Arguably, the easiest entry into making your home “smart” is by way of smart lighting. As opposed to something like smart locks, thermostats, mesh Wifi networks, etc. – smart lighting is relatively plug and play, and doesn’t require a lot of technical know-how in order to get up and running.
Regardless of how easy it is to get going, it’s still one of the most impressive things to people who aren’t familiar with smart home tech, and it also adds a level of convenience to your home-living experience. So if you’re ready to get started with your smart home, or add on to your existing platform, check out our list of the best smart lights below!
If you’re an absolute smart home beginner, with no other hubs or accessories that you’re worried about trying to tie together, GE’s offering is a good place to start. The “C” lineup from GE consists of Bluetooth-connected bulbs that provide a range of temperature to suit your needs. Currently, this lineup consists of two bulbs – C-Life and C-Sleep. The difference being that C-Sleep allows you to adjust color temperatures in addition to brightness. These bulbs are a great budget buy, but you will notice that they aren’t as feature heavy as what you will find from others in this space.
The main downfall to these lights is that there is no voice control at the moment. GE has indicated that voice control will be available soon via their own proprietary bridge (additional hardware) but you won’t be tying these into Google Home, Apple HomeKit or Amazon Echo.
For the price of only $48 (at the time of this writing), it’s hard to beat what you can get. The starter kit comes with two C-Life bulbs, and two C-Sleep bulbs. As GE suggests, the C-Sleep bulbs will go in your bedroom and can automatically adjust lighting conditions based on your sleep routine. So, for instance, with a bit of configuring, your C-Sleep bulbs will automatically turn on, and gradually brighten and change color temperature to encourage you to get your day started. And at night, they’ll do they opposite to help you wind down. Granted this functionality can be achieved in other bulbs on the market, this is pretty cool trick for a bulb that is so affordable.
Speaking of budget buys, the Ikea Tradfri starter kit is another cost efficient entryway into smart lighting set ups. This starter kit is pretty comparable to what you would find with a Phillips Hue starter kit, minus the ability to introduce other colors into your home’s lighting. Currently, the Tradfri lineup only provides white light. Similar to what Phillips has to offer, the Tradfri starter kit comes with Ikea’s proprietary hub, called the Gateway, two E26 bulbs, and a magnetic remote control.
With the Tradfri starter kit you will find a familiar experience to what you’d get with other competing systems. With the Gateway and and Ikea Tradfri app set up, and with your bulbs paired, you can turn your lights on and off, dim them, and change the color temperature of the white light. Additionally, you can set various routines and moods to really customize your experience from your smartphone. The one immediate downside to the Ikea Tradfri smart light set up is that it does not currently work with Amazon Echo or Google Home. However, Ikea has announced that this feature is coming soon, so now might be a good time to get in. Another key downfall is that you cannot control your lighting unless you are on the same WiFi network.
At the end of the day, the real draw to Tradfri ecosystem is the sheer affordability. Adding on to your system is quite cheap considering each bulb is only around $18. With that said, you could outfit your entire home (within the limitations of the Gateway) for not a lot of money. As for the starter kit? It’ll set you back just $80.
Next up is something that’s a little more on the pricier side of the spectrum. Ilumi has been around for a few years now, but they’re still a solid choice in the smart light space. The first thing you’ll notice right of the bat is “whoa, those are expensive.” But, the question is – the price justifiable? The short answer is… kinda. An upsell for the Ilumi is that you don’t need anything other than your phone and the bulbs to get the job done. No bridges, gateways, hubs, etc. are required in order for you to control the lights with your phone. That’s because everything is handled via Bluetooth – similar to how Ikea is handling the Tradfri system.
In addition to not needing any sort of hub, the Ilumi system also offers a range of neat features that somewhat helps to justify that price tag. Granted these features aren’t always the most reliable, and some even just a little gimmicky. For instance, if you want to sync your Ilumi bulbs up with some music and have them pulse to the rhythm, you can do that. But, don’t expect too much from it. You can also have the lights triggered by proximity. So, if you wake up in the middle of the night and need to make quick trip to the john, your hallway Ilumi bulb could reveal the way. The catch is that you need to have your phone with you for the bulbs to recognize you’re nearby.
Overall, it comes down to preference here. If you don’t want yet another accessory like a hub sitting on your countertop or in your living room, and if you prefer the ease of using Bluetooth to control the lights, this might be a good option for you. At $50 per bulb, however, there’s a lot of more affordable options available these days.
Keeping with the more expensive theme, LIFX is another smart bulb ecosystem that has been around for some time now. In fact, LIFX has been around since the infant stages of the smart home tech boom, with crowdfunding campaigns dating back to 2013. The offering here is pretty standard as far as what you can do with the bulbs, but a big selling point is the quality of these bulbs. The LIFX bulbs have a superior build quality to that of other competitors. Outside of that, many people will claim a much more accurate color representation from these bulbs, as well as a more bright light. In fact, the LIFX A19 bulb is rated at 1100 lumens, compared to the Phillips A19 at only 800 lumens. So, if you’re looking for the best of the best in terms of quality, and aren’t too concerned with money, this might be a good buy for you.
Like other smart lights, the LIFX system is WiFi enabled. And, even though it can be paired up with Amazon Echo and a whole host of other smart devices (including the Nest Thermostat and Samsung SmartThings,) you aren’t required to use any sort of hub to control your lights via WiFi. If you’re looking for something more than just your traditional color palette, bright white lights, dimming, etc. – LIFX has a couple of other goodies available.
The LIFX + A19 Night Vision emits950 nanometer infrared light. Basically, if you have any night vision security cameras in your house, this will help the cameras see better. In addition to that, LIFX offers an LED light strip that can be configured to create custom scenes by setting the color for various “zones” along the light strip.
Overall, at nearly $50 for a standard white-only bulb, it’s hard to recommend this for the price. However, if money is no object, this is certainly one of the better options on the market today.
The Misfit Bolt is another option that offers a reasonable amount of quality for a not too expensive of price, at around $25 a bulb. Now, before we get to far, it’s worth noting that this bulb is no longer sold directly by Misfit. So, proceed knowing that if you purchase this bulb, there isn’t going to be a ton of support for the lineup moving forward. But, if you’re just interested in dipping your toes into the smart light world, this may be a good place to start.
As for the quality of the bulb, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at color accuracy you can achieve here. If you’re in to setting specific atmospheric moods in your rooms, these bulbs are going to be the way to go. However, if you’re into brightness more so than color, you may want to look elsewhere. The Misfit Bolt can put out great colors, but the brightness is one department in which it’s lacking. Compared to the standard A19 Phillips bulb which puts out 800 lumens (and the LIFX A19 bulb at 1100 lumens,) the Misfit defaults to 600 lumens. If you feel like pulling your phone out and opening the app, you can crank up the brightness to a max of 800 lumens.
Speaking of pulling your phone out of your pocket, you won’t find any smart hub integrations here. So no voice commands with Google Home or Amazon Echo. Like I said before, if you’re looking for a budget bulb that can still do a pretty decent job, give this one a shot. But, be warned, this doesn’t seem like a product the original manufacturer has much of a vested interest in at this time. For those that own a Misfit fitness tracker, it is worth noting you can control these bulbs with it, which is a nice little extra.
Last, but not least, we find ourselves at the most popular of the group, Philips Hue. Philips has been the most recognizable brand in this space for a long time, and for many, it’s the default starting point for their smart light ecosystem. Outside of the sheer branding power of Philips the company, and the money they’re able to spend on marketing, there are a couple of reasons Hue has risen to the top of the smart light game. To begin with, they have a HUGE offering. Besides your standard A19 bulb (what you would find in most light fixtures and lamps,) you can find bulbs of all shapes and sizes. This includes desktop lamps, flush mount lights, candelabras, and more.
With such a wide variety of bulbs, you have options in what you choose to have in your home. For instance, there are straight-up white bulbs that can only be dimmed and turned on and off. There are white ambiance bulbs of which you can adjust the specific color temperature as well as dim. And finally, there are fully color adjustable bulbs of which you can adjust brightness, colors, and temperature. So you can see how you might choose a custom assortment of bulbs depending on the needs in your house.
The Philips system works off of the Philips Hue Bridge. Basically, each of your lights will connect to the bridge and this is where all of your commands are processed. The one major advantage to this is that you can send commands to the bridge from anywhere at any time. This comes in handy when you’re out of town, but you want to make it seem like you aren’t. Philips Hue also works with the major smart home “managers” such as Amazon Echo, Google Home, and Apple HomeKit. So that means voice commands are most certainly in the wheelhouse.
The easiest place to get started with Hue is with the A19 starter kit ($69.99) which includes two A19 bulbs and the Bridge. However, if you want to dive straight into the good stuff, Philips offers starter kits of similar stature costing as much as $200.
When it comes to smart light systems, you can see that there is a lot of parity in the features that each lineup offers. It really comes down to a couple of factors: price, WiFi vs. Bluetooth, and general compatibility. Once you determine how much you’re willing to spend, how you would like to be able to control your lights, and what existing systems (Amazon Echo, Google Home, Apple HomeKit) you want easy integration with, you can quickly narrow down which smart lights are for you.
Which of these, if any, smart lights are you currently using? Did we miss any of your favorites? Let us know in the comments below
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