While most smart lights let you control them from your phone, by voice, or through automation, not all smart bulbs are created equal. Here are the different type of smart lights and which ones might be best for you.
Smart bulbs come in all different shapes and sizes, but they also connect in different ways depending on which bulbs you use. For the most part, there are three different ways smart bulbs can connect to the internet: using a proprietary hub, connecting directly to Wi-Fi, or using a third-party smarthome hub through Z-Wave or ZigBee. Let’s go over each one, along with some recommendations.
Proprietary Hub Bulbs
These are smart lights that require a proprietary hub to function correctly. For example, Philips Hue lights need a Philips Hue Bridge hub.
There aren’t too many of these types of smart light systems around, and while many smart bulb makers do offer their own hub for their bulbs, it may not necessarily be required—you sometimes can use these bulbs with other hubs. Ikea’s Tradfri smart lights, for instance, have their own Tradfri hub that you can get, but the bulbs themselves can easily connect to a Philips Hue hub instead if you already have one of those.
However, in a lot of cases, using smart bulbs on another manufacturer’s hub can present some problems. Some features might not work right or the process to add the bulbs to the hub may be a bit finicky. For example, the Tradfri bulbs only work with the Hue hub if the bulbs’ firmware is up to date, and the only way to update the firmware is by having the Tradfri hub.
In any case, if you want to go this route, Philips Hue is arguably the best and most popular hub-based smart light system, if not the best and most popular of any smart light system, period. It can be a bit expensive, but you can grab a starter kit that comes with some basic white bulbs for less than a hundred dollars.
If you only want a small handful of smart bulbs in your home, a popular option is buying smart bulbs that connect directly to your WiFI network. The best part about these types of bulbs is that they don’t require a hub at all.
Instead, they set up just like any other Wi-Fi-based product: Install it and use the app to connect it to your Wi-Fi network. From there, it’s ready to go.
As mentioned above, though, using Wi-Fi bulbs isn’t the best option if you plan on having more than a few bulbs set up in your home. Once you start outfitting every room with these bulbs, your Wi-Fi network may get a bit overwhelmed and crowded, since each bulb acts as a Wi-Fi device that connects to your router.
There are quite a few great options out there when it comes to Wi-Fi bulbs, though, and our sister site Review Geek has a few recommendations, including bulbs from Eufy, Lifx, and TP-Link Kasa.
The last type of smart bulb is one that can connect to any number of third-party smarthome hubs, which use the Z-Wave and ZigBee wireless protocols.
Technically, Philips Hue and other hub-based smart light systems use ZigBee or Z-Wave, but in this case, we’re referring to standalone bulbs that are meant to connect to third-party hubs like Wink, SmartThings, and so on.
These types of bulbs are great if you already have a smarthome hub that you use for other stuff, as you won’t have to fiddle with even more hubs, or deal with the limitations of Wi-Fi—Z-Wave and ZigBee are lower power and have a wider range than Wi-Fi.
When it comes to bulbs like these, I’m a big fan of GoControl, and they make all sorts of Z-Wave stuff, including smart bulbs. However, there’s also GE Link, Sengled, and Aeotec, all of which offer decent smart bulbs that you can connect to your smarthome hub.