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How to Buy Your First Smart Light Bulb (and Which to Buy)

Buying your first light bulbs shouldn't be complicated. And it isn't. Here's what you need to know.

wyze bulb color
Wyze

The first thing to know is that, compared to other smart home tech, smart light bulbs are simple. They’re almost exactly the same as conventional LED bulbs, but with a whole host of added benefits.

The Advantages of a Smart Bulb

You can do a host of other neat things with smart light bulbs that you simply can’t with conventional LED bulbs, too. Most of them have to do with control.

Remote control: You can turn smart lights on or off even if you’re not home. All you need to do is have your smartphone connected to Wi-Fi or LTE, and a compatible smart home app at the ready.

Create schedules: You don’t need to turn your lights on or off manually. With schedules you can set them to turn off or on (or otherwise change their settings, at a certain time every day or night. If you have multiple smart lights you can have them all set to the same or different schedules, too.

Create scenes: A “scene” or “room” in the context of a smart home is a group of devices all working together. For example, you can group the three smart light bulbs that are located in your bedroom together, name them “Bedroom,” and then turn them all on or off with a single voice command: “Hey Google, turn off bedroom lights.”

Brightness control: Not every smart light bulb is dimmable, but many are. Dimmable smart light bulbs are neat because you can adjust the brightness without having to adjust a physical dimmer. You can adjust it via an app or using voice commands.

Energy efficient: The vast majority of modern light bulbs are LEDs, and that includes most smart light bulbs. They’re naturally more energy-efficient than traditional incandescent bulbs, but the fact that they’re smart means you can always check on them; if you’ve left a light on by accident, you can turn it off from anywhere you have a Wi-Fi or LTE connection.

What to Look Out For

There are many different smart light bulbs that you can choose from in 2020. Not all of them work the same way or have the same capabilities, however. Here are some common questions to ask when considering your choice.

Does it need a hub? Some smart lights connect directly to your home’s Wi-Fi network so you can easily control them straight from your smartphone or with a voice assistant. Others, require an extra piece of hardware, like a hub or a bridge, to do the exact same thing. Knowing if the smart lights will need extra hardware, which also adds an extra expense, is one of the most important things before investing in smart lights.

Is it compatible with your other gear? The other big important thing to consider before buying a smart light bulb is knowing whether it will work with your home’s smart ecosystem. Not every smart light is compatible with Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s HomeKit, the Google Assistant or IFTTT, so you need to check beforehand.

What do you want for light color and temperature: If you’re willing to spend a little more, you can buy smart lights that have various colors and temperature effects. For instance, Philips Hue’s White And Color Ambiance smart bulbs can shine in millions of different colors and various shades of white light. These smart lights can also adjust the temperature of the light throughout the day, which can help you better wake up or fall asleep.

Smart Lights or Smart Switches/Outlets/Plugs: Which to Choose?

Smart lights are great smart home products but they aren’t great in every scenario. For example, an area in your home that has multiple lights controlled by a single light switch probably isn’t a great situation for smart lights. A better solution for such a scene, like a large family room with lots of overhead lighting, would be to buy a smart switch, such as the Wemo Light Switch, or a smart plug, like the Wemo WiFi Smart Plug, instead.

Smart switches are generally a little cheaper and can be used to control the "dumb" lights that you already have. This also means that you can use smart switches to control any light bulb. On the downside, smart switches usually require more installation — typically some light wire-work — and they can’t be used to create scenes. While most smart light switches are able to dim the lights, they definitely can’t adjust the color or temperature like you’re able to with a lot of smart light bulbs.

A smart plug is a more versatile alternative. It's a little gadget that plugs into an outlet, connects to your home's Wi-Fi network, and then allows you to control whatever device that is plugged into that smart plug — in this case a "dumb" lamp — with your smartphone or your voice.

The Best Smart Light Bulbs


Philips Hue White

Courtesy
Philips Hue White
amazon.com
$49.99

  • Works with Alexa and Google Home
  • Dimmable
  • No hub required

  • Expensive
  • No support for HomeKit

Philips Hue makes the most popular smart bulbs. The company’s “White” smart bulbs can’t produce the many shades of color as the “White and Color Ambiance” smart bulbs, but they’re cheaper, still dimmable and work in much the same way. The only real downside — other than being expensive — is that these do not support Apple HomeKit (which is a little odd considering that the Philips Hue White and Color Ambiance do support HomeKit).

  • Compatibility: Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant
  • Smart Hub? Optional


    Philips Hue White and Color Ambiance

    Courtesy
    Philips Hue White and Color Ambiance
    amazon.com
    $197.99

    • Works with all major smart home ecosystems
    • Dimmable

    • Expensive
    • Requires hub

    These are the best option for people who really want to play around with all the customization options smart bulbs have to offer. Like the company’s “White” bulbs, they work with pretty much any smart home ecosystem and you can control them with your voice. The big upside with them is that, via the app, you can adjust the smart lights to change to one of 16 million colors and shades of white. The downside is that you need to use the Hue smart hub (included in the starter pack) to get the most out of them.

    • Compatibility: Apple HomeKit, Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, Samsung SmartThings
    • Smart Hub? Yes


      Wyze Bulb White

      Courtesy
      Wyze Bulb White 2-Pack
      $22.98

      • Affordable
      • Works with Alexa and Google Home

      • No HomeKit support

      At just $8 a piece and even cheaper in packs, you’re not going to find a more affordable smart bulb than the Wyze Bulb White. And it’s actually pretty versatile to boot. It’s compatible with both Amazon’s and Google’s smart speakers. You can adjust its brightness and color temperatures (from warm to cool). And if you use Wyze’s other smart home products, you can have the Wyze Bulb White perform tricks like lighting up when certain sensors are triggered, like when motion is detected by a Wyze Cam.

      • Compatibility: Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, IFTTT
      • Smart Hub? No


        Wyze Bulb Color

        Courtesy
        Wyze Bulb Color
        $15.76

        • Affordable
        • Works with Alexa and Google Home

        • No HomeKit support

        In the first part of 2021, Wyze announced the Wyze Bulb Color, which is effectively a Wyze Bulb White that can change colors. It has all the same features, including Alexa and Google Assistant compatibility, and you can change the color and temperature of the bulbs via the Wyze companion app. The only real downside is that you can't buy individual bulbs just yet — you need to purchase a 4-pack. Also, there's no support for Apple HomeKit.

        • Compatibility: Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, IFTTT
        • Smart Hub? No

          Nanoleaf Essentials A19 Bulb

          Courtesy
          Nanoleaf Essentials A19
          apple.com
          $19.95

          • Works with HomeKit and Google Home
          • No hub required

          • No Alexa support

          If you're looking for color-changing smart bulbs that work with Apple's HomeKit, the Nanoleaf Essentials A19 bulbs are one of your only bets. Fortunately, they're great (if a little expensive). Each bulb supports Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity — so no smart hub needed — and the companion app is really easy to use. Also, if you own any of Nanoleaf's other smart light panels, shapes or canvases, you can easily group these A19 bulbs into a scene.

          • Compatibility: Apple HomeKit, Google Assistant
          • Smart Hub? No



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