Smart lights are great and are a fun and easy way to add colour and convenience to your life. They can save money by dimming or shutting themselves off in appropriate situations. They can improve your home security by making a home appear lived in when it is not. They can make life easier by allowing you to turn on or off lights in multiple rooms or all lights at once. They can be controlled through alternative methods like voice, motion, gestures, etc. Smart lighting is an important part of setting scenes or moods as part of a larger home automation system that optimizes comfort and efficiency for predefined scenarios. They can also improve your personal safety by automatically coming on when needed.
What We Love:
Why We Love it:
Philips cracked the ‘smart’ lighting market open with their LED Hue bulbs back in 2012 and has kept innovating with new products and technologies. The Hue lights work well, integrate with other systems and products seamlessly, are available in a wide range of lamp types and bases and Philips has a good track record of quickly fixing issues and patching security flaws.
The Hue products tend to be pretty solid and work well. The minor complains we have are things like the way some primary colours are not well produced (i.e. green) and the bulbs are not as bright as they could be. Philips is also a large target and the Hue line of lights are reportedly hacked more frequently than competitors; however it seems that Philips has been good at addressing the security concerns. Finally, the Hue lights require a bridge for the ‘smarts’ to work. This can be a plus or a minus depending on your needs. A hub is another thing to buy, something you may need to update for features and functionality to work in the future, and something else to go wrong so we feel it deserves mentioning as a possible downside.
Works Best With:
Other Zigbee devices and in Home Automation systems with Zigbee Hub controllers.
General purpose and specialty lighting needs. Augmenting television and gaming for a more immersive environment.
You Might Also Love:
LIFX bulbs. These are the next generation of cool. They are brighter and weirder looking than the Hue lights and they are all around awesome. They even offer a light that is invisible. Seriously, the LIFX+ infrared bulb is used to extend the ‘reach’ of night vision cameras. If that isn’t cool I don’t know what is. There a number of types of lamps and sizes and they work with a wide range of other home automation tools and services.
The LIFX lineup is definitely compelling but there aren’t as many types of lights or fittings as Hue and because they haven’t been around as long and aren’t part of the Zigbee alliance they haven’t built up quite the same level of integration and partners as Philips.
They are definitely worth checking out if you want cleaner primary colours or want something that connects via Wi-Fi rather than requiring a proprietary hub.
Stuff We Really Like:
There are loads of options out there for smart lighting and more and more are added every day. Insteon and Aeotec also makes great bulbs amongst a huge lineup of other amazing products that are worth looking. These bulbs are especially good in environments that use other parts of their ecosystems. We currently can’t recommend using their apps with the lights (blagh) but with a home automation hub they work great.
Some smart lights are better for specific requirements. For example: ones that include speakers (Sengled, Olixar, etc.) or ones that include Wi-Fi boosters (Sengled again). There are also more and more specialty smart lights like the Hue Go or Elgato Avea Flare that are portable mood lights. The options continue to grow and more and more odd and interesting options are available. The Mipow Playbulb lineup that includes LED candles you can blow on to ‘light’ and ‘blow out’, bearish shaped lights for night lights, or smart solar powered garden lights for outdoors.
IKEA also recently entered into the smart light arena with their TRÅDFRI line of LED bulbs, motion sensors, controllers and hubs. We haven’t played with these much yet but they use ZigBee Light Link (meaning they may play well with others) and are priced very competitively so are worth consideration.
What’s Not To Love:
There are lots of options out there but not all of them work in the same way or as well. Carefully consider and research how the lights connect and are controlled. For example: with bluetooth connectivity you need to be relatively near to the bulbs to control them directly, Wi-Fi may have lots of interference, ZWave lights may require a hub or specialty switch, etc.
Another unfortunate issue is there are more and more cheap knock off lights available. These lights can be unreliable or in extreme situations even unsafe. We have found that some really cheap lights break easily and quickly as you might expect but also use substantially more energy, burn hot or have small components break down or even break off resulting in them becoming a hazard.
The usual common sense plays a big role when buying smart lighting. Keep in mind that it is often true that you get what you pay for! You need to do your research before you buy. Even some good brand name and popular gear can have a bad rap. The Wemo lights from Belkin are an example that we want to love as they are easy to install but we have found that control is unreliable.
When the Alternative Might Be Better:
You don’t always need a smart light. You can use a traditional light bulb with Smart switches, outlets and controllers to provide similar performance with less complexity and cost.
Also, keep in mind that there are times when you may just want a regular bulb. Particularly in harsher environments such as garage door openers, wet, or outdoor areas where fragile electronic components in smart bulbs are more easily damaged and can result in expensive and possibly dangerous situations where lights fail.