In less than a decade, connected light bulbs have become an essential in many stores’ lighting departments. However, they are not mainstream yet, for several reasons: a high price compared to traditional light bulbs and LEDs; a poor knowledge of the features available (remote control, Wi-Fi repeater, speakers, camera…); and a lack of public interest, connected devices being sometimes seen as frivolous gadgets.
Around a hundred manufacturers are currently leading the game. As a result, numerous models are on the market, based on a great variety of technologies. But it is sometimes hard to assess the quality of the devices. This website gathers information (collected from the manufacturers’ literature and practical tests) on the best smart light bulbs available on the market, as well as advice, products reviews and product compare articles. On this page, you will find a guide made for helping you navigate through the light bulb jargon and understand the possible features and usages of smart lights.
Guide: Which Connected Light Bulb for My Smart Home
Creating ambiance and lighting effects, setting preferences, monitoring light sources from a mobile device, using light as an alarm clock... The arrival on the market of smart lighting solutions offer many new possibilities to ensure extra home comfort. This guide's objective is to help users find the connected light bulb - also called smart light bulb - that best suits them, depending on their needs, the price they are ready to pay and the equipment they already have.
What is a smart light bulb?
The smart light bulb is one of the most accessible devices among the connected home gadgets. It is cheaper and easier to install and to use than most home automation accessories, like smart thermostats, security cameras or smoke detectors. It is wireless and works as a plug and play system, which means it can be installed without the help of a professional. As with a conventional bulb, you just have to screw it into the fixture. Then, a mobile app will allow you to configure and monitor it remotely.
To cut the energy bills
There are many reasons to equip yourself with an intelligent lighting system. One of them is to make energy savings and be able to cut your bills. Connected bulbs can help by adapting lighting to your needs. The vast majority of smart bulbs are LED lamps. This is the most promising technology to replace incandescent light bulbs, ahead of compact fluorescent lamps (CFL) and halogen lamps. The Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) of 2007 intends to progressively abandon the use of incandescent lamps, in favor of those energy-efficient bulbs. For a 60 watt incandescent equivalent light bulb, a LED lamp will cost less than $2 per year, for three hours of daily consumption.
If reducing your electricity bill is not your main concern, it is still interesting to use one of the most energy efficient lighting technologies of the moment. The manufacturers also highlight the lifetime of their LED bulbs, which can be switched on and off frequently, unlike other types of energy saving bulbs.
To create an ambiance
A smart lighting system can also increase comfort at home. The LED technology once again plays an important role here since it can create virtually unlimited variations of color. The user can choose the color and regulate the light intensity of every lamp and save the different lighting programs to reproduce them later. Besides, the LED technology allows the user to replace the traditional alarm clock by a gradual lighting in one or several rooms at a time.
Some bulbs go even further: they can be synchronized with the music or image of a television set. Others are directly equipped with a speaker and can stream music from a playlist. In fact, the possibilities are infinite and many products have already begun exploring them. Lights with integrated cameras, Wi-Fi repeaters and even perfume-dispensing lamps are already available on the market.
To protect your property and your life
Another argument is often raised by the manufacturers: safety. As the lighting system can be remotely monitored, it allows its users to simulate the presence of the house occupants when nobody is home. It can be an interesting strategy to discourage burglars during holidays.
Some smart bulbs can also be connected to other devices, including smoke detectors like the Nest Protect. In case of fire, the bulbs will go on and off to alert the occupants.
Connected bulbs are still relatively new on the market and are far from having shown their full potential. One of the next market innovations will be the use of lighting to provide and Internet connection. It is called Li-Fi or light fidelity. It will take a few years for this technology to become accessible to private individuals, but it is already being used in tertiary and industrial premises (office buildings, malls, hotels...). However, some connected light bulbs are Wi-Fi repeaters. This feature allows user to extend the connection range to all the rooms in a house or a flat.
Ask yourself the right questions
Now that you know a little more about the different options they can provide, ask yourself the right questions to choose your connected bulb. The first and most important thing to determine is what use will be made of your smart lighting system. Do you want to replace your current bulbs? In that case, you will have to ensure that the model you choose offer sufficient light. Do you wish to add colored light sources to create a particular ambiance? Less powerful lamps will do the job.
Wi-Fi or Bluetooth?
Connected light bulbs are wireless, which means that the information between light sources and your mobile phone communicate via Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or both. The main difference between those two connection modes is the signal range. The Buetooth system's range is only about ten meters, when the Wi-Fi offers a range of twenty to fifty meters. For a simple setting in a small flat or a unique room, Bluetooth will be sufficient. It will use less energy and will cost less, but won't allow remote access: the mobile phone will have to be in the very room to control the lamps. The benefit will be to retain data into one room, thus reducing the possibilities to have your data stolen.
If you are equipped with a residential gateway, the Wi-Fi will allow you to change the light settings from outside – your workplace for example. Wi-Fi will also be interesting if you want to create a local network and connect different light sources. As for the signal speed, it will be more powerful. This point may not be very relevant though, as a connected light system does not need a strong connection to work.
This infographic shows what the most high-tech connected light bulbs can offer.
What about lamp caps?
Connected bulbs have developed quickly and now offer compatible models on all world markets. Nearly all existing models are available in E26 or E27 formats, which are the North American standards. E12, E14 and E17 formats also exist. However, if the product you are interested in does not exist in a format that is designed to suit your installation, you can still use a lamp cap converter.
The right voltage
Speaking of compatibility, another parameter needs your attention: voltage. In fact, buying directly on the Internet can sometimes lead to bad choices if you pick the wrong voltage. In North America, voltage values vary between 100 and 127 volts. In Europe, the voltage is higher: it varies between 220 and 240 volts. If those values are not respected, the bulb will burn out as soon as you switch it on. However, online sale sites rarely offer products if their voltage does not match the buyer's country standards, thanks to geo-location technology. It is therefore more of a small check to do before buying than a real warning.
Philips Hue, the most versatile
The Philips Hue LED bulb is to this day one of the most advanced lighting systems available on the market. It is also one of the most expensive, since a single bulb costs $45 and the starter kit costs more than $160. The bulb can deliver about 16 million colors and some lighting atmospheres are pre-installed. An integrated timer allows the user to adjust the light throughout the day, to configure an alarm clock or to simulate the presence of occupants in the case of long-term absences. The second generation of Philips Hue smart like bulbs integrate Apple's HomeKit, which allows voice control of your lighting system via Siri. The system will also work with Alexa, Amazon's voice assistant.
Once the Philips Hue is installed, free applications will allow you to synchronize it to television images or even music. Connected to an iTunes library, the iOS application Ambify transforms the room into a nightclub in which your phone is the DJ. The Hue Disco app can also generate various lighting atmospheres depending on the type of music you are listening to. Those who seek greater immersion when playing a video game or watching a movie can opt for Huey application for Android, which provides a great experience by reflecting the colors of the screen in the room.
Per unit price: $45
Compatibility: iOS, Android
Brightness: 800 lumens
Lamp cap: E26
Many options and applications (more than 200), broad compatibility with other products, high quality of light
Tikteck, the cheapest option
Costing only $9,99 per unit, Tikteck is the cheapest connected light bulb on the market. The manufacturer explains the production costs have been bypassed “by foregoing big box retail stores and shipping products direct to consumers, eschewing big budget marketing campaigns that increases the price for consumers”. Yet the young company presented its products at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas this year.
Technically speaking, it provides all the basic features a connected light bulb can provide. With a mobile phone, the user can choose between 16 million supported colors and different tones of white light, or configure an alarm clock to turn it on and off. However, the settings can be adjusted only from the room where the bulb is installed. The light can also be programmed to vary in accordance to the music played on the system's application. The Tikteck bulbs' main disadvantage is their low luminosity, as several lamps might be needed to light up a large room. Nevertheless, up to 32 bulbs can be controlled at the same time and no hub is required for the system to work.
Per unit price: $9,99
Compatibility: iOS, Android
Brightness: 600 lumens
Lamp cap: E26
Very low price
GE Link: good luminosity for a low price
For those who want to control their lighting system from their mobile phone at an affordable price while ensuring a good luminosity, GE Link proves to be a good compromise. Three bulbs are available: 800 lumens A19, 900 lumens PAR38 (90 watt equivalent) and 650 lumens BR30. They all cost about $15, but the system requires a hub to connect the bulb to the mobile app. The starter kit costs $50 and includes two bulbs and the app. A total of 128 bulbs can be connected to the Link hub and the product is also compatible with the Wink Hub and Wink Relay. These are more expensive but allow the user to connect bulbs from other manufacturers, like the Philips Hue or Osram's Lightify.
GE Link's features are very basic. The user can control their lighting system remotely and configure it to switch on, off or gradually decrease light automatically at a certain time. The color cannot be changed. The warm white tone of the GE Link's models is similar to the incandescent lamps' one (between 2700 and 3000K).
Per unit price: starting at $15
Compatibility: iOS, Android
Brightness: between 800 and 900 lumens
Lamp cap: E26
Low price, good luminosity
Only available in white, few options
LIFX: the best value for money
Lifx probably offers the best price/performance ratio. Four products are available on the market: Color 1000 and Color BR30 to create a colorful atmosphere; White 800 (890 lumens) and White 900 BR30 (950 lumens), which allow the user to choose between one thousand different white tones. No hub or extra hardware is required for the setup. Nine thousand anonymous contributors have financed the product development by giving more than one million dollars on Kickstarter. Simplicity and beautiful lighting were the two main priorities of the project. The result is a very simple smart light bulb that works as a plug and play system and can display more than 16 millions different colors. Light intensity varies between 60 watt and 75 watt equivalent.
It is also possible to schedule switching on and switching of hours. More than a hundred applications are available, which provide many funny features: “Flash blue when I'm tagged on Facebook” for the social media addicts, or “Flash team colors on your Lifx lights when you score” for the sports fans (via ESPN). Smart-home-oriented, the brand is now expanding the list of compatible products: Amazon's voice recognition system Alexa (Amazon Echo), the Nest Learning thermostat, the Nest Protect smoke detector or, since May 2016, the Nest Cam security camera.
Per unit price: from $20 (White) to $40 (Color)
Compatibility: iOS, Android
Brightness: from 890 to 1055 lumens
Lamp cap: E26, E27, B22
Funny applications, broad compatibilité
Awox Striimlight: the musical one
Connected bulbs that can play music are often more expensive than regular ones, but can be appealing to music lovers. French brand Awox and its Striimlight product allow its user to install and synchronize several smart light bulbs to produce a high quality stereo sound. Each unit is equipped with a wireless 10 watts speaker which broadcasts music from your computer, mobile phone, tablet or NAS. Most audio files formats are compatible (mp3, AAC, WMA, WAV), up to 16 bits and 48 kHz. The bulbs can also have access to radio stations via Wi-Fi.
For a greater multiroom experience, music lovers can synchronize the Striimlight bulbs with other Awox equipments, like the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth speaker Striimsound or the Wi-Fi home stereo streaming adapter Striimlink. The mobile app Striimcontrol will monitor the whole network and allow the user to create a different musical ambiance for each room. Some Awox's bulbs are also Wi-Fi repeaters, which means they are able to extend the connection range in the house.
All these features should not make us forget that the bulbs are also made to produce light. The Striimlight produces 475 lumens – the equivalent to a 40 watts incandescent bulb. A color and a white option are available and a remote control is supplied to configure luminous intensity, color, sound volume, or simply to turn the light on or off. With an E14 lamp cap, the Striimlight mini can also be used for reading lamps or desk lamps.
Sengled Boost, a luminous Wi-Fi repeater
Your Wi-Fi router being in the living room, you have trouble getting Internet access in the bedroom? Or you may want to surf the Internet on your balcony, in your garden or garage? A Wi-Fi repeater is the solution. The Sengled Boost is one of the light bulbs available on the market that provides this particular feature. Its two antennas reach 300 Mbps data transfer rates and work even if the light is switched off. No hub or extra hardware is required for the setup. The Boost app allows the user to configure network connectivity and to create a password. Other controls include turning on and off the device and graduating the light.
The Sengled Boost bulb seems to be particularly made for small rooms, reading lamps or desk lamps, even if the bulb itself is quite big – 12cm high and 6cm in diameter. Two models are available: a mat one with a brightness of 470 lumens and a clear one with a brightness of 550 lumens, the equivalent of a 40 watts incandescent bulb. The manufacturer also developed a product specifically designed for the compact GU10 pin socket, called Boost GU10. Its features are similar to those of the Sengled Boost.
Sengled Snap: an on-board camera
Bulbs can also be useful to remotely monitor your house. The Sengled Snap LED bulb is equipped with an HD on-board camera (1080p). It is also provided with a motion detector, a microphone and a loudspeaker, so that you can speak at any time via your mobile phone with the person being filmed. Images are accessible in real time on the app and can be stored in the cloud.
This product is clearly made for the outside. It will be perfect if you want to watch the porch of your house, your terrace or your garage entrance. The Sengled Snap bulb works also during the night thanks to its infrared detector. Other features are basic: the user can configure the luminous intensity or program a schedule to automatically turn on or off the lights. As for the design, it is pretty modern, but quite big: 14,5cm high and 12cm in diameter.
MiPow Playbulb Garden: new colors in the backyard
Smart lighting also has its outdoor models. With its solar rechargeable battery (up to 20 hours of autonomous use) and its water-resistance, the Mipow Playbulb Garden is a lamp and a bulb at the same time. No electric cable will be needing for the setup, as you will simply have to stick it directly into the grass. The product can create various lighting atmospheres. Its latest version integrates five lighting effects: pulsing, flashing, rainbow, candle light and rainbow fading.
The application allows the user to control those effects, to configure the light intensity and to schedule an alarm. The bulb also has sensors which allow it to automatically turn on and off in relation to natural daylight levels. The bulbs are sold at 40 dollars each, which is a relatively high price. However, the set of three bulbs is sold at around 100 dollars, or 33 dollars each. A way to save money if you intend to buy several units.
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