Introduction to smart bulbs
We love the 'connected home' here at T3, despite not quite being ready for the consumer, it's a super exciting at the moment. With innovation from big players such as Apple, Nest, and Samsung, it's clearly an area that's really going to take off in 2016.
If you're interested in dipping your toe in the smart home segment (before diving in head-first and buying a connected washing machine), we'd suggest getting something small -- like a smart light bulb.
They're not exactly going to change anyone's life, but they're fun little devices which can be tinkered with, and have a surprising number of useful applications.
For example, we have lights come on automatically when we walk in the room, schedule them when we're on holiday, and a set the mood while we're watching a film.
Below we have eleven of the best smart bulbs on the market, to turn your boring home into a swinging 70s disco.
LIFX started out life on KickStarter, but now it's a real, genuine product. They do everything a good smart bulb should - smartphone and watch control, multiple colours, and Works with Nest and SmartThings integration.
We love the futuristic look of these devices, they resemble traditional bulbs, but with a futuristic appeal as well. They're now available in the UK in a new, smaller A19 size, and they're one of the brightest bulbs we've tried at 1055 lumens.
No hub is required, which is a major plus point, the light has built-in Wi-Fi so it connects directly to your router. The app is really well designed, allowing you to control individual lights or groups of lights. You can set up scenes and schedules, to fully automate your smart home life.
It's also one of the first bulbs to be certified, 'Designed for AllSeen', an alliance to future-proof IoT and Windows 10 devices.
£59.99 | LIFX
Philips Hue Starter Kit
The most well-known smart bulb is almost certainly Philips Hue, which has become synonymous with these devices.
The best way to get into the Philips Hue ecosystem is with the starter kit, which comes with three bulbs (screw or bayonet) and the Hue Bridge.
The bridge can be used to connect up to 50 lights to the system, all of which can be controlled from the iOS and Android app. Hue comes with other great features, such as Apple Watch and IFTTT integration, and 16 million colours to choose from.
Hue is also probably the most prominent brand to support Apple HomeKit, so you can control your bulbs using any HomeKit app, and also via Siri. Simply say, "Hey Siri, turn my lights brown."
The only thing that might put some people off is the rather steep asking price. If you want bulbs that only do shades of white, from blue-ish to yellow-ish, the cost is somewhat less, however.
£180 | Philips
Another major player in the smart home segment is Elgato, who actually have a whole ecosystem of connected devices named EVE.
Avea, their light bulb, only works with iPhones, but as it's controlled using Bluetooth, doesn't require a central hub (which would suck up Wi-Fi bandwidth and take long time to connect).
It works with Apple Watch, and connected instantly thanks to the Bluetooth connection.
We really like the scene settings, which gently cycle through soothing colour schemes, such as a the reds, oranges and yellows of a sunset.
£39.95 | Elgato
Elgato Avea Flare
Another lamp from the Elgato Avea range, but this time, with a portable twist, the Flare is a battery-powered mood light.
It works identically to the Avea bulb, it's controlled by the same app, and can be controlled in unison, if you so wish. If you have more than one Avea device in the same room, it'll cycle through complementary scene shades (but they won't necessarily be the identical colours).
The Flare is water-resistant, and includes a hook on the base to it can be hung in the garden.
I use my Avea bulbs to gently wake me up every day, with the light gradually brightening with the sound of birdsong - especially helpful on dark winter mornings.
The battery lasts around eight hours with the light constantly on.
£89.95 | Elgato
The Sengled Boost acts as a Wi-Fi repeater, so if you have several of these dotted around your house you won't have an internet blackspot, anywhere.
We genuinely think this is a useful addition to lighting, and it frees up a plug socket. The bulb comes in E27 and B22 fittings, and it's available now in the UK.
As well as boosting Wi-Fi signal, the Sengled can also be dimmed and turned on/off from a smartphone app.
£40 | Sengled
Osram is a leading manufacturer in lighting -- they did the Eurovision backdrop don'cha know?
The company also offer a wide range of different connections and shapes, from screw and Par 16, to flexible LED strips, garden lights and surface lights.
For these to work you'll also need the Gateway, which acts as a central hub.
£29.99 | Osram
Another smart bulb from Sengled -- this time they have JBL multi-channel stereo speakers hidden inside their large interior.
You'd be forgiven for assuming that some Bluetooth speakers inside a bulb would sound rubbish -- but they have a surprising amount of power behind them.
They come in a multipack starter set, with a master and slave speaker.
A smartphone app provide dimming and volume adjustment, and come with E27 and B22 bases. They're also impressively bright.
£149 | Sengled
Insteon offer a really exciting range of products, and although they're not the a big name brand in the UK -- the company's products were recently featured in Apple's WWDC demonstration, which is a sign of big things to come.
As well as offering the normal range of connected light bulbs -- Insteon also have a smart switch, which can be programmed and set up in a number of different ways.
All of Insteon's range is compatible with HomeKit as well, which should make like easier for iPhone owners.
Just like the LIFX, these are mainly available in the US right now -- but give it a while, and we expect to see them popping up over here soon.
TBD | Insteon
Olixar Light Beats
If you thought all a light bulb could do was illuminate your room -- you're wrong. This device from Olixar is also capable of piping out sweet music thanks to a built-in Bluetooth speaker.
As Olixar put it -- it's the, "perfect atmospheric yet discreet tool for creating the mood you desire in one handy device."
There's no light control with this device though, so the single shade of white is all you've be getting.
£24.99 | Mobile Fun
Philips Hue Go
Maybe you're looking for complimentary lighting? And something a bit more portable? Well the battery powered Philips Hue Go could be perfect for you.
The Go is capable of everything their screw-in light bulbs are (smartphone control, colour changing) -- but with the added benefit of being completely wireless, meaning you can take it around the house and garden (if your Wi-Fi reaches that far).
Battery life lasts around 2.5 hours, and only takes 1.5 hours to charge.
£79.95 | Apple
Another major player in the smart home game is Belkin with its WeMo range, this includes smart switches, IP cameras, actuators, and of course, light bulbs.
Belkin's smart LED bulbs don't do any of that fancy colour changing business, but they can be controlled via a smartphone app and have IFTTT integration.
The starter kit comprises a WeMo Link hub and two bulbs. Alas, we find the WeMo's general reliabilty to be so lacking, and its app such a massive pain in the ass, we can no longer really recommend these, or indeed anything else that Belkin makes. Sort it out, guys.
£59.99 | Belkin