Smart lighting is one of the easiest ways to add smart home technology to your house. Unscrew a standard bulb, screw in a connected LED and you can control your lights via an app from anywhere, whether it’s to turn them on and off or change their brightness. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg; more advanced smart bulbs allow you to create lighting “scenes” with multiple light colors or automate them to do things like turn on at sunset and dim in the evening. They can even be turned on and off automatically when you’re away to deter break-ins or set a specific light schedule if you’re going on vacation.
Many smart bulbs can be controlled directly from your smartphone or with a voice assistant, but some require extra hardware, called a hub or bridge, to do so. Knowing if a light needs a hub is an important consideration before you buy because it can affect what features it has and how well they work.
The simplest kind of smart bulbs are Wi-Fi only, which means they communicate with your home’s wireless router and don’t need an external hub. Companies such as LIFX and TP-Link make excellent Wi-Fi only smart bulbs, but neither comes close to the depth and breadth of the Philips Hue lineup of smart lights, which is supported by a dedicated hub. Hub-based systems are more expensive than Wi-Fi only, but they offer a reliable and robust connection that makes them better suited to large homes with lots of lights and for use in areas with spotty WiFi.
Most people start their smart lighting journey with a hub-based system because it allows them to connect more bulbs and expand their setup over time. But a few brands also make smart bulbs that connect over Bluetooth or a low-power mesh network like Zigbee piggybacking on your existing home WiFi to work without needing an external hub.
For example, the popular Nanoleaf Lines smart bulbs are great options for Apple users because they can be controlled with HomeKit, but they’re also compatible with Siri and Google Assistant. They support Thread, a new smart home protocol that promises to put an end to laggy connections, and they have a Rhythm Music Visualizer feature that changes the color of your bulbs to match your music or react to in-game events in video games.
A few brands also make special-purpose smart bulbs for hard-to-reach places, such as in-ceiling recessed cans or fixtures that have a difficult angle to reach. Some are also equipped with built-in motion sensors for automatic control or a door and window sensor that can trigger lights when you arrive home. Others are designed for outdoor use, such as floodlights or security lights. Many of these are powered by batteries instead of an electrical outlet, so they’re portable and easy to take with you if you move. best smart lighting