The best smart light bulbs: Alexa, Google Assistant and HomeKit-powered lighting
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 in a plethora of sizes, shapes, colours and styles, from a huge array of different brands.
Rather than picking individual devices for this smart lighting buyer’s guide, we’ve instead picked what we believe to be the best smart light platforms – you’re 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 choice too.
How to get started with smart lighting
Why buy smart lighting?
Well, there's plenty of reasons. 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 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.
Why do so many smart bulbs need a hub?
It's not ideal, but most 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 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 information 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 – 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 – the first Hue bulb was switched on back in October 2012. It’s the original and it’s 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 a Bluetooth version 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 (but no routines).
Read this: Philips Hue Bluetooth review
Alternatively, you can use a Hue Dimmer switch – but you’ll 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 you’re anything like us, you won’t stop until every light in your house is Hue’d-up.
Best Philips Hue deals
Once you have a few bulbs, lamps and light strips synced up with your Bridge – a doddle using Philips’ redesigned app – you’ll be able to assign rooms, create custom scenes, set timers and so on. The quality of the light – both on the white and colour bulbs – is superb, with white temperatures between 2200K and 6500K and over 16 million colours on offer. You’ll struggle to find a light fitting that isn’t catered for, either, and Philips also makes its own lamps and light fittings with Hue built in – there are almost 50 different shapes and sizes to choose from. It goes beyond simple bulbs too, with Philips Adore (the company's new lighting range for the bathroom) and the Hue Outdoor LightStrip offering other ways to light up your home.
The Hue app is clean and you can even control your bulbs when you’re away from your house if you’ve created an account and logged in within the app. The app even knows if you’re home or away, so it knows if you’ve 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 open 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 it’s the starting point for many people’s 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.
Eufy's line of Lumos smart bulbs were already pretty good, but they got a lot with Lumos 2.0. Why 2.0? They're smaller - making them a better fit for tight spaces - and come with an improved Wi-Fi connection. Right now, there are just two 2.0 options: white and, er, white. One of those is tuneable though. And if you want color, you can still pick up the version 1 color bulb - just be aware it's a little bigger.
But enough about size: Eufy's appeal lies in the price - starting at $16 - and the fact you don't need a hub to use them. That's right, it's all done over Wi-Fi, so you can simply control your Eufy bulbs from your phone - or using Alexa or Google Assistant.
That means you'll want to ensure you have good Wi-Fi coverage across your home if you plan to fill it with Eufy bulbs. And how do they perform? Really well, from our testing. Eufy's bulbs were both responsive and reliable.
Where they lose points, though, is in their limited features. You can schedule the lights to come on and off, but you can't set the brightness within the schedule. You can also adjust the brightness in the app and using Alexa/Google Assistant.
Setup could be simpler, and sadly this isn't one for the HomeKit crowd. But that's as far as the complaints go. And if they do disappoint, at least you didn't break the bank.
Compatibility: A19, E26.
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 – 1,000 shades of white alone – and Wi-Fi bulbs with maximum brightness at 1,100 lumens. And best of all, Lifx bulbs don't need a hub.
That’s right – all you have to do to get some Lifx into your life is to screw one of the bulbs into a light socket and you’re 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 – we had a mixture of white, colour, Mini and lightstrip models on test – 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 – 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 ‘real’ 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 you’d want from your lights – but Lifx puts neat functionality at the front and centre of the app. We’ve had a lot of fun testing the various effects on offer – ‘Spooky’ was particularly good on Halloween – 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 – Alexa and Google Assistant integration is mega easy but, HomeKit is a bit longer winded – 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) you’ll 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, don’t forget, you don’t have to shell out for a separate hub to make it all work.
Compatibility: Android, iOS, E26/27, E12/14, B22, GU10, mains.
Hive Active Light
Previously not included in our round up because lighting was second fiddle to the rest of Hive’s (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 – 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 they’re less prone to outages, and in over a year of using Hive, we’ve never experienced problems.
If you’re 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. That’s 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 it’s not quite as fast as Philips Hue or Lifx. The bulbs are a touch lethargic to turn on and off – although it’s only something you notice when using the two systems side-by-side.
But it’s 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. They’re £15 a pop, and you get six for £70 – which works out as good value in our book. They’ll be dropping in the US shortly.
And the final change is that Philips Hue bulbs can now work as part of your Hive lighting setup. If you’re using a voice assistant to unify bulbs that’s 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. Hive’s bulbs are reasonable to pick up (starting at $17.99), once you’ve 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.
Ikea turned up at the smart lighting party in early 2017 with the Trådfri smart lighting range. Sure it keeps things simple, but with starting prices at $6.99 per bulb, you can forgive a lack of lighting features.
The Ikea Trådfri range is just so Ikea – 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 what’s actually a very simple setup. 192 pages (we’re 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.
It’s also straightforward and simple – another two Ikea traits; much more useful Ikea traits. You'll need to buy a Gateway ($29.99) to open up the app-powered controls such as timers, moods, scenes and alarms… nothing ground-breaking but all very easy to use.
But, you don’t even have to go fully smart lighting at all with the bulbs – you can just connect them to accessories like the wireless dimmer ($9.99) or the remote control ($14.99) and never even bother to install the Trådfri smartphone app.
If you do decide to go "smart", that’s where it does get a bit more tricky and fiddly. You see, it’s 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 – but the range is already vast and growing rapidly and there are now colour bulbs in the mix too. You’ll find bundles of accessories starting from just $19.99 and bulbs, or standalone A+ Energy LEDs bulbs from a ridiculously cheap $6.99.
The first colour bulb in the lineup is $34.99 and comes with a remote control. A plethora of fittings are on offer and Ikea is even offering up light doors and panels for your fitted kitchen. There’s no 'away from home' control for your Ikea lights so you’ll 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 you’re not bothered about a huge array of colours, or in fact all that convinced you need smart lighting in your home, Ikea’s bulbs are probably your best bet. As stated you don’t even need to use an app to control them and for standalone bulbs they aren’t much more expensive than regular white LED lightbulbs. Sure, the platform is by far the buggiest that we’ve tested and the app is basic at best – but the price points are great.
Compatibility: Android, iOS, E26/27, E12/14, GU10.
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 Nanoleaf lights is that they looks nothing like regular light bulbs.
Nanoleaf is a modular lighting system, letting you stick panels together to create interesting and unique lighting on your walls. There are two version of Nanoleaf's Lego-like lights, the triangular Light Panel and the newer, square Canvas. Once you've arranged them into your desired pattern, you can use the app to customise each panel to change colours 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.
Nanoleaf isn't designed to compete with the likes of Lifx and Hue – rather it’s meant to add a colourful splash of fun to your home lighting. And, that it does. It's also a brilliant talking point when you have guests over.
In the (albeit quite expensive) starter kits you’ll 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 there’s no need for screws or the like. It’s best to design your pattern, either by drawing it out by hand or using the assistant in the app, first – lest find yourself creating a mess.
Once arranged, you just use the app to scroll through different themes – some static, some rotate – 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 people’s ideas – users can update their designs to the app for others to download.
There's also a feature called Rhythm Edition, which means that the Light Panels can sync up with your music, creating a physical visualiser for your wall.
HomeKit integration is strong – with scene selection made easy on iOS devices – and there's Google Assistant and Alexa voice commands on offer too so you can ask for your favourite scenes.
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