Best Smart BulbsBy Daniel Wroclawski
The humble light bulb hasn’t changed much since it was invented back in the late 19th century. Over time, the warm glow of incandescents was replaced by the sterile white of compact fluorescents, then the bright shine of LEDs. Now, the Internet of Things is turning the very concept of the light bulb on its head, reimagining the role of light in our homes.
But to make bulbs “smart,” manufacturers have taken a variety of approaches. Some require a hub to connect the bulbs to the Internet. Others cut costs by tethering the bulbs to your phone, with the tradeoff that you can't control them when you’re out of range. One bulb even uses WiFi to get online.
We’ve gathered more than a dozen popular smart bulbs—products from juggernauts like Philips and Osram to startups like Ilumi and Misfit—and put them through their paces to find the best you can buy.
Updated August 11, 2016
Philips Hue White and Color Ambiance Starter Kitbest overall
The market-leading bulb requires a hub and doesn’t come cheap, but offers a rainbow of colors and Siri voice control for iOS users, backed up by strong third-party integrations. We found the Hue Color to be fairly easy to set up, and it was easily one of the most responsive bulbs we tested. We also loved the incredibly intuitive app experience.
Sengled Pulse LED Light with Wireless Bluetooth Speakerbest hubless bulb
The Sengled Pulse stands apart from its competitors in one really interesting way: It features a built-in speaker that can sync with up to eight other Pulse bulbs to create an incredibly flexible surround-sound Bluetooth audio system. The bulb isn't going to please audiophiles, but it sounds decent enough for casual listening. The Sengled app offers in-depth audio adjustments, along with separate lighting controls.
Cree Connected LED Bulbbest value
The Cree Connected outputs a bright 800 lumens and offers dimming, but little else. Still, you can’t expect too much from a $15 smart bulb. Of all the monochromatic bulbs, the Cree offers some of the best dimming performance for the price. On the downside, you’ll need to pick up a smart home hub to make it work. We found the SmartThings hub provided the best responsiveness and value, as it sets you up to add an array of different smart home products in the future.
Philips Hue White Starter Kit
The Philips Hue White can't change colors like its more expensive sibling, but it too takes advantage of Siri voice control and provides a great app experience—best of all the monochromatic bulbs we tested, even adjusting brightness levels in real time. While additional Hue White bulbs are only $15, they're not as good of a value as the Cree Connected bulbs, since the Hue system is incompatible with other smart home products.
The Ilumi smart bulb is multicolored and connects to your smartphone via Bluetooth. It doesn’t dim as smoothly as some of its competitors, but offers solid responsiveness and a lower upfront cost compared to the Philips Hue Color.
The Misfit Bolt smart bulb connects via Bluetooth and offers an array of colors at a price lower than most multicolored bulbs. The bulb has the best build quality of all the bulbs we tested (along with the BeON Home), and was one of the most responsive color-changing Bluetooth bulbs according to our testers.
The Elgato Avea is another hubless Bluetooth bulb you can set to any color imaginable. It’s the cheapest multicolor bulb in our roundup, and we recommend it for budget shoppers due to its sizable feature set and reliable responsiveness when dimming.
Osram Lightify Tunable LED Bulb
The Osram Lightify is unique among the bulbs we tested. That's because it's monochromatic, but you can still tune it from a warm 2000K to a cool 6500K. It’s not the most responsive bulb of the bunch, but it makes up for that with great functionality and compatibility with the excellent SmartThings hub.
LIFX Color 1000
The LIFX Color is the only hubless multicolor bulb in our test group to use WiFi instead of Bluetooth. It's also the brightest, at 1055 lumens, and offers the widest color temperature range (2500–9000K). Unfortunately, our testers reported that the LIFX was difficult to set up and wasn't as responsive as some of its Bluetooth competitors.
BeON Home Protection System
The BeON Home is a monochromatic smart bulb with a twist: It focuses heavily on security and safety features through removable smart modules, and includes a battery backup that keeps it lit during power outages. We loved the bulb's excellent build quality, but found that it ultimately suffers from delayed response times and a subpar app experience.
Belkin Wemo LED Lighting Starter Set
The Belkin WeMo smart bulb offers basic dimming functionality and remote app control, but has a higher price point than Cree Connected or Osram Lightify. The bulb is easy to use, but its limited functionality and high price don’t help it stand out from the crowd.
Nyrius Wireless Smart LED Multicolor Light BulbAvoid
The Nyrius offers multicolor functionality in a Bluetooth bulb at the lowest price possible, but after putting it through its paces we can’t recommend it. While it performed well in terms of responsiveness, it was also incredibly frustrating to use, requiring a reset every time our test participants tried to use the app.
TCP Connected Smart LED Light Bulb Starter KitAvoid
TCP's monochromatic smart bulbs offer basic features like dimming and smartphone/tablet app control. But even though the bulb is a solid performer across the board, we can't recommend it due to a laborious setup process and intermittent hub connectivity issues.
GE Link - 60w 2 Bulb Starter KitAvoid
The GE Link is another extremely affordable monochromatic bulb, matching the Cree Connected at $15 per unit. But that's where the commonalities end. Our testers found the GE Link bulb to be unresponsive and unreliable when dimming, so we can't recommend purchasing it.
Insteon LED BulbAvoid
The Insteon LED bulb is unique in that it uses powerline networking (sending data over the electrical wiring in your home) to communicate with its hub, performing basic functions like dimming. Unfortunately, our testers found it to be difficult to use, with a frustrating, extremely outdated app experience.
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