighted in red:

The knockd control file in gedit with the edits highlighted.

We changed the “START_KNOCKD=” entry to from 0 to 1.

We also removed the hash # from the start of the “KNOCKD_OPTS=” entry, and replaced “eth1” with the name of our network connection, enp0s3. Of course, if your network connection is eth1, you won’t change it.

The Proof Is in the Pudding

It’s time to see if this works. We’ll start the knockd daemon with this command:

sudo systemctrl start knockd

"sudo systemctrl start knockd" command in a terminal window.

Now, we’ll jump on another machine and try to connect. We installed the knockd tool on that computer, too, not because we want to set up port knocking, but because the knockd package provides another tool called knock. We’ll use this machine to fire in our secret sequence and do the knocking for us.

Use the following command to send your secret sequence of connection requests to the ports on the port knocking host computer with the IP address

knock 7000 8000 9000 -d 500

This tells knock to target the computer at IP address and fire a connection request to ports 7000, 8000, and 9000, in turn, with a -d (delay) of 500 milliseconds between them.

A user called “dave” then makes an SSH request to

ssh [email protected]

His connection is accepted, he enters his password, and his remote session begins. His command prompt changes from [email protected] to [email protected]. To log out of the remote computer, he types:


His command prompt returns to his local computer. He uses knock once more, and this time, it targets the ports in reverse order to close the SSH port on the remote computer.

knock 9000 8000 7000 -d 500

Port knocking and ssh connection session in a terminal window.

Admittedly, this wasn’t a particularly fruitful remote session, but it demonstrates the opening and closing of the port via port knocking and fits in a single screenshot.

So, what did this look like from the other side? The system administrator on the port knocking host uses the following command to view new entries that arrive in the system log:

tail -f /var/log/syslog

A syslog showing the port knocking events in a terminal window.

  • You see three openSSH entries. These are raised as each port is targeted by the remote knock utility.
  • When all three stages of the trigger sequence are met, an entry that says “OPEN SESAME,” is logged
  • The command to insert the rule into the iptables rules list is sent. It permits access via SSH on port 22 from the specific IP address of the PC that gave the correct secret knock (
  • The user “dave” connects for a few seconds only, and then disconnects.
  • You see three closeSSH entries. These are raised as each port is targeted by the remote knock utility—it tells the port knocking host to close port 22.
  • After all three stages are triggered, we get the “OPEN SESAME” message again. The command is sent to the firewall to remove the rule. (Why not “CLOSE SESAME” when it’s closing the port? Who knows?)

Now the only rule in the iptables rules list regarding port 22 is the one we typed at the beginning to close that port. So, port 22 is now closed again.

Knock It on the Head

That’s port knocking’s parlor trick. Treat it as a diversion and don’t do it in the real world. Or, if you must, don’t rely on it as your only form of security.

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Why You Shouldn’t Buy In-Wall Smart Outlets – Review Geek

A TP-Link smart plug with various suggestions for items it can control like fans and slow cookers.

For the best smarthome experience, you should consider installing in-wall light switches instead of smart bulbs. You might think the same would apply to in-wall smart outlets. But that’s not the case. Smart plugs are usually a better way to go.

When it comes to your smarthome gadgets, you have lots of choices. Do you use Z-Wave or ZigBee, Google or Alexa, smart switches or smart bulbs, smart outlets or smart plugs? For some things, like Z-wave versus ZigBee, the decision isn’t clear cut. But for others, like smart outlets versus smart plugs, the choice is simple. In most cases, you should go with smart plugs. They’re easier to install, just as capable, generally cheaper, and don’t take up much more space than smart outlets.

Smart Plugs Don’t Need Wiring

The back of a smart outlet, showing the unit is 1.5 inches deep.
Smart outlets are significantly larger than a dumb outlet. GE

Smart plugs are dead simple to install. Plug one into your outlet, then plug something into it. Finally, connect an app. Smart outlets, on the other hand, require you to turn off a relevant circuit breaker, uninstall an existing outlet, wire up the new smart outlet, seal everything back up, and restore power. Then you’ll still have to connect the app, just like the smart plug.

And that’s assuming the smart outlet actually fits into the outlet cavity. If your home is older, it probably doesn’t leave much room to spare, and smart outlets are significantly larger than a standard dumb outlet.

Any electronic device can malfunction, and that’s worth keeping in mind. If your smart plug is acting up, all you have to do is unplug it. But if something is wrong with your in-wall smart outlet, you need to switch off the circuit breaker and disconnect it from your home’s wiring. That can be difficult if it’s late at night and you’ve just killed all the lights in the room when you flipped the circuit breaker.

All the trouble might be worth the effort if smart outlets came with extra features, but they don’t.

Both Have Identical Features

Installing a smart light switch instead of a smart bulb comes with advantages. Whether you turn off the lights by voice, app, or switch, everything stays in sync. And when someone does flip the switch, it doesn’t kill the intelligence of your lights. Compared to smart bulbs, smart light switches add to the overall convenience of your smarthome and make it more accessible to guests and extended family.

But when it comes to smart switches and smart plugs, the features are the same. You get a convenient way to cut and restore power to the appliances plugged into the gadget. Some versions offer additional features like energy monitoring or sensor integration, but you’ll find those same features in either smart outlets or smart plugs. There are no exclusive features for smart outlets.

Smart Outlets Usually Cost More Than Smart Plugs

Two Wyze Smart Plugs side by side.
At $15 for two, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a smart outlet this cheap. Josh Hendrickson

When it comes to cost, smart plugs are the clear winner too. You’ll find smart plugs in Z-Wave, ZigBee, and Wi-Fi formats, usually with basic on and off features. For a little extra, you can sometimes pick up energy monitoring to keep an eye on how much electricity you are using. Generally, you can expect to spend as little as $15 for a two-pack of Wyze Plugs up to $30 each for a TP-Link plug with energy monitoring.

In-walls smart outlets, on the other hand, seldom go for less than $30 each. Some Z-Wave units reach the $40 level, and on those units only one outlet port is smart. The other is always on, so your only choice is to buy a smart plug if you want two controllable places in one outlet. And again, you won’t gain any additional smart features that you can’t find in smart outlets for that extra cost.

Smart Outlets Do Take up Less Space

By now you may be wondering if there’s ever a time you should consider in-wall smart outlets, and the answer is yes. If space is an absolute premium, then in-wall smart outlets have an advantage over smart plugs. Since they go in the cavity of your wall, they take up less useable space.

If you have furniture you’d prefer to have flush with the wall like a TV stand; a smart plug is going to get in the way. Even the smallest smart plugs still protrude from the wall noticeably. But in-wall smart outlets don’t. They also provide a cleaner look, if a clean looking wall outlet matters to you.

That also means you won’t knock a smart outlet while moving furniture around like you might a smart plug. But considering the extra cost and lack of additional features, that’s a high price to pay for something that isn’t as easy to install or uninstall. Smart plugs are still the better choice for the most scenarios.

The Smart Plugs You Should Buy

Two Wyze plugs at an angle, showing their power switch.
Wyze Plugs are the new best choice. Josh Hendrickson

Are you convinced? Then you probably want to know what smart plugs to buy. You have plenty of great options, but as long as you don’t need Z-Wave or ZigBee, one of the new offerings is also among the very best. Wyze’s Smart Plugs cost less than every other well-regarded smart plug out there and combined with smart sensors these plugs do more.

And if you need a Z-Wave outlet, GE’s smart plug is reasonably priced, covers one outlet socket, and boasts Alexa and Google compatibility. It is on the slightly larger size for smart plugs though, so be sure you have room for it.

As a bonus, this smart plug can act as a repeater for your other Z-Wave devices, adding to your smarthome’s mesh network.

Best for Z-Wave

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