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TP-Link’s new smart plug exposes a complicated Matter

The TP-Link Tapo smart plug is one of the first Matter devices. It’s fast and easy to use with Apple Home, Google Home, Amazon Alexa, or SmartThings thanks to the new smart home standard. But when it comes to sharing, it all falls apart.

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A smart plug on a box on a table by a window with a flower pot behind it.
TP-Link’s Tapo smart plug is one of the first Matter devices you can buy. But should you?

The Tapo P125M smart plug ($19.99) is a fine smart plug. It turns things on and off on command or on a schedule, and it does all the smart plug tricks you might expect (except energy monitoring). But what makes this device interesting enough for me to spend a week testing it is that the Tapo is one of only two devices you can currently buy that work with the new smart home standard Matter. (The Meross MSS115 smart plug being the other). 

So, this review is really a look at how Matter works across the four big smart home platforms that helped bring it to life. This one little smart plug showed me all I needed to know about the current state of Matter’s major promises for the smart home — multi-platform control, easy setup, and reliable local control.

Matter works very well on each platform and across platforms — if you can get them to share. But getting the Tapo plug into each platform simultaneously was complicated. Adding the plug to Apple Home, Google Home, Amazon Alexa, and SmartThings required two phones and a very specific order of operation. In short, there’s still a long way to go before Matter seamlessly delivers on its cross-platform promise.

TP-Link Tapo Smart Plug: features 

The $20 TP-Link Tapo P125M works with Alexa, Google Home, HomeKit, and SmartThings through Matter’s multi-admin feature. The plug also works with TP-Link’s own Tapo app (not its Kasa app).

To use it in Matter, you have to set it up on a Matter platform first, then pair it to the Tapo app. You could also just use the Tapo app and connect it to Alexa, Google, and Apple’s Siri Shortcuts from there. But if you aren’t going to use Matter, buy one of TP-Link’s less expensive plugs. (See below for more on why you might want a Matter plug)

The Tapo is a compact plug, and you can use two stacked on top in a standard double outlet. It supports max loads of 1,800 watts and 15 amps and uses 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi. There’s a backlit physical power button on the side (you can disable the light in the Tapo app). The Tapo app also allows for scheduling, vacation mode, and setting timers to turn it on or off after a set period.

Unlike some of TP-Link’s other plugs, there is no energy monitoring available, but you can see how many hours the plug has been used by day, week, and month. The Tapo app has an auto-update feature where you can set a time of day the plug will check for and download any firmware updates. This means that once you set this up, you won’t need to use the Tapo app again and can just rely on your smart home platform app to control it.

Why would you want a Matter smart plug?

Today there are plenty of inexpensive, non-Matter smart plugs you can buy, many of which work with some or all the major platforms already. TP-Link sells a handful under its Kasa and Tapo brands. So, why pay more for a Matter plug? And you will pay more — TP-Link’s non-Matter Tapo plug that works with all four platforms sells for half the price of its Matter one, and Meross is charging over $10 more for its Matter version. 

The main differences are local control and an easier setup across multiple platforms (using Matter’s multi-admin feature, where a device can be shared with and controlled by up to six different platforms). 

In order to be controlled by multiple platforms, most non-Matter smart plugs rely on the cloud. This means creating multiple accounts, logging into those accounts across platforms, and downloading “skills” (in the case of Alexa) to link devices. In my experience with the cloud, response times and automations can often be slow, and when you lose internet, your smart home breaks.

With a Matter plug like the Tapo, you can share your plug across any platform and to any smartphone in your home. No cloud required. No account setup needed. Once I added the Tapo plug to one platform with Matter, the idea is that I could connect it to the other compatible platforms locally over the Wi-Fi network.

Setting up the TP-Link Tapo smart plug with Matter 

The Tapo P125M is a Matter-over-WiFi plug, so you will need a Wi-Fi connection and a Matter controller (hub) to set it up. This is different from most Wi-Fi smart plugs, which need Wi-Fi but no other hardware. 

While the goal of Matter is to use any Matter controller from any manufacturer to add the plug to any Matter-enabled platform, the infrastructure is not fully in place for this to work yet. 

For the moment, 

  • Android apps can’t connect to Apple Matter controllers, such as the HomePod or Apple TV. 
  • There is no Android app for Apple Home (and there probably never will be).
  • The Amazon and Google Home apps on iOS can’t yet add Matter devices to their respective platforms. 

This means you need an iOS device and an Apple Matter controller to add Matter devices to Apple Home. You need an Android device and an Alexa smart speaker or a Google Home smart speaker to add a device to those platforms (for now). SmartThings is the only platform that lets you add Matter devices on either iOS or Android — as long as you have a SmartThings hub

With the plug on all four platforms, it performed very well, responding in under a second to every command.  

I tried setting up the plug with Android and iOS and with all four platforms as the starting point. While I did get the plug working on all at the same time, it required two phones (because Alexa and Google Home don’t have Matter support in their iOS apps yet). I also had to add the platforms in a specific order to make it all work. 

This required starting with the Alexa app on an Android phone. From there, I added it to Google Home. From Google Home, I could add it to SmartThings. From there, I could generate a new QR code that I scanned into Apple Home using an iPhone.

When I did have the plug on all four platforms, I could control it from each using either the Android or iOS version of that platform’s app, and it performed very well, responding in under a second to every command on each platform.  

I could use Alexa to turn the plug off, Siri to turn it on, and then tap an icon on a Google Nest Hub Max to turn it back off. Each app registered the device’s new status when controlled by another platform within a second, the only noticeable laggard being Alexa — which was about 30 seconds behind the rest (in registering the state in the app, it still turned on and off quickly). 

All Matter devices have a unique code that you scan with your phone to set them up.
All Matter devices have a unique code that you scan with your phone to set them up.

However, when I reset the plug and tried any other combination of setup — starting from iOS with Apple Home or SmartThings, or starting on Android with Google or SmartThings — I was never able to successfully add it to all four platforms. 

Multi-admin is one of Matter’s main selling points. And while using it across four platforms is likely an edge use case — most people will probably use one or two platforms, maybe three — it’s a feature that should still work regardless. And as of today, it’s just not ready.

Setting up the Tapo P125M on Amazon Alexa with an Android phone

As a Matter-over-Wi-Fi device, the Tapo P125M is the first Matter device I’ve tested that works with Amazon Alexa (which doesn’t currently support Thread, the other wireless protocol Matter runs on). 

Google Home’s Matter pairing page is the easiest to use, but it doesn’t show you all your options.
Google Home’s Matter pairing page is the easiest to use, but it doesn’t show you all your options.

As Amazon doesn’t have a Matter iOS app, I used a Pixel 6 for setup. The Android operating system automatically found the device as soon as it was plugged in, without me having to open an app.

This is a nice feature the iPhone doesn’t have and jives with Matter’s promise of a simpler setup process. I didn’t need to download a manufacturer app or even open an app already on my phone. 

A dialogue box appeared on the phone as soon as the plug was powered on and offered to scan the device to Google Home or the Tapo app. An option at the bottom of the box to choose another app presented SmartThings as a choice, but not Alexa — even though the Alexa app was installed on the device. This is because of Google and Samsung’s “expanded multi-admin capability partnership,” where the companies have gotten together behind the scenes to make this work more smoothly.

But I wanted to use Alexa. So, I closed out of this option and opened the Alexa app on the Pixel. The Alexa home screen immediately prompted me to “Connect Your Smart Plug.” This is because I have Device Discovery turned on, which shows any available devices on your Wi-Fi network (you can turn this on or off in the Alexa app settings). 

I tapped yes, and it asked if the plug had a Matter logo. I proceeded to scan that. (This is on the side of the plug with an extra copy in the box, thankfully, as after removing the plug a couple of times, the ink on the code had smudged beyond being readable). 

<em>The Pixel 6 picked up on the Tapo plug broadcasting its signal and prompted me to pair it.</em>


The Pixel 6 picked up on the Tapo plug broadcasting its signal and prompted me to pair it.

From there, the onboarding was similar to adding any device to Alexa. I connected it to my Wi-Fi network and chose a name, then put it in a group/room. Once set up, I could control it easily in the app or by asking Alexa, with response times being prompt. I could also add it to an Alexa Routine to have it turn on at a certain time or to a Scene that would activate it along with other devices when I triggered the Scene. 

Next, I went to add it to the other Matter platforms, and while I was eventually successful, the process was inconsistent, and the compatibility between platforms feels very shaky.

To add a device from Alexa to another platform, you need to go to the device’s settings page in the Alexa app and tap on a new option, “Other Assistants and Apps.” This lets you put the plug into pairing mode, where it broadcasts its availability for 15 minutes, giving you time to open the other app and copy and paste a unique code into it.

You can’t just scan the Matter QR code on the device again in the new app — it’s one and done for the code (although you’ll want to keep it around in case you ever factory reset the device.)

Chris La Pre from the Connectivity Standards Alliance (the organization behind Matter) tells me this is by design. “The original code no longer works. The device needs to be put back in pairing mode, and the original ecosystem will provide a new code,” he says. “Otherwise, a neighbor walking through your house could possibly pair devices if they see the barcode.”

Unfortunately, this isn’t clearly explained anywhere in the platform apps. I can see a lot of people just trying to scan the code again to add it to another platform. In every app I tried the pairing process from, the steps to do so were buried in the settings — almost like they don’t want you to find them! Really, when you pair a device to one platform, the option should pop up to add it to any other compatible platform you have installed on your phone. That would be simple.

Once I got the pairing code from the Alexa app, I added the plug to Google Home on Android following these steps:

  • Open the Google Home app
  • Tap Add Device
  • Tap New Device and wait for Google to scan for the device (it won’t find it)
  • Tap “Set up a different device” when the prompt appears
  • Tap “Matter-enabled device”
  • Do not scan the Matter QR code as it prompts you to do; instead, tap the option to “Set up without QR code”
  • Enter the Matter pairing code from the other app (Alexa in this case)
  • Then follow the standard steps to add the device to Google Home

This just seems way more complicated than it needs to be. To make matters worse (ahem), when I tried to add the Tapo plug to SmartThings from Alexa, it failed immediately. I had to go back to the Google Home app, where I could choose “SmartThings” as an option to pair to. This opened the SmartThings app and let me add the plug easily. 

Multi-admin is one of Matter’s main selling points. As of today, it’s just not ready.

This ease of this setup process is down to that special “partnership” between Google and SmartThings. But Matter is supposed to fix the problem of ecosystem lock-in, not create cabals within it. If Matter is going to work, it needs to be easy to pair devices to any ecosystem.

The final step was generating a pairing QR code from the Google Home app on Android and scanning that into Apple Home with an iPhone. Now, the plug was on all four platforms.

Setting up on SmartThings and Apple Home with an iPhone

I reset the Tapo plug and set it up on iOS using the Matter-enabled SmartThings app, with the SmartThings Station as a Matter controller. (Side note: I also set up the plug using the Apple Home app and a HomePod Mini. But that process was identical to adding a device to HomeKit. The setup process with SmartThings is what’s notable here.) 

I plugged in the Tapo plug, opened the SmartThings app on an iPhone 14, and a dialogue box appeared asking if I wanted to pair the new Matter plug the system had found. It then prompted me to scan the Matter QR code and took me through an onboarding process that was very similar to using Apple’s Home app. 

This is because Matter is built into the iPhone’s operating system, so essentially, I was using a version of Apple Home. Only rather than adding it to my Home app, the plug was added to my iCloud account, and its “sharing credentials” were stored in Keychain. In theory, this means if I wanted to add it to another app on iOS, the data should transfer automatically, so I wouldn’t need to copy and paste codes. 

<em>The SmartThings app on iOS offered to pair the plug as soon as I powered it on.</em>


The SmartThings app on iOS offered to pair the plug as soon as I powered it on.

The plug also showed up in a new Matter Devices list in the iPhone’s Settings, and its “credentials” were stored in Keychain. From there, you’d think it would be trivial to add the plug to Apple Home. It wasn’t. Even though the plug showed up in Apple Keychain and in Settings > General> Matter Accessories, I wasn’t able to add it to Apple Home by following Apple’s instructions.

I did eventually get it copied to Apple Home by using the “Share to other services” option in SmartThings, which generated a QR code and a setup code. Entering the setup code in my iPhone didn’t work. Scanning the QR code with my iPad didn’t work. But when I took a screenshot of the code, opened the screenshot in the Photos app and used iOS’s text-scanning feature to read the QR code, it opened the Home app and added the plug. Circuitous and ridiculous? Yes, but at least it worked.

From here, I should have been able to add the plug to Alexa and Google Home by generating a pairing code from Apple Home and entering it into the corresponding apps on an Android phone (at least until Amazon and Google’s Matter iOS apps arrive). However, according to TP-Link, a known bug in the Alexa app won’t accept pairing codes from other platforms, so that didn’t work. Pasting the pairing code from Apple into the Google Home app on Android also didn’t work. I was eventually able to pair it to Google Home using the SmartThings app on an Android phone.

The Tapo, Meross, and Eve smart plugs are among the first devices to support Matter.
The Tapo, Meross, and Eve smart plugs are among the first devices to support Matter.

TP-Link Tapo Matter plug: should you buy it?

At $20 for one plug, the Tapo is the cheapest of the two Matter smart plugs you can buy right now. If you want to use a smart plug with Matter across Alexa, Apple, Google and/or SmartThings, and you have an Android phone, then pick this plug up. For iPhone users, bear in mind that for now, it will only work in Apple Home and SmartThings through Matter. You’ll need to wait for the Google Home and Alexa compatibility.

The other option is the Meross Matter Smart Wi-Fi Plug, which is $49.99 for two, $5 more per plug than the Tapo. I have not tested this fully yet, but from the form factor alone, I would recommend the Tapo. The Meross has a rounded shape which means you can’t stack two in a standard outlet. In fact, you can only use it in the bottom outlet, as it partially blocks the bottom one if you try and use it up top. It also has a lower maximum 10 amp load. 

Today, trying to use Matter outside of a single platform is an exercise in frustration.

If you can wait a month or so, your other option is the $40 Eve Energy — a Matter-over-Thread smart plug due for release at the end of March. As of today, it doesn’t work with Alexa, as Amazon’s Matter controllers don’t support Thread. However, if I were a betting girl, my bet would be that Eve doesn’t release this plug until it works with Amazon. 

It may be worth the wait, as the Eve plug offers detailed energy usage stats (although these are only accessible from the Eve app). The Tapo plug doesn’t offer any energy monitoring. The Eve also has a similar compact form factor, so you can fit two stacked on top of each other. It supports up to 1,800 watts and 15 amps. 

The Eve plug is a good option if you want to benefit from the features of Thread. Thread offers a local wireless mesh network with lower latency and faster response times than Zigbee and Bluetooth, and it uses less power than Wi-Fi. In my testing, non-Matter Thread devices from Eve have proven to be very responsive. But in Matter so far, it’s been a different story, with Thread devices dropping offline frequently.

This is probably because Thread border routers from different companies are not all talking with each other yet. For example, a Google Nest Hub Max and an Apple TV will set up separate Thread networks in your home — like having separate Wi-Fi networks. This causes problems. And while Amazon, Google, Apple, and Samsung all tell me they are working on making their devices talk to each other, as of now, Thread-over-Matter is still wonky. (I’ll be writing about this in more depth soon). 

Matter: should you use it?

Not today. Unless you’re only using one smart home platform or you just enjoy troubleshooting. Trying to use Matter outside of a single platform is an exercise in frustration. As I demonstrated, to set up a device in all four platforms, I had to use both an Android phone and an iPhone, because neither Amazon Alexa nor Google Home has Matter-enabled iOS apps yet. And that Apple Home app for Android is just … never going to happen. Today, only Samsung SmartThings lets you add a Matter device to either Android or iOS.

I hope that in the next couple of months some of these issues will get resolved, and Matter will feel more like its early promise. Those who have been following Matter’s rollout will have spotted that a lot of new Matter devices aren’t coming out until at least the “spring.” 

Amazon has said its iOS app is coming in spring. Google tells me its version is “coming soon,” and we know several companies (including Eve and Nanoleaf) have slated the release of their new Matter products for late March or early summer. Additionally, support for Thread looks like it will be more widely available then, too; Amazon has said it will enable Thread on its fourth-gen Echo smart speaker and all compatible Eero Wi-Fi routers this “spring.”

I still think Matter is on track to provide a stronger underlying infrastructure for the smart home, but it’s not there yet. Even by “spring,” I think it will be too early for people to start using Matter. It’s clear that there is a lot more cooperation needed between the major players before it’s a viable experience for everyone. Because anyone who goes through what I did this past week trying to add the Tapo smart plug to multiple platforms will be first in line at the Best Buy return counter. 

Photos and screenshots by Jennifer Pattison Tuohy / The Verge