Best smart light bulbs

MARIE BLACK rounds up the best smart light­ing sys­tems in the UK

Tech Advisor - - Contents -

From smart heat­ing to smart plugs, just about ev­ery­thing in your house comes with a pro­ces­sor and Wi-Fi sup­port th­ese days, and light bulbs are no ex­cep­tion.

If you want the best smart light­ing for your home, you’ll find it here. Whether you want white, dimmable lights or colour mood light­ing that you can con­trol from your phone – or even smart­watch – there are op­tions here. We also ex­plain the ben­e­fits of ditch­ing those tra­di­tional in­can­des­cent bulbs for LED.

What to look out for

Smart light­ing is un­de­ni­ably pretty cool. Some of the bulbs we’ve listed be­low can set mood light­ing for the dif­fer­ent rooms in your house, be con­trolled from afar or sched­uled to turn on and off at pre­set times from your phone or tablet, and even to func­tion as an alarm, gen­tly wak­ing you in the morn­ing.

With grow­ing sup­port for smart speak­ers like the Ama­zon Echo or Google Home you can even use voice con­trols to turn smart lights on or off, dim them, or change their colour - the sort of bril­liant smart home fea­ture that is en­tirely un­nec­es­sary but spec­tac­u­lar fun once you have it set up.

Smart lights come with dif­fer­ent fit­tings, in­clud­ing the UK bay­o­net type as well as E27 screw (and some come with adap­tors to fit both), al­though it’s hard to find smart bulbs which use the com­mon GU10 spot­light fit­ting.

All smart lights (cer­tainly all those we’ve seen) use LEDs. Some key ben­e­fits to us­ing LED rather than in­can­des­cent bulbs are that they use less en­ergy, pro­duce less heat, and last much longer.

But there are some down sides, too. A prob­lem with LED light­ing is that it’s still much more ex­pen­sive than the tech­nol­ogy it re­places. Yes, you’ll make sav­ings on your en­ergy bill and in buy­ing fewer re­place­ment bulbs, but how long will it take you to re­turn your in­vest­ment and start see­ing those sav­ings?

Colour tem­per­a­ture and bright­ness are im­por­tant for home use. The for­mer is mea­sured in Kelvin, where 2700- to 3000K is a warm white; higher val­ues look cooler and lower val­ues warmer. Bright­ness is mea­sured

in lu­mens – look to match or ex­ceed that pro­vided by your cur­rent bulb. The bright­est we’ve seen is LIFX’s 1100 lu­men bulb.

Philips Hue Starter kit

Price: £149 inc VAT from tinyurl.com/yck­v23et Philips Hue is one of the best-known smart light­ing sys­tems. The starter kit comes with three stan­dard screw-fit light bulbs that can be ad­justed from a smart­phone app, and a hub which has to con­nect to your router.

Con­trol ex­tends to bright­ness, colour and tim­ing – you can set your lights to come on at pre­set times, or when you ap­proach or leave the home, and even en­tirely re­motely over the in­ter­net when you’re miles away. With the sys­tem set up, you can have the three bulbs in the same room or set in dif­fer­ent rooms, al­though many of the pre­set light­ing schemes use com­ple­men­tary colours so work best with the three bulbs in view to­gether. You can con­trol up to 50 bulbs, which should be plenty even for the big­gest homes.

With a lit­tle ex­plo­ration of its pos­si­bil­i­ties, and some of your own creativ­ity to blend it with your

home and life­style, it will lit­er­ally light up your life. And like LIFX be­low, you can con­trol your Hue bulbs with Ama­zon’s Echo.

TP-Link LB130

Price: £39 inc VAT tinyurl.com/y9rqpvj6 TP-Link has come in at the more af­ford­able end of the smart light­ing spec­trum, of­fer­ing a se­lec­tion of four dif­fer­ent smart bulbs all be­low £50.

We’ve tested out the colour-chang­ing LB130 model, but you can save money by opt­ing for the tun­able white, dimmable white, or dimmable white with­out en­ergy mon­i­tor­ing - which is just £20/$20.

Best of all, the TP-Link bulbs don’t re­quire any sort of smart hub to func­tion, so there’s no need to buy a starter kit or pay ex­tra for a hub – once you buy a bulb, that’s it, mak­ing th­ese an es­pe­cially good choice for

any­one who only wants one or two smart lights, and not a whole house worth.

You can set a sched­ule and con­trol colour, bright­ness, and white light tone (de­pend­ing on model) us­ing TP-Link’s Kasa app, but there’s also full sup­port for Ama­zon Echo, Google Home, and IFTTT to cre­ate more com­plex com­mands and se­quences.

All of the bulbs other than the cheap­est LB100 model also come with en­ergy mon­i­tor­ing, so you can see how much en­ergy you’ve used and plan your us­age ac­cord­ingly.

Con­nec­tiv­ity is re­li­able, with only one brief net­work drop in our test­ing time, and our big­gest com­plaint is that at just 800 lu­mens th­ese aren’t the bright­est bulbs around - but they should be enough to suit most uses.

LIFX Smart Bulb

Price: £59 inc VAT tinyurl.com/y9r5­fy3j LIFX makes a range of Wi-Fi-en­abled LED bulbs which are – as you’d ex­pect – con­trolled via an app on your smart­phone. There are mul­ti­colour (in­clud­ing white) and ded­i­cated while bulbs avail­able in both E27 and bay­o­net fit­tings.

The Gen­er­a­tion 3 lamp out­puts 1100 lu­mens, and the LIFX + is the same but also in­cor­po­rates in­frared LEDs which shine at night to light up the room for your se­cu­rity cam­eras.

The bulbs are rea­son­ably ex­pen­sive, with a sin­gle Gen­er­a­tion 3 cost­ing £59, but you can get bulk dis­counts if you buy direct from LIFX (tinyurl.com/ yd8­movdw). Ship­ping is a flat rate of $20 (£15.50), though you’ll save around £60 in to­tal if you buy

four at once. The lat­est LIFX + bulb costs £79 from Ama­zon. No hub is re­quired as the Wi-Fi-equipped bulbs talk di­rectly to your router.

Many will find it worth the out­lay, as the bulbs of­fer ex­cel­lent light qual­ity, whether colour or shades of white, and note that the colour bulbs also do the full range of white shades.

We par­tic­u­larly like the fact that the app sep­a­rates whites and colours and you can ad­just the colour tem­per­a­ture to mimic nat­u­ral light at dif­fer­ent times of day. If you have more than one bulb you can group them and ei­ther syn­chro­nise the colour and bright­ness, or use one of the ‘themes’ which sets their colours and bright­ness in­de­pen­dently.

Group­ing lights also makes it eas­ier to con­trol the bulbs from an Ap­ple Watch or An­droid Wear de­vice. On the Ap­ple Watch you can only turn them on, off and ad­just bright­ness: it isn’t pos­si­ble to change the colour, un­for­tu­nately. You can also con­trol the lights via the Ama­zon Echo.

LIFX also sup­ports IFTTT. The lat­ter means you can get the lights to turn on au­to­mat­i­cally when you ar­rive home, and turn off if you leave as well as plenty of fun things such as mak­ing them flash blue when you are men­tioned on Face­book, for ex­am­ple.

Light­waveRF

Price: £77 inc VAT tinyurl.com/ybxd48hq Light­wave is a smart light­ing so­lu­tion that’s a bit dif­fer­ent to the oth­ers in this round-up, since it re­quires you to re­place your light switches rather than the light bulbs them­selves. It is ideal for homes with mul­ti­ple spot­lights that would oth­er­wise be in­cred­i­bly ex­pen­sive to in­di­vid­u­ally re­place, and also means that when one bulb blows you can just buy a reg­u­lar re­place­ment.

To set up Light­wave you need to pur­chase the £89.99 Web Link hub, which man­ages your var­i­ous Light­wave kit, and you can then add on as many or as few Light­wave de­vices as you like. Each light switch costs from around £35.

The Web Link will also man­age other smart home de­vices from the com­pany – you can set up de­vices that con­trol your hot wa­ter and in­di­vid­ual room heat­ing, mo­tion de­tec­tion, and the open­ing and clos­ing of blinds or cur­tains. You can also in­stall smart switches on your plug sock­ets that al­low you to turn on and off power when re­quired.

Light­wave has a com­pan­ion app through which you can turn on and off the switches from your phone or tablet, and through which you can set up sched­ules or timers that are ideal if you are go­ing on hol­i­day.

It also in­te­grates with IFTTT, which al­lowed us to con­trol the sys­tem through both an An­droid Wear watch and Google Home.

Nanoleaf Aurora Starter Kit

Price: £180 inc VAT fave.co/2vGqkTT The Nanoleaf Aurora is some­thing a lit­tle dif­fer­ent: a set of con­nected, Wi-Fi en­abled wall-mounted light pan­els that can be used to set a va­ri­ety of dif­fer­ent pat­terns and se­quences.

The ac­com­pa­ny­ing app al­lows you to set the colour of each of the nine pan­els in­de­pen­dently, or set all the pan­els to cy­cle through a colour pal­ette, us­ing one of a few dif­fer­ent flow pat­terns. You can also vary bright­ness and speed – right up to an epilepsy-threat­en­ing max.

Cre­ative types can cre­ate their own pal­ettes and ef­fects to save to the sys­tem, while the less in­spired can use the pre­in­stalled se­lec­tion, or down­load a few more within Nanoleaf’s app. There’s also IFTTT and Alexa sup­port so you can con­trol the Aurora with your voice, use it as a light alarm, or set it to re­spond to var­i­ous triggers.

As­sem­bling the pan­els is easy – they click to­gether, and you can ex­pand the nine in the starter kit with three-panel ex­pan­sion packs. They at­tach to the wall with dou­ble-sided scotch tape, in­cluded in the pack, so feel very sturdy when at­tached but shouldn’t take too much work to take off the wall and move around.

The net­work­ing side of things is a lit­tle less re­li­able though – our Aurora has dropped from our Wi-Fi

net­work a few times al­ready, and oc­ca­sion­ally re­fused to re­con­nect. We’re hop­ing this as­pect of the prod­uct im­proves, be­cause when the Aurora works it’s one of the most stylish smart lights around.

LIFX Z

Price: £89 inc VAT tinyurl.com/yceyrd66 LIFX’s lat­est light is an LED strip called LIFX Z. We’re cov­er­ing this sep­a­rately from the other LIFX bulbs in or­der to do it jus­tice.

The starter kit in­cludes the power sup­ply and sep­a­rate small con­troller box, to which the strips con­nect. You get two 1m strips in the box, and ad­di­tional strips (you can have 10 in to­tal) cost £29

each. There’s also an ex­pan­sion kit which comes with four strips, but this a lit­tle harder to find in stock.

What’s im­pres­sive is how bright th­ese strips are – much brighter than Os­ram Light­ify or Philips Hue, and with far bet­ter colour re­pro­duc­tion than the cheap strips you can buy from, say, eBay. Plus, like other LIFX bulbs, they don’t re­quire a hub, so can work on their own as long as they’re in Wi-Fi range. Plus, each strip sup­ports 8 colour zones and you can ei­ther choose a ‘theme’ or ‘paint’ your own colours us­ing the app.

Thanks to sep­a­rate white LEDs, the strip also cre­ates fan­tas­tic white light. You can choose from 2500- to 9000K, which is a huge range cov­er­ing very warm white to cold bluish light.

The strips will ad­here to most flat sur­faces, are wa­ter re­sis­tant and bend ver­ti­cally. How­ever, it’s awk­ward to make them go round cor­ners or in­stall in a bay win­dow as they’re not flex­i­ble hor­i­zon­tally along their length.

Hive Ac­tive Light

Price: £19 inc VAT tinyurl.com/y97s7pzh Bril­liant prin­ci­pally be­cause any­one with a Hive Hub can start adding smart light­ing from just £19. You can get the starter kit if you don’t al­ready have a Hive Hub, but if you al­ready have Hive in­stalled in your home then you can also pick up in­di­vid­ual bulbs.

The Hive Ac­tive Light Colour chang­ing bulb is an easy and smart way to in­tro­duce light­ing into your smart home en­vi­ron­ment.

The coloured bulb is ar­guably more of a gim­mick and some­thing you might not use

day to day, but the Cool to Warm White bulb is easy to rec­om­mend, as be­ing able to change the colour tem­per­a­ture of the light is a very handy fea­ture.

El­gato Avea

Price: £34 inc VAT tinyurl.com/ybx­h5cmc The El­gato Avea might look fairly or­di­nary, but the Avea is a smart LED bulb you can con­trol with your iPad or iPhone. Plus An­droid sup­port was added in early 2016. You can con­trol up to 10 of them from your phone, cre­at­ing dif­fer­ent mood light­ing for every room in the house.

This 7W LED screw-fit bulb has a class A en­ergy rat­ing. You can set a static colour or choose from one of seven themes, which slowly flow through pre­set colours.

The Avea also func­tions as an alarm, turn­ing on at a sched­uled time. Rather than blind­ing you with light

and forc­ing you to hide under the cov­ers it’ll grad­u­ally brighten just like a nat­u­ral sun­rise.

The El­gato Avea is a good and af­ford­able buy if you want a sin­gle Smart LED bulb. You can add to the sys­tem too, but the app is a lit­tle ba­sic for our lik­ing.

Belkin Wemo LED Light­ing Starter Set

Price: £32 inc VAT tinyurl.com/ycm7euag Un­like other smart light bulbs the Belkin Wemo doesn’t change colour to suit your mood; it’s meant sim­ply as a direct re­place­ment for ex­ist­ing 60W in­can­des­cent bulbs, or the en­ergy sav­ing flu­o­res­cent equiv­a­lent.

The kit in­cludes two bulbs: you can choose between bay­o­net or screw va­ri­eties. Each is rated at 800 lu­mens, which may not be as bright as your old-school in­can­des­cent, but it’s still im­pres­sive com­pared to many com­pet­ing LED bulbs. You also get a Wemo Link in

the pack, which acts as a bridge between the bulbs and your Wi-Fi router.

You cre­ate ‘rules’ for the lamps to work and th­ese can be for them to turn on and off at sun­set and sun­rise, or at times you choose. They can be in­di­vid­u­ally named and con­trolled, and you can even set a dim­ming pe­riod so the lamp fades in to your set bright­ness over a few min­utes (or even up to 30 min­utes). You can also de­fine a sleep pe­riod, so the bulb will turn off af­ter a set time, just like a TV or ra­dio.

The Wemo LED Light­ing Starter Set is a good in­tro­duc­tion to smart light­ing. The app is easy to use and lacks only ge­ofenc­ing, and the Link plug has Wi-Fi so doesn’t need to be con­nected di­rectly to your router un­like Philips’ hub. We’d like to see the price drop, but if you know you’ll ben­e­fit from the smart as­pects or have other Wemo sen­sors or gad­gets, this is a good choice.

Xiaomi Yee­l­ight

Price: £23 inc VAT tinyurl.com/ycopx8es This Xiaomi Yee­l­ight bulb – which suf­fers from con­fus­ing brand­ing as it doesn’t use a Yee­l­ight app – uses Wi-Fi.

What’s more con­fus­ing is the sheer num­ber of Xiaomi and Yee­l­ight apps to choose between on the App Store. Once you’ve fig­ured out that you need the Xiaomi Mi Home app, things get eas­ier, al­though you do have to cre­ate a Xiaomi ac­count and we couldn’t se­lect the UK or even Europe as the re­gion where you’ll use the lamp.

As for the bulb it­self, it’s well made and looks stylish. The 600 lu­men out­put isn’t the bright­est, but it’s more

than ac­cept­able for the price. We’re not fans of the app, which doesn’t al­low you to choose a colour as pre­cisely as some ri­vals, and there’s still some Chi­nese no­ti­fi­ca­tion pop-ups, such as the one which tells you a firmware up­date is avail­able: thank good­ness for Google Trans­late.

A handy fea­ture is the abil­ity to set a de­fault bright­ness and colour to use when the main light switch is turned off and back on again.

Thanks to both white and coloured LEDs, the lamp can pro­duce good whites, from warm to cold, and a de­cent range of colours. How­ever, as men­tioned, the im­pre­cise colour se­lec­tion in the app means you can’t

al­ways get ex­actly the shade you want. But at less than £20 per bulb from GearBest (which sup­plied the light for us to re­view), it’s a cheap op­tion.

Lava BrightSounds 2

Price: £39 inc VAT tinyurl.com/ych6zcxe Smart light bulbs may be the lat­est ad­di­tion to the smart home, but what about when you’re away from home? We love this Lava BrightSounds smart lamp and por­ta­ble Blue­tooth speaker, and reckon it’s one of the best gad­gets you’ll take camp­ing this year.

Okay, so the Lava BrightSounds is not a main­scon­nected smart bulb like the other ex­am­ples in this round-up. But it’s dimmable, por­ta­ble, wa­ter­proof, recharge­able, takes phone calls and plays mu­sic,

and it does use an LED bulb, which makes it longer­last­ing and more en­ergy-ef­fi­cient than tra­di­tional in­can­des­cent bulbs.

All that makes this the smartest lamp we’ve ever seen. It’ll also make a great ad­di­tion to a kid’s night­stand, able to al­lay their fears of the dark and play them lul­la­bies as they gen­tly fall asleep.

With a lithium-ion bat­tery in­side, this Blue­tooth speaker and smart lamp can of­fer up to eight hours of mu­sic play­back, or up to 10 hours use as a lamp, all off a three- to four-hour charge from empty. You can also use it while it’s plugged into the mains.

We’re pretty taken with the Lava BrightSounds. It won’t ap­peal to ev­ery­one, but if you’re plan­ning a camp­ing or fes­ti­val trip, a BBQ party in the gar­den, or even just fancy a cool read­ing- or night light, this all-in­one Blue­tooth speaker and LED lamp is worth a look.

Xiaomi Yee­l­ight Blue­tooth Lamp

Price: £60 inc VAT tinyurl.com/yd­d8m­cpz Yee­l­ight is a small com­pany which was funded by Chi­nese phone gi­ant Xiaomi. You can buy its smart light bulbs from Ama­zon, al­though the range avail­able in the UK and US is smaller than in China.

We tested out the Yee­l­ight Lamp, which has its own ded­i­cated app and can only be con­trolled within Blue­tooth range. For many peo­ple this is bet­ter than Wi-Fi as there’s no setup, no ac­count needed: you just scan, pair the lamp and start us­ing it.

The Yee­l­ight Lamp is well made and has an opaque shade so you can’t see any of the LEDs in­side. Hand­ily, you can con­trol it us­ing the two but­tons on top, and

you sim­ply drag your fin­ger around the cir­cum­fer­ence to in­crease or de­crease bright­ness.

It gives off a top-qual­ity light (it claims to use Os­ram LED chips), whether you choose a shade of white or colour. It’s not the bright­est, but it’s in­tended to be a bed­side lamp, not to light a whole room. You can change the hue and bright­ness from the app as well as set­ting timers for it to turn off af­ter a de­lay.

Credit: Xiaomi

Credit: Belkin

Credit: El­gato

Credit: Hive

Credit: LIFX

Credit: Nanoleaf

Credit: Light­waveRF

Credit: LIFX

Credit: iS­tock

Credit: Lava Ac­ces­sories

Credit: Xiaomi

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