Transform the way you light your home with smart bulbs, hubs and voice commands
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.
The industry is awash with manufacturers of smart light bulbs, however, and 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 to help you decide how best to utilise smart bulbs in your home.
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 an app and the internet through your Wi-Fi network or a special wireless network controlled by what’s called a “bridge” or “hub.” This enables 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
All smart bulbs include some kind of wireless connectivity. Some use a specialist wireless network designed for smart homes, such as Zigbee or the newer Thread. Others use ordinary Wi-Fi, and connect directly to your router. Without a 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.
Many smart bulbs work within a system, with a hub or bridge that plugs into your router and controls any bulbs and switches on the network. Hive Active Lighting and Hue are the most popular of these systems. Those that use Wi-Fi are usually designed to work with their manufacturer’s specific app, although the app might also set up integration with Alexa or Google Home voice controls.
Any bulbs that use the Zigbee wireless standard, including Hue bulbs, can also be controlled directly by some Amazon Echo speakers using the Alexa app and Alexa voice controls, with the Echo acting as a hub. What’s more, third-party Zigbee bulbs will also work within a Hue system – and some make great, cost-conscious alternatives to the more expensive Hue bulbs. Just be aware that these third-party bulbs might not support all features of the Hue system, while the Alexa app might not support all the features of, say, a Hue bulb.
Wi-Fi bulbs have become more popular in recent years, with competition between brands bringing prices right down. However, you might find some of the cheaper brands offer limited features or are unreliable, while some older routers struggle with managing a bunch of smart bulbs on top of all the smartphones, tablets, laptops, consoles and TVs you might find in the average home.
Incompatibility between brands and systems has always held back the adoption of smart bulbs; but now that manufacturers have agreed on an open standard, Matter, and a network technology, Thread, this may become a thing of the past. Until Matter and Thread-compatible bulbs appear en-masse, it’s difficult to say.
Do smart bulbs use more electricity?
Smart bulbs must be constantly on to function as intended, which raises some questions over energy usage. However, we’re only talking about 0.2 to 0.5W with most bulbs, so even with today’s energy prices, they’re not going to break the bank – nor contribute to destroying the world. What’s more, smart bulbs use energy-efficient LED technology to do the actual lighting, using a fraction of the energy in conventional or halogen bulbs. And, arguably, by making the most of their scheduling and power-saving features, you could make sure that they’re only turned on when they’re needed – and not left on when they’re not. This alone should reduce their environmental impact and help you save a few quid on your annual lighting bill.
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.
How we test smart bulbs
We test smart bulbs by running the setup and configuration process through the app, as instructed by the manufacturer, connecting either directly to a test Wi-Fi network or through the manufacturer’s hub, where supplied. Having got the bulb or bulbs up and running, we use the app to test their features, setting up schedules for them to turn on and off, and grouping them together in routines or scenes. In addition, we test any colour-changing features or fade and intensity settings. We also set them up with Google Home and Alexa smart speakers, to see how effectively any voice controls work. Where switches or sensors are available as part of the system, we also put them to the test.
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The best smart bulbs you can buy in 2023
1. Philips Hue: Best smart light bulbs
Price when reviewed: £50 (Starter kit) | Check price at AmazonPhilips 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, though 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. Hive Active Lighting: Best smart light bulbs for a growing smart home
Price when reviewed: £99 (Starter kit) | Check price at HiveHive Active Lighting is sold by the smart home arm of British Gas. Its biggest strength is that the system integrates with a wider smart home system, with wireless thermostats, smart sockets and sensors. This means you can control heating, lighting, security and even the filter-coffee maker using a single central hub and app.
You can set routines to make lights and heating come on in the morning or evening, or use sensors to turn them on when you come through the door later on. We’re also big fans of Hive’s mimic feature, which turns your lights on and off automatically when you’re away.
Hive can’t match Philips’ range of lamps and strip lights, but all the basic bulb types are covered and the only serious issue is the lack of any physical switches; you either have to use sensors or rely on the app and routines. You also have a choice of hubs, with a basic Ethernet model and a wireless model that detects sudden noises and alarms.
The lights themselves are very reliable and the whole setup is easy to get up and running. If you have ambitious plans for a smarter home, Hive is a good place to start. What’s more, Hue users looking to shift can now integrate their Hue lighting system inside a new Hive setup.
Key specs – Type: ZigBee smart lighting system with Ethernet or wireless hub; Bulbs available: E27, B22, E14, GU10; Tuneable bulbs: Yes; Colour bulbs: Yes; Scheduling: Yes; Sensors: Motion, door; Switches: No
3. Ikea TRÅDFRI: Best budget smart bulb starter kit
Price when reviewed: £16 (Starter kit) | Check price at IkeaLooking for a DIY smart lighting kit at a bargain-basement price? Well, it’s hardly surprising that Ikea has the answer. From the Swedish home of tasty meatballs and stylish flat pack furniture, the TRÅDFRI system gives you plenty of choice. At the most basic level, you can pair a wireless bulb with a wireless dimmer switch and have dimmable lighting in one room without touching an app. Or, if you want more control, you can connect the puck-like Gateway unit into your router, fit bulbs around the house and have a full-on smart lighting system for less than you’d pay elsewhere.
This comes with a few caveats. While Ikea also sells a range of lighting panels, you don’t get the choice of lights and accessories that you do with Hue, and while the range is growing, you’re out of luck if you want B22 bulbs. You also won’t get the full range of rich colours or in-depth control that you do with the Hue and Hive systems. Meanwhile, Ikea’s app, while perfectly usable, is a bit on the basic side, and Alexa integration could be improved. If you want the best smart lighting system, this isn’t it, but the best value? That’s a different matter, and here TRÅDFRI pulls ahead.
Key specs – Type: Various; Bulbs available: E27, E14, GU10; Tuneable bulbs: Yes; Colour bulbs: Yes; Scheduling: Yes; Sensors: No; Switches: Yes
4. Innr: Best budget smart bulbs
Price when reviewed: £30 (3x white bulbs) | Check price at AmazonInnr 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 Hub 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. You’ll often be able to save £10 off the normal price or bag two bulbs for the price of one.
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