Beginner guide to Smart Lights

If you're looking for more control and added extra conveniences to your home lights, smart lighting is for you.
Rob Green

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16 February, 2021
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What are Smart Lights?

Smart lights allow you to control the lighting in your home through various ways, from scheduling to voice commands. These additional controls can be really beneficial to your day-to-day life – if you purchase the right smart lights, you’ll be able to change their brightness, tone and colour.

They’re relatively easy to setup making them a great addition to a lot of homes, especially for anyone looking to introduce some technology that will impact your daily life. While costs can add up quickly if you plan to replace all your lights, we’d recommend starting off with a few to get a feel for how useful they are to you.

Why would you want one?

This is the question everyone should be asking – so how do you know if they’re right for you? Skipping the lengthy paragraphs, we’ve condensed our thoughts into a few key bullet points.

  1. You want to control your lights automatically
  2. Use voice commands to control the lights
  3. You’d like to change the brightness and/or colour of your lights
  4. Don’t mind the thought of installing, setting up and sometimes troubleshooting why they’re not working
  5. You have other smart home products which can link up to them, like motion sensors
  6. Their cost isn’t too concerning

Sure, there’s a few other factors that will go into your decision – but ultimately the best way to answer this question is looking at how others use smart lights.

Which is why we’ve highlighted some of the most common and practical uses later on. We also created a complete guide to smart lights that you should read after this one.

How are Smart Lights Controlled

There’s multiple ways to control smart lights aside from the manual flicking of a switch – which funnily enough might cause issues. Once you’ve setup and installed your lights depending on the brand and model, you’ll be able to control them through these common methods.

Ways to control Smart Lights

Voice, Schedule, Trigger, Manual Control
  • Voice commands (e.g. “Alexa turn the bedroom lights off”)
  • Automate with schedules (e.g. turn on when the sun sets and off when you go to bed)
  • Through triggers (e.g. kitchen lights turn on when you walk into the room or as soon as the sun sets)
  • Manually though the app on your phone

If you pair smart lights with your smart assistant like Alexa or Google Assistant, you can setup a simple voice command to control multiple lights at the same time, anywhere in your house – assuming you have an smart speaker nearby.

Schedules are great for anyone who has a routine around tuning their lights on and off each day – with customisable schedules you’ll benefit from never having to touch a light switch. Setting the lights in a main room to turn on when the sun sets is a nice convenience.

Aside from schedules – triggers are a great way to control lights. Connect them to a motion sensor or other smart devices like a smart lock, to have the lights turn off when you leave for work or back on when you open the front door.

Smart Light features

Depending on the smart lights you purchase the features can differ, some will not be a big deal to you while others might. Nearly all smart lights are LED, meaning they not only last for years but they’ll also draw much less power than incandescent lights.

So, what are the main differences (beside the price) between smart lights?

Smart light bulb types

When looking around you’ll run into three different types of smart lights which are

  1. Standard Bulb
  2. Spotlights
  3. Candle Bulb

While there’s no right or wrong bulb, we recommend using the spotlight type bulbs in rooms which have recessed lights. With standard / candle type bulbs being a good option for most other situations.

Smart light bulb features

different smart light features
  • Will connect directly to your WiFi or through a hub
  • Change colour (millions to choose from)
  • Change tone (warmer orange to cooler blue)
  • Adjust the brightness (from blinding – to – barely on)
  • Optional features such as in-built motion sensors

While changing brightness and colour is self-explanatory, what does it mean by a lights ability to change its tone? With lighting you’ll either have what’s referred to as warmer or cooler light, with a warmer light being more orange and cooler light being bluer.

This leads into a larger conversation, but you should be opting to have a cooler light (bluer) in the morning and switch to a warmer light (orange) before heading to bed. It’s one of the reasons Apple and Google introduced “Night Shift” to their phones, to help you get a better night’s sleep. Here’s a study if you’d like to learn more.

Direct to WiFi or Hub?

Look to be fair both have their advantages and disadvantages but when it comes down to it, the biggest reason you’ll go for WiFi is the ease of setting up a few lights. If you plan on getting multiple lights or need them to connect to a specific eco-system then a hub might be your best bet.

This topic is a bit too big to discuss here, so we’ll be creating a separate article covering this at a later stage.

Using a Smart Speaker for Voice Control

What better way to control your lighting than with a simple voice command – to turn your bedroom lights off as you jump into bed. While most smart lights will support Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, Apple HomePod (Siri) tends to have a more limited selection of supported lights.

As a general rule, the more features a smart light has the more expensive it is. So we recommend considering if you really need certain features, such as being able to change the colour, as these type of lights are more  expensive. If you’re just after a smart light you can schedule and control with a simple voice command, you’re in luck as most lights, even the lower end ones, are compatible with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.

Drawbacks

Like any smart device they do have some drawbacks, while their biggest one tends to be the cost associated if you plan to re-fit your entire home, here are some other reason you might re-consider buying them.

  1. Smart lights require you to leave your light switch in the on position, the bulbs themselves can turn off so they don’t use power
  2. They can get expensive when replacing every light in your home, see our smart light switch comparison for an alternative solution
  3. Certain lights can require a hub to operate, adding extra complexity, but has benefits as well
  4. With so many different brands and models, you’ll need to do your research before making a purchase
  5. Not everyone needs the added functionalities that come with installing smart lights in their home

It might seem that we’re being negative, but we still want to point out that smart lights provide homeowners with some great quality of life improvements. Their drawbacks aren’t showstoppers by any means, but the benefits won’t always justify the cost for a lot of people – not until they become more cost effective.

Practical and Common Uses

Smart lights offer a wide range of uses, from advance lightning scenes depending on the time of day or activity you’re performing, to simply setting up a light to switch off when you head to bed.

To give you some ideas on what others are using their smart lights for, we complied this helpful list.

  1. Automatically have lights turn on at night when the sun sets and turn off when you head to bed (either through a schedule or voice command)
  2. Set mood lighting, by lowering the brightness and/or changing the colour
  3. Added security, with lights turning on at night to make it appear someone is home when you’re away
  4. Have your lights slowly wake you up in the morning by gradually getting brighter, to avoid that loud alarm
  5. Improve your sleep by changing the colour tone to a warmer light before you sleep
  6. Group lights together so you can control whole rooms at once

There’s actually a few niche uses we found as well – such as setting an alarm that changes the colour of a light when it goes off, for a more subtly alert. We also didn’t dive into how other smart devices like motion sensors and external buttons can make your smart lights that much more useful. We do plan to go over these interactions in more depth.

That said these are just a some of the more common uses – you could also create some elaborate lighting scenes, where your lounge room changes from a bright dinner party to dim movie night with a single command or press of a button.

Picking the right Smart Lights

If you’ve ever looked into smart lighting solutions you’ll be familiar with some of the brands we recommend below and with good reason, they’re reliable and do exactly what you want them to. While we already went over the different features offered by smart lights above, we’ve compiled what we see as the best brands on the market.

Brands you should be look at

  1. Philips Hue
  2. LIFX
  3. Kasa
  4. Ikea
  5. Wyze

Most of these brands offer a range of smart lights, from a plain white light, to ones that can change colour and can be used outside. Ikea and Wyze offer the most affordable lights but if you don’t mind spending a little bit more money we’d recommend going with Philips Hue. Not only were Philips one of the first to get into the smart light market, they have some of the best quality lights and widest range of support for other devices (voice assistants, sensors, etc.).

The smart light market is highly competitive right now, with new brands and models continuously appearing. We’re eager to see the price of smart lights come down to a level that’s more affordable. 

Smart Lights or Smart Light Switches?

Not sure if you should be purchasing smart lights or smart light switches? You’ll find our comparison right here. If you don’t want to read the comparison it boils down to smart switches being more cost effective but unable to offer features such as controlling individual lights or changing the light colour.

Summary

When setup correctly smart lights can make a real impact to your home, changing the look and feel. Custom light scenes are so useful once setup correctly, you’ll wonder how you lived without them. The added functionality they bring from scheduling, to being controllable via voice commands is just one part – we didn’t realise how useful and how much we’d use the dimming feature of our lights.

If there’s one smart device you’re looking at introducing into your home, we can highly recommend you pick smart lights. While we agree their can cost a lot, the end effect is a home where you can change the mood of a whole room with a single click or voice command.

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