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Is It the Right Time to Switch to Smart Bulbs?

If so, which ones should you buy?


At this point, LED lights are on track to overtake incandescent bulbs in home and office settings. (Meanwhile rustic eateries and gastropubs will probably keep Edison bulbs afloat on their own.) It’s an easy choice; they last longer and use less power than incandescent bulbs. Now more and more companies are now making smart bulbs: wi-fi connected LEDs you can turn on and off, dim, and even change color with your smartphone. You can control them from a few inches or a few hundred miles away.

About 76 percent of Americans believe that smart bulbs will eventually replace regular light bulbs, according to Sylvania’s 2016 report. The future is probably smart. However, that doesn’t mean you should replace your “dumb” lights just yet. If you’re thinking about making the jump to a smart home, starting with smart bulbs, here’s what you need to know.

The case for smart bulbs.

You can control the lighting in any room as long as it has smart lights. These lights can be dimmed without a dimmer switch, too. Since everything is controlled over wi-fi, you can control the lights from anywhere, from the couch or from a hotel in Maui (as long as you’re on wi-fi). Also, you can set a schedule for the lights — a good security feature. For example, you could set up your smart lights to turn on periodically when you’re on vacation, creating the illusion that people are home.

Many smart bulbs can change colors. It’s a little gimmicky but it makes for a nice party trick, and it’s another thing regular bulbs can’t do.

If you have a smart speaker at home, you’ll be able to control your smart lights via voice control. Just make sure the speaker and bulbs are compatible beforehand; they don’t all play nice with each other.

The case against smart bulbs.

Frankly, smart LED lights are expensive. Normal LEDs cost between $4 and $6, while a smart LED can cost two to three times that. One of the most annoying parts of using smart bulbs is that, in order for them to work, the traditional wall switches that control them must always be on; you can’t control them otherwise.

There’s also the convenience factor. Turning smart lights on and off requires going into an app, selecting the appropriate room and pushing a virtual button. This also means that smart light bulbs aren’t as responsive as traditional lights — there’s a slight delay from when you turn them on in the app to when the lights actually turn on.

If you want the luxury of a basic wall switch, you’ll have to get a switch specifically for your lights, then mount it where the old analog switch used to be. Frankly, controlling lights the traditional way — flicking a switch — isn’t that difficult. Sure, you can tell your Amazon Echo or Google Home to do it, but those home devices will inevitably misunderstand you enough for you to question whether it was worth it.

The Choices

If you are convinced, these are your options.

Philips Hue White and Color Ambiance A19

Best Ecosystem: The Philips Hue starter kit is great, first and foremost, because of its flexibility: it’s compatible with Apple HomeKit, Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, Nest and Samsung SmartThings. You’ll be able to control these lights with the smart home app you already use. Also, these lights can produce a wide spectrum of colors, from purple to orange, green to red. The downsides: they aren’t rated for outdoors and they don’t cast a strong and direct light when used in lamps, as they’re more intended for recessed ceiling fixtures.

Buy Now: $180

LIFX A19 Bulbs

Best Color: These bulbs are a simpler option. They don’t require a hub or starter kit — each bulb connects to your network individually. True, each bulb costs a bit more than a Philips, but these are also a little brighter and are more versatile in their color-changing ability. The Wirecutter also reports that if your home wi-fi isn’t incredibly reliable, the LIFX bulbs might be a bit slow to use.

Buy Now: $46


The Frugal Option: The most affordable option is to pick up a kit from IKEA, which offers bundles ranging from motion sensors to multi-light setups with dimmers. The bulbs will work with Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Apple HomeKit by the end of the summer, and individual lights start at just $12.

Learn More: Here

Want a really easy way to make your lights “smart?” Then skip replacing your bulbs altogether and install a smart dimmer to use with your existing bulbs. This replaces your current light switch, making the whole circuit “smart” instead of converting the bulbs individually. You won’t be able to change colors, but it still gives you voice and smartphone control. It’s also worth noting that a smart plug will do the same thing for any standalone lamp.

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