|The best smart light bulbs for 2024
|Posted by: Engadget on Jan 5th, 2024 12:50 PM
Smart light bulbs are one of the easiest entry points into the smart home world. They’re pretty cheap, with most coming in a $10 to $50 per bulb, they’re easy to setup and they can completely change the feel of your home. You can go from boring and analogue to colorful and automated within minutes, and there are endless possibilities when it comes to using smart light bulbs to create funky-colored light scenes, setting schedules and more.
What to look for in smart light bulbs
Connectivity (To hub or not to hub)
One of the biggest appeals of smart lights is being able to control them from your phone. Most of them are able to do so by connecting to it via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, or via an external hub, which handles the connection for them. Bluetooth connectivity limits the range in which you’ll be able to control the light, so it’s only best for a limited number of bulbs and ones you don’t expect to control when you’re away.
Wi-Fi smart lights are easy to set up and can be cheaper overall since they don’t require a hub to connect them. However, having something like a central Zigbee hub can make your whole system more reliable since its connection is separate from your home’s Wi-Fi network. For that reason, hub-based bulbs tend to be more expandable, so we mainly recommend those if you want to eventually have dozens of smart lights around your home.
White or color?
Most smart bulbs you’ll find today are “white and color” bulbs, meaning they can glow in vibrant blues, pinks, greens and everything in between, as well as shine with different temperatures of white. But there are some white-only bulbs out there, and they are often a bit more affordable than their color counterparts. While we recommend springing for the white-and-color devices, if you’d prefer white only, make sure you’re getting a bulb that can span the color temperature spectrum (typically from about 2000 to 5000 Kelvin), offering you various levels of warm and cool white light.
One of the perks of smart lights is the amount of control you have over them thanks to their various app-connected capabilities. Most companion apps let you do things like set lighting schedules and timers, group individual lights into room designations and create your own custom light “scenes” with different colors. But we have seen other features that aren’t as ubiquitous like vacation mode for automatically turning lights on and off to enhance your home security, and sync with media, which changes the colors of lights depending on the music you’re listening to or the game you’re currently live-streaming.
Smart home compatibility
If you use a smart assistant like Amazon’s Alexa or the Google Assistant regularly, make sure the smart lights you get work with your favorite. All of the bulbs we tested supported both Amazon’s and Google’s virtual assistants, allowing you to use voice commands to turn lights on and off, dim them and more. The wildcard here is Siri and Apple’s HomeKit; while numerous smart bulbs have added HomeKit support, not all lights are compatible with Apple’s smart home system.
We alluded to this above, but you’ll want to consider how many smart lights you eventually want in your home. Some brands and lighting systems are easier to expand than others, and we generally recommend going for hub-based bulbs if you plan on putting smart lights in every room in your home. If you’re only looking to deck out your home office or living room with some fancy lights, Wi-Fi options should serve you well. Thankfully, these are some of the most affordable smart home devices you can get, so even if you don’t have a clear answer to this question now, you can reconsider your options down the line if you do decide to outfit your home with multiple smart bulbs.
If you’ve done any research into smart lights, you’ve probably come across Philips Hue bulbs. The range is popular for a variety of reasons, and we agree they’re the best smart light bulbs you can get thanks to their wide compatibility, easy to use mobile app and their expandability. Particularly, if you know you want to outfit more than one room in your home with these IoT devices, Philips Hue is the way to go.
The first thing that’s important to know about Hue bulbs is that they are now Bluetooth enabled. That means you can buy a few to try out first, then easily expand your system with a hub when you want to add more lights to your home. Previously, the hub was required for any and all lights, but now it’s much easier to dip your toe into the range before fully taking the plunge.
Like all of the other smart lights we tested, you only need to screw in a Philips Hue bulb, turn on your light, and follow the instructions in the mobile app to start using it. Even if you only have the lights in one room to start, we still recommend grouping them into their own “room” in the Hue app so you can easily control the entire space’s environment at once.
Hue’s White + Color bulbs provide a range of warm to cool whites and millions of colors to experiment with in your smart home. Colors are rich and vibrant, and Philips’ pre-programmed scenes, such as Energize, Bright and Relax, let you quickly emulate your old “dumb” lights with different warmth levels of white light. You can pick from a number of color scenes in the app, too, but it’s also easy to create your own color temperature. So if you’ve always wanted to flood your office with a rainbow of vibrant colors while you’re live-streaming on Twitch, you can find the precise presets you want, save them and then turn them on with just a few taps in the app.
The Hue app is pretty easy to use, and the bulbs support voice commands from Amazon’s Alexa and the Google Assistant. That means you don’t even have to open the app to control your lights; you can simply use voice control and say “Alexa, turn off the bedroom lights” and only the lights in that designated room will extinguish. You’ll be able to add up to 10 bulbs to your system using Bluetooth alone – at which point you’ll have to add a Philips Hue hub into the mix to support up to 50 lights. The hub also enables things like HomeKit connectivity, light schedules and automations, home and away modes and syncing with movies and music.
Arguably the most useful of those features is automations, which lets you set on/off schedules for your lights, including automatically turning the lights off when you leave the house. It’s understandable why Philips would make these few features exclusive to those with Hue hubs – adding a hub into the mix makes the system more reliable, allowing you to do more with increasing numbers of connected lights, plus it will encourage many to invest in a hub and more Hue bulbs over time. We like Hue’s hub not only for its reliability, but also because it allows finer and more flexible control over your devices. So if you’re on vacation and want to turn on your living room lights to see what’s going on, you can do that.
Expandability goes beyond the number of lights you have in your smart home: It also includes multiple smart bulbs you can install outside, too. The Hue range has a ton of indoor and outdoor light bulbs to choose from, including recessed lights, outdoor pedestal and flood lights, light strips and more. It’s one of the few ranges available today that gives you a ton of options to make every bulb in and out of your home smart, which is important to consider if you know you want to go all in on the smart light front.
But that brings us to the biggest downside of Philips Hue, which is the price. Hue bulbs are on the expensive side, with a two-pack of White + Color Ambiance bulbs costing $80. If you’re looking for cheap bulbs to test out smart lighting, some of our other top picks below, like the Kasa smart light bulb, will be better choices since most of them have lower prices per bulb. However, if smart lighting is something you want to invest in going forward, we recommend going with one of Philips’ Hue starter kits: the White + Color Ambiance starter kit, including three bulbs, a hub and a smart button, comes in at $180, which is cheaper than if you were to buy all of those components separately.
Overall, LIFX’s color smart lights are similar to Hue’s White + Ambiance bulbs in that they’re easy to set up, they offer striking, saturated colors and work with three major platforms: Alexa, Google Assistant and HomeKit. But the main difference is the LIFX bulbs are Wi-Fi only, so you can’t connect them to a hub even if you wanted to, and some are slightly more expensive than Hue devices. The Color A19 bulb, which supports 1100 lumens, normally costs $50, but there’s an 800-lumen equivalent that’s a bit cheaper, coming in at $35 per bulb.
LIFX’s mobile app is also undoubtedly the slickest we tested. While that may not mean much to you, it’s worth mentioning because mobile apps are the way most people interact with their smart lights on a daily basis. The homepage features all of the room groups in your household, along with the names of the lights in each room. You can easily turn a whole room, or a specific light, on with just a tap, and do the same for all of the lights in your smart home.
LIFX lights support scheduling, so you can program lights to work for you so you rarely (if ever) have to control them manually, plus there are a plethora of scenes and effects to choose from. While all of the color lights we tried had pre-made scenes or presets ready to go in the app, Philips Hue and LIFX clearly had the most out of them all. Personally, I found LIFX’s scenes and additional effects to be a bit more fun and engaging than Hue’s. You can pick from scenes like “spooky” or “pastel” and use effects like “strobe” if you want to make your living room feel a bit more like a nightclub. While most people probably won’t use these niche scenes and effects on a regular basis, they’re great perks to have when you’re entertaining or just want to set the right vibe for your next movie night or game-streaming session.
LIFX has a number of products in its ecosystem, from standard A19 bulbs to lightstrips to candles. It has switches, too, so you can physically control your smart lights if you wish. But Philips Hue has all of those options too and more, including not just switches, but standalone floor lamps, outdoor spotlights, downlights, light bars and motion sensors. You’ll have more options with Hue if you want to convert all of your home’s lights to smart ones, and have multiple ways to control them, too.
TP-Link’s Kasa brand is known for its solid yet affordable smart home devices and its smart lights are no different. We tested out the Wi-Fi-only multicolor smart light bulbs and found them easy to install and use, and they provide a bunch of features at an affordable price; a four-pack of multicolor bulbs will only set you back $40.
Besides having a simple installation process, Kasa’s multicolor smart lights stayed reliably connected the whole time we tested them and the companion mobile app is simple and clean. All of the main functions for each light live in that bulb’s dedicated page in the app, allowing you to change brightness, white levels, color, schedules and more without navigating through a bunch of different menus. Changing colors is nearly instantaneous, and the light changes as you drag your finger across the color wheel in the app. Editing the four presets you’re able to save takes only a few taps, as does grouping multiple bulbs into rooms and creating lighting schedules. For the latter, if you do set on/off schedules, the app will show you the next step in that schedule (i.e., off at 8:35pm) next to each individual light.
There’s also a handy “usage” section in each light’s page that shows you the bulb’s energy use over time, plus an estimate of how much energy you’re saving by using a smart light instead of a regular one. This is something that would be fun to observe over many weeks and months of using these bulbs, especially if conserving energy is one of the main reasons you invested in smart lights in the first place.
TP-Link claims you can connect “unlimited” smart devices to its mobile app, which technically means you can have as many Kasa smart lights in your home as you’d like. We only tested a few together, so we can’t say for sure how dozens of connected devices would affect app speed and light response time. These are Wi-Fi-only bulbs, which means connecting them to a Zigbee hub isn’t an option, so keep that in mind before deciding to invest in a house-full of these gadgets. It’s also worth noting that these lights aren’t compatible with Apple’s HomeKit, although you can control them using Alexa and Google Assistant commands.
Maybe you don’t want to bother with colored lights. If that’s the case, LIFX’s White E26 is your best bet. You get all of the non-color features in the mobile app that we explained above, including schedules and virtual assistant controls, but in a more basic LED light bulb that only costs $10.
My biggest gripe is that it doesn’t span the cool-to-warm temperature range that other white bulbs do. Rather, you’re stuck with just one shade of white: 2700K, which is on the warmer side. This makes the LIFX bulb better for intimate settings like a bedroom or a living room, but since it’s not overly warm, it could work in a home office, too. It’s also dimmable, so you can control its brightness.
If you have a specific use case in mind for your smart lights that doesn’t involve a rainbow of colors, then a LIFX bulb will more than suffice. They would work well in a child’s room, for instance, allowing you to set wake-up and sleep schedules that gradually turn on and off the lights, or in a home office where you just want a bit more control over your lights without extra frills.
Sengled’s Smart Light Bulbs deserve a shout because they’re essentially more affordable versions of the best bulbs mentioned here, just with a few compromises. Key among those is that their colors are less nuanced than most others we tested and the mobile app is less polished.
That said, you’re still getting millions of colors out of Sengled’s smart lights and the app is easy to use. It also provides all of the features you’d want from a smart light bulb, including grouping, schedules and automations. The fact that the Sengled mobile app isn’t as slick as Hue’s or LIFX’s may actually work in its favor with newbies – the basic controls and labels will be very easy for smart home novices to understand.
The bulbs we tested were Wi-Fi-based, so they do not require a hub. However, Sengled has a bunch of other smart lights that work via Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or hub connectivity. A pack of four Wi-Fi color bulbs will set you back $30, while a set of six Zigbee hub-based lights costs only $100. Overall, Sengled’s devices are much more affordable than Hue’s, making them a good budget option regardless of whether you want to stick to Wi-Fi or invest in a smart home hub like Sengled’s own or a smart device like Amazon’s Echo with a built-in hub.
Philips’ Signe table lamp is a slick way to add a wash of color into your living room, or a more controllable light source on your desk. The nearly two-foot tall lamp can be customized with up to three colors of light at once, plus it supports a full array of cool and warm hues as well. Shine it towards a wall to set the mood with colored lights during your game night, or use it to give yourself sufficient lighting during your next Zoom meeting – you can make it as fun or as practical as you need. It also supports effects like “candle” and “fireplace,” both of which produce moving light that emulates flickering flames. We also appreciate that the Signe lamp is a totally standalone device, like most of Philips’ new Hue bulbs: you don’t need a Hue bridge to use it. But if you have one, you’ll be able to do things like control the lamp when you’re away from home.
The Signe lamp is a splurge, though, coming in at over $200. It’s certainly worth it if you need just one powerful light source, but a more affordable alternative would be the Philips Hue Go portable table lamp. It too supports millions of colors and a full spectrum of warm and cool light, but it runs on a rechargeable battery and can be used wirelessly. Depending on the setting you choose, you’ll get up to 18 hours of continuous use, making it a good option if you want a controllable light that can go anywhere you need it without fuss.
Light strips can bring illumination to hard-to-reach places, or give a whole new vibe to your living room or office. The latest light strip from Govee, the M1 RGBIC model, gets super bright and supports a wide range of colors. It’s Wi-Fi-connected but requires no central hub, so even if you have other smart lights throughout your home, this one will fit in easily. One strip measures nearly 16.5 feet long and it’s divided into 15 segments that you can control individually from within the Govee app.
We’ll get into the app features, but it’s worth noting where the M1 sits in the smart light strip space. There are various different lengths out there and you can even find some two-packs that will cover up to 100 feet. The 16.4-foot length is pretty common in single packs, although you can find some that run up to 33 feet long. You can expect to pay $25 to $50 for a basic, multi-color, 16.4-foot light strip and the price will go up from there depending on how many segments the strip has, the color range it supports, if it’s Wi-Fi-connected and other additional features. Govee’s M1 Light Strip is on the higher end of the spectrum, coming in at $110 for 16.4 feet of light, but it still costs less than arguably its biggest competitor: Philips’ Hue Light Strips, which come in at $80 per 6-foot strip.
I was impressed by not only the color spectrum the M1 Light Strip supports, but also how bright it is. This strip gets almost blinding, and I usually had it operating at just 75 percent of its full brightness. While you can’t control each individual light on the strip, you can customize all 15 segments in the Govee app.
The sheer number of options and effects Govee provides is remarkable: the “effects lab” gives you pre-made basic colors, scenes that mimic sunrises, starry nights, different kinds of movies like thrillers and dramas, gaming genres and more. On top of that, you can make your own custom scenes (and choose to share them with others in Govee’s Explore page) as well as your favorite colors and hues that you can save for frequent use. The strip’s color is saturated and vibrant – combine that with the overall brightness and it was easily able to give my office an attractive, ambient glow when positioned around the periphery of my couch.
Aside from the higher price tag, my only other complaint about the M1 light strip is actually Govee’s mobile app. It’s a bit chaotic and takes some getting used to, so it might not be the best choice for anyone that wants something basic. However, I was able to get the hang of all the controls, and then some, after about a half hour. And you can always default to using Alexa or Google Assistant voice commands to control your light strip if you prefer, or you can set automations in the app that can take care of all your most used controls.
Other smart bulbs we’ve tested
Nanoleaf Smarter Kit
While we’ve recommended Nanoleaf’s Smarter Kits in guides in the past, they’re a bit more niche than other smart lights on this list. They’re best for adding flare to your living room or game-streaming setup as they come in different shapes like hexagons and triangles and can sync with music. In addition to different colors, light animations and schedules, Nanoleaf’s Smart Kits also support Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant voice commands.
Smart light bulb FAQs
What’s the best smart light bulb for Alexa?
There is no best smart light bulb for Alexa. Amazon doesn’t make its own smart bulbs (like it does for smart plugs and thermostats), but rather there are dozens of smart lights made by third-parties that work with Alexa — including all of the ones we tested. Before picking the best smart light bulb for you, make sure to check the voice assistants that the contenders support. You’ll find that most smart light bulbs available today work with Amazon’s Alexa and the Google Assistant, and plenty of them also have support for Apple’s Siri and HomeKit.
Can you put a smart bulb in any lamp?
Smart light bulbs can go into most modern light fixtures — but just like regular bulbs, they need to be the right shape/size for the fixture. A standard A19 smart light bulb should work properly in most table, floor and other lamps. If you have a fixture that takes a specific type of bulb, look for smart bulbs that will fit properly.
Do smart light bulbs use electricity when off?
Smart light bulbs do use a negligible amount of electricity when their fixtures are turned off. This is due to the fact that the smart bulb needs to stay in constant contact with your home’s internet connection or Bluetooth in order to work properly. However, their energy-saving benefits usually outweigh the small amount of power they consume even while turned off.This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/best-smart-led-light-bulbs-143022856.html?src=rss
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