Smart LED bulbs that can be controlled by a hub or smartphone app are no longer a new idea. What is what is new is how far this technology has come since its appearance just a few years ago. Another novelty: products like Nanoleaf light panels, a system of interlocking LED panels that allow you to decorate with light, fundamentally change the concept of light bulbs.
Smart LED bulbs are not a commodity, but they are nearing maturity when it comes to the market. Today’s light bulbs are more compact, much brighter, have better color rendering, and for the most part, have control apps that do more than ever and are easier to set up. Prices have also dropped, with some no-name color-tunable bulbs now available for less than $10 each. (Buyer beware: you get what you pay for).
Updated on January 25, 2022 to add our Govee RGBIC LED Neon Rope Light review. Similar to an LED string or string of lights, this fun 10-foot-long light fixture consists of 252 LED “beads” in 15 addressable segments that can shine in up to 16 million colors. We like it a lot.
White LED bulbs are also smart
With their rainbow of hues and myriad party tricks, colored LEDs get all the press in the world of smart lighting. It’s kind of funny, but the reality is that most of us will rarely feel the need to turn every light in the house blue or red, unless it’s time to celebrate our team winning the World Series. Even then, you’ll probably want to turn them all white again after the celebration.
White light is also important in its own right, as there is a lot of science today that shows how various shades of white, with variations in color temperature, affect our psychological state. Cool light that is closer to blue has an energizing effect and is best in the morning. Warm light is relaxing and is best after the sun goes down. Keep in mind, however, that not all white LED smart bulbs are color temperature adjustable. Take a look at the specifications before you buy.
White smart bulbs minimize the party features that are a staple of dimmable colored bulbs. On the other hand, white smart bulbs are less expensive than colored bulbs, which makes it more affordable to install them in multiple rooms.
We have tested almost all white and colored LED smart bulbs on the market. You’ll find links to all of our reviews at the bottom of the page, and we’ll update this story as new models are introduced.
Best color LED smart bulb
Philips was one of the first players in this market, and the company’s experience shows it. Physically, its Hue Color and Ambiance bulbs haven’t changed much since their introduction in late 2012, but the latest generation lasts much longer and the company has added a Bluetooth radio that eliminates the need for the Philips Hue Bridge (but most homes intelligent inhabitants will want the Bridge anyway). The Philips Hue ecosystem is the deepest and broadest in the industry, including not only bulbs in every shape and size imaginable, but also indoor and outdoor accessories, including the Philips Hue Calla path light and the Philips Hue outdoor spotlight. Lily, both of whom we really like.
LIFX is a very strong contender in the smart lighting space and comes a very close second in our roundup. LIFX no longer has just A19 and BR30 form factors to offer, and we really like their unique LIFX+ (which has a variety of infrared LEDs that will help your home security camera see in the dark), but Philips still offers much more diversity in its ecosystem and universe of third-party support.
Best White LED Smart Light Bulb
Our choice will not surprise anyone who has been following this market. Philips dominates this space and is also our top pick for the best color LED smart bulb. The latest Hue bulbs can be controlled via Bluetooth or Zigbee (the latter requires the Philips Hue Bridge), provide high quality light and are backed by a strong warranty. We received the BR30 form factor for our review, but the bulb is also available in A19, candelabra, and even with old-style LED filaments.
If you want a white-only smart bulb that doesn’t require a smart home hub, the LIFX Mini White is a great option. While slightly dimmer than the full-size LIFX bulb, it produces 800 lumens equivalent to 60 watts.
best cheap smart light bulb
The new line of Cree Connected Max smart bulbs are competitively priced and available in all of the most popular form factors: A19, A21, BR30 and PAR38. The A19 Tunable White + Color Changing bulb we reviewed is just $10 and supports Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, so you don’t need to factor in the extra cost of a hub to integrate it into your smart home. It is a very good product.
The best smart light bulb to pair with a security camera
Most home security cameras are equipped with infrared LEDs to provide the appearance of night vision. the LIFX+ is equipped with its own infrared LEDs, which are active even when the bulb is turned off via software. Infrared light is invisible to the naked eye, but the LIFX+ can illuminate a room so your security camera can see more of the room and in more detail than its own infrared LEDs.
best led light strip
The 2020 version of the Philips Hue Lightstrip Plus LED is the only light strip that supports Bluetooth and the more robust Zigbee protocol (if you’re willing to pay for the bridge required to connect it to your Wi-Fi network, that is). The very nature of LED light strips makes them finicky devices, and the first review product we received broke after a short time (the second holds up just fine). But we haven’t found a competing device that’s as versatile as this one.
Protocols and characteristics of smart light bulbs
Three control technologies continue to vie for leadership in the smart light bulb market (Z-Wave is a major contender in smart lighting, but you won’t find it in light bulbs, only switches, plug-ins, control panels, and smart lights). centers of origin).
- ZigBee: Light bulbs that use the popular smart home networking protocol require a bridge to communicate with your home Wi-Fi network. This is the technology that Philips has adopted for its Hue line, but it’s not the only one.
- Wifi: This kind of bulb talks directly to your Wi-Fi router, no hub or bridge required. LIFX and TP-Link make excellent Wi-Fi smart bulbs, but neither company comes close to Signify’s Philips Hue lineup in terms of the depth and breadth of the Hue ecosystem.
- Bluetooth: These bulbs bypass your home network entirely and pair directly with your smartphone or tablet. As such, they cannot be controlled from outside your home. GE and other manufacturers make Bluetooth bulbs, some of better quality than others. Signify has recently added Bluetooth radios to its Philips Hue smart light bulb lineup, eliminating the need to implement the Philips Hue bridge. Removing the bridge from the equation lowers the overall cost of implementation, but adds some limitations. You can read more in our review of the new Philips Hue bulbs.
Each of these technologies has advantages and disadvantages, so before trying to decide on a specific bulb, first try to determine which technology is right for you. If you want to connect your bulbs to a larger smart home system like SmartThings or Nest, Bluetooth bulbs are out of stock. You can control more than one light bulb with your phone, but you can’t connect it to sensors or other systems within your home. Don’t like the idea of pairing a light bulb with your phone? A Wi-Fi bulb will work best for you, though you won’t have as many options as you’ll find with a Zigbee product.
Smart light bulb or smart switch?
There is a strong argument about the best way to install smart lighting and two approaches are presented. You can go for expensive smart bulbs and control them all individually, or you can use cheap dumb bulbs and install smart switches to control all the lights on that circuit. Both approaches make sense: with smart bulbs, the biggest issue is cost, but there’s also complexity to deal with. While light bulbs can usually be grouped based on location, this is just as intuitive to manage as the light bulb control app.
Smart switches, on the other hand, are much more complicated to install, to the point where some users may be uncomfortable with exposed wiring and would rather hire an electrician. However, smart switches provide more flexibility in many installations.
Accustomed from years of flipping hardwired switches, many users (or their children) will instinctively use the wall switch to turn off lights when they leave a room. Once that happens, all the apps in the world won’t be able to turn the light back on until the switch is returned to the on position. While this won’t be a problem if you install smart switches, they can’t change the color or color temperature of a light bulb.
That said, smart light bulbs, regardless of the technology, still won’t be right for everyone. Notably, most of these bulbs cannot be dimmed via a hardwired wall switch (it interferes with the power going to the radio, rendering them useless). Some will fail even if there is a dimmer present in the circuit and marked at full power. The quality of light from an LED bulb is likely to be much, much better.
The good news is that light bulb prices are falling, making it easier to get started with smart light bulbs and less punishment if you find a product isn’t working for you. With that said, we want you to start off on the right foot. So, without further ado, here are deep dives into the most valuable white and color LED smart bulbs on the market.
Our Latest Smart LED Light Bulb Reviews
Christopher Null is a veteran technology and business journalist. He is a regular contributor to TechHive, PCWorld, and Wired, and operates the Drinkhacker and Film Racket websites.