The best smart lights and Wi-Fi bulbs for your home

wifi bulbs
By Adam Zeis on 13 Aug 2014 01:58 pm

One of the easiest ways for to jump into the connected home space is with some awesome connected lighting. Smart lights are simply bulbs (and usually a bridge or hub) that replaces your standard light bulbs and offer more functionality — namely being able to control them from your smartphone or tablet. These Wi-Fi bulbs are typically more expensive than standard bulbs, but last just as long (if not longer), plus they go above and beyond just keeping you out of the dark.

Currently, there are a few different types of connected lights available. There are simple Wi-Fi bulbs that light up in white — just like your traditional bulbs — and there are also color changing bulbs that can do all sorts of fun, connected things. Depending on your needs, just having white bulbs may be all you need, but if you're going all-in with smart lighting, color-changing bulbs are really what you're after.

We've checked out some of the top offerings on the market right now — and taken into account things like pricing, ease of use, setup and overall lifespan — to pin down and overall winner and crown the best of the best when it comes to smart lights. While each system has similar features, there are some that set them apart as well. There are some big names in the smart lights space and some new players as well, so let's take a look and see what the best connected lighting options are right now.

Reader comments

The best smart lights and Wi-Fi bulbs for your home


Great timing. About to buy lights for the family cottage we're building and was wondering what the best options are right now!

Keep them coming... need to know thermostats, door locks, ceiling fans.... you get it. :)

If you want to do more than lighting, you might look into SmartThings. It's a more general home automation (or Internet of Things) hub that will let you connect switches, sensors, locks, thermostats, etc. Put in a compatible light switch or outlet, then use normal (much cheaper) bulbs in your light fixtures.

One tidbit you left out that people should be aware of is that you can actually use both of the winners together with the Wink hub! The wink hub does work with Hue Bulbs, I think there are a few limitations on what it can do but most of it is related to the extra brains in the Hue smartphone app. I also like this solution the most because I really dont need 55 extra wifi devices on my home network....

I take that back. I believe you can control a Philips Hue Kit from the wink app on your phone directly, but you need the Hue hub...

I can't find GE Link anywhere! I would love to pair those bulbs with the Wink Hub promotion they have right now.

Also, Philips Hue just released a white only version called "Lux". Not as good of a deal as the GE Links, though.

How long do the Phillips he generally last? Also, how much Internet do they generally use? We have satellite Internet, and can't use to much data.

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ive been told 14 years, i just took the plunge and I'm 6 bulbs in (buying once a month till i'm full), and frankly I love it. We don't use it every night like we did when we first got it (DISCO HUE IS AWESOME), but we do use moods/scenes everyday. It's totally not necessary but so much fun. If you have the cash, I'd say do it.

Hi ! I never comment because these places always seem to get so nasty but this seemed civil so I will unsolictedly tell you my opnion; with the caveat that this reply is about Hue and Tap primarily but also about this new Internet of Things thats unfolding.

First the color is not a gimmick. The idea that you could control full Spectrum light (affects Mental Health positively given the interest or desire to construct a recipe for such a thing... So I currently own 14 Hue or Friends of Hue lights, a Tap, Smartthings, a Kwikset KEVO lock (crap dont buy) and now Schlage for the front deadbolt (Camelot, awesome a little loud) and a Wink Power Pivot. In general im in love with all these things.

Please consider what ive written as an opinion. Im an Actor and Personal Trainer so my individual use of these items is perhaps niche-y.

Second- If money is a problem for you. Home Depot has incandescent bulbs that still go to 200w. I use them for the bathroom. It needs to feel like the sun in front of mirror. So I discovered a couple things right away. Bathroom and Kitchen Globe lighting (im in Boston - we have older fixtures) dont feel appropriate considering the blockage of light the globe blocks. So it makes them look like a silly DJ light. Dont put these bulbs in globes. The LED light itself is already inside a Globe like enclosure and correctly diffuses the light. Can you replace 33 light bulbs... sure but that would be dumb. I have a large one bedroom and have replaced all but 5 of the possible fixtures that take a19 or down light bulbs, The downlight bulbs are really only for in ceiling canister lighting. Modern homes have these... i do not. I relplaced all the downlighting with the normal bulb.

Some corrections: You do not need the app. In fact you should NEVER use the Phillips app; its just awful. If your iOS: Goldee is awesome. Android: Hue Disco or Mac (yes your computer can control them) Hue-Topia. Note: Goldee is best but not customizable (which is the point) and is about to release a dedicated Light controller which is a fancy light switch. Beware its $ and still in crowd funding land. The scenes are created by artists and are active. Theyre beautiful inside a home with many He lights. I mean reallly really nice. Since ive ditched my iphone, i can live still because of my ipad.

Phillips has released Tap. So Tap... ugh. It uses Kinetic energy to power it self which is cool if you dont have batteries... So it works like Kinetic energy if you press each button in a specific way. If you want the specs both Apple and will answer that. So far they suck. Ive returned three and now have only two. One for the bedroom and one for the living room. Why two ? They need to to replace the switch weve come to know as "how lights turn on" and they can only operate by scene and if Dark is one of your scenes then you only get 3 other scenes. Yes you can make these yourself... On its face it seems like a great thing. The lack of dedicated power and tethering to the TERRIBLE Phillips app combined with too many taps (due to non immediate functioning) wipes the Taps tether and then you have to go back into the app and do it over. Ive done this hundreds of times now. When it works its solves the "why do i need this ?" problem. When it doesn't it makes you look stupid. So its an experiment not meant for public consumption. They also stick. Samsung will love them. Theyre plastic is its cheapest manifestation.

Apple has designated this particular smart light as Best and its clearly made for iOS although every platform (wp8 too) has a 3rd party app that will control the hub light by light if you really wanna get into the programming thing.

And you do. Having the right lighting for cleaning, but different for Cooking or Different than Movie Night or different for your Boyfriends favorite color to pop on when they walk thru the door (a recent idea) are important if you care about how a room looks. For instance. I cant paint my apartment. In my lease it is forbidden. Properly programmed Hue lighting can create neutral tones that not only light the room but trick your eyes into believing you have a light green wall instead of a white one. Note: this is for the all bulb user. If you can only afford the starter go to Home Depot.

Ill tie this up: I really love them. I come from the Theatre and find great value in lighting a room for drama, for creativity (they are infinitely creative) . The light strips are great for creating Back of TV lighting or Ambilight without buying an Ambilight TV (dont do that) and there are apps that will pick the dominate tones from whatever your watching or compliment it based off the camera on your phone... They are great for above cabinets as nightlights, they great for under cabinet lighting for cooking, the Bloom isnt awesome. I have one and it is clearly a "special" and unless you want a Dance Concert (heavy on creative lighting) in your home they will seem extravagant. Im in this camp, clearly.

There are alternatives. The are all lesser (all of them) and none of them will become as ubiquitous so long as Apple is spotlighting them and Amazon is selling them.

They are perfect at there brightest if you use 4 lights per room. No less. Any less and you will feel like youve bought those crappy environmental bulbs that flicker on and dont dim. After 4 lights youve entered a pricey lighting solution but it will blow your mind how lighting can change not just your mood but affectation of all sorts of things: Mundane to Occasional. Like there is an app that you can use in tandem with IFFFT that will alert you that its snowing by dimming the entire system and then replicating all light into bright white light into a slow strobe thrown over the whole system in a daisy chain so it appears as if the light or snow is falling (im a snowboarder; snow is primary) this silly app can be extrapolated over a hundred other uses.

Bottom line: My electric bill in the Summer is 300 Average. Boston is an expensive city, and a/c is never Central and i like it cold. Combined with Smarthings and WInk ive automated the hell out of everything. This geeky adventure cost me 200$ less on my electric bill last month. Thats a serious situation. And removed a bunch of worry from my life. When I leave home the equivalent of a breaker being thrown happens... when im within 50 ft. of my front door it unlocks, the lights jump to "Bright" and if its the morning my sound system goes off like a bomb to wake me up. I awake at 430AM. THIS IS KEY.

This Home Automation movement is going to pick up steam and more and more players will get involved and Phillips is a important and reliable partner in this new technology. All the other choices are under funded, from brand new companies and frankly when dropping about 1500K on home lighting you dont want to be returning them via ups because thats always fun.... Dont buy expensive kickstartr crap you dont even get to look at before it arrives. Many of the alternatives are of this variety. (Coin and Tile; im looking at you)

In the end in 5 years these bulbs will have saved me money on my electric bill i couldnt have saved before COUPLED with an automator hub and app like wink (less reliable but cute) or SmartThings (awesome everyday, sad that crappy Korean Company just bought them...hence my switch to Wink... slowly... I love SmartThings.

Samsung dont ruin this. But they ruin everything so who knows... Also my opinion.)

Lastly for real: Ive broken 3. They still work. and they are brighter so if you break one, worry not ... they jump down is a usability difference... so they become "specials" or "throw lighting." With the bulb gone mixing the; lights becomes more vivid. Looking direcly at them: not so great. Place them in places you might hide a light say on the floor behind a chair (great party lighting) or inside a closet that has no light. My point is they are not expensive at all if you can think a little longer than 'right this second.' If you are counting your pennies the internet of things is not possible for you yet in the way its promised...

Buy this. It will actually become integral into the way you live your life if you rely on things like mood, alarms, reminders, if your forgetful or you have a dog or if your clumsy or like holidays or and this is key...

They are a shift in thought when considering the entire home appliance electricty consumption coal burning problem. No they themselves cannot change your electric bill majorly, but matched with a partner in automation they absolutely lessen your carbon footprint and therefore are more than color mood lighting... We can do nothing without light. The introduction of automation has to begin with the lightbulb because it wont matter if you set the coffee pot to instant on if you cant find it in the dark AND you want to save money AND you want to help the enviorment. The bulbs use 80% less electrity than a similiar incandescent bulb and if your like me... Congress cannot mandate me to buy a crappy corkscrew bulb. They suck they will always suck. Like Congress.

Awesome. Envious. Fun. Functional. Fully Supported by all OS via 3rd party trial and error. Apple makes them easy breezy. WP8 is catching up. Ive recently left Apple (sadly) for WP8 (which probably sounds stupid for most readers) but i love that its different and they finally released a 3rd high end phone that would be considered equitable... If their app store can work the lights- I was sold.

I just broke my 26th iPhone. So im done.

I was surprised to see it was on Windows. No, you couldnt pay me to use Android i dont care about anything electronic that isn't special... Android will never be special. Again my opnion. Although the Z2 is amazing. I almost bought that. It was a hard coice. These automation things become super useless if your phone ets dropped, goes for a swim, your clients drops it, or it gets stolen in the locker room or your dog punctures the glass... It seems that Apple is poised to move heavily into this area and theyve clearly chosen Hue. Hue also is programble into Harmony if you use Harmony remotes. Marrying TV, XBOX, and HUE.

Buy the lights you have 14 days to return them. Its a great gift also for someone who is impossible to buy for. Its impossible to at least not find novelty and creativity in them.

I like the article, well broken down. One other piece that would be nice to know, would be which of these systems would be future upgradeable for connecting other home devices?

For example, the Insteon Hub has support for cameras, flood sensors, door sensors, lights, and connected outlets, and thermostat and I believe it has support for Nest thermostat and Hue bulbs (and promises of others in the near future).

The Connected by TCP sounds great, as does the GE Link, but are these limited to only lights? Will they be able to control future GE devices? or other companies devices? I know I could look these up, but this article is a great collection of pros and cons and would be the ideal place for people looking to slowly build their connected home.

I think this is an important differentiator, as we move towards more and more devices being 'connected', but each requiring their own app, or hub, makes most of the solutions only useful if you are only planning on using one or two gadgets (perhaps lights and thermostat). If you are planning on living in the Jetson's house of the future, some of these options will quickly lose their appeal.

Thanks for an excellent article.

Two problems—price and TRUE MTBF reliability. I just walked round our house and counted 33 lights. At the low-end of $20 a piece that's $660 while at the high end of $100, it's $3300. Do I really need to spend that much on wifi bulbs!
In fact, I replaced nearly all our bulbs with standard LED lights less than a year ago. Despite being quite expensive brand-name units (and not cheap Chinese clones) rated for 40,000 hours or about 10 years of normal use, they are already starting to fail, the first after 350 hours and the second at about 500 hours. To be fair, the maker replaced them without a word after I showed the receipts and proved they could not have exceeded the 40,000 hour rated life even burning 24 hours a day since purchased. However, I'd hate to have the hassle of replacing $100 units in 2 or 3 years when it would be harder to prove usage. The MTBF rating is REALLY important when paying big money for these bulbs and (in my opinion) your review should have focussed heavily on these figures as well as the warranty conditions.

Mature lightning control systems replace the light switch/dimmer instead of the light. A light switch isn't exposed to the same level of heat as a light and thus, has a much longer life.
I installed UPB back in 2007. It is a powerline control system (signal his thru the same power line). It has served me well. Only one duplex dimmer failed in this time. A duplex dimmer controls two independent lights from the same location. And, since it is a mature standard my home automation/alarm system can control the lights too.

Insteon is pretty mature too, but when it started the failure rate was pretty high compared to the industry. Insteon is dual mode (powerline + RF). You also have Z-wave (rf based), RadioRA (high-end, professionally installed only), and several flavors of Zigbee.

One caveat.... Most of these systems require a neutral connection, but many cheap electricians do not include a neutral in the switch gang box. Not a problem in my house, however.

I find that many of these solutions are developed by very creative and inventive people, with a fresh mind, but without studying the current state of light control systems. They reinvent the wheel without noticing the challenges and failures of those that came before them.
Take the Nest smoke/fire alarm. There is a industry standard cabling for connecting these sensors to the house alarm, but Nest does not support it. In a big house you use a central alarm that is triggered when one of the sensors detects smoke, but also the central monitoring agency is notified so that they call the fire department.
Nothing prevent them from supporting both, their cloud solution, and connecting to a central alarm that save lifes. Lifes are too important for me as for relying on improvisations.

I'm really surprised that the Belkin Wemo products didn't make this list. I've owned the Philips Hue since it launched, and it has been nothing but a disappointment. The Hue lights are pretty dim compared to standard 60 watt light bulbs. My biggest complaint about the Hue system (and similar systems) is that you can only turn your lights on/off with the app. If you turn the lights off at the wall switch, the power is cut to the light so it cannot be turned back on from the app. Having to pull your phone out of your pocket every time you want to turn the lights on or off is extremely annoying.

The Belkin Wemo system fixes this issue by selling smart light switches, not light bulbs. The Belkin wall switch replaces your standard wall switch, and allows you turn your lights on/off at the switch AND through the app. The other advantage is that you can use any light bulbs (LED, CLF, etc). This can result in huge savings if the light fixture that you want to make "smart" has multiple light bulbs in it. Also, you're able to get light bulbs that are much brighter than the Hue bulbs.

Try Hue Tap. I do agree that the Wemo switches are a good idea and wish Philips would produce a Hue switch but I don't see it happening as they make more money selling 5 bulbs as opposed to 1 switch.

This list was more about the actual lights/bulbs themselves, rather than connected switched. We'll definitely have plenty of WeMo action going forward, don't worry.

I'm surprised you guys didn't check out Lutron, they seem to be the industry leader. I'd love to see a review of Lutron's Radio RA2 and Homeworks.

As a Windows Phone user I'll stick with Cree LEDs and just get some on/off/dimmer switches for the lamps themselves that are Insteon compatible.

For actual smart bulbs I like Philips Hue and LIGHTFREQ the best.

I read the article, but still have a few questions:
1. Will my technophobic mother-in-law be able to turn the lights just like she does at home?
2. Which of these systems (besides Insteon) is supported by leading home automation/alarm systems?

3. Interoperability and future proofing is important when you make an investment of this size. Which of these run on open/consortium-based high level communication protocols? WiFi is a low level communication protocol. I talk about application-specific protocols like those defined by the Bluetooth stack or Zigbee HA (home automation).

In my opinion, most of these are just remote controlled lights. This is far from smart. In my house, I can control the lights from my smartphone via the alarm/home automation panel, or manually via the smart dimmer in each room. But the lights are also controlled by the HA panel based on different security or convenience scenarios. Smart and home automated lightning goes beyond remote control.

FYI, many panels support Insteon, but the implementation described here is not my favorite. I prefer replacing the light switches instead of the actual light bulbs. It is more convenient and cheaper in the long term.

BTW, if you want to learn about lighting automation or anything about home security/automation you should visit the coocontech dot com forums and read years of questions and answers logged there for your benefit.

Got Wink after looking into after reading this article. Cute, dead simple to use, but a bit limited to specific devices so far, though potential to expand is huge. And no GE bulbs at local Home Depots till 9/16. But here's hoping it's easy enough for the whole family to use!

One thing I don't see in any of these reviews is comments about the quality of connectivity or range with the different protocols. I understand that most of them work in a mesh network, which means if different devices can 'see' each other, the range is extended. I have a split-level house, with a TCP Connected gateway in the lowest level. I can 'see' light bulbs in that level and the mid-level, but not in the upper level. Very frustrating. Wondering if the GE Link protocol (Zigbee) has better range/penetration than the protocol TCP Connected uses (6LoWPAN)?