Why smart lighting?
Well, there's plenty of reasons. Smart bulbs have tons of features, letting you do things like dimming and turning them on/off with your voice (when paired with Alexa, Google Assistant or Siri).
You can group bulbs together to have your living room, family room, master bedroom, man cave or basement, and even your entire home under a single control.
And you can set up routines - for example, announcing "movie time" will turn off the main lights and dim the others. Or, you can have your kitchen light, or front foyer, turn on when you open the front door.
Another great reason to have smart lighting is scheduling and for crime prevention. You can have your bulbs turn on at set times, or when you're not home. Some will even mimic your patterns using AI or flicker like someone's watching TV, to give the impression someone's in the house and ward off any chancing burglars.
How do smart bulbs work?
First, the basics. These devices are like regular light bulbs, but they're connected to the internet in some way. Some work via Wi-Fi (namely Lifx), which means you need no extra hardware, but others need a hub connected to your router. Some even connect direct to your phone via Bluetooth.
How do you install a smart bulb?
Every system is different, but the bulb itself will in most cases screw in your current light bulb socket like any other. Then you set up the hub and app on your mobile phone, and you're good to go. For hubless Wi-Fi bulbs, screw them in and turn them on, then use the app to send the Wi-Fi details to them.
Are all smart bulbs expensive?
Well, it depends what you want, but they don't have to be. However, they are more expensive than standard bulbs, on the whole. We'd advise getting a good deal on a starter kit and then waiting to grab single bulbs during a sale – the big retailers are always discounting.
Technology behind smart bulbs
There are four (4) main types of smart bulbs available today: Zigbee, Z-Wave, Wifi, and Bluetooth.
Each of these three methods has pros and cons, and some of them even require additional hardware to make them work with whatever smart home system you're running.
Zigbee and Z-Wave bulbs
The most popular connection methods, and arguably the most reliable, are smart bulbs that rely on the Zigbee and Z-Wave protocols to connect to your smart home. The great thing about using Zigbee and Z-Wave bulbs is reliability and versatility… you should hardly notice any lag at all from sending a command to the light doing what you want it to.
Zigbee and Z-Wave are smart home protocols that are built to work in a big system connected by a hub. Thus, if you've got a Zigbee or Z-Wave smart bulb, you can connect it to pretty much any Zigbee or Z-Wave hub you have.
The most famous example of this is Amazon's Echo Plus and Philips Hue. Normally, you need a Philips Hue hub to run Hue bulbs. However, because the Echo Plus has a Zigbee hub built in, you can use Hue bulbs with the Echo Plus directly – no Hue hub required. However, you are missing out on some of Philips custom features – custom scenes and such.
Similarly, you can do things like use Ikea Trådfri bulbs with Philips' hub. Essentially, because all of these bulbs use the same underlying technology, they can speak and connect with each other. You will not get some specific features that you'd normally get by sticking to one singular system, though.
The big drawback to Zigbee and Z-Wave smart bulbs is that you will need a smart hub of some sort. It could be a hub from a smart lighting maker, such as Philips, or it could be from a third-party such as Samsung, Wink, Matricom, Vivinit or others. This can cost you more money initially.
Smart bulb brands that use Zigbee or Z-Wave: Philips Hue, Sengled, Hive Active Lighting, Ikea Trådfri and loads more.
The second most popular type of smart bulb is Wi-Fi. You know and love Wi-Fi, it's what connects most of your devices in your home to the internet. From your TV to smartphone to laptop to game consoles, there are likely a lot of devices in your home sucking on that sweet internet from your router.
Wi-Fi smart bulbs work in a similar way. Rather than connect to a hub via Zigbee or Z-Wave, they connect directly to the internet via your router. This enables them to be controlled with an app right off your mobile phone. They largely allow you to avoid buying a hub, which can make buying into them more affordable than the first two smart bulb options described.
Wi-Fi bulbs aren't as easily connectible as Zigbee or Z-Wave bulbs. You need to connect them to an account with a manufacturer, like Lifx, and then you need to give the smart home service of your choice, like Amazon or Apple, access to that account to control them.
The other downside to Wi-Fi bulbs is that if you fill your house with them, you can drag down your internet. You may need a router or modem that can support a number of devices, because using a lot of smart bulbs could easily balloon the number of devices connected to your Wi-Fi. And, you may also notice some lag if your home network is busy.
Smart bulb brands that use Wi-Fi: Lifx, Eufy, Cree, Wiz.
The least popular connection type is Bluetooth, and that's for a reason. Sure, it might be cheap, allowing manufacturers to make absurdly affordable smart bulbs, but it's also surprisingly complicated.
Bluetooth bulbs connect to your smartphone and let you manage them that way. This is familiar and simple – you've likely got headphones or wearables that connect in the same way. However, there are several downsides to Bluetooth bulbs that make them a pain.
he first is pairing. Most Bluetooth devices need to be in a pairing mode – you know it well – and the same is true for Bluetooth smart bulbs. C by GE is a good example of how annoying pairing a Bluetooth smart bulb is. You've got to turn them off and on and off and on and on and off until they're in pairing mode.
You also can't control them when you're out of the home, and if you want to use something like Alexa or Google Assistant, you need to buy a hub to make that possible. Thus, Bluetooth smart bulbs are the least convenient when it comes to building them into your existing smart home system.
Smart bulbs that use Bluetooth: C by GE
Article note: This article is first published in December 2019. I update it frequently to reflect the dynamic and innovative smart light market, and making sure that we've tested the latest and greatest devices available for you to buy.
2020 - Smart Bulb I Recommend & Personally Use Today
LIFX A19 Mini Wi-Fi Smart Led Light Bulb (Latest Generation), Dimmable, Warm White, No Hub Required, Works with Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit, Google Assistant and Microsoft Cortana | US $19.99
- Compact design to fit most lamp and lighting fixtures
- 650 lumens; 50W comparable
- Energy efficient: uses only 8 watts
- Built-in Wi-Fi to work simply with your home
- Control anywhere in the world with LIFX Cloud connectivity
- Adjust and dim your lights with voice and app control
- Natural warm white at 2,700K
- 22.8 year lifespan based on 3 hours use per day
- Average Yearly Energy Cost $1.08
Another affordable and highly rated WiFi bulb is this one:
MagicLight WiFi Bulb No Hub Required, Dimmable Multicolor E26 A19 7W (60w Equivalent) Color Changing LED Smart Light, Compatible with Alexa Google Home Siri IFTTT (4 Pack) | US $36.99 (or $9.25 each)
- VOICE CONTROL - Works with Google Home Assistant voice control, Alexa, IFTTT and Siri Shortcut; Also you can control the smart lights remotely from anywhere with Magic Home Android & IOS App(Even not at home), You can control them INDIVIDUALLY or AS A GROUP
- MILLION OF RGB COLORS AND WHITE - Personalize your lights with over 16 million dimmable RGB colors, also there is a range of tunable white from 2700k to 6500k which includes warm white, pure white and daylight white etc, and its' brightness is equivalent to a 60w edison bulb
- WIFI SMART CONTROL & NO HUB REQUIRED - You can set different light modes to match various occasions. The app offer functions such as Timer Schedule, Music Sync, Scene Control, Dimmable, Color Palette, Group Control, Night light, Sunrise, Sunset, Dynamic Mode, Customzied Mode, Widget Control;
- ENERGY SAVING & WIDE USAGE - Over 30,000 hours or 27.39 years lifetime with normal use (3hrs/day). The 7watts smart LED bulb will save up to 80% energy consumption compared with a 60W traditional incandescent bulb. Suitable for home, indoor, bedroom, kitchen, living room, table lamp, cafe, bar, party etc
- AUTOMATE YOUR HOME - Turn lights on/off (or Sunrise & Sunset) on schedule, and control your lights remotely, This makes your home look like it's occupied especially when you're on vacation.