Smart light bulbs are an ideal first step in creating a connected home, and it's easy to create brilliant lighting effects and automations that are both pleasing and useful.
Smart lighting, especially when wrapped into a voice controlled Amazon Alexa or Google Home system, using speakers like the Amazon Echo Dot or Google Nest Mini is a really cheap and easy way to bring convenient control to your smart lighting.
Why buy smart lighting?
Smart bulbs have tonnes of features, letting you do things like dim them and turn them on and off with your voice (when paired with Alexa, Google Assistant or Siri).
You can group bulbs together to have your whole downstairs, living room or home under a single control. And you can set up routines - so for example, announcing "movie time" will turn off the main lights and dim the others. Or, you can have your porch light turn on when you open the front door (with a sensor).
Another great reason to jump on with smart lighting is scheduling. 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 to choose a smart bulb
Buying smart bulbs used to be expensive, and some systems can have a high cost to entry. However, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth bulbs are bringing down the cost â and it's now possible to pick up connected lights for under $10 a time.
And it's not all just Philips Hue nowadays. There are plenty of alternatives in a plethora of sizes, shapes, colors and styles, from a huge array of different brands.
Rather than picking individual light bulbs for this smart lighting buyerâs guide, weâve instead picked what we believe to be the best smart light platforms â youâre much more likely to go all-in with one particular system rather than scatter various brands across your home - but don't worry, we'll discuss individual bulb choices too.
- How to control your smart lights with Alexa
- 9 clever ways to use smart home lighting
- Beautiful smart filament bulbs
Update: We updated this article in November 2020 to include the latest smart lights we've been testing from the likes of Hue, Innr, Wyze, Novostella and Eufy.
Jump to the information you need
- Best Alexa smart home lighting
- Best Google Assistant smart bulb
- Best Wi-Fi smart lighting
- Best HomeKit smart light
- Best Zigbee option
- Best cheap smart light
- Best for customization
- Smart bulbs: Know before buying
- Hub vs no hub: Which is better?
- Smart outdoor lighting guide
Philips Hue is the smart lighting granddaddy â the first Hue bulb was switched on back in October 2012. Itâs the original and itâs still the best in our eyes.
While the best route is still to get a Philips Hue Bridge (which comes in the starter kits) you can go hub-free - but you'll be more limited. Signify now sells Bluetooth versions of Hue, which are less expensive and talk directly to your smartphone. That means you lose control when you leave the house, but when you're home you can still enjoy Alexa and Google Assistant control, along with other tricks (although you won't be able to use routines).
The quality of the light â both on the Philips Hue white and color bulbs â is superb, with white temperatures between 2200K and 6500K and over 16 million colors on offer. Youâll struggle to find a light fitting that isnât catered for, either, and Philips also makes its own lamps and light fittings with Hue built in â there are almost 50 different shapes and sizes to choose from.
The Hue app is clean and you can even control your bulbs when youâre away from your house if youâve created an account and logged in within the app. The app even knows if youâre home or away, so it knows if youâve left the lights on by mistake (or whether to turn them on as you arrive home).
The scenarios are seemingly endless and the simplicity of Hue working in tandem with platforms like IFTTT and Logitech, along with Google Assistant, Apple HomeKit and Amazon Alexa, is one of the reasons itâs the starting point for many peopleâs smart home setups.
Compatibility: E26/27, E12/14, B22, GU10, PAR16, Bluetooth, mains.
What we love
- Comprehensive range
- Seamless integrations
- Huge Hue community
What we don't love
- Requires a hub for full experience
- Quite pricey
- App is a bit cumbersome
Best white-only bulb
Wyze has quickly made a name for itself as the maker of incredibly affordable, yet very good smart home gadgets. That doesn't stop with its $8 smart bulb, which performs many of the tasks other bulbs on this list do while costing less. You also don't need a hub to use it, meaning the grand sum of running one of these bulbs is â yep, $8. Did we mention the price yet?
Right now there's only a white bulb on offer - if you want any hues beyond "slightly warmer white" you won't get them here. But that one bulb shines bright, maxing out at 800 lumens, and as well as the color temperature (which runs 2700k-6500k) the brightness can be adjusted â just note that it doesn't go as dim as other smart bulbs.
For our money, it's the best value white-only bulb you can pick up right now, particularly as you don't need a hub â just connect them to your Wi-Fi and you're away.
The Wyze Bulb works with Alexa and Google Assistant, but Wyze has its own automations (called Shortcuts) and scenes in the app, which you might find more useful if you plan to use Wyze's lights with its other products, like the Cam or Sense. No HomeKit here though.
What we love
- That price
- Works with Wyze Shortcuts
- Easy to set up and use
What we don't love
- No color option (yet)
- No HomeKit
- Smaller brightness range than others
Read our full Wyze Bulb review.
The platform that started life originally as a Kickstarter project, Lifx is now a worthy rival to Philips Hue, with 16 million colors â 1,000 shades of white alone â and Wi-Fi bulbs with maximum brightness at 1,100 lumens. Best of all, Lifx bulbs don't require a hub.
Thatâs right â all you have to do to get some Lifx into your life is to screw one of the bulbs into a light socket and youâre good to go. Lifx smart home lighting has Wi-Fi built in so it can speak to your smartphone app or your smart speaker directly. Setup is about as easy as gets in the smart lighting world.
The Lifx range of bulbs is ever-growing â we had a mixture of white, color, Mini and lightstrip models on test â and each one behaved as well as the last, with minimal fuss pairing not only with the superb Lifx app, but also with an array of smart assistants to choose from.
The light quality is great with Lifx; 2500 â 9000K white light on the top models and that Hue-matching 16 millions colors, and while some people were put off by the flat head bulbs of the original line-up, the new Mini range do look a lot more like ârealâ light bulbs, albeit with a reduced and fixed (2700K) white light quality.
Where Lifx outdoes Hue, in our opinion, is with its integrated features when it comes to pre-set configurations and effects. Sure, Hue has an ecosystem of third-party apps that let you do pretty much anything youâd want from your lights â but Lifx puts neat functionality at the front and centre of the app.
Lifx taps into all the major smart home setups â Alexa and Google Assistant integration is mega easy but, HomeKit is a bit longer-winded â especially if you bought your Lifx bulbs pre-HomeKit compatibility went live and you have no sticker to scan. If this is the case (as it was for us) youâll have to go through a painful reset option to virtually get that HomeKit code.
Bulb for bulb, Lifx is actually a shade more pricey than Hue but, donât forget, you donât have to shell out for a separate hub to make it all work. Lifx's new app just launched too, and is vastly improved on the previous version.
Compatibility: E26/27, E12/14, B22, GU10.
What we love
- No hub or extra gear required
- Full list of integrations
- Great selection of bulbs
What we don't love
- Bulbs alone can be more expensive than Hue
- Some setup niggles
Read our full Lifx Mini review.
Sengledâs been in the smart light game a while now, and while it's not technically the cheapest on this list (that title goes to Wyze) it has a wider range of affordable options. At $9.99 for a single A19 bulb - in either âsoft whiteâ or âdaylightâ flavors - this is a really cheap way in.
Even better, you donât necessarily need the Sengled hub to use these lights. If you have an Amazon Echo Plus, Samsung SmartThings hub or another smart hub, you can power them with those via the power of Zigbee. Otherwise youâll need to pick up the Sengled hub, but you can nab that with a couple of bulbs in the starter kit for $40.
Sengled has also added support for Alexa, Google Assistant and HomeKit. For Alexa you can do this by connecting your Echo Plus directly to the bulbs, for Assistant youâll need to go via a hub, whether thatâs the Wink, Samsung SmartThings or Sengledâs own, and for HomeKit you'll need Sengled's newest hub the E39-G8C.
With an output of 800 lumens and a color temperature of 2,700K, the lights are about what youâd get from a standard household bulb. If you get the Sengled hub, thereâs a separate app you can use to control your infantry of smart bulbs - up to a maximum of 64.
Sengled makes a strong value proposition with its smart lights - and delivers. As these are Zigbee end devices, larger homes might need a signal boost. But the fact it works with hubs outside of Sengled's own scores it a lot of extra points.
Compatibility: E27/27, E12/14.
What we love
- Simple setup
- Can work with other Zigbee hubs
What we don't love
- Color bulbs not sold separately
Innr has placed itself as a brand that offers a lot of the great features of Hue, with a smaller hit to your wallet. While it has always been possible to get Zigbee bulbs working within the Hue ecosystem, Innr is by far the easiest.
There is a dedicated Innr Bridge but our advice would be to ignore that it even exists. Instead, opt for a more mainstream Zigbee hub to power the show, such as the Philips Hue Bridge or a Samsung SmartThings hub. Innr bulbs are a great way to bulk out your home's smart lighting, without moving away from your existing system or creating a new one. You'll have absolutely no issues getting Innr bulbs up and running with a dedicated hub such as Abode, SmartThings or an Echo Plus (or Echo Show 2nd-gen).
Using Hue, for example, the bulbs just show up as regular Hue-branded ones would. From there you can assign them to rooms/zones, add them to schedules, include them in groups and so on. Likewise with SmartThings, you can get them working in sync with sensors for automations.
In terms of availability there are white bulbs, color bulbs, candle shaped bulbs, filaments bulbs; as well as lightstrips, spotlights, recessed lights, puck lights for kitchen cabinets and a whole lot more.
In terms of quality - both build and light - they aren't quite as good as Hue; it's noticeable that the bulbs don't feel as sturdy as their pricier rival's and the colors are not quite as vibrant. But they are cheaper and are just as reliable.
Compatibility: E26/27, E12/14, B22, GU10, mains.
What we love
- Works with Hue, SmartThings and more
- Decent price-points
- Great range
What we don't love
- No HomeKit
- Native app is basic
Read our full Innr review.
C by GE
After various iterations on the name, C by GE is the company's latest line of smart bulbs and includes a full color bulb, a tunable white bulb, and a soft white bulb - all in A19 and BR30 sizes. But the major standout factor is that these bulbs carry the "Made For Google" label.
While they also play nicely with Alexa and HomeKit, the experience overall is much better if you're a Google Home user. That's because these bulbs are only "hub-free" when used with a Google Home. If you want to control it with Alexa or HomeKit remotely, you require a hub, C by GE switch, smart plug or the C-Reach bridge.
In sum, without being on Google's platform, the C by GE isn't for you. If you're still here, then here are the specs: 800 lumens for the tunable while, with color temps between 2000k and 7000k. The full-color bulbs are less bright â 760 lumens in A19 and 700 lumens in the BR30 bulb.
While you'll have access to Google's Routines in the app (along with voice and remote control), you'll get more options by using the C by GE app, including sleep/wake options, scene setting, and better automations. It's not a great app... but it works.
What we love
- Simple setup
- Made for Google
- Bright whites
What we don't love
- Need hub for out-of-home/voice control
- Limited options with Google Home
- Weak colors
Read our full C by GE bulbs review.
Nanoleaf is a modular lighting system, letting you stick panels together to create interesting and unique lighting on your walls. There are now three version of Nanoleaf's Lego-like lights, the triangular Light Panel, the square Canvas and the newer, hexagona or trlangular Shapes.
Once you've arranged them into your desired pattern, you can use the app to customize each panel to change colors and create movement patterns.So if you want to arrange your cool blue lights to transform into purple, and then red, and then yellow, have at it. If you want a giant peace-sign that flickers like a rainbow, go for it.
In the (albeit quite expensive) starter kits youâll get nine panels and a base station, but you can buy extra panels to keep expanding the design. They connect together using a clip-in, SIM card-esque, chip and stick on the wall using supplied sticky tabs. They weigh hardly anything so thereâs no need for screws.
Once arranged, you just use the app to scroll through different themes â some static, some rotate â and you can even design your own using the easy-to-use creators tool. There's also a feature called Rhythm Edition, which means that the Light Panels can sync up with your music, creating a physical visualizer for your wall.
HomeKit integration is strong â with scene selection made easy on iOS devices â and there's Google Assistant and Alexa voice commands on offer too so you can ask for your favorite scenes.
As well as the light panels that Nanoleaf made its name with, the company now has an Essentials line as well; a smart light bulb and smart lightstrip duo that both have Thread connectivity built in.
What we love
- Loads of fun colors
- Rhythm and Interactive work great
- App is packed with scenes
- Potential to add more panels
- Thread on new Essentials Range
What we don't love
- Some setup issues
- Expensive for some
- Mild connection dips
- Could have better voice control
Read our Nanoleaf Canvas review.
Take a look on Amazon and you'll see an absolute plethora of Chinese smart lighting options. There are so many, in fact (at too-good-to-be-true prices to boot), that it's hard to separate the wheat from the chaff.
Luckily, we've done a lot of wheat/chaff sorting here at Ambient HQ and we have no issues recommending Shenzhen-based Novostella, who have a huge range of well-priced smart light devices and models in its armory.
Like, Lifx, Novostella uses Wi-Fi to connect; so there's no need for a smart home hub to get started. The good news is that its has Alexa and Google Assistant compatible devices across the three main areas it works in: bulbs, floodlights and lightstrips.
The double good news is that there are weatherproof (IP65 and IP66) models across the board, so it's also a brand that can turn to if you want to make your garden lighting smart. You will, of course, need a decent Wi-Fi signal in your garden though and, be aware, it's 2.4GHz signals only.
The prices are competitive rather than super cheap and, while the native app is a a little clunky (it's the same 'Smart Life' app you might already be familiar with, for other Chinese smart lights), you only really need to use this for the initial setup - you can use Alexa or Google Home once it's all synced up.
What we love
- Works with both Alexa and GA
- Great price points
- Works outdoors
What we don't love
- Native app is naff
- Bulbs are a bit chunky
- Floodlights are a touch ugly (but they're not meant to be on show really)
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 fit a smart bulb?
Every system is different, but the bulb itself will in most cases screw in like any other. Then you set up the hub and app - and you're good to go. For hub-less Wi-Fi bulbs, screw them in and turn them on, then use the app to send the Wi-Fi network 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 in the sales â the big retailers are always discounting.
But there's an alternative. You can get many of the benefits of smart bulbs by changing out for a smart light switch instead. You lose some of the dimming and color features, but it saves buying 25 smart GU10 bulbs for your kitchen.
The connected tech behind smart bulbs
There are three major ways your smart bulbs connect to your smart home system. 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 versatilityâŠ 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 â no Hue hub required. However, you are missing out on some of Philips custom features â custom scenes and such.
Similarly, you can do things like use Ikea TrĂ„dfri 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 do need a smart hub of some sort. It could be a hub from a smart lighting maker, like Philips, or it could be from a third-party like 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, Innr, Ikea TrĂ„dfri 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 of some sort. They largely allow you to avoid buying a hub, which can make buying into them more affordable than the alternatives.
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 network. 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 â 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.
The first is pairing. Most Bluetooth devices need to be in a pairing mode â you know it well â 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
Why does connection type matter?
Now that you know about the three types of smart bulbs, what's even the point of it all? Well, when you're putting together your smart home, it's worth considering how all your devices are speaking to each other.
As you start to live among your smart home devices, you'll eventually come across moments where you notice seams in your setups. Maybe you slowly get tired of turning to individual apps to control your lighting or turn to unique features.
It's perfectly alright to not care about Philips' custom scenes, or not want to deal with Lifx's sometimes buggy app or C by GE's need for a hub. Sometimes you don't want to deal with all those apps and requirements and just want things to work.
To do that, you need to figure out the system you're building. If you want to make an Echo Plus the centre of your smart home, for instance, it could be worth going all in on Zigbee smart bulbs with no hubs. You're missing out on certain features, yes, but your life will be easier.
In fact, the biggest advantage of choosing the right bulb for your system is that you can group a bunch of them together. If you've got an Echo Plus or a Wink hub, it becomes very easy to group together Ikea, Philips and Sengled bulbs â and you won't have to turn to those individual apps.
Also, once you've got your smart lights up and running it is, of course, easy to group them and control them with the popular voice assistants like Alexa and Siri. Alexa, for example, doesn't care a hoot if your 'Downstairs lights' group is a mish mash of different brands.
What about that other connection type?
Zigbee, Z-Wave, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are the new glossary for bulb types, but lightbulbs have obviously been around for a long, long time. There are naturally more old school ways to identify bulbs, and you may come across them while you're shopping around for bulbs.
You'll see terms like A19, BR30 and GU10. What do these things mean? Well, they essentially signal what type of bulb you have. A19 is one of the most popular, a regular old bulb that you can plug in to most of your lamps and lighting fixtures.
GU10 is different, and rather than screw it in you've got a two-prong setup. They're basically modern, LED-based bulbs for halogen lamps. BR30, as you'll see from their form, are usually wider and bigger than most regular bulbs. These shine light in wider angles, covering more space. PAR30, on the other hand, is more directional and narrow, and they're mostly used outdoors in security situations.
It's the age-old question: Do you really need a hub for your smart lights? It's not ideal, but most smart bulbs work better when connected to a hub, the presence of which means they'll work using Zigbee or Z-Wave, which is a much more stable connection, with a longer range that's less prone to dropouts than Wi-Fi.
The other major benefit a hub brings is control. A hub is, after all, a central controlling device, and in some cases you'll need it for controlling your bulbs when you're out of the house. But the game is changing, and we're seeing some companies offer remote controls and scheduling without a hub at all â Wyze, one of the above picks, being an example of this.
You also need to ask yourself, what do you want in a smart light? Many Hue bulbs now come with a Bluetooth option, which allows you to connect your bulbs without a hub and enjoy some smart features so long as you're at home â and for a lot of people, that's all they need.
The obvious answer to the title question here is to check what each manufacturer offers, and the extent of control you'll get with or without a hub.
Lightbulbs are lightbulbs; just plug 'em in and flip a switch, right? Wrong. You've fallen at the first hurdle. There are a number of things you need to keep in mind when buying lightbulbs. Things we regularly gloss over.
For the most part, LED lightbulbs take care of most of these problems indoors. They're built to withstand most indoor conditions, they sap very little energy and they last a long, long time. Going outside, however, is a different ballgame.
The first thing you need to think about is the weather in your area. Does it get cold? Does it get rainy? Are there thunderstorms and humidity? Or do you get a dry, hot summer where you can bake an egg on the sidewalk? Take a good, hard serious look at the worst your climate can bring in a year.
Here's the good news: The vast majority â if not all â of smart bulbs are LEDs. They're generally built pretty well; there's a reason why every car manufacturer has turned to them for headlights. They work pretty well in the cold too â unlike fluorescent bulbs, which can flicker when it's too cold.
But LED bulbs can only take so much heat. That's a little strange, considering LED bulbs don't use a lot of energy, but it's true. The circuitry in an LED bulb is often packed into one area underneath the bulb. This circuitry is very sensitive to heat and humidity, so if it gets too hot the circuits could overheat and damage the bulb.
The damage could reverse one of the biggest advantages of LED bulbs: lifespan. So if you want to keep your bulbs healthy, you should avoid putting them in hot areas. If your climate is moderate, where it gets cold once in a while but doesn't get too hot or humid, you may get away with using an LED bulb outdoors.
Several manufacturers explicitly state whether their bulbs are suited for outdoor use. Hive, for instance, says its bulbs are only for indoor use. Sengled says its basic bulbs are only made to withstand 10 to 95% humidity in non-condensed environments, which make them a bad idea for both the outdoors and bathrooms. They're also not waterproof, which brings us to our next point.
Your bulbs need to be weatherproof to withstand the worst mother nature can throw at them. This means snow, ice, storms and more. Some manufacturers, like Philips and Lifx, make bulbs specifically built for the outdoors. The big benefit here is that they're tested and proved to work outside, and are fully weatherproof. They're also typically flood lights, blasting their light onto as wide an area as possible.
This article was first published way back in January 2018. We update it frequently to reflect the ever changing smart light market, making sure that we've tested the latest and greatest devices available for you to buy.