Last Updated: October 20, 2017
Pro: voice control compatibility, impressive variety of color and hues
Con: can't turn on and off from a light switch and its app without complications
Turns out, smart LED lighting products aren't so smart. Yes, they all can do magical things like dim and change color or automatically turn on — or off — through a programmed schedule, or even when pre-set perimeters are entered or exited. And it's all via your smartphone.
But there's one thing they can't do: be turned on or off through a lamp's on/off switch — without screwing up how the smartphone app turns them on and off as well. Not so smart after all.
Freeing your smart LED bulb control from the tyranny of your smartphone is the primary reason we like the Philips Hue ($169.99 for a three bulb starter kit) smart light system. We also liked the Cree smart LED ($15 each) and the Belkin WeMo LED Lighting Starter Kit ($99.99 for two bulbs, discounted to $59.99), each of which is admittedly less pricy than the Hue.
What sets the Hue apart from other smart light systems? The separately purchased Philips Tap ($49.95), a versatile and almost magical wall-mountable remote control that works without batteries. Tap stores the kinetic energy you use after pressing one if its three programmable buttons. With its wall-mountable cradle, Tap works as a handheld remote or as a wall switch, so you don't need your smartphone to turn lights on or off.
We also liked the Hue for its comparatively easy "it-worked-the-first-time set-up." We particularly appreciated Hue's voice control compatibility – you can control Hue by speaking to Apple's Siri or Amazon Echo's Alexa. Just tell Siri or Alexa to turn your lights on or off; it's kinda cool and Star Trek-y. (Note: WeMo's bulbs also work with Alexa, but not HomeKit).
All smart lighting systems need a bridge, which pairs with and provides the interface between your home Wi-Fi network and the bulbs. Why you need this middleman? I'm not quite sure. We wondered why the bulbs weren't smart enough to just pair with our network. In any event, Cree's smart LED bulbs can be paired with a bridge from SmartThings, WeMo, Wink (which offers a two-bulb+hub starter kit for $97) or any ZigBee-compatible bridge.
For Hue to work with Apple's smart home platform, you'll need a new HomeKit-compatible bridge, which is included in all new Philips Hue starter kits. (The new HomeKit bridge is square, the old one is round, so check before you buy.) You can also buy this separately, at 33 percent off, for current Philips Hue owners. (To learn more about Apple Homekit, check out Meet Apple HomeKit: Putting Siri In Control Of Your Home.)
We loved Hue's 18 pre-defined "scenes" such as Sunset, Relax, Reading, Beach, Energize and Ski. These "scenes" differ in color hue (naturally), intensity, brightness and temperature ranging between incandescent warm to fluorescent cold. No other smart bulb offers Hue's color and control versatility.
Now all we need is a smart lamp which works whether you turn the lights on and off from an app or the lamp's own on/off switch.
If you need help installing smart LED bulbs, you can visit HomeAdvisor.com to find a local trusted professional.