The best Smart Lights for your home
Control every light in your home right from your iPhone or iPad!
We’ve checked out some of the top offerings on the Smart Light market right now — and taken into account things like pricing, ease of use, setup, and overall lifespan — to pin down an overall winner and crown the best of the best when it comes to smart lights. There are some big names in the smart lights space and some new players as well, so let’s take a look and see what the best connected lighting options are right now.
Perhaps the most well known of all the connected lighting options, Philips Hue offers a variety of bulbs and other lights to get your home glowing in all colors of the rainbow. The $199 starter kit will get you up and running with the included Hue bridge and three Hue bulbs (in either A19 or BR30 styles). The Hub is the center of the system so if you’re just starting out, you’ll definitely need one of these to get going. Down the road you can add up to 50 individual bulbs to a single Hue system running off of one bridge.
The A19 Hue bulbs replace the standard bulbs in your home. They fit in lamps and light fixtures, as would a traditional bulb or smart bulb. The BR30 bulbs are for spotlights and other flood-type fixtures. The starter kit is available with either of the two, and you can buy individual bulbs in either variety as well. Philips also offers other light styles such as the $60 Bloom and the $90 Lightstrip Plus. These are more for adding ambience to your rooms rather than lighting them up, but they all add to the allure of having a Hue system. Adding additional bulbs to fixtures will run you around $60 a pop.
Setting up a Hue out of the box is extremely easy. Just plug the Hue bridge into your router and power, screw in the Hue bulbs where you want them to go, and then fire up the free Hue app on your iPhone or Android device. After a few quick taps, you’re 100% up and running and can start using your system. The app itself does take a bit of getting used to. There are some things scattered around here and there — light controls, scenes, alarms & timers — but once you get the hang of it you can soon become a Hue master.
Hue provides you with more than just on and off functionality. It elevates your illumination to infinite levels, letting you create all kinds of awesome color schemes from over 16 million color choices. You can also use other accessories like the Hue Tap — which lets you control up to four different scenes and doesn’t need a battery — or all-in-one devices like Revolv. If you’re an IFTTT user, there are some awesome recipes you can use with your Hue as well.
- Simple to setup
- Plenty of bulb options available
- Works well with Apple HomeKit
- Hub must be connected to your router
- Can get pricey when adding lots of bulbs
LIFX bulbs work much in the same manner as Hue; however, they are all standalone bulbs, meaning they don’t need a bridge or hub to do their job. These bulbs are the product of a Kickstarter campaign from 2012, which resulted in over $1.3 million in just six days. The best part is that they don’t require anything extra, aside from a free companion app for your smartphone.
The LIFX bulbs come in a few varieties — the White 800 and 900 BR30 and the Color 1000 and 1000 BR30. You won’t find any fun add-ons like the Bloom or Lightstrips here (for now at least), but for most people that’s OK. It’s really the bulbs you’ll be after if you’re getting connected.
What’s nice here is that you just need the bulbs for this system. So as long as you have a Wi-Fi connection in range, there’s no worry of getting your router connected to a hub to keep these guys lit. Just pop the bulb into a lamp, light fixture, or what have you and start up the companion smartphone app. You can control the color, brightness, dimming, and special effects like the music visualizer, lava light, and candle flicker. LIFX is lacking a few features that the Hue app already has as well, like geofencing (for turning your lights on or off depending on your location).
- Works without hub or bridge
- Current app is lacking features
- App can be a bit buggy
The Insteon system is great as an overall home automation system, but you can also use the connected Insteon LED bulbs on their own. The difference here is that these bulbs don’t offer the same color options or feature sets of the Philips Hue or LIFX. The Insteon bulbs are simply Wi-Fi-enabled white bulbs meant to replace your traditional lighting without all the bells and whistles.
In order to control these bulbs from your smartphone or tablet, you’ll need the expensive Insteon hub. The good news is that the bulbs also work with various Insteon remotes and switches, so you can go beyond just using your phone or tablet to control your lighting.
The Insteon bulbs come in two flavors — the standard A19 bulb, as well as a PAR38 style for recessed lighting. The energy-efficient bulbs use about 8W and are said to last for up to 35 years, at 4 hours of use per day. The bulbs don’t have any color-changing options, rather they are calibrated to 2700K, which is just a bit cooler than a traditional soft white CFL bulb.
Using the Insteon app, you can program various scenes and automations, as well as brightness and ramp rate of individual bulbs. Scenes can be made to run on a set schedule or work in conjunction with other Insteon devices on the same network. What’s nice is that you can dim the bulbs using the app or Insteon switches, giving you a bit of an option for varying the temperature of the bulbs. Not a great replacement for being able to use 16 million colors, like the Philips Hue, but still a nice feature.
At $29.99 per bulb (plus the one-time purchase of a hub), these are a great way to get connected, as long as you don’t want to have any other features. The Insteon bulbs simply replace your traditional white bulbs and allow you to control them from your phone or tablet, but you won’t be able to go crazy with colors as you can with Hue or LIFX.
- Individual bulbs are inexpensive
- Can be integrated with other Insteon devices
- No color-changing options
- Hub is expensive
Connected by TCP
Another white-only lighting option is Connected by TCP. These bulbs have features that are pretty much on-par with the Insteon bulbs, only with a cheaper price tag. To get up and running with TCP, you’ll need a gateway and some bulbs — all of which can be found in the $40 TCP Connected starter kit — or the more bang for your buck $114 starter kit that adds a remote and an extra bulb.
Either way you look at it, you can get in with TCP way cheaper than any of the previous setups. Even adding individual bulbs is easy on your wallet, at just $11 and up per bulb.
The basics are all here but again, no frills to this setup. Once you get everything up and running (which is extremely easy) you can take control of your lights using the TCP app. Within, you’ll find options to tweak settings for things like dimming, timers, and schedules. You can also use a TCP remote to control the bulbs — turning them on/off or using the dimmer function. You can access your lights from anywhere using your phone or tablet, and TCP lets you add up to 250 bulbs on one gateway.
With a base price of around $40 to get started, Connected by TCP makes for a great option for those looking to get started with connected lights. No bonus features or colors, however, but you get a simple setup, inexpensive bulbs, and an easy-to-use system.
- Energy efficient
- Needs wired gateway
- No color options
The Link bulbs from GE are the newest to hit the market, but they are already shaping up to be an extremely good bargain. The Link bulbs work with the Wink home automation network meaning you can control them through the Wink app on your phone or tablet using a $50 Wink Hub or GE’s own $30 Link Hub. Going with the Wink Hub off the bat opens you to other Wink-enabled devices down the road as well.
The Link bulbs come in 3 varieties — the standard A19 ($15), BR30 ($20) and a $25 PAR36 floodlight. Currently that makes the Link the cheapest of the bunch, with the A19 bulbs coming in a few dollars less than the Connected by TCP.
All of the bulbs get setup through the Wink app, which (providing you use a Wink Hub) allows you to control them remotely from your smartphone or tablet. You can control the on/off stages of individual bulbs, and also control dimming via the app. Since Wink is widely supported by other devices, you can integrate various settings and scenes based on any other Wink devices you may own (or look to add in the future).
Simple, basic, and cheap is what GE Link has to offer. The bulbs are widely available at Home Depot or online, and are the cheapest of the flock when it comes to connected lighting.
- Works with other Wink devices
- May be hard to find
- No color-changing options
In the same vein as the GE Link, Cree Connected bulbs are compatible with multiple hubs, like Amazon Echo and the Wink Hub. They only come in one style – 60W replacement bulbs for lamps and the like – and they produce soft 2700K light or harsher 5000K light. These bulbs go for around $15 each, so price is really their best feature.
That being said, with a compatible hub and the applicable app you can dim, schedule, and turn them on when you’re away from home. All you need is a Wi-Fi connection. Cree Connected bulbs have a projected lifespan of 25,000 hours, so they’re inexpensive and you won’t have to replace them all that often. Win win!
You can connect as many Cree Connected bulbs as your hub of choice can handle, which means you can control lights in every room of your house for far less than a bunch of the other options we’ve described. If you’re looking for fun and colorful, then look elsewhere; Cree Connected bulbs only come in white.
If you want cheap and easy, then Cree Connected is a solid option.
- Compatible with multiple hubs
- Only come in one style and two color temperatures.
Apple HomeKit integration
Apple’s HomeKit is designed to unify the smart devices in your home. In essence, it becomes a central connection point for all compatible apps, allowing you to use them in harmony with one another. Each compatible product will have a “Works with Apple HomeKit” badge on the box.
To control your HomeKit lights, you’ll open a compatible app, like Home or one of the manufacturer’s programs, and point your camera at the code on the badge. Once paired, you’ll be able to control everything from your iPhone with ease — you can even use Siri, if you’d like.
You can create “scenes” for your home, allowing multiple devices to work together and create a specific atmosphere. For example, you can set your smart thermostat and smart lights to lower the temperature and turn off, respectively, when you leave home in the morning.
Apple HomeKit doesn’t just work with your iPhone and iPad. You can also use your Apple Watch to control every aspect of your smart home, especially your smart lights! Just say something like, “Hey, Siri, set Philips Hue to Party Mode,” and boom: Party Mode engaged!
When you break it down, there are really two categories of connected lighting — color or white. For simply replacing your traditional, non-color bulbs with new connected ones, the GE Link is our top choice (the TCP bulbs aren’t far behind). You can’t beat the price and buying a Wink Hub now gets you in the door, should you want to add more connected devices in the future.
For those that want more, Hue takes the crown of the connected color lights. The LIFX bulbs are a great offering, but their lackluster app and lack of integration with services like IFTTT take off more than a few points. Hue is well-known, has a variety of bulbs to choose from, and plays nice with others. Plus the battery-less Hue Tap is a great little accessory.
Are you using any connected lights? Plan to buy some? Hit up the comments below and let us know!
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