Investing in some smart light bulbs is an ideal first step to creating a smart home ecosystem. Smart lighting, especially when coupled with a smart speaker, can be a seamless way to control your home - and make for some very cool experiences.
And it's not just all Philips Hue nowadays - there are plenty of alternatives. There are a plethora of sizes, shapes, colours and styles on offer, from a huge array of different brands.
Rather than picking individual devices for this smart lighting buyerâs guide, weâve instead picked what we believe to be the best smart light platforms â after all, youâre much more likely to go all-in with one particular system, rather than scattering various brands across your home.
Quick look: Best smart lighting
Hue remains the undisputed heavyweight king in an ever-expanding division and with good reason. Itâs unrivalled in terms of choice, compatibility and quality.
Lifx is a serious contender in the smart lighting world - Bluetooth connectivity makes it the perfect bulb to start your smart home adventure, but less suited to larger set ups. Plays nice with everything.
Sengled makes a strong value proposition with its smart lights - and delivers. It still requires a hub, but will play nicely with third party Zigbee ones, making it pretty flexible as well as cheap.
Ikeaâs smart home bulbs are very much a work in progress with their buggy app and flaky performance but, at the prices the Swedish smart home giant is knocking them out for, they're seriously worth exploring.
How to get started with smart lighting
Why buy smart lighting?
Well, there's plenty of reasons - smart bulbs have tonnes of features so you can 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 "movie time" turns off the main lights, and turns everything else to a warn colour. You can have your porch light turn on when you open the front door (with a sensor). It's not just impressing your mates with garish colours - this is useful stuff.
Another great reason to jump on with smart lighting is scheduling. You can have your bulbs turn on when you're not home - either working late, or away on holiday. And some will mimic your patterns using AI or flicker like someone's watching TV.
How do smart bulbs work?
If you're new to smart bulbs, let's clear up the basics. These devices are actual bulbs that are internet connected. How they connect is another matter. Some work via Wi-Fi (namely Lifx), which means you need no extra hardware. Others need a hub connected to your router.
Why do so many smart bulbs need a hub?
It's not ideal, but smart bulbs work better when connected to a hub. The presence of a hub means they work using Zigbee or Z-Wave, which is a much more stable connected, with a longer range that's less prone to dropouts than Wi-Fi.
How do you fit a smart bulb?
Every system is different, but you set up the hub and app - then just screw in your bulb and turn it on at the wall. It should be found within the app. For hubless Wi-Fi bulbs, screw them in and turn them on â your phone will connect to them via Bluetooth and pass on your Wi-Fi details.
Are all smart bulbs expensive?
The price is dropping all the time, but yes â they're more expensive than standard bulbs. 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 colour features, but it saves buying 25 smart GU10 bulbs for your kitchen.
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.
You donât actually need a Philips Hue Bridge to get involved â you can just use a Hue Dimmer switch â but youâll be limited to just a simple dimming light situation, for up to 10 bulbs, which won't get you access to advanced features like colour control or schedules. You'll probably want to get started by hooking up a Bridge to your router and go from there. If youâre anything like us, you wonât stop until every light in your house is Hueâd-up.
Once you have a few bulbs, lamps and light strips synced up with your Bridge â a doddle using Philipsâ redesigned app â youâll be able to assign rooms, create custom scenes, set timers and so on. The quality of the light â both on the white and colour bulbs â is superb, with white temperatures between 2200K and 6500K and over 16 million colours 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. It's also not stopping there, with Philips Adore (the company's new lighting range for the bathroom) and the Hue Outdoor LightStrip both landing.
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).
There's also the Sync app for macOS Sierra and Windows 10, which syncs your lights with the movies you're watching, games you're playing and music you're listening to. All you have to do is fire up the app on your PC and select the mode you're planning on using.
But what really sets Hue apart is the ease in which you can get your connected bulbs singing and dancing with your other smart home kit. The Friends of Hue program includes the likes of IFTTT, Xfinity and Logitech, and smart home platforms including Works with Nest, Google Assistant, Apple HomeKit and Amazon Alexa have been added in the last few months too, meaning voice controls for turning your lights on and off, as well as extra security measures like having all of your lights turn on if motion is detected by a certain camera, or having your lights all flash red if your Nest Protect detects Carbon Monoxide.
Using HomeKit or IFTTT you can also create elaborate scenes across all of your connected tech such as having your temperature set to your perfect sleeping level, while at the same time having your lights switched off, your blinds closed and your alarm armed. The scenarios are seemingly endless and the simplicity of Hue working in tandem with these platforms is one of the reasons itâs the starting point for many peopleâs smart home setups.
Check out our ultimate Philips Hue guide for a run-down of every feature.
Compatibility: Android, iOS, E26/27, E12/14, B22, GU10, PAR16, mains.
- The original and still the best
- Huge choice of bulbs and fittings
- Friends of Hue platform
- Not the cheapest
- Still reliant on Hub
- Default scenes wonât go away
C by GE
GE is another of the biggest names in smart lighting, and its C by GE line is its major entry into the world of smart lighting. C by GE is actually a big line of products, which include a lamp and a smart switch. It's the bulbs we're after, though.
Those bulbs work with both Alexa and Google Assistant (HomeKit support is promised, but has yet to arrive), and require the C-Reach hub for voice control and out-of-home control. There are two main variants here. There's C-Life and C-Sleep. The former is built for regular lighting; bulbs have 850 lumens of brightness and work from 2000K to 7000K color temperature.
The C-Sleep bulbs, on the other hand, are meant to be used wherever you lay your weary head at the end of a day. Their color temperature ranges from 2000K to 5000K, so they don't go as bright.
There is a third type of bulb here, the new Made for Google C by GE bulb, which doesn't require the Reach hub to work. You simply plug in your Google Home, screw in the bulb, open the Google Home app and add them. That's it, and that's wonderful because the regular method of connecting C by GE bulbs can be a pain.
It's not that it's complicated - it's not, these are Bluetooth bulbs, and you just have to follow the instructions in the app, which extend to "connect to Wi-Fi and add it to the app." The problem is that the app is pretty spotty. We had to restart installing the Reach three times, and we had to reset the bulbs once. The bulb reset sequence is ridiculous, having you turn off the light, waiting, turning it on, off, on, off, on, waiting, and off, then turning it on.
The best part is that the C by GE bulbs are quite affordable in the US, costing you about $30 for a two pack. In the UK, they're harder to find, and you'll pay upwards of ÂŁ70 on Amazon from third parties. They're not the smartest bulbs - you're not getting fancy colors like some of the other options - but if you want dependable, solid and bright bulbs they're a good, affordable fit.
Compatibility: A19, BR30, E26
- Made for Google support
- Simple to use
- No HomeKit support
- Buggy app
- No color options
A couple of years ago, Lifx would have just been one of the many tiny blips on the smart bulb radar. However, the platform that started life originally as a Kickstarter project, Lifx is now a worthy rival to Philips Hue, with 16 million colours â 1,000 shades of white alone â and Wi-Fi bulbs with maximum brightness at 1,100 lumens. And best of all, Lifx bulbs don't need 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 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 worlds.
The Lifx range of bulbs is ever growing â we had a mixture of white, colour, 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.
The light quality is great with Lifx; 2500 â 9000K white light on the top models and that Hue-matching 16 millions colours as mentioned, 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.
Lifx doesn't just do more traditional bulbs, it also has the Beam and Tile. These are lighting fixtures that you can stick on your wall and arrange how you like. They can be set to Lifx's custom themes, but they also are built to pulse with ever-changing colors. In our time with the Beam, we've found them to be easy to install and a great addition to the ambience of any room.
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. Weâve had a lot of fun testing the various effects on offer â âSpookyâ was particularly good on Halloween â and the Day & Dusk function makes it super simple to get more natural and useful lighting throughout the day without having to faff around in the app, sliding the brightness and warmth wheel around.
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.
However, once all paired up, everything works seamlessly and Lifx is also one of the best platforms for syncing up with the likes of IFTTT for instant alerts via your connected bulbs.
Bulb for bulb, Lifx is actually a shade more pricy than Hue but, donât forget, you donât have to shell out for a separate hub to make it all work.
Compatibility: Android, iOS, E26/27, E12/14, B22, GU10, mains.
- No hub
- Great quality lighting
- Excellent smart home integrations
- Still quite expensive
- HomeKit setup can be annoying
- Flat headed bulbs not the slickest
Hive Active Light
Previously not included in our round up because lighting was second fiddle to the rest of Hiveâs (decent) smart home ecosystem, new additions make Hive Active Lights a recommended smart bulb platform in its own right.
Hive has introduced white and full colour bulbs, all controllable from within the Hive app â and by Amazon Echo and Google Home smart speakers. You do need the Hive Hub for these guys to work, as they run on Zigbee, but that means theyâre less prone to outages, and in over a year of using Hive, weâve never experienced problems.
If youâre not using Echo or Google Home, then the Hive app has some decent features including Recipes for automating actions. These work particularly well with the Hive View camera and the Hive Active Door Sensors, so you can have the lights come on automatically when you arrive home. Thatâs a really neat feature and a benefit of buying into the Hive ecosystem over just a smart bulb platform.
The only downside of the platform is that itâs not quite as fast as Philips Hue or Lifx. The bulbs are a touch lethargic to turn on and off â although itâs only something you notice when using the two systems side-by-side.
But itâs new additions to the Hive lighting platform that have really caught our attention. First is that the company has just released its smart GU10 spotlight bulbs in the UK. Theyâre ÂŁ15 a pop, and you get six for ÂŁ70 â which works out as good value in our book. Theyâll be dropping in the US shortly.
And the final change is that Philips Hue bulbs can now work as part of your Hive lighting set up. If youâre using a voice assistant to unify bulbs thatâs not big news, but it means that if you already have a Hue bulb, you can tap into the cheaper Hive ecosystem much more easily.
And cost is a big part of Hive's allure. Hiveâs bulbs are reasonable to pick up (starting at ÂŁ18.99), once youâve forked out extra for a hub, which means that you can build out your home lighting pretty quickly, while tapping into the excellent smart thermostat system too.
Compatibility: Android, iOS, E26/27, E12/14, B22, GU10, mains.
- Good value
- White, colour and GU10 bulbs
- Simple to set up
- Requires hub
- Can be a little slow
- Slow roll-out to the US
Sengledâs been in the smart light game longer than Ikea, but itâs offering a similar affordable option with its Element Classic bulbs. At ÂŁ12.99 for a single A19 bulb - in either âsoft whiteâ or âdaylightâ flavours - 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 a Wink 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, so this is still priced as one of the more affordable smart lighting systems out there.
Sengled has also added support for Alexa and Google Assistant control. For Alexa you can do this by connecting your Echo Plus directly to the bulbs, but for Assistant youâll need to go via a hub, whether thatâs the Wink, Samsung SmartThings or Sengledâs own. Weâve got a couple of Sengled bulbs hooked up to SmartThings, which we control through Google Assistant, and it's been perfectly responsive.
With an output of 800 lumens and a colour 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. If you want to throw some colour in, you can also snag one of the Element Plus bulbs, which otherwise operate exactly the same as the Classic.
Jumping on a new trend, Sengled also has the new Color Color Plus bulb speaker. Yes, a bulb speaker. When you switch it to Rhythm mode, your bulb will sync up with the music and change its colors based on what you're listening to. There's now also the Element Color Plus, which is Sengled's answer to the colorful smart bulbs from its rival, though you may want to hold off for its motion-sensing bulb coming in later in the year.
The drawbacks? First is that these bulbs wonât work with HomeKit - yet; itâs something Sengled says itâs still looking at. Something that might be a problem for use in larger homes is that these bulbs aren't Zigbee repeaters, so you might need something to extend the signal across a large area. Also right now it appears that the colour bulbs canât be bought separately. Be prepared for minimal instructions in the box too, but the setup is thankfully easy enough that this isnât much of a problem, and a lot is covered on Sengledâs website.
Compatibility: Android, iOS, E27/27, E12/14, mains
- Simple setup
- Can work without Sengled hub
- No HomeKit support
- Colour bulbs not sold separately
- Not Zigbee repeaters
Nanloeaf Light Panels
The cool thing about smart light bulbs is that they look like regular bulbs: you can screw them into your existing sockets and use your phone or smart home assistant to control them. The cool thing about the Nanoleaf Light Panels (formerly known as the Aurora) is that it looks nothing like a regular light bulb.
Inspired by the aurora borealis, the Light Panel is a whole different beast. It's a modular lighting system that can instantly upgrade the wow-factor of your smart home. If you want to show off your âhome of the futureâ to your pals but speaking to Alexa and dimming your room lights isnât doing the trick â the Light Panels definitely will.
Nanoleafâs modular system allows you to arrange the triangle shaped pattern in any shape you want, and you can use the app to customise each panel 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.
The Nanoleaf Light Panel is not designed to compete with the likes of Lifx and Hue â instead itâs designed to add a colourful splash of fun to your home lighting. And, that it does. Itâs a brilliant talking point. Friends have commented on the cool mood lighting during get-togethers and kids have gone crazy watching the different panels play through colours and shapes.
In the (albeit quite expensive) starter kit youâll get nine panels and a base station and 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 or the like. Itâs best to design your pattern, either by drawing it out by hand or using the assistant in the app, first â otherwise you could end up with a random mess.
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. If that sounds like too much work, then you can steal other peopleâs ideas â users can update their designs to the app for others to download.
More recently, Nanoleaf has updated the Light Panels to something called Rhythm Edition. Basically, this means that the Light Panels can sync up with your music. So as your music goes, the Light Panels will put on a little show and turn into a physical visualizer.
HomeKit integration is strong â with scene selection made easy on iOS devices â and there is also Google Assistant and Alexa voice commands on offer too so you can ask for your favourites scenes. Nanoleaf also has a music visualizer accessory too, making the Aurora even more awesome for parties.
- So much fun
- Very customisable
- Straightforward installation
- Quite expensive
- More fun than useful
- Need mains â cable hiding issues
Ikea turned up at the smart lighting party in early 2017 with the TrĂ„dfri smart lighting range. Sure it keeps things simple, but with starting prices at ÂŁ7 per bulb, you can forgive a lack of lighting features.
The Ikea TrĂ„dfri range is just so Ikea â as in, it comes in that 1984-esque white and black boxing, has an impossible to pronounce Scandinavian name and includes flat-pack instructions for how to get your new connected bulbs up and running. A LOT of flat pack instructions. For example, the motion sensor kit (one bulb, one sensor) comes with no fewer than five manuals explaining whatâs actually a very simple setup. 192 pages (weâre not kidding) of instructions and warnings, in 28 languages (again, not kidding), on setting up a lightbulb with a motion sensor. Overkill. Planet-killing overkill.
Itâs also straightforward and simple â another two Ikea traits; much more useful Ikea traits. You'll need to buy a Gateway (ÂŁ25) to open up the app-powered controls such as timers, moods, scenes and alarmsâŠ nothing ground-breaking but all very easy to use.
But, you donât even have to go fully smart lighting at all with the bulbs â you can just connect them to accessories like the wireless dimmer (ÂŁ8) or the remote control (ÂŁ15) and never even bother to install the TrĂ„dfri smartphone app.
If you do decide to go âsmartâ, thatâs where it does get a bit more tricky and fiddly. You see, itâs not the bulbs themselves that you pair to the Gateway, but the controllers (the wireless dimmer or remote control already mentioned). Once paired to the Gateway you then add bulbs to that switch/dimmer (up to 10 bulbs per controller). It's not that complicated, but more drawn-out than it needs to be and we found the whole system falls apart if the steering device is more than a few metres from the Gateway.
When the range first went live it was white only (dimmable, of course) lighting â but the range is already vast and growing rapidly and there are now colour bulbs in the mix too. Youâll find bundles of accessories starting from just ÂŁ15 and bulbs, or standalone A+ Energy LEDs bulbs from a ridiculously cheap ÂŁ7.
The first colour bulb in the lineup is ÂŁ35 and comes with a remote control. A plethora of fittings are on offer and Ikea is even offering up light doors and panels for you fitted kitchen. Thereâs no away from home control for your Ikea lights so youâll have to rely on timers for any sort of security setup using the range - or make use of automations within Alexa, Google Assistant or Apple Home.
If youâre not bothered about a huge array colours, or in fact all that convinced you need smart lighting in your home â Ikeaâs bulbs are probably your best bet. As stated you donât even need to use an app to control them and for standalone bulbs they arenât much more expensive than regular white LED lightbulbs. Sure, the platform is by far the buggiest that weâve tested and the app is basic at best â but the price points are great.
Compatibility: Android, iOS, E26/27, E12/14, GU10.
- Cheap, cheap, cheap
- Works without hub/app
- Zigbee compliant
- Limited shades/colours
- Fiddly pairing to Gateway process