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The Best Smart Bulbs

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Simple to control and offering a range of lighting options, our pick of light bulbs are a great first step to building a smarter home

Smart light bulbs are the best (and most affordable) way to step into a smarter home. Even with just a few energy-efficient LED bulbs, you can enjoy lights that come on when you arrive home from work and shut off when you go to bed at night.

Sensors, switches and routines can help you save the energy and money that might normally be wasted lighting empty rooms, while bulbs with tuneable colours, temperatures and brightnesses can impact the mood by battling Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or simply improving the atmosphere at a party, gaming session or movie night.

However, the industry is awash with manufacturers of smart light bulbs, plus the technology itself isn't particularly easy to wrap your head around either. But that's where we come in.

Below, we've put together a list of the best smart bulbs to buy, taking into consideration all budgets and practical requirements. We've also created a detailed buying guide at the bottom of the page to help you decide how best to utilise smart bulbs in your home.

The best smart bulbs to buy

1. Philips Hue

Philips has pretty much nailed smart lighting with Hue. Connect the Smart Bridge 2.0 hub to your router, screw in your bulbs, and you’re more or less done.

It’s impressively easy to set up, thanks in part to a slick app that helps you add bulbs and lights, then configure them in rooms or even more flexible "zones" of lights, either within one room or across the whole house.

With that setup, you can schedule lights to come on and off, create scenes for different moods or activities, or add switches and sensors to control your lighting. Integration with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant voice control is excellent.

Philips also scores points for the quality and variety of its lighting. The manufacturer’s latest bulbs have richer colours or more subtle grades of brightness and whiteness than the competition, and you can buy mood lamps, lighting strips, compact ceiling lights and even outdoor lights to complement the standard screw and bayonet bulbs.

Philips also has the strongest colour sync features for relaxing and entertainment, although it’s frustrating that the Sync app, which tunes your lighting in reaction to what’s happening on-screen, is only available for PC and Mac rather than smart TVs or consoles. The best approach there is a new HDMI sync box, which analyses the HDMI signal to sync colours on your TV across up to four Hue lights. It’s another sign of how, where other smart lighting systems are sitting still, the Hue system keeps on developing.

Key specs – Type: ZigBee smart lighting system with Ethernet hub; Bulbs available: E27, B22, E14, GU10; Tuneable bulbs: Yes; Colour bulbs: Yes; Scheduling: Yes; Sensors: motion; Switches: Yes

2. Sengled Element

Sengled might not be the most familiar lighting brand, but its Element and Element Plus smart lighting system gives the big names some real competition. For a great price, you can have a starter kit with a hub and two bulbs, giving you everything you need to get going in one box. And while Sengled recommends a wired connection to your router when you first set up the system, it has built-in Wi-Fi to use after that, giving you a bit more flexibility.

We had some issues with that first configuration, with the hub and app unable to control the bundled bulbs – but after reset, everything worked perfectly. The app itself is well-designed and covers all the basics, from arranging bulbs in rooms to setting up scheduled routines for waking up, going to sleep and, say, reading or watching TV. While it might look like the poor man’s Hue, it doesn’t feel like it. What’s more, you can control your Sengled setup through Alexa or the Google Assistant, or run the ZigBee-compatible Bulbs directly from an Amazon Echo Plus or Echo Show hub.

There are drawbacks. The tuneable Element Plus bulbs are heavy, colour bulbs are hard to get hold of, and the bulb set-up routine only works with Sengled bulbs, even though it’s a ZigBee system. If that doesn’t put you off, though, then this is a great value option.

Key specs – Type: ZigBee smart lighting system with Ethernet hub; Bulbs available: E27, B22; Tuneable bulbs: Yes; Colour bulbs: Yes; Scheduling: Yes; Sensors: No; Switches: No

3. Innr

Innr doesn’t manufacture smart lighting systems, but it does manufacture bulbs you can use with a Hue bridge or directly with an Echo Plus. We’ve found the bulbs to be a little trickier to set up than the Hue equivalents, but once up and running they’re very reliable.

The white and tuneable bulbs deliver a good light, while the colour bulbs are only a little behind the Hue bulbs in terms of quality. The Hue colours are more vibrant, but the difference isn’t huge.

There are some limitations, as Innr’s bulbs don’t support some of Hue’s advanced features. However, the Innr range has grown in the last year to cover a wider range of bulbs, including coloured GU10 bulbs and cool, retro filament-style efforts. If you’re putting together a cheap Echo Plus lighting setup, or simply want to fill in the gaps in a Hue setup, then using Innr is a great way to save money. 

Key specs – Type: ZigBee smart lighting bulbs; Bulbs available: E27, B22, E14, GU10; Tuneable bulbs: Yes; Colour bulbs: Yes; Scheduling: N/A; Sensors: N/A; Switches: N/A

4. TP-Link Kasa Smart Wi-Fi LED Bulbs

If you don’t want the hassle of a hub, or you just want a handful of smart bulbs for the living room, then TP-Link’s Kasa bulbs work very well. They fit into the networking firm’s Kasa ecosystem. This also includes smart plugs and security cameras, all controlled by an excellent app.

Unlike some other Wi-Fi bulbs we’ve tried, TP-Link’s connected the first time, which made setup a breeze. The app is feature-packed, too. You can set up scenes with different combinations of lighting, and create daily and weekly schedules for the lights to come on and go off. With colour bulbs you can pick between preset tones or drill down into swatches and a full-range colour picker.

Bulbs can even be set to emulate circadian sunrise to sunset lighting, while the handy usage view lets you check power consumption for each individual bulb.

The biggest negatives are that the bulbs themselves are heavy, which makes them unsuitable for some light fittings. You also can’t buy anything aside from an E27 fitting, although a B22 adapter is thrown in free with every bulb.

The lack of sensors and physical switches also grates. Still, with solid Google Home and Alexa integration, this is a flexible, hassle-free alternative to the big smart lighting systems.

Key specs – Type: Wi-Fi smart bulbs; Bulbs available: E27; Tuneable bulbs: Yes; Colour bulbs: Yes; Scheduling: Yes; Sensors: No; Switches: No

How to choose the best smart bulbs for you

What is a smart bulb, and how does it work?

A smart bulb is a light bulb that connects to Wi-Fi via your wireless router or what's called a "bridge" or "hub" to enable app support, voice control and a host of other features. Smart bulbs can:

  • Change colour, temperature and brightness, as mentioned above
  • Function via an app (even if you aren't at home) or a supported smart speaker
  • Run-on timers set via the dedicated smartphone app in question

Like most Wi-Fi-enabled devices, a smart bulb has a built-in Wi-Fi modem that pairs with your network of choice. Without a Wi-Fi connection, a smart bulb is essentially just a standard LED light bulb. Although brands may vary, most smart bulbs come in the major socket types (E14, E27, B22, GU10) and three distinct flavours – single colour, tuneable (warm/cold white) and multicoloured – that increase in price from left to right.

Smart bulbs usually come as a part of a system. This means that the bulbs come with a bridge or hub, a device that connects to your wireless router and "bridges" the connection between your Wi-Fi network and the smart bulbs. Hive Active Lighting is a good example of a smart lighting system.

You can also purchase third-party standalone bulbs that work with certain big-name systems. These bulbs are normally cheaper than the official versions, but may sacrifice ease of use or functionality.

Alternatively, you can buy a non-specific bridge/hub device, such as Amazon's Echo Plus, Echo (4th gen)and Echo Show 10. These devices support a much larger range of smart bulbs, meaning you can mix and match – just be aware that functionality may be limited.

Finally, you can use Wi-Fi bulbs. These don’t connect through a hub but talk directly to your router using Wi-Fi. They’re still controlled using an app and you can still set schedules and change white tones or colours, but you may be limited by your router’s Wi-Fi range or speed.

Do smart bulbs use more electricity?

Smart bulbs must be on constantly to function as intended, which does raise concerns about energy usage. Fortunately, almost all smart bulbs are LEDs, and are therefore much, much more energy-efficient than the standard incandescent/fluorescent/halogen bulb. Only regular LEDs are more energy-efficient, since they lack the frills of their smart counterparts.

How long do smart bulbs last?

This will vary by brand, but all major manufacturers will list a quoted life span for each of their major products. At the top end, the likes of Philips Hue, Hive Active Lighting and Ikea TRÅDFRI claim to last for around 25,000 hours (almost three years) of constant use. Even at the bottom end of the spectrum, TP-Link's Kasa bulbs will apparently run for around 15,000 hours in total. In short, smart light bulbs last an extraordinarily long time.

Do you have to use the app to turn smart bulbs on?

Not necessarily. Most bulbs and systems will work with Alexa, Google Home and Google Assistant voice commands, so with a handful of phrases you can turn off anything from the standard lamp in the lounge to all the lights in your house.

Do smart bulbs work with switches?

Yes! Some manufacturers have their own wireless switches, which you can use to turn on, dim and turn off specific lights, or even a whole bunch of lights at once. And some systems will work with motion sensors so that lights turn on/off when you enter/leave a room.

As a fallback, you can always turn lights on and off using existing physical switches. Do this and they’ll usually come on at their last brightness level, but you’ll find some coming on at full brightness – which isn’t a treat when you turn the bedside light on early in the morning. Also, keep in mind that turning a smart light bulb off via a physical switch will prevent it from working with an app or smart speaker.

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