Conventional wisdom dictates that Thomas Edison pretty much nailed the first commercial light bulb, but when it came to smart features he was a bit of a slouch. No Alexa support. No HomeKit. Not even an app. Lazy.
The era of smart bulbs has ushered in all sorts of new ways to control our home environment. Whether that’s remotely powering down the house with the tap of an app, or having your lights turn on the moment your car pulls up to the driveway, smart lighting opens up all sorts of ingenious tricks and automated routines.
You want your smart lights to be, well, clever – but they also need to be easy to use. Allow us to illuminate you with our top picks.
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What are the best smart lights in 2020?
The best smart lights you can buy right now come courtesy of Philips Hue, which continues to double down on variety and features. Bulbs start at £15 for a single bulb, but if you’re confident that Hue is for you, we’d recommend the Hue White Starter Kit for £60.
If Hue is a little over your price range, we’d recommend looking at Ikea’s Tradfri range (from £6), which will give you some of the same features for a tighter budget. They’re the best budget smart bulbs.
And Lifx (from £20) does the best smart light bulbs without a hub with a comprehensive range and terrific colour accuracy. (Though Hue does indeed work Bridge-less via Bluetooth).
WIRED Recommends: The best-known name in smart lighting still reigns supreme
Bulb types: E14, E27, B22, GU10, accessories | Hub required: No | Connections: Zigbee, Bluetooth
Although it’s one of the pricier options, Philips Hue (from £15) is consistent in quality and offers tonnes of variety, both in fittings and styles. The Hue ecosystem is massive, and continues to expand and diversify. Not only in the types of bulbs, but the range of fixtures and accessories Signify also offers with stylish Light Strips, portable light bowls, smart LED-lit bathroom mirrors and more..
Looking to light up the garden? There are even outdoor fittings and pathlights to play with. Everything can be controlled using the Hue app, but lights also play nicely with Apple HomeKit, Google Assistant, Alexa, Samsung SmartThings and IFTTT.
The Bridge is recommended for a fully loaded Hue experience, and will support up to 50 bulbs in your home. Hue relies on a standard called Zigbee, a mesh-like protocol that allows each bulb to “push” the signal further across the home. However, if you have a Zigbee hub like an Amazon Echo Plus smart speaker you can use this instead of the Hue Bridge to save a few quid (warning: there are a few limits to functionality if you go this route).
You can also now control Hue bulbs directly with your phone using Bluetooth and forego the Bridge entirely, although this will limit the level of control you have over your smart lights. We’d only recommend this for smaller homes, or if you just want to give Hue a trial run. Chances are you’ll soon be hooked.
Once you are, the Hue White Starter Kit costs £60 and subsequent bulbs start at £15 each.
Pros: Reliable connection; heaps of variety; good app features
Cons: Bridge required for best experience
The best budget smart bulbs, no assembly required
Bulb types: E14, E27, GU10, accessories | Hub required: Yes | Connections: Zigbee
Haven’t you heard? IKEA is a smart-home company now. Not only is it dabbling in speakers, but its line of very affordable Tradfri smart lights are well worth a look.
The range of features is narrower than Hue’s, but you get the basics here: remote app control, colour control, timers, and a ‘Rise and Shine’ feature that gently turns up the lights in the morning. Alexa, Google Assistant and HomeKit are all supported too.
Bulbs start as low as £6 but you’ll want the £25 Gateway to squeeze the most out of Tradfri and keep it all running smoothly. Even with that cost factored in, IKEA makes it much easier to build out your smart lighting on a budget.
Then there are the accessories such as the wireless dimmer and remote control, should you want some tactile ways to control your new smart lights. With the main range of bulbs, there are fewer bells and whistles here, but for some that will be part of the appeal.
IKEA has added some intriguing pieces to the range in the past year or two, though, including smart worktop lighting, cabinet lighting and a couple of dimmable FLOALT LED light panels – at £65 and £115, they’re a low-key alternative to Nanoleaf, without the colour-changing.
Pros: Low cost of entry; Easy to use; support for all big platforms
Cons: Lacking features; less variety and fewer colours than rivals
Smart lighting that doesn’t require a hub
Bulb types: E14, E27, B22, GU10, accessories | Hub required: No | Connections: Wi-Fi
It’s strange to think Lifx started life as a Kickstarter campaign, but the crowdfunding darling has rocketed to mainstream success. And while its range pales in comparison to Hue, it goes toe-to-toe on quality and reliability.
The lights themselves are expensive, but unlike Hue they don’t need a hub; each bulb connects directly to your Wi-Fi, making it cheaper to get started – just buy a bulb and pair it to the Wi-Fi with your phone.
Overall reliability isn’t quite as good as Hue and its Zigbee magic. On the plus side, though, Lifx’s colour accuracy is a little better than Hue’s – it claims one trillion colours (yes, really) to trump Hue’s 16 million spectrum. All the bulbs work with Google Assistant, Alexa and IFTTT, but not Apple HomeKit.
The range isn’t as vast as Hue’s in terms of accessories, but there’s a decent array of bulbs to choose from. We recommend testing the water with the Lifx Mini bulbs which pack a decent 800 lumens of power – a tad dimmer than the “full-fat” Lifx bulbs, but they should satisfy most.
Should you find yourself captivated by Lifx’s charm, there are lightstrips and even infrared bulbs (they improve the night vision of security cameras) to explore. The new revamped app is also a pleasure to use.
Pros: Excellent colour accuracy; no hub; good range of fittings
Cons: Fewer accessories than Hue; no HomeKit
Hive does the basics well with warm and inviting lighting
Bulb types: E14, E27, B22, GU10, accessories | Hub required: Yes | Connections: Zigbee
Hive built its name on home heating, but its smart lighting range complements it nicely. The range isn’t huge: basic bulbs come in screw and bayonet fittings, and there are E14 candle bulbs and GU10 spotlights too.
But Hive wins us round on sheer quality. The Dimmable and Cool to Warm White bulbs (the latter offering an adjustable temperature) go toe-to-toe with Hue, while the colour bulbs have 16 million tones to choose from.
Don’t expect the impressive feature buffet of Hue but there’s enough here to do the job. You get remote controlling, scheduling, colour control, and compatibility with Alexa and Google Assistant.
You’ll also need to buy the £80 Hive Hub, which connects to your router and keeps everything working. It’s a considerable cost, but if you already own Hive products in your home then you’ll have the Hub already. There’s a way of using Hive lights with the Samsung SmartThings hub, though it’s quite fiddly.
In fact, because Hive runs on Zigbee, you can actually combine Philips Hue and Hive Active Light bulbs together. So long as you have a Hue Bridge, you can actually pair it with Hive and have all of your Hue lights appear in the Hive control app.
Pros: Nails the basics; plays nicely with other Hive products
Cons: Lacks variety; Hive Hub required
When smart lighting goes edgy and alternative – and it works
Bulb types: Custom lighting panels, accessories | Hub required: No Connections: Wi-Fi
Nanoleaf is an outlier on this list as it doesn’t actually make “traditional” smart bulbs. Rather, its thing is light panels that affix to your wall and create interesting patterns.
Right now you can pick up the panels in square and triangle options, but hexagonal panels are set to ship this spring. You’ll want to buy one of the £70 starter packs to get going; from there you can build out by purchasing the expansion sets.
Actually getting the panels on the wall using the bundled sticky pads can be a bit fiddly, especially if you’re a perfectionist. Best to be sure of your desired layout before you start peeling and sticking things.
But once they’re up, there are 16 million colours and heaps of patterns to play with. The starter kits also come with a ‘rhythm module’ that will cause your lights to dance in response to sounds. They all work with Alexa, Google Assistant and HomeKit too. This is smart lighting’s equivalent of skin-tight jeans.
Pros: Something different; multiple shapes; cool party piece
Cons: Expensive; limited shape options
A budget smart bulb that does the basics
Bulb types: E27, B22, GU10 | Hub required: No | Connections: Zigbee, Wi-Fi
Sengled has been slowly chipping away at the Hue hegemony with cheaper bulbs that still deliver good-enough quality. Most of the bulbs run on Zigbee and therefore need a hub, be it Sengled’s own, a Zigbee-enabled Amazon Echo or a Samsung SmartThings hub. Just be aware that the bulbs aren’t Zigbee repeaters like Hue, so they won’t stretch the signal as far.
Sengled now also offers a Wi-Fi bulb that connects directly to the router and therefore doesn’t need a hub – that’s only available to pick up in white right now.
The rest of the range is pretty good – white and colour bulbs in screw and bayonet styles – and they work with both Alexa and Google Assistant. We also like the app, which makes setting up and controlling Sengled’s bulbs a breeze. It doesn’t have the range of features or third-party integrations as some of the more expensive options here, but it gets the basic stuff right.
But the best thing of all is the price, with bulbs starting as low as £10. Once you’ve exhausted the range of basic lighting, Sengled has some more unusual offerings, such as its Solo Pro bulbs that double as wireless speakers. Yes, really.
Pros: Easy to use app; affordable; voice controls
Cons: Missing some features and integrations