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Given that your home and work space can affect your mood, it’s rather important to feel good about your work from home setup (and your home, in general). Transforming that space doesn’t have to require a gut renovation nor substantial investment — gadgets like smart assistants and smart plugs can easily connect your device and appliances in your home, making your space easier to interact with. Another easy way to change the ambiance and mood of your home’s interior is a smart bulb, defined by its ability to connect and be controlled by your phone or smart assistant based on a Wi-Fi connection.
SKIP AHEAD Best smart bulbs
These smart bulbs are growing in popularity with the rise of other smart products —in fact, the Continental Automated Building Association predicts that the prevalence of connected products will grow 18 percent per year over the next few years.
“They’re one of the most popular smart home devices, just behind smart TVs and smart speakers,” said Jeroen Dalderop, founder and CEO of Innr Lighting. “And because prices have come down a lot in recent years, they’re no longer the major investment that they used to be.”
If you’re thinking of switching out your bulbs this winter, you’ll inevitably come across lots of options. We consulted experts to figure out everything you need to know about smart bulbs, from how they work to which brands make the best models.
What is a smart bulb and how does it work?
A smart bulb allows you to control and automate things like power, color and brightness from your tablet or smartphone. To the eye, there isn’t much difference between a standard bulb and a smart bulb.
But smart bulbs use a different type of electronic circuitry to respond to wireless commands, said Terry McGowan, director of technology at the American Lighting Association. Smart bulbs also use LED technology, a type of lighting that’s up to 90 percent more energy efficient than incandescent bulbs.
“Today’s smart LED bulbs don’t just emit light (although they do that very well), they can also communicate with you via your cell phone or your favorite voice control device,” McGowan said. “The communication is also two-way. You can sometimes tell the bub what to do and it will tell you your command has been completed.”
Here are some common features of smart bulbs, according to Energy Star, a federal program promoting energy-efficient products:
- Users can schedule on and off times and automate location-based controls, which automatically turn bulbs on or off based on the distance of the lights from your smartphone.
- Some smart bulbs can change colors to set the mood or appearance of a room.
- Smart bulbs can be used as security alarms by blinking or flashing in color if the home’s alarm is triggered. McGowan explained that some bulbs can even work together to provide special lighting in case of emergency, for example, illuminating an exit route in case of fire.
- Some smart bulbs can replace your speaker, too. While there are some online options, McGowan does note that these types of bulbs aren’t widespread yet and he questions their quality.
Best smart bulbs
Best affordable smart bulb: Wyze
These smart bulbs are not only affordable, they are loaded with features. The white LED bulbs connect with smart assistants like Alexa and Google Assistant and can change via voice command — turn them on and off or adjust brightness or color temperature. Users can even schedule their lights hundreds of miles away using Wyze’s vacation mode. The highly-rated Wyze bulb uses 9.5 watts, 800 lumen and boasts a lifespan of 20,000 hours.
Best high-end smart bulb: Philips
This bulb is pricier than other models, it holds many more features. Users can change not only the white light and temperature of their bulb, they can adjust its color with up to 16 million options via Bluetooth or voice command with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. Users can connect up to 10 bulbs via the brand’s Hue Bluetooth app. You also can schedule your lights or set up motion detection with an add-on motion detector. The Philips bulbs exert 800 lumens of brightness and use 60 watts with a lifespan of 25,000 to 50,000 hours.
Best color smart bulb: Kasa Smart
These multicolored bulbs offer 16 million color options and don’t require a hub to connect to Wi-Fi — you can control using the Kasa Smart app. Bulbs are compatible with Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and other virtual assistants. Users can dim or schedule lights from anywhere in the world, via the app, which also offers lighting presets and monitors bulb energy usage in real time. The bulbs use 9.5 watts, put out 800-850 lumen and have a lifespan of 25,000 hours.
Best compact smart bulb: LIFX
These highly-rated mini bulbs are ideal for smaller fixtures and can connect via Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit and Google Assistant. Bulbs emit light that can be dimmed and scheduled from an app — no hub required. Users can sync their alarm to fade light in or out, too, and turn their bulbs on or off from anywhere via the cloud. The bulbs have an output of 800 lumens and use 9 watts, with a lifespan of 25,000 hours.
Best compatible smart bulb: Samsung
Use your smartphone or tablet to turn this indoor smart bulb on and off, dim the lights or schedule them. What makes these bulbs special is the ability to control them via the SmartThings app from Samsung, allowing you to integrate your other smart devices. This bulb is an affordable option for those looking for a basic smart bulb — it doesn’t have some bonus features like the ability to change colors. The SmartThings bulb uses 9 nine watts puts out of 800 lumens with a lifespan of 25,000 hours.
Best smart bulb for outdoor use: Sengled
Looking to use a smart bulb to light your outdoor space? This weatherproof bulb uses motion-sensing technology to automatically turn on and off at night when motion is detected within 30 feet — its daylight sensor prevents it from turning on and wasting energy during the day. Users can connect the bulb to their smartphone (or smart assistant) and lower or brighten light outside. The bulb uses 12.5 watts, puts out 1200 lumens and has a lifespan of 25,000 hours.
Best customizable smart bulbs: Nanoleaf
Nanoleaf combines smart technology and visual design with their multicolor shaped LED light panels. These light shapes come in seven hexagon-shaped panels that are plugged in and mounted to the wall (the shapes themselves take two AA batteries). Lights connect to your home’s Wi-Fi and can be controlled by Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit, Google Assistant or Samsung’s SmartThings app. Shapes pulse to music and movies, too, and can even react to the user’s touch. The shapes use 55 watts and put out 700 lumens.
Best Bluetooth smart bulb: GE
These smart bulbs, which connect via Bluetooth, are compatible with Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Apple Homekit. Bulbs can be dimmed, change colors and even follow a schedule via your smartphone, no matter where you are. Users can group bulbs together and control them under one network. The bulbs put out 760 lumens, use 10 watts and have a lifespan of 15,000 hours.
Best lightstrip: Treatlife
Light your indoor space in a new way via a light strip, which adheres to the edges of your room. These smart strips (which come in sets of 10 feet) and can be controlled with Alexa, Google Assistant or via the Treatlife App. Lights can dim, turn on and off, change colors (up to 16 million different color options, like Philips) and even pulse or change colors to music. The lights come with eight preset “scene” modes, including “night,” “leisure,” or “reading.” Lights use 12 watts.
How to find the right smart bulb
Smart bulbs are generally more expensive than traditional LED bulbs, but you won’t have to shell out hundreds of dollars to change up the lighting. Most bulbs can cost less than $10, but bulbs loaded with features may run over $20. Which one to choose depends on what you’re looking for, said McGowan.
To find the right smart bulb for your home, Dalderop advised evaluating your space first:
- How many lights you’ll need
- How bright you want your space to be
- How difficult it is to change your bulb (which may dictate a longer-lasting bulb)
- And whether you need a smart hub, a “middle man” between your bulbs and wireless router like a smart assistant — some smart bulbs can be connected to Bluetooth or Wi-Fi.
Powering the smart bulb
Most smart bulbs use the same amount of power as a regular LED bulb, an output of 800 lumens and a wattage that falls between nine and 10 watts.
- Lumen measures how much light you’re getting: More lumens means brighter light
- Watts is the amount of energy it takes to produce light
The average bulb uses 60 watts to product 800 lumens. An LED bulb uses 9 to 10 watts for the same amount of light, making it much more energy efficient, explained McGowen. Smart bulb lifespans range anywhere from one year — around 20,000 hours — to well over five years, McGowan added.
Smart bulbs are safe to use, and while there are some security concerns that come with any type of smart home technology, most can be minimized by using a secure hub or strong Wi-Fi system, said Dalderop. McGowan recommended shopping for bulbs that are listed by the Environmental Protection Agency and Energy Star’s online database, which have been independently reviewed for quality and energy efficiency.
He suggested buying one or two different brands and trialing out their features before changing all your home’s bulbs.