The best smart bulbs 2018: let there be (smart) light

Transform your decor the easy way, with help from Philips Hue, LifX, Ikea and more

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So you've decided that you want to trick out your home with an intelligent light bulb or seven – but how do you know which smart bulbs are the best smart bulbs? We've tried an awful lot of them, and that means we can make some recommendations to help you out.

Smart lights are small and simple accessories, but they can make a big difference to the feel of a room. Not only that, but you can really feel like you're in the future by turning your lights on and off from the sofa (or from the other side of town) using only your phone.

At the time of writing, we think the Philips Hue bulbs and lighting system offer the best features and functionality – Philips got into the smart lighting game before most of its rivals, and it shows. However, there are still plenty of other bulbs that are worth a look.

How to buy the best smart bulb for you

Smart bulbs are a great way to dip a toe into the smart home waters: they may not change your life overnight, but they're definitely fun little devices good for tinkering. They're undoubtedly going to impress guests, and can prove surprisingly useful too (maybe have the kitchen light up whenever someone walks in).

If you’ve got some smart home kit already, get bulbs which play nice with everything else you own – the main ecosystems to look out for are Apple Homekit, Amazon Alexa, and Samsung SmartThings, and the larger brands (like Hue and LifX) tend to offer good compatibility across the board.

Those of you who aren't so interested in building out a wider smart home ecosystem can go for cheaper options like the Ikea Trådfri system – these bulbs have their own app and remote, but don't talk to any other gadgets, which might not end up being ideal for a harmonious smart home.

You also need to decide whether you want bulbs that can cycle through all the colours of the rainbow,, or just tuneable white bulbs, able to emit blue-ish whites or yellow-ish whites depending on your needs. Colour-changing bulbs look fancier, but these sort of white bulbs are arguably more useful.

A bulbs lumen rating (how bright it is) is important to consider, and you also need to make sure you buy a bulb which fits your lamp socket. Most smart bulbs feature an E27 screw fixing, but some manufacturers such as Philips and Osram offer a wide variety of fixings, including Bayonet, GU10, and more, so it's always worth checking.

Philips Hue bulbs best smart bulbs

Philips Hue bulbs

1. Philips Hue

Setting the smart bulb pace

Reasons to buy
+Newly updated app+Broad compatibility+Responsive in operation
Reasons to avoid
-Needs an extra hub device

The most well-known smart bulb is almost certainly Philips Hue, which has become synonymous with these devices – Philips has been putting out these bulbs for years, and there's now an impressive range of different types of lighting to pick from.

Perhaps the best way to get into the Philips Hue ecosystem is with one of the starter kits, which comes with two or three bulbs (screw or bayonet) and the Hue Bridge. That Bridge can connect up to 50 lights in one home, all ready to be controlled from the mobile app for iOS and Android app.

Hue lights come with a host of great features, including integration with the Apple Watch and our old friend IFTTT. The coloured bulbs are capable of showing 16 million different colours, so you shouldn't run out of options anytime soon. The devices also work with HomeKit, Alexa, SmartThings and a bunch of other platforms and apps.

Philips Hue really is the first option you should be considering when it comes to smart lighting. Connecting a separate hub device directly to your router can be a pain, but it's certainly worth it.

Lifx bulbs best smart bulbs

Lifx bulbs

2. Lifx

A worthy Hue competitor

Reasons to buy
+A breeze to use+Wide selection+Reliable operation
Reasons to avoid
-Can get expensive

Lifx bulbs started out life on Kickstarter, but they're now real, genuine products that do everything a good smart bulb should – respond in an instant to commands from your voice, a smartphone app, or even a smartwatch. They fit in with other systems from Alexa, SmartThings, Nest and more.

Another point in the favour of Lifx bulbs is their design – these are some very nicely designed and built bulbs, with a vaguely futuristic look. What's more, they get the colours and the brightness just right.

Unlike Philips Hue bulbs, Lifx bulbs have a direct Wi-Fi connection integrated into the hardware, so there's no extra hub box required. It's not a huge issue, but it does mean you can get up and running quickly and cheaply (though as you add more Lifx bulbs the prices can start to creep up).

We really like the app too, which makes controlling individual bulbs or groups of lights a lot of fun. You can just turn them on and off manually, get them operating on a schedule, or add them to automated smart home routines involving other kit.

Ikea Tradfri bulbs best smart bulbs

Ikea Tradfri bulbs

3. Ikea Trådfri

Smart lights with your furniture

Reasons to buy
+Simple to use+A choice of fittings+Very affordable
Reasons to avoid
-More integrations would be nice

If you've taken a wander around Ikea lately, you've probably noticed the Trådfri smart lights that have started popping up – they're a cheap, accessible way to get started with these kind of bulbs, though you don't get as many features as you do with products from the likes of Philips Hue and Lifx.

For a start these lights only offer white light in various different temperatures, so there are no multi-colour options, and support for other smart home devices and products isn't the best we've seen. If you want an all-singing, all-dancing smart bulb then you might be better off looking somewhere else.

On the other hand, the Trådfri bulbs do give you useful, straightforward functionality with no gimmicks, and because they're made by Ikea, the price is very appealing too. There are now several different fittings to pick from, and we're assuming that Ikea will continue to add to the range over time.

You do need a separate gateway or remote device to connect to your router before these bulbs can be controlled, but there is now support for Amazon Alexa and Apple HomeKit, making them simple to integrate into an existing system.

TP-Link bulbs best smart bulbs

TP-Link bulbs

4. TP-Link Smart Light Bulb

Just the basics, for a low price

Reasons to buy
+Simple to operate+Don't cost too much+Works with Google/Alexa
Reasons to avoid
-Limited range of bulbs

TP-Link has a limited range of products compared to Philips Hue and Lifx, and you can't do as much with these bulbs, but we've taken quite a shine to them nevertheless (pun intended). They're cheap and you can get them up and running very easily, without having to buy a separate gateway or hub.

There are no coloured lights in the range but the white lights can be easily dimmed and set around schedules, timers and countdowns as required. TP-Link might not have the best software in the world but the app gets the job done as needed.

Even better, these bulbs can work with Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa and IFTTT, so there's plenty of opportunity for integrating them in with the rest of your smart home. If you just need one or two basic lights to hook up directly to your Wi-Fi router then these are definitely worth considering.

TP-Link seems committed to adding new products over time too, and considering it also puts out smart plugs and other bits and pieces, we don't think you're going to find these products abandoned anytime soon.

Osram Lightify best smart bulbs

Osram Lightify

5. Osram Lightify

From the people who do the lights for Eurovision!

Reasons to buy
+Plenty of options+Indoor and outdoor operation+Gateway is wireless
Reasons to avoid
-Initial setup can be tricky

You might not have heard of them, but Osram is one of the leading manufacturers in the lighting industry – and they have been known to do the backdrops for Eurovision, so there you go. If you've ever thought your home could use a bit more Eurovision glitz and glamour, then you know where to come.

From simple white bulbs to multi-colour top-of-the-range lights, there are plenty of choices in the Osram range: this is a more comprehensive solution than the likes of Ikea and TP-Link can offer, and it takes a bit more effort to set up too.

You can really go to town if you want to, with LED strips and garden lights included in the range. For all of this to work you're also going to have to buy yourself a Gateway device, though thankfully it doesn't need a wired connection to your router like the Philips Hue Bridge does – so that's one point in its favour.

If you're looking to give your whole home a smart lighting revamp then Osram is definitely one of the best options out there, but for smaller-scale projects and simpler operation you might be better off looking elsewhere.