Before investing in a smart lighting system, take the time to understand your options. It’s important to determine which platform will best suit your circumstances, future plans and budget.
Smart light bulbs send and receive signals via wireless transmissions. Not every bulb work with every type of network so it’s important to understand how the platforms work and which bulbs are compatible with the platform you prefer.
Essentially, there are four wireless technologies you can choose to control your home’s smart lighting system. Two are hubless and two require a hub:
Each system has its pros and cons. In this article, we discuss all four platforms and recommend several of the best smart bulbs for each category.
Although smart light bulbs only work when paired with wireless technologies, not all of them require a dedicated smart hub such as the Wink Hub, Samsung SmartThings or Philips Hue Bridge.
As a matter of fact, most smart light bulbs will work via your smartphone or with a compatible voice assistant such as Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Apple’s Siri.
Hubless smart bulbs can be controlled through an app downloaded on to a mobile device. The bulbs either connect directly to your Wi-Fi router or can be operated from your mobile via Bluetooth.
The app you download depends on the brand of the bulb you purchase. Smart bulbs include an instruction booklet in the box that explains where to download the app, how to install your bulbs and how to pair them with your mobile device.
Because hubless networks are more cost-effective than hub-connected devices, they are growing in popularity. However, a smart lighting system that relies on your Wi-Fi network is not always reliable unless you have a stable connections and a strong signal that covers your entire house.
To avoid connectivity issues, it is possible to purchase smart light bulbs that have Wi-Fi extenders and act as a mesh network. The other option is to invest in a hub-connected platform. More on mesh networks and hubs later.
Hubless platforms still enable you to pair your smart bulbs with a personal assistant - known as smart speakers. This enables you to control your lights and other smart devices with voice commands.
It’s important to understand that smart hubs and smart speakers are not the same although they both support smart devices.
Smart speakers such as Google Home, Amazon Echo, and Apple HomePod enable you to control your smart lighting system and other smart devices with voice commands.
Whilst most smart light bulbs are compatible with Amazon and Google smart speakers, not as many are supported by Apple HomeKit. This is something else to look out for when choosing your first smart bulbs.
A smart hub is a “master controller” that enables you to operate all your smart devices from a centralised app. At the time of writing, most smart hubs only give you the option to control devices via an app although we are starting to see some brands integrate compatibility with voice assistants into their hubs.
Wi-Fi smart lights connect with your internet router and allow you to control your smart bulbs via an app or voice assistant from anywhere you can get online.
Remote connectivity still relies on the stability of your home connection - so you can’t turn off your electricity when you go on holiday - but allows you to reschedule your lights even when you’re not at home.
Wi-Fi smart bulbs are the most cost-effective way to invest in smart lighting from the outset. However, the downside is they feed off your bandwidth and may affect your network speeds.
Sengled has a growing reputation as a cost-effective smart lighting brand. Their Wi-Fi enabled LED multicolour smart bulbs are reasonably prices, deliver smooth performance and have a swathe of features including 16 million colours, scene shortcuts, temperature presets and lighting schedules.
Yeelight smart bulbs give you more value for money by offering a raft of creative features that can make your light set-up more dynamic. The smart bulbs work with all three leading smart speakers, disco-dance to your music, schedule times and moods and have a built-in motion sensor.
Lifx Mini smart light bulbs are not the most affordable, but justify the price point by packing the app with creative speciality modes. The bulbs are compatible with all three major voice assistants and enable you to schedule light times, customise scene with colours and fade duration and boasts 16 million colours.
Bluetooth-enabled bulbs skip your home network entirely and pair directly with your smartphone or tablet. The main advantage is they don’t take up any of your Wi-Fi bandwidth so they use less energy.
The downside is you can’t control your lights unless you're at home and they only have a range of 15m so you have to be close to the device you want to control.
Philips Hue bulbs are ranked as the best smart lighting systems on the market. The original bulbs required the Hue Bridge hub, but the basic Hue White are now available with Bluetooth so all you need to do is download the Philips Hue app on to a mobile device.
The Bluetooth Hue White don’t have as many features as the fully-functional Hue White and Hue Multi-colour bulbs, but are dimmable and can be controlled via a smart speaker.
With a mid-range price point, the iLumi A19 is packed with features and offers good value for money. You can choose from 16 million colours, schedule your lighting and sync your music with your lighting theme.
The preset scene settings are also cooler than other brands. Whether you’re in the mood for a romantic “Valentine” setting or a spooky “Halloween” ambience, the iLumi Bluetooth bulbs have a built-in mesh network which allows you to control up to 50 bulbs.
Price: Starting around £17.95
The Nanoleaf Essentials Bluetooth edition is Apple’s cost-friendly alternative to some of its other premium range smart lighting products. The A19 smart bulb also connects wirelessly and can be paired with Apple HomeKit, HomePod mini, and Google Assistant but is not compatible with Amazon Alexa.
Once you’re set-up, you can enjoy a brand range of vibrant colours, adjust colour temperatures, customise settings with the app or voice commands and schedule your lights so you wake to a beautiful sunrise.
Some smart lighting brands have developed a special gateway that offers more reliable performance and a superior user-experience. Smart hubs avoid putting more strain on your Wi-Fi and provide a backup if the connection fails.
Hub connected smart bulbs involves a larger financial outlay to set up your smart lighting system, but they do give you more control, interconnectivity and razzmatazz.
However, a hub connected lighting systems come with a heavier price tag and can add between £100-200 onto your initial set up costs. Some would argue the extra wad is worth it.
The two hub connected systems are Zigbee and Z-Wave, both of which extended connectivity via a ‘mesh network’ and use less power than Wi-Fi smart lighting devices.
On a mesh network, your instruction is received by the smart hub via the app (and with some setups by voice command). The information is then passed from one device to the next and so on.
This helps to extend the Wi-Fi signal around your home and reach devices in remote areas that don’t work efficiently because they are further away from your router.
That means if you have a smart light switch in the back bedroom that doesn’t always work because it falls outside the range of your Wi-Fi signal, the mesh network creates a seamless pathway between devices so that all your smart gadgets work.
Zigbee and Z-Wave systems are, therefore, ideal for larger homes or if you plan to build out your smart home with multiple smart devices.
If you only have one or two smart lighting devices and don’t intend to expand your collection further, the most cost-effective option is to go with Wi-Fi or Bluetooth enabled smart lights.
If you’re planning to transform your home into a fully-integrated smart device paradise, read on. It’s important that you know the difference between Zigbee and Z-Wave.
Zigbee technologies use a smart-home networking protocol that enables you to seamlessly operate a multitude of devices from a single centralised app.
That means you don’t have to download a raft of apps to control switches, door locks, light bulbs, smart plugs etc.
Smart hubs communicate with your Wi-Fi network but act as local wireless for smart gadgets, and therefore do not rely on a weak signal. Instead, they act as a bridge between your smart devices your and wireless router.
Hubs, therefore, make smart bulbs and other smart devices more efficient and reliable. They enable you to take advantage of enhanced connectivity through a mesh network.
Not all Zigbee technologies work with smart speakers. They generally require an app. However, some of the latest-generation voice-activated smart speakers are Zigbee-enabled; i.e Amazon Echo and Echo Studio.
Price: ~£59.90 (bulb and hub)
The Hue ecosystem is extensive with a wide range of smart bulb to choose from you can do more with Philips Hue than any other brand. The app is intuitive and integrates with an impressive number of third-party devices.
Philips Hue smart bulbs deliver a premium-quality glow and allow you to customise mood settings, schedule your lighting to come on and off and wake up to cool lighting colours. Smart bulbs are also backed by a strong warranty.
Price: ~£118 (bulb and hub)
Hive recently extended its array of smart devices by embracing smart lighting. The dimmable bayonet light bulbs come with a standard fitting so installation is exactly the same as traditional bulbs.
Once the initial set up costs are out of the way, single Hive smart bulbs can be acquired for as little as £19.99 and boast a host of features including 16 million tones, IFFFT-enabled and operable with Alexa and Google Home.
Z-Wave platforms work in almost the same way as Zigbee. The significant difference is that Z-Wave uses a different radio frequency (800-900MHz) to your Wi-Fi which causes less interference and makes the network more reliable.
In contrast Zigbee shares the same frequency as your Wi-Fi and can cause interference is too many devices are being used at the same time.
The irony is that Zigbee supports 65,000 devices whilst Z-Wave can only handle a maximum of 232 devices - but what are the chances of you owning more than 232 smart devices?
Another significant difference is that Z-Wave has a superior range. It can transmit data over 100 feet while Zigbee only has a range of between 33-66 feet.
If you’re planning to extend your smart home and want a reliable system that doesn’t overload your Wi-Fi and uses less power, Z-Wave is the latest-generation of smart home platforms.
At the time of writing, there are fewer devices available in the UK that are compatible with Z-Wave. This will change sharpish. We’re already starting to see Z-Wave-enabled smart lights emerge in 2021.
Price: ~£42.49 (bulb only)
Aeotec manufacture multi-colour LED smart light bulbs that boast an impressive wireless range over Z-Wave and comes packed with features including holiday mode, preset scenes and 16 million colours which are dimmable.
You can create multiple lighting scenes and activate the Aeotec smart bulbs using Google Home Assistant. The smart hub supports S0 security for added protection against hackers and the bulbs can be angled to 240-degrees to avoid spotlight glare at any point in the room.
Smart lighting is one of the most sought-after aspects of home automation. Smart bulbs are also a prime opportunity to test the capabilities of smart homes.
Now you have a better understanding of smart technologies, it should be easier for you to get started. The only question is whether you want to trial smart bulbs to get a feel for smart lighting or to lay the foundations to automate your home from the outset and avoid trial costs.