The Skinny on Smart Lights
Smart lights let you control a bulb remotely via an app on your phone, through a smart speaker or even by talking to them. You can program when the lights go on and off, change a bulb’s color as well as find your own creative uses (more on this later). Here are a few things to consider when choosing which smart lights are right for you. You can add a smart light to any light fixture or lamp. It really is as easy as changing a lightbulb: Unscrew the old one; screw in the new. Plus, check out these 15 cool tech gadgets that will turn your home into a smart house.
Hub vs. Hubless
Some smart lights require a hub, which is a device that plugs into your router. A hub like the one shown connects other lightbulbs, allowing you to interact with them from your mobile device and/or smart speaker.
So, how do you know which lights are compatible with hubs? When you’re shopping for lights, look for the words “Zigbee” and “Z-Wave.” These are names for the protocols/languages that smart devices use to communicate. Leaders in the hub market are Samsung SmartThings, Wink and Amazon Echo. Prices range from $50 to $200. Z-Wave and Zigbee protocols are both capable of creating mesh networks (which allow signals to hop from device to device, extending range) and can operate over a significantly longer range than Wi-Fi.
Hubless bulbs don’t require any extra hardware or devices. They’re cheaper than a bulb with a hub. These bulbs connect via your Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. Wi-Fi bulbs are more reliable and don’t require a user to be within Bluetooth range (approximately 30 ft.) to control the light. Wi-Fi smart lights require no additional hardware; they use your existing router to connect to the internet. If you’re interested in dipping your toe into the smart light market, a couple of Wi-Fi bulbs may be the best way to go.
White vs. Color-Changing
Some people may be happy with just the ability to dim or turn lights on or off from their phone, while others may want more. Color-changing lights can be used like typical lightbulbs—to set the mood during a romantic dinner or even as a notification system (see below). Plus, these are the 100 home tech products we all went gaga over this year.
Make Smart Lights Smarter
- Want to know if you’ll need an umbrella today? Tell the smart light located by the front door to turn blue at a certain time if rain is in the forecast.
- Do you sometimes miss important emails? Program a smart light at your desk to blink red if you get an email from your boss.
- Want your lights to turn on automatically when you arrive home? Configure them to turn on when you first connect to your home Wi-Fi.
- Want to get into the team spirit with some mood lighting? Tell your lights to change to the color of your favorite sports team when a new game starts.
- Want to know when the price of one of your stocks rises? Make your lights turn green when you’re making money.
- Want to be the first to know of a zombie outbreak? Set up your light to flash when the CDC sends out an alert about a deadly virus.
All these and more are possible by pairing your color-changing smart lights with a free third-party service called IFTTT (ifttt.com). The sky’s the limit for what you can make your smart lights do for you; all you need is a little imagination.
Our Favorite Smart Lights
A. White: Kasa Smart Wi-Fi LED Lightbulb, $20
B. Multicolor: LIFX Multicolor Smart Wi-Fi LED Lightbulb, $50
C. White: Sengled Smart LED Lightbulb, $40 for 4 (hub not included)
D. Multicolor: Philips Hue Starter Kit, $100 (includes hub and two bulbs)
Looking for the best and most useful home tech to fill out your wish list or find techy gift ideas for others? These 36 smart home products are just what you’re looking for.
Every product is independently selected by our editors. If you buy something through our links, we may earn an affiliate commission.