To Smart Light Bulb or Not To Smart Light Bulb: Is That Actually the Question?
It is argued that each generation is smarter than the generation before it. While that topic is, indeed, debatable, one similar conversation that’s less arguable is the one that claims that homes of today are smarter than homes of yesteryear. While smart homes can involve a mass of technological advancements in almost any area you can think of (e.g., home automation systems, home security cameras, smart door locks, home security systems, gadgets and appliances, etc.), the concept of a smart home, to some, might feel overwhelming at best, and cold and unfeeling at worst.
This is why introducing smart light bulbs into your home is a great first step toward making your home smarter. It’s relatively easy and non-intrusive. Smart light bulbs have grown smarter and smarter in recent years, but there are still a large number of options on the market. Which smart light bulb is right for you? In this article, we’ll take a look at what, exactly, smart light bulbs are, their advantages and disadvantages, and compare and review several smart light bulbs on the market today to help you find a match that might work best for your situation.
What are Smart Light Bulbs?
Smart light bulbs, as with everything else “smart” technology, are a growing component of 21st century homes and spaces. Smart light bulbs are LED-based bulbs (which means highly energy efficient) and have actually been around for a little while now. Through a variety of technological advancements, smart light bulbs allow you more control and options in the lighting of your home, either through a hub, voice commands, or your smart phone app.
Smart light bulbs are available in white and/or in color options, further increasing the lighting choices for your space to strike just the right mood. Gone are the days that you have to get up out of bed at night because someone forgot to turn off the living room light – just turn it off remotely or with your voice, as long as there’s a smart light bulb there.
Most smart light bulbs are standard A19-style, which means they fit into traditional light bulb sockets such as lamps and light fixtures. This makes them even easier to integrate into your home without having to revamp your entire lifestyle. Smart bulbs come in two primary categories, though, which you should be aware of: those that require a hub and those that don’t. Be sure to research which category your desired smart bulbs fall into, so as to eliminate surprises down the road.
What do I Need to Consider Before Buying Smart Light Bulbs?
As with every “smart” purchase, you will definitely need to take some factors into consideration before determining which smart light bulbs will be right for you. This is true whether you’re looking to purchase a single bulb or enough to replace your entire home’s lighting. Here are some pre-purchase items to consider:
Anyone who has made the jump from incandescent light bulbs to LED (light-emitting diodes) light bulbs is aware that LED lights cost more upfront, although they save cost via energy efficiency over the long run. Smart light bulbs are similar in this regard – like traditional LEDs (because, frankly, smart bulbs are LEDs), smart bulbs use less energy and last longer and can be programmed to be off even more than your standard LED lights are or have been.
White vs Color?
Smart light bulbs, as a rule, come in two “colors” – white bulbs or color bulbs. What’s the difference? Well, white smart light bulbs generally turn on and off like the lights you probably already have in your house. This is the cheaper option of smart light bulb, because they are simpler technically speaking. Color smart light bulbs, on the other hand, can change colors to reflect whatever mood you want to set. Color bulbs are more expensive, because they require more complex technology and manufacturing.
Most of the smart bulbs on the market are equivalent to 60W incandescent bulbs, although some bulbs are still brighter than others because of the difference in lumens. Simply put, the higher the lumens (K), the brighter the light will appear. This is why softer lights (2,500K-2,700K) have a lower lumens output than, say, higher temperature office-lighting (6,500K-8,500K) types.
With most smart home devices, from the simple to the complex, you’re going to need to consider just how the smart item is going to connect with your home and be controlled by you. If you want to integrate your smart light bulbs with other smart devices or systems (Amazon Alexa is one example, Google Home is another), you’ll need to check for the bulbs’ compatibility before you make the purchase. Benefits of doing this include: voice control, light bulb interaction with other smart stuff in your home, and less frustration. A triple-win. The three primary control technologies in the smart light bulb market today include the following:
- ZigBee – A smart-home networking protocol growing in popularity, ZigBee requires smart light bulbs to use a bridge to communicate with the home wi-fi network. Example: Philips.
- Wi-Fi – Smart light bulbs that are wi-fi-controlled are able to talk directly to your wi-fi router without a hub or bridge. Example: LIFX.
- Bluetooth – Some smart light bulbs skip the home network communication circle completely and connect directly with your smart phone or device via Bluetooth. This means they can’t be controlled remotely (e.g., outside your home). Example: GE, others.
Many smart things on the market today require hubs, but not everything. This is true for smart light bulbs. Some are designed to work in isolation, regardless of whether or not other smart stuff exists in the home. It should be noted, though, that reviews tend to lean more heavily in favor of smart light bulbs that connect with hubs – the light bulbs work more consistently and, overall, just better, and you have the option to control your lights remotely.
Panel vs. Bulb?
Some smart light bulbs are actually panels that can be linked together to create a larger flat light panel. If you’re looking to replace the bulb in your lamp or overhead fixtures, then be aware that you probably want to avoid smart light panels. However, if you’re interested in adding smart light to a place that doesn’t currently have a socket, connecting smart light panels might be the best option for you.
Bulb vs. Switch?
You should be aware that there is a heated discussion going on in the smart lighting community that smart lighting is better served by smart switches rather than smart bulbs. If you want to control the bulb(s) individually, smart light bulbs are probably your better option. Bulbs are typically easier to install, also. If you want to keep your existing bulbs and instead install smart switches to control all the lights on that circuit, smart light switches are perhaps a better option. Prepare for a more extensive installation process, or even hiring an electrician.
Pros & Cons of Smart Light Bulbs
As with everything in life, there are decided advantages and disadvantages to technological advancements. The same is true with smart light bulbs, although the advantages seem to far outweigh the cons. Here are some pros and cons to consider, as you look to determine whether or not the smart bulb switch is right for you:
Pros of Smart Light Bulbs:
- Smart light bulbs are more compact than ever. Most easily integrate into existing homes, due to their standard A19 size, and the bulb itself will fit in whatever lamp or fixture the previous light bulb fit because of its compact size.
- Smart light bulbs are bright. While there is a slight variance among the different smart light bulbs, their LED lighting is going to be plenty sufficient when compared to their traditional counterparts. This means that few smart light bulbs are required to light the same size of space as before.
- Smart light bulbs have improved color representation. We’re probably all familiar with the black light bulbs of decades past, but much more than those and the occasional red bulb/green bulb for Christmas décor, we have white light options. Smart light bulbs allow for so many different hues, you’re going to be able to find your perfect color.
- Smart light bulbs allow for various shades of white. While cool white (bluish cast) is great for energizing in the morning, soft warm white (more golden cast) is better for later in the day to help us relax. While traditional light bulbs allow for one or the other, smart light bulbs allow you to optimize even the basic “white” light of your light bulbs.
- Smart light bulbs are easily controlled by apps, which are not only easy to set up, but they are also more capable of doing whatever you want with your lighting. Depending on the smart light bulb, you may have control options such as syncing your light with music, timing their on/off pattern, etc.
Cons of Smart Light Bulbs:
- Smart light bulbs are expensive. When you compare the cost of a traditional light bulb, and even more recent (and slightly more expensive) LED light bulbs, those prices will pale in comparison to the cost of quality smart light bulbs. Accept the fact that you’re paying not just for light but for lighting and controllability options when you look at the sticker price on smart light bulbs.
- Smart light bulbs often require an additional hub, which adds to the cost. This design is meant to help the lights work better and more consistently (and often achieves this result), but it does add “one more thing” to your smart home’s requirements.
Best in Class Smart Light Bulb
Philips Hue 3rd Generation Light Bulb Starter Kit
Considered to be the best smart light bulbs that you can buy, Philips Hue smart light bulbs are desirable for a variety of reasons:
- Easy to set up and use.
- Remote controllability via smart phone app (Hue) or even voice (Google Home, Amazon Alexa).
- Versatility in color options. (A single Philips Hue white and color smart bulb is available here; a single Philips Hue white smart bulb is available here)
The starter kit includes three white and color smart bulbs as well as the Hue bridge, which is required for use of any Philips Hue smart light bulb.
Philips has been a quality manufacturer in the lighting world for a long time, so it’s not terribly surprising that the Philips Hue bulbs are among the best smart light bulbs available. The newer Hue bulbs last longer than their earlier versions. They are versatile – you can choose simple white smart bulbs or color-changing bulbs (which are more expensive because they are technically more complex). And we’re not talking just primary colors, here. You have options of millions of colors with your Philips Hue bulbs, customizable to fit your mood and controlled wirelessly (via a smart phone or other device). You can install them pretty much anywhere where regular-sized lightbulbs fit, adding to their versatility. And they are 800 lumens which is enough to keep small to medium sized rooms adequately lit.
Philips Hue bulbs do require a Hue Bridge hub, regardless of whatever other smart hub or device you’ve got in your home. The Hue bridge can accommodate up to 50 bulbs, though, so one bridge is likely to suffice even if you want to swap out all the light bulbs in your home. They’re also a bit more expensive than other Bluetooth-compatible smart bulbs. But the Hue bulbs are voice-controllable through Google Home or Amazon Alexa, which is convenience incarnate.
There are also a variety of Hue accessories available, which can add to your already improved lighting experience. These accessories include a dimmer switch, tap, or motion sensor. These can be paired with your existing smart home automation system (e.g., Nest, Samsung SmartThings).
Other Smart Light Bulb Options.
There may be some aspects of the Philips Hue smart light bulbs that appeal to you and perhaps some aspects that seem extraneous or undesirable. If this is the case, there are plenty of other smart light bulb options for you, including the following:
1. LIFX Wi-Fi Smart LED Light Bulb
As its name suggests, LIFX smart light bulb has built-in wi-fi capability, which means several things. First, it means that the bulb itself is a standalone smart piece – it doesn’t need a hub to operate effectively. This is a big selling point for someone just starting out in the smart home world, especially if you’re not sure which hub or system you want to embrace for the rest of your home right now. LIFX boasts an easy to set up design: simply screw in the light bulb and then follow the instructions included in the app for either single bulbs or groups of them. Couldn’t be simpler, right? That being said, it’s also compatible with a variety of smart home interfaces, including Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit, and Google Assistant.
LIFX is a multicolor bulb, offering millions (16, to be exact) of colors and white options, from the coolest blue to the warmest whites you could want. The brightness is above normal for common LED lights, equivalent to a 75W bulb. (Most common LED lights are equivalent to 60W.) Although, if you don’t want the bright, you’re in luck because LIFX is also dimmable. And the beam angle of LIFX is wide, at 135 degrees. The LIFX app offers a variety of (and many) customization options, such as lighting schedules, strobe options for parties, groupings, etc. It needs to be stated, however, that the LIFX bulbs are a bit larger than some of the other smart light bulbs on the market, so be aware of this. They’re also a bit more expensive, as a single unit, than other smart light bulbs that do require a hub.
2. C by GE A19 C-Life and C-Sleep Smart LED Light Bulb Combo
This GE smart bulb combo pack is divided into two distinct and functional categories. C-Sleep is designed to create great mood lighting, such as bedroom lighting, where it’s warm and calm in the evenings and vibrant and energizing in the morning. C-Life is for everyday use, as a single-color bulb that has controllable features, allowing you to determine optimal light at any moment of the day or night. These smart bulbs connect through Bluetooth and don’t require wi-fi or other technology. This makes them on the smaller side (which is a bonus in some instances) and less expensive (which is a bonus in all instances). The only caveat with this is that you need to be in bluetooth range, which is about 10 meters, to control the C by GE lights.
C by GE bulbs are comparable to a 60W incandescent bulb, but with much improved energy efficiency. These bulbs require no additional hub. Instead, they are Bluetooth enabled. Setup is boasted to be as easy as screwing in a lightbulb and downloading the C by GE app on your smart phone. Once you have the app, you will be able to instantly and effortlessly make any adjustments you might want to the lights’ brightness or color. You also have the capacity to group C by GE bulbs easily, and then create custom settings or scenes for optimal lighting. These bulbs are an excellent budget option for smart light bulbs, especially for those people who want an easy-to-control smart light but not necessarily an entire smart home system.
3. IKEA TRADFRI Gateway Kit, White Spectrum
A super-bright smart lighting option, the TRADFRI from IKEA’s default luminous flux is 980 lumens, with the color temperature of 2700K. It’s a very simple white light. This smart kit allows for beginners to dive into the realm of smart light bulbs easily, as it contains all the essential pieces: a gateway, remote control, and two E26 (larger base) white spectrum light bulbs. However, it should be stated that the bare basics aren’t necessarily what every beginner wants. The TRADFRI can be controlled using your smart phone when you’re connected to the same wi-fi network. Some people might find this restricting; others might be suited just fine.
The TRADFRI allows you to customize and modify your lighting variables, including brightness and scheduling. You can also purchase (separately) a remote control to use instead of your phone, which is a nice option for some with children or with smart phone restrictions. The biggest advantage of the TRADFRI smart lighting system is affordability, although you do need to be aware of the product restrictions that come with the low cost.
4. Cree BA Connected 60W Equivalent Daylight Dimmable LED Light Bulb
The Cree BA Connected LED Smart Bulb is equivalent to 60W and provides an all-around, all-directional bright light source. It’s a very affordable, basic smart light bulb option. While some smart light bulbs illuminate primarily (or only) out of the top of the bulb, Cree prides its omnidirectional lighting ability. The daylight feature of this Cree smart light bulb provides 5000K brightness, compared to the soft white version at 2700K. You can customize the settings to the Cree bulb, easily dimming or brightening it, scheduling its on/off pattern or automatic on/off lighting.
A talking point of the Cree light bulb is its extreme similarity to a “regular” light bulb, in addition to its lighting capacity. This connected LED bulb allows you to easily control light from anywhere with your iOS or android smartphone via compatible systems. These home automation platforms include Amazon Echo, Wink, WeMo, SmartThings, and ZigBee-certified hubs; the compatible hubs are all sold separately. So, wherever you’ve got an internet connection, you’ve got control of your Cree smart light bulb(s).
5. LAKES LED Smart WiFi 7W Light Bulb
With the LAKES LED smart light bulb, you aren’t confined to white light or a small table of primary colors; there are 16 million customizable colors available to you through this smart bulb, and the dimness/brightness is customizable as well. In true energy efficiency, 7W required to operate this smart light bulb is 80% more energy efficient than incandescent 60W bulbs, but without sacrificing light. The LAKES smart light bulb can be voice-controlled with Amazon Alexa or Google Home Assistant.
The LAKES light bulb is compatible with E26/E27 sockets. The RGB multicolor light is a great festive option for holidays, such as Christmas, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Independence Day, birthdays, Halloween, and so much more. Standing by its product, LAKES provides a thorough product guarantee with its three-year warranty, 30,000-hour lifetime. As it’s controlled by wi-fi, the smart light bulb has infinite range remote control; if your home has multiple LAKES lights, you can control them separately or in groups. There is also permanent memory function, so you don’t have to re-program the lights each time to get your favorite settings.
6. Philips Hue Go Portable Dimmable LED Smart Light Table Lamp
The Philips Hue Go Portable smart light takes “smart lighting” to a whole new level. You can carry your own personal light source or light show, depending on what you want to have happen, wherever you go. Millions of colors are available, and you can sync the lighting to your favorite music, movies, and/or games. Hue Go has a power adapter that plugs into a regular electrical outlet, but it also can use a rechargeable lithium ion battery that boasts a three-hour operating light, so you really do have options away from traditional lighting sources. Like, if you’re simply hanging out in another room in your house, you can take some cool lighting along with you. It’s not necessarily meant for camping, as Hue Go still requires wi-fi to connect. But still. Wireless, portable, and rechargeable. It’s the ultimate in smart lighting.
Hue Go is designed to look well on its own, with elegant curves and a transparent casing. You can experience ultimate convenience by voice-controlling your Hue Go smart light with Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit, or Google Assistant. The bulb can also be integrated into your smart home with Nest and Samsung SmartThings. Hue Go does require a Hue bridge, which is not included, for control of the smart light via the Philips Hue app. Other Hue accessories can also be added to enhance your lighting experience.
7. Nanoleaf NL22-0003TW-9PK Aurora Smarter Kit
The Nanoleaf Aurora Smarter Kit offers color-changing light that you can fine-tune and customize yourself. Options range from 1200K to 6500K, soft warm sunset light to bright white daylight. The light panels are customizable with a free Nanoleaf smarter series app on your iOS or android smart device, as long as the app is on the same network as the lights. So, essentially, you have control in three separate ways: app, voice, or physical controller. Basically, Nanoleaf panels allow you to create art with your lighting, through how you choose to configure it and connect to create unique shapes.
Installation of this smart light panel kit (which includes nine panels, one power supply unit, one controller unit, and nine linkers) is easy and no-hassle, because the kit comes with 28 double-sided mounting pads. You don’t have to drill holes to install the light panels; you can simply mount the panel(s) onto any flat surface with the provided mounting tape. The panels should be connected together, although each system can support up to 30 separate light panels, so you can really get efficient with your lighting and programming.
In the ever-growing world of smart, smarter, and smartest technologies, it can be hard to get a foothold, or to stay up on the latest developments. But when you can identify an area where some smart technology truly does make your life easier, safer, and/or more enjoyable, it makes taking those steps toward smart home much more enjoyable and reasonable. Smart light bulbs provide a variety of advantages, some disadvantages, and plenty of options for those who are willing to consider them. As with everything technological, however, be sure to do your research so you can identify, truly, what technology is right for you, your personality, your style, and your life.