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Smart home gadgets are just about everywhere these days, and smart lights that you can control and automate — with voice commands or from a smartphone, tablet or other smart device — are one of the easiest ways to jump on the bandwagon. If you’re looking to try them out and leave your old lights behind, you’ll more options than ever as you shop. Even better: The uptick in competition means there are lots of affordable options to choose from, too.
This color-changing Philips Wiz Connected LED works with Alexa and Google, and costs just $13.
How affordable? You can build an entire smart lighting system with dirt-cheap white light smart bulbs that cost less than $10, color-changing bulbs for less than $15 a piece, solar-powered outdoor smart lights for as low as $35 a pop, plus dimmable smart light switches and nifty new lighting accessories for less than $50 each. Willing to splurge a bit? Smart statement pieces from names like Nanoleaf promise to cover your walls in color, too.
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The smart bulb bumper crop will only get more crowded in November, when new hub-free lights from GE and Cree Lighting hit stores. In Cree Lighting’s case, that includes color-changing bulbs for just $10, and an extra-bright 100-watt replacement version that costs $13.
All of those options mean that you’ve got a lot of products to sort through once you’re ready to make the upgrade to smart lights — and that’s where we come in. Whether it’s LED smart bulbs, wall panels, light strips, smart switches or accessories that you’re after, we’ve tested plenty of them. Here are our updated top recommendations.
As it turns out, the cheapest smart bulb is one of the best smart lights. I’m speaking of the Wyze Bulb from Seattle-based startup Wyze Labs, which you can pick up directly from the company’s website at $8 each plus shipping. With Wi-Fi radios built into each bulb, you won’t need any extra hub hardware plugged into your router in order to use them or to connect them with Alexa or Google Assistant (or IFTTT). Just screw them in, turn them on, pair them with the Wyze mobile app and bask in the glow of dirt-cheap smart light.
Beyond being ridiculously cheap, these things are pretty darned good light bulbs, too. For starters, each one offers a full spectrum of white-light color temperature settings ranging from a warm, candlelike 2,700K to hotter, whiter daylight tones that approach 6,000K. You’ll have a hard time finding another smart bulb that does that for less than $20, let alone one that does it for less than $10. On top of that, Wyze bulbs are some of the brightest I’ve tested, ranging from 880 to 921 lumens depending on what color temperature you’ve got them set to.
Read more: Best cheap home security devices of 2020
The only real downside: The Wyze app offers lighting timers and a vacation mode, but the app shortcuts feature that you use to schedule lighting changes at specific times feels a little limited. No biggie, though — you can schedule automated lighting changes using an Alexa or Google Assistant routine (or IFTTT). Read our Wyze Bulb review.
Other white-light smart LEDs worth considering
If you want something a little more advanced than the Wyze Bulb, then consider going with Philips Hue LED bulbs. At $15 each, Philips’ Hue White LED bulbs are a lot more affordable than you might expect, and the newest Bluetooth versions of the Philips Hue bulbs can pair directly with Alexa or Google Assistant without need for the Hue Bridge. Same goes for the Lifx Mini White LED, which works with Alexa, Google Assistant, Siri and IFTTT. As of writing this, that one’s down to just $10 on Amazon.
Want something more decorative? Hue is starting to release vintage-style LED Hue White bulbs with fake filaments twisted inside (you’ve probably seen bulbs just like them at your local hipster dive bar). They’d be a good pick for exposed-bulb setups where you aren’t hiding your light source under a lampshade.
If you prefer Google Assistant, then you might be better off with a C by GE smart bulb. Maker GE Lighting is a Made for Google partner, and its LED smart bulbs are designed to pair seamlessly with your Google Home smart speaker and Google Nest Hub smart display . You don’t need a hub, and you don’t even need the GE smartphone or tablet app — just turn the LED lights on and sync them with your setup right from the Google Home app. From there, you’ll enjoy some of the snappiest and most responsive voice control we’ve tested.
There aren’t as many smart floodlights as classic, A-shaped smart LED bulbs, but your options are growing. That includes a pretty significant new addition from Philips Hue, which recently released a floodlight version of the popular Hue White smart LED bulb described above.
I like the Philips Hue White floodlight for all of the same reasons I like the regular-size bulb. It’s bright, it’s efficient, it’s affordable — and it’s part of a very good smart lighting platform that works with everything. Like the rest of Hue’s new bulbs, the new floodlight uses both Bluetooth and Zigbee, so you can skip the Hue Bridge and just pair directly with your smartphone or with Alexa or Google if that’s all you want. Best Buy sells single LED bulbs for $20 and a two-pack for $35. Read more on CNET.
Other smart BR30 floodlights worth considering
If you’re an Alexa user looking for something cheap, then Sengled leads the way with a smart floodlight that can pair directly with the Echo Plus ($119 at Crutchfield) or the Echo Show ($150 at Best Buy) — if you don’t have one of those, you’ll need the Sengled hub plugged into your router. You’ll find those bulbs on Amazon in a two-pack that costs $25.
Sengled makes floodlights that change colors, too (and obviously, so does Philips Hue). But if it’s color bulbs that you want, I say it’s worth it to go with Lifx, an Australian startup that routinely aces our color quality tests with bold, bright shades that look terrific. The company’s lights all use your Wi-Fi network to talk directly to your router, so they don’t need a hub, they come with an excellent, full-featured app and they’re compatible with Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant (and IFTTT) right out of the box.
A color-changing Lifx floodlight costs $60 at Best Buy. That’s not cheap, but Lifx floodlights are also a few hundred lumens brighter at peak settings than any competitor we’ve tested to date. Couple that with the color quality, and you’re looking at a very worthy upgrade pick.
And hey, speaking of Lifx…
Like I said, I think Lifx lights belong right at the top of your list if you’re looking to add a smart pop of color to your home’s lighting systems. The brand sells a variety of bulbs and smart lights that all put out bright, great-looking colors, all of which can connect with Alexa, Siri or Google Assistant with absolutely no need for a hub.
At $38 each, the Lifx Mini is a bit of a splurge compared with some of the newer, more bargain-price smart bulbs we’re seeing this year — but it’s still the best option if you care about bright, vivid colors. Despite the Mini branding, it’s actually brighter than Philips Hue’s color-changing bulb, and the colors look terrific and true, outshining every other competitor that we’ve tested to date. The full-featured app is a bright spot, too, with easy app control of your lights via convenient color dial and lots of nice extras like animated effects and an autoscheduling Day & Dusk mode, as well. Read our Lifx Mini LED review.
Other color-changing smart bulbs worth considering
Lifx gives it a pretty good run for the money, but on the whole, Philips Hue still boasts the best smart lighting platform money can buy. If that matters to you more than the Lifx bump in brightness and color quality, then a Philips Hue bulb is probably worth the extra cash. The newest color-changing Hue bulbs with Bluetooth radios that let you use them without the Hue Bridge sell for $50 for a single bulb, but you can save $10 if you’re willing to buy the $90 two-pack.
If you’re just controlling your home’s lights using the Alexa or Google Home app, then the platform strengths of Lifx and Philips Hue are a little less important — and you can probably afford to go with something less expensive. Again, I like Sengled bulbs for use with Alexa, and C by GE bulbs for use with Google Assistant. Each brand offers color-changing smart bulbs for about $25 a piece. If you really want a bargain, then check out the Philips Wiz Connected LED, a new offering in 2020. At just $13 each, it’s one of the least expensive color-changing bulbs that money can buy, and while the colors aren’t superbright, it gets the job done, complete with Alexa and Google Assistant compatibility, plus a surprisingly full-featured app.
Want an option less expensive than Lifx or Philips Hue products that’ll work with Apple HomeKit and Siri? Check out the color-changing Sylvania Smart Plus smart LED light bulb, currently available for about $20 each.
Lifx is a pretty clear winner when it comes to color-changing light strips, too — namely, the 9.8-foot Lifx Z light strip. It doesn’t come cheap, but the colors look just as great as you’ll get from Lifx bulbs, and it’s capable of putting out multiple colors at once, which gives you a lot more room to create custom scenes and animated effects. None of the top competitors make bulbs that can put out more than one color at a time, not even Philips Hue.
The Lifx Z starter kit usually retails for a fairly steep $90 or more. I bought one on sale a few years ago for the back of my living room TV — I had to tape it in place after the TV’s heat wore down the strip’s adhesive backing, but apart from that, we love the thing. Read our Lifx Z Multicolor Light Strip review.
Other smart light strips worth considering
The Lifx Z’s $100 price is obviously a lot, so I can’t say I blame you if you’d rather go with something that costs a lot less. I haven’t tested it just yet (and I’ll update this space once I have), but Sengled’s Zigbee light strip is one of your newest options, relatively speaking, and it only costs $45. Just know that you’ll need a Zigbee hub to control your lights — Sengled’s hub, the SmartThings Hub or an Amazon Echo Plus or Echo Show will all do the trick.
The Sylvania Smart Plus Light Strip is even less expensive, and available on Amazon right now for less than $40. It uses Bluetooth to pair directly with your smartphone without need for a hub, and while it doesn’t offer native support for Alexa or Google, it does support Siri. It isn’t as bright as Lifx’s strip and it only puts out one color at a time, and the Siri voice controls were occasionally laggy in my tests, but it’s a reasonable budget pick for HomeKit households, especially at its current price.
If you’ve got a hardwired light that you’d like to be able to automate, you can swap the bulb out for a smart bulb — or you can just smarten things up at the switch. That’s an especially cost-effective approach if it controls several bulbs at once.
Among all of the smart switches that we’ve tested at the CNET Smart Home, our favorite has long been the Lutron Caseta. Lutron is a lighting aisle mainstay, and its light switches use a proprietary signal called Clear Connect. That means that they require the Lutron Bridge in order to connect with your router, but the good news is that Clear Connect is about as swift and reliable as wireless protocols come.
Aside from the strong performance, Lutron’s Caseta switches come in a variety of colors and designs, and apart from the dimmable version seen here, you can also get standard on/off switches, wall-mounted remotes that can serve as a second for three-way setups, audio control switches that sync with Sonos and fan controls for automating a ceiling fan. If you really want to go big, you can add Lutron’s luxurious automated shades to your setup, too. Whatever you choose, all of it is compatible with just about everything, too: Alexa, Google, Siri, Nest, IFTTT — you name it.
A single Lutron Caseta with the mandatory Lutron Bridge and a Pico remote that you can mount in the wall or take with you around the house is available on Amazon right now for $99. That’s a fair price for a solid foundation that you can build on whenever Lutron stuff goes on sale. Read our Lutron Caseta In-Wall Dimmer Switch review.
Other smart light switches worth considering
Our lack of access to the CNET Smart Home due to the pandemic has hindered our ability to test smart switches this year, so watch this space for an update once we’re able to fully resume our tests. But if you just want something simple and inexpensive, you should check out TP-Link’s Kasa line of switches, all of which can connect with both Alexa and Google without need for a hub. For my money, I like the $20 version that’ll dim the lights.
If you want to go all out with smart lighting — maybe for a game room or a kids’ room — then you might consider color-changing Wi-Fi LED smart light panels for your walls. A Toronto-based startup called Nanoleaf got there first with its triangular Aurora panels before following them up with square-shaped, touch-sensitive Nanoleaf Canvas panels, too. Now, the brand has a third-gen set of panels up for sale — hexagons, this time. And, unless you strongly prefer triangles or squares, those hexagons are the ones you want.
The panels can display a wide variety of animated effects, including a library with hundreds of user-created options that are free to try for yourself. They also feature a built-in microphone that lets them animate in rhythm with whatever music you’re listening to or whatever game you’re playing. You can turn them on and off with a tap and choose between presets with the built-in buttons on the base panel, but they also support lighting controls with voice commands via Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant.
On top of all of that, the new Hexagon panels are easier to stick to the wall thanks to new, detachable mounting plates. At $200, they aren’t cheap, but they’re fun and dynamic, and perfect for a kids room or a gaming room. Read more on CNET.
Other color-changing light panels worth considering
For a while, Nanoleaf’s main competitor was Lifx, which offered its own color-changing, square-shaped wall panels called Lifx Tiles. Those Tiles have since been discontinued, leaving Nanoleaf as the only notable name in the category for the time being.
That could soon change, though. European startup LaMetric introduced new, highly customizable LED smart panels at CES a few years back, and while it’s suffered from a number of delays during a prolonged preorder phase, there’s a chance it’ll give Nanoleaf a run for its money in the months ahead. For now, though, you’re looking at Nanoleaf or nothing as far as smart panels are concerned.
Smart bulbs are great, but do you know what’s not so great? The fact that turning things off at the switch cuts their power, and cuts your power to control them via voice, app or automation. That’s an all-too-common smart home headache, especially if you’re living with kids or houseguests.
Thankfully, Lutron came up with a clever solution last year. It’s called the Aurora, and it’s designed to pair wirelessly with Philips Hue lights. You literally snap it in place over top of whatever dumb light switch is wired to your Hue lights. That locks it into the on position and lets you turn things on and off at the wall without actually cutting power to the bulbs — that way, your automations and voice controls will keep on working even when the lights are switched off. Read more on CNET.
Other smart lighting accessories worth considering
Philips Hue’s users are the most spoiled when it comes to accessory options. In addition to the Aurora, you could add one of Philips Hue’s wireless dimming remotes to your setup, or maybe motion sensors — Hue offers both an indoor and an outdoor version.
My favorite of the bunch, though, is the Philips Hue Tap. It’s a circular remote with four buttons that can trigger specific lights or specific Hue scenes (if you have a Hue Bridge, it can trigger Apple HomeKit devices, too). The thing that makes it truly great is that it powers itself using the kinetic energy of each button press. No batteries, no recharging — just finger power. Best of all, it won’t break the bank: You can get one right now for about $50.
If you like that finger-powered approach, but would rather have it in a light switch design that you can mount in your wall, then check out the Click smart switch from RunLessWire, previously known as the Illumra. Like the Tap, it needs no batteries or wires., and comes with four programmable buttons that also support Apple HomeKit devices.
Outdoor lighting is key to a safe and secure home, so upgrading to smart outdoor lights that double as motion detectors and sync with your security system makes a lot of sense. For my money, the best way to get there is with Ring, which offers a full portfolio of affordable outdoor smart lights, all of which can sync up with your Ring cameras and sync up with Alexa for voice control, too.
My favorites of the bunch are the Ring Pathlights, especially the new solar-powered version pictured above. At just $35 a pop, each one includes a built-in motion sensor that can turn on a light or a group of lights whenever someone passes by, and they can trigger your Ring cameras to start recording, too. That’s a great way to build a smart home that’s aware of what’s going on outside.
You’ll need a Ring Bridge in your home in order to use them, but you can currently get one bundled with two solar-powered smart Pathlights for $90. Read more on CNET.
The best smart lights
|Best white-light smart bulb||Wyze Bulb||$8 each, plus shipping||Works with Alexa, Google Assistant and IFTTT||See it online|
|Best smart floodlight LED||Philips Hue White BR30 Floodlight LED||$20 each, or 2 for $35||Works with Apple HomeKit, Alexa, Google Assistant and IFTTT||See it online|
|Best color-changing smart bulb||Lifx Mini LED||$38 each||Works with Apple HomeKit, Alexa, Google Assistant, Cortana and IFTTT||See it online|
|Best smart light strip||Lifx Z Multicolor Light Strip||$100 for a 6.6-ft. starter kit, $30 for 3.3-ft. extensions||Works with Apple HomeKit, Alexa, Google Assistant, Cortana and IFTTT||See it online|
|Best smart switch||Lutron Caseta In-Wall Dimmer Switch||About $100 for a 1-switch starter kit, about $60 for each additional switch||Works with Apple HomeKit, Alexa, Google Assistant and IFTTT||See it online|
|Best color-changing wall panels||Nanoleaf Hexagons||$200 for a 7-panel starter kit||Works with Apple HomeKit, Alexa, Google Assistant and IFTTT||See it online|
|Best smart lighting accessory||Lutron Aurora dimmer dial||$40 each||Works with Philips Hue||See it online|
|Best outdoor smart light||Ring Pathlight||$30 each for battery-powered, $35 each for solar, requires Ring Bridge||Works with Alexa||See it online|