4 things you need to know before buying a smart light bulb

Unfortunately, it's not as easy as screwing in a light bulb.

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If you want to dip your toe into the world of smart home tech, the easiest place to start is with smart light bulbs. Broadly speaking, they're easy to setup and use, come with enough features to give you a sense of what's possible, and run the range of affordable and simple to expensive and complex.

But there are still some questions as to how useful or necessary smart light bulbs are. After all, it's just a light bulb, how revolutionary can they be? Well, I just wrapped up testing a whole bunch of new smart bulbs to find the best right now and learned plenty along the way. If you're interested in some new illumination, allow me to dispel some myths and shed some light on these new kinds of bulbs.

1. How do they work?


Unfortunately, how a smart bulb works can be the biggest drawback for some. It's no longer as simple as screwing a light bulb into a socket and calling it a day. Now, there's the question of whether or not it needs a "hub," works via Bluetooth, or can function on your WiFi network alone.

Smart bulbs that work with a hub are most common. The term hub is vague, but it's simply just a piece of hardware similar to a wireless router that the bulbs use to connect to internet. You'll have to worry about it when you first set up the bulbs, but then you'll rarely think about it again. The real downside is that any smart bulbs that require a hub will also cost you a fair bit more in upfront costs.

Once you've set up a hub, you'll go through an in-app setup process to identify your bulbs, assign them to rooms, and give you full control over their features.

2. What kind of features do they have?

For anyone who hasn't spent time researching smart bulbs (you're lucky), you might be surprised to hear that they can come with a pretty varied feature list. It all starts with the ability to turn your lights on or off via your phone or a smart speaker. From there, the list can expand to include controlling the brightness, adjusting the color temperature (a cool blue/white light to a warm yellow), and changing the light to any color in the rainbow.

Outside of color and brightness, most smart bulbs will have additional options for creating scenes or setting schedules. Scenes are pre-existing or custom settings of color and brightness that you can easily select—making it a snap to change your room from a bright white light to a soothing dim blue that's easier on the eyes. Schedules are exactly what it sounds like. You can set your bulbs to automatically adjust based on time of day, alarms in the morning, or even changes in your location, such as turning lights off/on as you leave or come home from work.

3. How will it fit into the rest of my smart home?


This is a very common question, and it really comes down to finding out what platforms these bulbs are compatible with. Does it work with Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant? What about Apple HomeKit or Samsung SmartThings? Luckily, most of the smart bulbs I tested were compatible with all major platforms across the board. Just make sure to double check so you're not walking home with an outlier.

4. Is it worth the money and hassle?

In my opinion, absolutely. With a wide range of options out there, it's fairly easy to find the smart bulb that'll fit into your budget and lifestyle.

But, there's no denying that smart bulbs have an air of frivolity to them. I'm sure you've thought something along the lines of, "Why do I need a bulb that changes colors—the $1 LED bulb I got at the hardware store works fine." That's totally fair, but the idea of the smart home is to make your life easier and more convenient. A smart bulb can go a long way to modernizing your home and bringing you a level of comfort you didn't know you were missing. Plus, there's the cool factor of being able to ask Alexa or Google to dim the lights for movie night from the comfort of your couch. That's a future I can get behind.

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Credit: Jeremy Stamas

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Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.
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