How to buy the best smart light bulb
Whether you're making your first foray into the world of smart technology or you've had your eye on connected tech for years, smart light bulbs are some of the most useful smart gadgets around.
They let you control your lights from an app on your phone. You can switch them on and off remotely, dim them and, in some cases, change the colour of the light.
So, aside from energy efficiency and light quality, there's a lot to consider when you're buying a smart bulb.
In this guide we'll help you navigate the potential pitfalls of buying smart lighting and help you choose the right smart light bulb.
Why buy smart light bulbs?
At first glance, smart bulbs may look like a tool for the lazy. Sure, switching the lights on and off without getting out of bed or off the sofa does reduce effort, but smart light bulbs have more to offer than a remote control on your phone.
You can control internet-connected smart light bulbs from anywhere in the world, as long as you have a data or wi-fi connection. That means you can make it appear as though someone is at home when you're on holiday, or if you've had to stay late at work. This extra layer of security could deter burglars.
You can dim smart bulbs, too, even if your lamp or light fitting didn't allow it before. The most advanced bulbs, such as some of the Philips Hue range, even change colour - a recent update means the colour can match what you're watching on TV for a more immersive viewing experience.
Smart bulbs as part of a smart home
Smart tech is at its best when it works together. Smart hubs let you control several smart devices from one app. If you're planning to add a hub to your home in the future or you already have one, you should make sure it's compatible with your chosen smart bulbs.
Many hubs come with motion sensors - you can set them so that your smart bulbs turn on when they detect movement. This can deter intruders and remove the need to traipse around your house flicking switches when you get home.
Some smart bulbs work over Bluetooth rather than wi-fi. Bluetooth models won't work with smart hubs because they aren't connected to the internet.
How much should you pay for smart light bulbs?
With prices ranging from £15 to £45, you're going to be paying more for a smart bulb than a conventional one. Some also require a hub to be wired to your router before they will work. These hubs are different from smart hubs as they only work with smart bulbs from the same brand, rather than a range of different smart tech.
In the table below you can see the cost of the smart light bulbs we've tested.
The hubs have a limit to how many bulbs they can support, but the number is typically very high - the Philips Hue hub, for example, can support up to 50 bulbs.
Bulbs that require hubs often have starter sets that include two or three bulbs as well as a hub.
Do you need special light fittings?
Don't worry - you won't need to get your tool kit out and doctor your lamps. Smart bulbs have been designed with existing lamps and light fixtures in mind and most come with edison caps, bayonet caps or both. Just make sure you buy bulbs that match your fittings.
Of the eight bulbs we've tested, only the TP-Link and Ikea Tradfri don't have an option for either cap - you have to make do with edison.
How we test smart light bulbs
When it comes to light quality, we treat smart bulbs the way we treat conventional ones. That means we see how well they render colour and whether they're as bright as they claim to be.
To see if a bulb gets dimmer over time, we measure its brightness after it has been on for 100 hours and again after 1,000 hours. We check that against the brightness claimed by the manufacturer, so you don't end up with a dimly lit room and need to replace bulbs before they've blown.
We check the quality of light as well as its brightness. Manufacturers claim that bulbs will give off a certain colour of light. If the bulb doesn't match the colour it will get a lower score.
When it comes to the smart side of a smart light bulb, we test the app to see how easy it is to use. It should be simple to control your light bulbs. If the app adds unnecessary steps and makes it awkward to choose which bulb you want to control, it won't do well in this test.
Unsecure smart tech can give hackers easy access to your home network, which is why we pay close attention to how secure smart light bulbs are. We've found some smart light bulbs that don't encrypt your data and don't allow you to set a password, making them extremely vulnerable.