The best smart light bulbs for 2023

Smart light bulbs are a good place to start when building a smart home environment. Not only are they cheap compared to other IoT gadgets—they usually cost between $10 and $50 per bulb—but they can also make a big difference in how your home feels. You can go from dull and manual to colorful and automatic in a matter of minutes, and there are a lot of ways to use smart light bulbs to make cool light scenes, set schedules, and do other things.

But like the rest of the smart home market, smart lighting has become more competitive in the last few years. We tested some of the most popular smart lights on the market and found that most of them are pretty good. However, there are differences in compatibility, color quality, and mobile app usability that you should think about before choosing which smart bulb system will be best for your home.

One of the best things about smart lights is that you can turn them on and off with your phone. Most of them can connect to it through WiFi, Bluetooth, or an external hub that takes care of the link. Bluetooth limits how far away you can control the light, so it’s best for a small number of lights that you don’t need to be able to control when you’re not home.

WiFi smart lights are easy to set up and can be cheaper total because they don’t need a hub to connect them. A central Zigbee hub, on the other hand, can make your whole system more reliable because its link isn’t tied to your home’s WiFi network. Because of this, hub-based bulbs tend to be more expandable, so we mostly suggest those if you want to have a lot of smart lights around your home in the future.

Color or white?
Most smart lights on the market today are “white and color” bulbs, which means they can shine in bright blues, pinks, greens, and other colors, as well as different shades of white. But there are some bulbs that only give off white light, and they are usually a bit cheaper than their color-changing cousins. We suggest spending the extra money on white-and-color devices, but if you’d rather just have white light, make sure you get a bulb that can cover the color temperature spectrum (usually from about 2000 to 5000 Kelvin), giving you a range of warm and cool white light.

App functions
One of the best things about smart lights is how much power you have over them thanks to the different ways they can connect to apps. Most companion apps let you do things like set lighting plans, group lights into rooms, and make your own light “scenes” with different colors. But we have seen other features that aren’t as common, like a “vacation mode” that turns lights on and off automatically to make your home safer, and a “sync with media” feature that changes the color of the lights based on the music you’re listening to or the game you’re live-streaming.

Ability to work with smart homes
If you use a smart assistant like Amazon’s Alexa or Google’s Assistant often, make sure the smart lights you buy work with your preference. All of the bulbs we tried worked with both Amazon’s and Google’s virtual assistants, so you could use voice commands to turn lights on and off, dim them, and more. Siri and Apple’s HomeKit are a wild card in this situation. Many smart bulbs now connect to HomeKit, but not all lights work with Apple’s smart home system.

Ability to grow
We touched on this already, but you should think about how many smart lights you want in your home in the long run. Some brands and lighting systems are easier to add on to than others, and if you want to put smart lights in every room of your home, we suggest going with hub-based bulbs. If all you want to do is put some fancy lights in your home office or living room, WiFi should work well for you. These are some of the least expensive smart home devices you can buy, so even if you don’t know the answer to this question right now, you can think about it again later if you decide to buy more than one smart bulb.

Best overall: Philips Hue White + Color Ambiance

Philips Hue bulbs are probably something you’ve heard of if you’ve done any study on smart lights. The line is popular for a number of different reasons, and we agree that they are the best smart light bulbs you can get because of how compatible they are, how easy their app is to use, and how they can be added to. Philips Hue is the way to go if you know you want to use IoT devices in more than one room of your home.

First of all, it’s important to know that Hue lights now have Bluetooth built in. That means you can buy a few to test them out and then quickly add more lights to your home by connecting them to a hub. Before, all lights needed the hub, but now it’s much easier to try out a few lights before making a full commitment.

Like the other smart lights we tried, all you have to do to use a Philips Hue bulb is screw it in, turn on your light, and follow the directions in the mobile app. Even if you only have lights in one room to start, you should still put them in their own “room” in the Hue app so you can easily change the atmosphere of the whole area at once.

Hue’s White + Color bulbs let you play with warm to cool whites and millions of colors in your smart home. Rich and bright colors, and pre-programmed scenes like “Energize,” “Bright,” and “Relax” make it easy to make your old “dumb” lights look like different amounts of warm white light. You can also choose from different color scenes in the app, but it’s also easy to make your own. So, if you’ve always wanted to fill your office with a rainbow of bright colors while you’re live-streaming on Twitch, you can find the exact presets you want, save them, and then turn them on with just a few taps in the app.

The Hue app is pretty easy to use, and both Amazon’s Alexa and the Google Assistant work with the bulbs. That means you don’t even have to open the app to control your lights. You can just use voice control and say, “Alexa, turn off the bedroom lights” and only the lights in that room will go out. You can add up to 10 bulbs to your system using only Bluetooth. After that, you’ll need to add a Philips Hue hub to handle up to 50 lights. The hub also lets you connect to HomeKit, set plans and automate lights, switch between home and away modes, and sync movies and music.

Automations is probably the most useful of these features. It lets you set times for your lights to be on or off, and it can even turn off the lights when you leave the house. It makes sense that Philips would only let people with Hue hubs use these few features. Adding a hub makes the system more reliable and lets you do more with more connected lights. It will also drive many people to buy a hub and more Hue bulbs over time. We like Hue’s hub not only because it works well, but also because it lets you handle your devices more precisely and in more ways. So, if you’re on holiday and want to see what’s going on, you can turn on the lights in your living room.

The amount of lights in your smart home isn’t the only thing that can be added. You can also add more smart bulbs outside. There are a lot of indoor and outdoor light bulbs to choose from in the Hue line, such as recessed lights, outdoor pedestal and flood lights, light bars, and more. It’s one of the few choices that gives you a lot of options for making every bulb inside and outside of your home smart, which is important to think about if you know you want to go all in with smart lights.

But this brings us to Philips Hue’s biggest drawback, which is the price. A two-pack of White + Color Ambiance Hue bulbs costs $80, which is more than some other light bulbs. If you want to try smart lighting but don’t want to spend a lot, some of our other top picks, like the Kasa smart light bulb, are better because most of them cost less per bulb. But if you want to invest in smart lighting in the future, we suggest getting one of Philips’ Hue starter kits. The White + Color Ambiance starter kit, which includes three bulbs, a hub, and a smart button, costs $180, which is less than if you bought all of those things separately.

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