The 6 Best Smart Lightbulbs to Illuminate Your Life
They can dim, change color, and even mimic the sun.
Updated Sep 29, 2021 6:04 AM
As any good designer or architect will tell you, light is a transformative tool, every bit as impactful to the look and feel of your home as the furniture plan or paint colors. In the past, you had to fork over hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars for a team of professionals to install a lighting system with these capabilities. Now with the rise of smart home technology, it’s literally as easy as screwing in a lightbulb. “Simply adding in a smart bulb can completely change how you use the lights in your home,” says Ian Bryant, senior director of strategic partnerships at CEDIA, the trade group for the home automation industry.
While the best smart lightbulbs excel at dimming and changing hues, the benefits don’t stop there. Bryant mentions “human-centric lighting,” one of the latest trends, in which your home’s fixtures (everything from desk lamps to pendants) can be programmed to mimic the color and location of natural sunlight—low and dim at daybreak, high and bright during the afternoon, and low again as the sun goes down. “There is plenty of research showing the benefits to people’s mental health by having a home with human-centric lighting,” says Bryant. That includes helping you get a very good night’s sleep.
We turned to Bryant, along with other tech experts, to share the best smart lightbulbs to illuminate your home.
- Best overall: Philips Hue White and Color Ambiance
- Best value: IKEA Tradfri
- Best Edison style: Kasa Smart Wi-Fi LED Filament Light
- Best for easy installation: GE Lighting Cync Smart Home Starter Kit
- Best chandelier style: Bulbrite Solana
- Best smart light strip: LIFX LED Light Strip
A Few Things to Keep in Mind
Color and light intensity:These two factors tell you what you need to know about a bulb’s light quality. They’re listed on the Lighting Facts label that’s required on most lightbulbs. Color temperature, measured in Kelvin (K), tells you the color of the light. Warm yellow light is around 2,700K; bright white light ranges from 3,500K to 4,000K; and the bluest white light is 5,000K and up. Color intensity, measured in lumens, is all about brightness. An 800-lumen smart lightbulb will be as bright as a traditional 60-watt incandescent bulb.
Setup and controls: Most smart bulbs have a standard base, so it’s simple to screw them into existing fixtures in your home. If the bulb uses a home automation hub, it will need to be plugged in and connected to your Wi-Fi network. Other bulbs connect directly to Wi-Fi. Either way, you’ll need to download the smart phone app to set up the bulb and program any special settings, like schedules or scenes. If the bulb is compatible with your smart speaker, whether from Amazon, Apple, or Google, you can then set it up for voice control.
Integration: Smart lightbulbs are sometimes called the gateway to the smart home, since they’re the easiest way to experience the wonders of connected technology. If you get hooked and want to put in other smart home devices, from locks to cameras to video doorbells, you’ll find that many smart bulbs can be integrated into the smart home ecosystem. For example, you can program the light in your bedroom to flash anytime the doorbell rings, or you can sync your bulbs to your music system for a fun party effect.
Our Top Picks
Best Overall: Philips Hue White and Color Ambiance
Philips Hue is the first name in smart bulbs, having invented the device a decade ago. Though the market has become crowded, Hue still stands out as the best overall option, thanks to its incredible design versatility. With 16 million colors and 50,000 shades of white to choose from, there’s no ambience you can’t achieve. Thanks to the intuitive app, it’s easy to create different light scenes, as designers call the preprogrammed settings. For example, you can set your bedroom lights to come on gently in the morning, mimicking the rising sun, then slowly dim at the end of the day. Hue can also be integrated with Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit, and Google Assistant, bringing voice control to your home’s lighting plan. The only downside is you’ll need the Hue Bridge (included in the starter kit) to control lights remotely and connect them to other smart home devices.
Best Value: IKEA Tradfri
IKEA is a relative newcomer to the smart home space, but in a few short years it’s established a presence by doing what it does best—turning out solid products at a very competitive price. Costing less than $10, the Tradfri smart lightbulb definitely fits the bill. Though it only comes in white, it cranks out an impressive 806 lumens when you need plenty of light, but can be dimmed for lower light levels without requiring a hub. However, if you want to take advantage of advanced features—think: voice control or motion activation—you’ll need to purchase the separate IKEA Gateway ($35). The add-on provides remote control over other IKEA smart home products, including blinds and speakers.
Best Edison Style: Kasa Smart Wi-Fi LED Filament Light
This Edison-style bulb from Kasa has become a favorite of interior designers and architects. Though it uses the same energy-efficient technology as other smart bulbs (lasting up to 50,000 hours), the light-emitting diodes take the shape of filaments used in traditional incandescent bulbs. The vintage appeal comes with little trade-off in performance; you can still control the bulb via the app or voice control, without the need of a separate hub. In terms of brightness, the dimmable bulb only reaches 600 lumens, a bit less than most. But that shouldn’t be a deal breaker if you’re going for the soft glow of a traditional bulb.
Best for Easy Installation: GE Lighting Cync Smart Home Starter Kit
If you’re new to smart home technology, Cync (formerly known as C by GE) is worth a look. The one-stop brand does away with the need for a separate hub; instead all the connectivity is in the bulb. Simply screw it in, download the Cync app, and start playing around with the many features—creating schedules, setting light scenes, and programming your lights to work by voice control. Once you get comfortable with the smart bulbs, you can bring other Cync products into the experience, such as syncing the bulbs with motion sensors to automatically illuminate hallways in the middle of the night.
Best Chandelier Style: Bulbrite Solana
Here’s another filament-style smart lightbulb with vintage appeal. The Bulbrite Solana is the smart choice for chandeliers, wall sconces, and other fixtures that call for bulbs with a smaller B11 base. Though only available in white, the dimmable bulbs can be adjusted from cool daylight to warm candlelight, all through the Solana app or by voice control with an Amazon Alexa or Google Home voice assistant. At roughly $20 per bulb, they’re on the pricier side, but thanks to the long-lasting LED technology, it should be a few decades before you have to make the investment again.
Best Smart Light Strip: LIFX LED Light Strip
Pinterest-favorite light strips have countless design uses, from toe-kick lighting in the kitchen to colorful accents in the bedroom. This version from LIFX is among the best strips with built-in connected technology. The peel-and-stick fixture is simple to install, and setup is a cinch, too, since no additional hub is needed. Simply download the app and start playing around with the 16 million color variations. Individual color zones within the 3’3” strips allow you to create subtle variations or bold contrasting colors. Or use the Day & Dusk automation to program lights to mimic natural sunlight.
Pro Tips for Setting Up Lighting Scenes
- Save time by automating the lighting tasks you do regularly. That is, instead of flipping multiple fixtures in the kitchen throughout the day, program them all to come on at once according to desired light levels—one superbright scene for meal prep, one midlevel scene for dinner setting, and one low-light scene for entertaining.
- Use smart bulbs as home security lights. Many smart bulbs, including those by Philips Hue and LIF, have vacation modes that will automatically turn bulbs on and off at random times, creating the impression that someone is home. Even if you have to program your smart bulbs manually to do this, it’s a great burglar deterrent when you’re away on vacation.
- Consider smart light switches. While smart lightbulbs are a great entrance into smart lighting, they only give you control over the individual fixture. By upgrading to light switches, you’ll be able to control every fixture in the room, and in some cases other connected devices throughout the home.
Can I connect smart lightbulbs to a normal switch?
Yes, smart lightbulbs can be operated by a normal switch, whether on the wall or individual lamp. On the one hand, that’s a nice convenience. But it’s important to note that if the bulb is in the off position at the manual switch, power will be cut off, so you won’t be able to control the bulb remotely.
How much electricity do smart lightbulbs use?
Compared to traditional incandescent bulbs, very little. In fact, most LED smart bulbs can last 20,000 to 50,000 hours. Assuming the bulb is on for three hours a day, that works out to a lifetime of 18 to 46 years.
The Last Word
Lighting has the power to transform any living space. The best smart lightbulbs make the process easier than ever, allowing you to adjust light levels, inject color, and even mimic the sun’s natural rhythms. Start small with a single fixture, then move on to an entire room or even the whole house. Once you experience the convenience, fun, and health-enhancing features of the technology, you’ll never go back to the dark ages of conventional lighting.
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