The best smart bulbs are truly transformative pieces of technology. That's because smart lighting has so many possible uses. If you rent, smart bulbs can change the colour scheme in your home without upsetting your landlord or threatening your deposit. If you game, you can sync your smart bulbs with the on-screen action to make it even more immersive. And if you're kicking back on the couch, you can make the lighting do whatever you want based on what you want to do, whether you're reading a magazine or bingeing a box set.
The best smart bulbs in 2021 are smarter, more affordable and offer more possibilities than ever: many of them are designed to work with the best smart speakers, the best smart security cameras or the best smart sensors. That can be really useful for all kinds of reasons. For example, you could install one of the best video doorbells and have it trigger a particular smart bulb when somebody approaches the front door.
Many of the best smart bulbs can also be controlled by geofencing. For example HomeKit or Hue bulbs can be set to do things when you arrive or depart: the app in your phone tells them where you are and they run the appropriate instructions. And if you have a smart speaker you can create voice commands such as "Alexa, I'm home!" to get the same convenience.
In this guide to the best smart bulbs in 2021 we've included big names such as Hue and LIFX, as well as some brands you might not know so well or associate with smart home tech. For example IKEA's TRADFRI system is excellent, as are options from Hive, Innr, TP-Link and Nanoleaf.
In addition to the best smart bulbs for any environment, this guide also gives you the lowdown on features and compatibility. Many smart bulb systems are designed to work only with their own bulbs, so adding third party ones may be difficult or even impossible. And there may be differences in what bulbs can do based on how you connect them – so for example Hue bulbs work over Bluetooth but really need to be connected to a Hue Bridge if you want to use them to their full potential.
Smart lighting and smart bulb considerations
On one level, smart lights are relatively simple gadgets, easy to understand and set up, but they do have the ability to make a big difference to your life. Our top pick, at this point, is the Philips Hue range; they're not the cheapest on the market (though many Hue-compatible bulbs do come in at a lower cost) but the vast number of different smart bulbs available, from drop-in replacements for your ceiling lights to outdoor lamps, light strips and beyond, makes it the ecosystem of choice. It's pricey, but worth it – and you can find a bargain from our guide to the best Philips Hue deals.
We might love it, but that doesn't necessarily mean you should go Hue. There's a wide range of kit out there; perhaps the hub-free nature and bombastic bulbs of, say, LIFX, might suit you better. Maybe you're interested in trying the up-and-coming Thread protocol with Nanoleaf's fresh Essentials range, or perhaps you want to save a buck with one of the many budget brands. Let's take a look at how you should decide on the right smart light ecosystem for you.
The best smart bulbs 2022
Hue is so well established in the smart lighting world that it has almost become a genericised trademark, but there's more to its success than simple brand recognition. Hue lights top our list because they're just so good, and so varied, that every other brand (even LIFX, below) is playing catchup – it's why they've just held on to the Best Smart Lighting award at the T3 Awards 2021 again.
The bulbs themselves use Zigbee to communicate, meaning you'll either need a Hue Bridge to talk to them, or a generic Zigbee hub, the likes of which you'll find in the Amazon Echo 4th Generation. Zigbee's great advantage is that it can reach a long way - it's a mesh network, and each bulb can act as a repeater which invisibly passes signals along to the next in line. This means you can take Hue further than your router would generally reach, making it more than plausible to get started with the Philips' vast outdoor range as well as its huge number of options for indoor lighting.
If you're really stuck, Hue also includes a Bluetooth radio in all of its newer bulbs, so you can connect and switch them on or off locally, though this is significantly less convenient.
Whichever part of its range you exploit, Hue tends to be brighter than its competitors, and very accurate in terms of colour reproduction. We'd suggest beginning with a Hue starter kit, which will pack in a few bulbs, that Hue Bridge, and perhaps a discrete remote control too.
Each Hue Bridge can support up to 50 connected lights, from Hue or any other Zigbee-compatible range, so there's plenty of room to expand. You'll be able to access and control them through every major smart assistant. This includes Siri, as the Bridge has full HomeKit support; we should note that you may not get the same level of control if you're connecting them to a third-party hub.
Basically, they're brilliant, as our full Philips Hue review says. Hue deserves to be your first choice if you're looking for the best smart bulbs for starting a smart lighting system. Yes, the requirement for a hub is awkward, but you'll get over it. They might not have the wacky effects of LIFX, but that's a style point that can't take away from Hue's substance.
Because of the huge range of indoor and outdoor lighting types Philips offers, it's hard for us to point you to the exact bulb type you need for your house, so here's where you can find great prices on the Hue ranges:
• Browse all Philips Hue lighting at John Lewis
• Browse all Philips Hue lighting at Amazon UK
• Browse all Philips Hue lighting at Currys
• Browse all Philips Hue lighting at Best Buy
• Browse all Philips Hue lighting at Amazon US
There are two schools of thought in the smart bulb world. Some feel the best path is to opt for bridged lights, which (in the case of those which are Zigbee compatible, like Hue) form their own little mesh network, passing on activation commands and colour changes that way. Others would rather Wi-fi did the heavy lifting - and that, along with their elegant design, is the key selling point of LIFX bulbs.
These link straight to your existing wireless network, with no additional hub required. This does simplify things somewhat, but it adds to the per-bulb cost, so if you're planning to deploy a large smart bulb network, you may find Hue (or similar) to be more cost effective overall.
They're really very good as smart bulbs, nailing the colour aspect perfectly, responding well to commands, and tying in neatly to your choice of smart assistant. The app offers one-touch control of your connected lights, and some very detailed control deeper down, and everything's easy to set up and get running.
There's more than just the standard LIFX and LIFX Mini bulbs, too: look to the Plus range if you want a bulb which is going to work well with your smart security cameras, as they include infra-red LEDs which stay on even when you've turned the main lighting off; check out the likes of the Beam and Z Strip for feature lighting with more smarts and funky effects than most.
Here's an odd move, but a welcome one, from perennial shapes-on-your-wall supplier Nanoleaf: a set of bargain-priced smart bulbs and light strips to give you control of more than just those pretty wall decorations.
Probably the most interesting thing about the Essentials line, beyond its price, is support for Thread, a smart home protocol that's just now starting to emerge. Thread works in much the same way as the Zigbee of bulbs like those of Hue, giving the Essentials bulbs mesh networking capabilities. While you can address them without a hub, they are compatible with the Thread hubs in devices like the Nest Wifi and Apple Homepod mini, which offers a management advantage.
They're elegantly designed. We love the way the RGB bulbs look at least, even if the extendable light strips are pretty standard-looking, and you can rely on Nanoleaf's well-matured app to give you a good range of control options. One to sample, we'd say, and at the price you're not going to miss out on much if they don't meet your needs.
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 in your best smart bulb search, though you don't get as many features as you do with products from the likes of Philips Hue and LIFX.
Both white light and coloured options are available in E14 and E27 sizes, though you only get screw rather than bayonet fittings. Spot lights and panel lights are available too.
We've added the Trådfri range to our best smart bulbs 2021 list because you get useful, straightforward functionality with no gimmicks – and because they're made by Ikea, the price is very appealing too. 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 for the advanced features (such as controlling whole groups of lights), but there is now support for Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Apple HomeKit, making them simple to integrate into an existing system. Much like Philips Hue, here are other useful smart home accessories in the Trådfri range that supplement the bulbs, such as smart plugs and smart light switches.
Even more interesting is that there are light panels that can be built into Ikea furniture, again fully controlled via the smart system – this is a really clever and unique touch. See the full range of Trådfri options below.
TP-Link has a more limited range of products compared to Philips Hue, and you can't do quite as much with these bulbs, but we've taken quite a shine to the TP-Link Kasa bulbs nevertheless (pun actually intended). They're cheap and you can get them up and running very easily, without having to buy a separate gateway or hub. And the major bulb types are covered, of course, so there'll still be something great here for most people.
Affordable and reliable is usually the theme with TP-Link kit. The manufacturer has a strong track record in networking and smart home gear, especially in this Kasa range, so you can buy safe in the knowledge that these bulbs are going to last, even if they don't have as many features as some rivals. They have a few different lighting options to check out, including the TP-Link Kasa Smart Light Strip (KL430) so be sure to check out that review.
Even better, these smart 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. They don't work with Apple HomeKit though, sadly. If you just need one or two basic lights to hook up directly to your Wi-Fi router then these are definitely worth considering as the best smart bulbs for you.
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. Well worth a spot on our best smart bulbs list.
After something a little bit different in your search for the best smart bulbs of 2020? Nanoleaf's approach might be just what you're after: flat panels that tessellate to create walls of coloured light that you can graduate across your designs, and that can even pulse along with music.
The panels can be adhered easily to walls or the ceiling, and besides the music trick they can be set to run on a schedule, controlled manually from your phone, or even used as alarms to wake you up in the morning.
Everything works with Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Apple HomeKit as well, so it's easy enough to combine the Nanoleaf range with whatever else you've got happening in your smart home. You can easily expand beyond the nine panels you get with the starter kit to cover a whole room if you want – and while we've pictured the triangular starter pack above, there are also square panels with their own starter kit, and hexagonal panels are just arriving too.
These smart lights aren't for everyone – just looking at the product picture should be enough to tell you if these are the best smart bulbs for you – but there's no doubt that they definitely stand out from the crowd and let you create some amazing ambiance.
• Browse all Nanoleaf smart light panels at Amazon UK
• Browse all Nanoleaf smart light panels at Apple Store UK
• Browse all Nanoleaf smart light panels at Amazon UK
• Browse all Nanoleaf smart light panels at Best Buy
Hive started out with a smart thermostat but has since expanded its range to include just about everything you might need for your smart home. The smart bulbs that Hive puts out are very capable and attractively placed, and well worth a spot on our best smart bulbs list.
You can pick from standard bulbs (screw or bayonet), E14 candle bulbs, and GU10 spotlights, and the standard bulbs offer the full colour spectrum as well as different white temperatures. The range isn't quite as big as those offered by Philips and Lifx, but it'll be enough for most people.
You need a hub attached to your router to use these lights (unless you hook them up to a Samsung SmartThings network instead). Within the app, you get colour changing and schedule setting features, and the smart bulbs work with both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.
If you already have Hive kit in your home then it makes sense to go for the bulbs as well, as everything is going to work seamlessly together.
Innr is a newer name in the smart lighting market but it's already attracting a lot of attention, with an impressively large range of bulbs to pick from that are simple to set up and use.
This is a smart lighting system that you need a bridge for, but you don't necessarily have to use the Innr Bridge if you don't want to – the bridges for Philips Hue and Samsung SmartThings use the same kind of technology, so you can use them instead if that's more convenient.
You can pick from spot lights, light strips, standard bulbs, filament bulbs, candle bulbs, LED lights and more, both coloured and white (though there are no bayonet fitting options, just E14, E27 and GU 10 types). Read our Innr Flex Light lightstrip review for more about that option.
While Innr might not topple Philips Hue or Lifx any time soon, and the app is a bit rough around the edges, we're impressed with the size of the range here, and the affordability of the prices, especially if you have Philips Hue already and want a lower-cost way to expand.
For those who don't currently own a bridge, it could also be worth considering the Innr Wi-Fi Bulbs which connect directly to your router so don't require a hub.
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, so bear that in mind in your search for the best smart bulbs.
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 smart lighting options out there, but for smaller-scale projects and simpler operation you might be better off looking elsewhere.
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 that you can tinker around with. They'll undoubtedly impress guests, and can prove surprisingly useful too (maybe you could have the kitchen light up whenever someone walks in).
If you've got some smart home kit already, get smart bulbs which play nice with everything else you own – the main ecosystems to look out for are Apple Homekit, Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and Samsung SmartThings, and the larger brands (like Philips 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 such as the Ikea Trådfri system – these bulbs have their own app and remote, but don't fit in with wider ecosystems quite as well.
You also need to decide whether you want smart bulbs best for cycling 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 (and cheaper as well).
A bulb's 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.