Smart lighting is a good starting point for anyone interested in building a smart home. Although the prices are not cheap — especially compared to non-smart bulbs — these systems are very easy to install and use, and can transform any part of your home.
The manufacturers listed below offer smart bulbs with a variety of fittings, so you should be able to find the right bulbs for your home. However, it is important to check what fittings your home already has, then make sure the system you want to buy can cater for this.
- 14 smart home devices to save you money
- Which smart speaker and smart display is right for you?
- 5 questions to ask yourself before building a smart home system
You should also decide whether you want color bulbs or not. Cheaper smart bulbs can display only white and yellow, with the temperature adjustable from a cool blue to a deep, warm orange. For many situations, these bulbs will likely be adequate, but if you want to light a room with any color, you'll need to spend more money on color bulbs.
Most companies give their bulbs one of three names. Dimmable means the brightness can be changed but the temperature of the light cannot; tunable means brightness and temperature can be changed; multicolor means any color, temperature and brightness can be created.
Then there are accessories to consider, like dimmer switches, and whether you want these to replace the existing switches on your walls, sit alongside them, or be used as a portable and wireless controller. Other accessories include motion sensors.
Finally, some smart lighting can be installed outside, and others are available as LED light strips, or as illuminating panels designed to be stuck on the wall as a piece of interior design.
There are several manufacturers to pick from. Some allow their bulbs to work with other systems, but for the most part it is worth picking one brand and sticking with it.
When smart lights are installed, your old wall switches will still work — they will still switches the bulbs on and off. But it is generally recommended that you leave the switches in the on position and instead control the lights via their app, wireless switches, or a voice assistant.
Widely regarded as the market leader, Philips Hue offers a wide range of bulbs with different fittings to make sure they will work with your current setup. The company also sells LED light strips, ceiling fixtures, and lamps, some of which are even portable and battery-powered.
As well as lights, the Hue range consists of dimmer switches and motion sensors for automatically triggering lights when you walk past - useful for in the bathroom at night, for example - and weatherproof lights designed for the garden are also available.
An important thing to remember about Hue lights is that they require a bridge to function. This connects to your router and you only need one per household, but the lights will not work without it. As such, you are best buying one of Philips' starter packs, which come with bulbs, the bridge and, in some cases, a wireless dimmer switch too.
Hue bulbs come with a wide range of fittings, including A19, B22, BR30, E12, E14, E27 and GU10.
If you find that your current light fittings do not support any of the above options, then you can swap out the connections without too much effort or expense - although, naturally, this will depend on the size of your house.
As well as offering a wide range of bulbs, Philips has taken the interesting move of allowing third-party app developers to take control of its products. So while the official Hue app will offer enough control for most users, other apps bring more features. There are apps for making your lights simulate candle flicker and fireworks, for example, or the crackling of a log fire. Gimmick, perhaps, but the degree to which your system can be customized exactly to your taste is extraordinary.
Other than the smartphone apps, Philips Hue lights can also be controlled by issuing voice commands to Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri. Extra controls can also be created by setting up your own IFTTT (If This, Then That) applets.
Lifx is seen as one of Philips' biggest rivals. Lifx bulbs generally cost more than the equivalent Hue - up to $80 per bulb in some cases - but they are brighter and the Lifx+ range emits invisible infrared light at night, helping to boost the view from your night vision security cameras.
Another bonus for the Lifx system is that the bulbs do not use a hub. Instead, they connect directly to your Wi-Fi router.
Like Philips, Lifx offers its bulbs with a wide range of fittings, including A19, BR30, E26, E27, B22 and GU10. Lifx also sells LED light strips for creating mood lighting, along with the Tile and Beam, two products designed to sit on your walls like illuminated pieces of abstract artwork.
Lifx lights can be configured to respond to voice instructions issued to your Google Home or Amazon Echo smart speaker, and to Siri on your iPhone via Apple's HomeKit platform.
As with Hue, Lifx lights can be set to switch on gradually in the morning to simulate a sunrise and dim gradually at night when you go to bed. Bulbs can be grouped together into rooms on the app — as Hue can also do — so you can switch entire rooms or even floors on and off at once, either with a tap or a voice command.
Sengled is a line of smart lights — some embedded with additional features like security cameras and motion sensors — that both affordable and with a great ecosystem. These lights do require a hub, but the company has told GearBrain it's moving away from requiring one. But for now, you need to make sure you're placing that hub about 120 feet — no further — from the lights you're using, or they won't work.
We test the company's Smart LED bulb with motion sensor, found it easy to install. The app also includes a performance section, where you can actually see the energy consumption drawn by the bulbs, great for those trying to reduce their utility bills at home. The bulb itself runs about $29.99 — but the hub is an additional $24.99. One hub will manage multiple bulbs, so that cost gets reduced as you add more devices.
One thing Sengled is great about is working with a number of platforms and networks including Zigbee, Samsung SmartThings, IFTTT and Comcast's Infinity X — plus Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.
C by GE
The C by GE range has grown over the last couple of years, and now includes a number of smart switches to dim your lights, power them on or off, and switch between preset lighting scenes.
The company also has a partnership with Google, where the bulbs can be directly controlled by a Google Home smart speaker or Google Nest Hub smart display.
For now, the range only offers white bulbs which can be tuned to product light ranging from cool blue to a warm, deep orange; full color bulbs were announced in January, and are due to go on sale later this year. C by GE bulbs have a feature where they constantly adjust through the day to support your sleep/wake cycle and circadian rhythm, where they brighten during the morning then dim and soften in the evening.
C by GE sells five different types of smart wall switch. Alternatively, you can control the bulbs with the company's smartphone app, or speak to the Google Assistant on your phone or smart speaker.
The Tradfri range of smart lights by Ikea starts at around $20 for a white bulb, while a starter kit with two bulbs, a wireless dimmer switch and the gateway needed to connect the bulbs to your router is under $100.
Ikea also sells color bulbs for this smart light platform, and the bulbs can be added to an existing Philips Hue system if you want to expand yours on a budget. Tradfri bulbs can be controlled by the Ikea app for iPhone and Android, or via Alexa, Google Assistant, and Apple HomeKit.
Like other smart lighting systems you can group bulbs together into rooms within the app, letting you turn a whole room on or off at once. This also means you can say to your voice assistant things like "Hey Google, turn on the kitchen lights" or "Alexa, turn off the bedroom lights".
Ikea has expanded the Tradfri range over the last couple of years, with fittings including the popular E14, E27, and GU10 spotlights. Ikea will soon be expanding its smart home offerings with a pair of Sonos smart speakers, and motorized window blinds.
TP-Link recently expanded its Kasa smart home device catalogue, making it a viable option for those who want to build a smart home system, but don't want to be overwhelmed by too many options. The company's lighting range includes dimmable and tuneable bulbs, as well as multicolor options.
These bulbs do not require a hub or bridge, as they connect directly to your Wi-Fi router, and they are setup and controlled with the free Kasa smartphone app. The bulbs can be paired with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant for voice control, and a circadian mode has the bulbs adjust their brightness and temperature to mimic natural light patterns.
TP-Link bulbs also work with IFTTT and Nest, although with Google's recent changes to the latter, this could change at the end of August 2019. Prices range from $20 to $40 per bulb.
Smart bulbs by Wiz connect directly to your Wi-Fi and do not use a separate hub or bridge like the Hue system does. If you already have a smart hub installed, then you can connect Wiz bulbs to it using IFTTT or Conrad Connect — this is also how you hook up Wiz bulbs to devices like the Nest smart thermostat.
That said, as of May 2019 Google is making some major changes to how the Nest ecosystem works.
Wiz smart bulbs come with a wide range of shapes, sizes and fitting, with 18 different styles to choose from.
GearBrain reviewed the Wz starter set and was impressed by how many IFTTT applets are available. Our favorites included one which turns all lights on when an intruder is detected at night, and one which will turn your lights (or one light) a certain color when your favorite TV show is about to start.
Another cool feature if Wiz lights is vacation mode, which is selected from the system's smartphone app. This switches the lights on and off in patterns which simulate the home being lived in, which should help deter burglars.
Check out The GearBrain, our smart home compatibility checker to see the other compatible products that work with Amazon Alexa. Google Home, Samsung SmartThings and other connected hubs and devices.
10 second Unboxing - LIFX Smart LED Bulb www.youtube.com