If you think using your smartphone to turn on your lights is cool, you’ll flip when you can do that (and more) with just your voice. In fact, when I reviewed the Amazon Echo last year, I predicted a lot of people would buy more than one Echo so they could put them in multiple rooms.
Amazon was smarter than that. As soon as the company realized it had a hit product, it came up with less-expensive versions: the Tap, the Echo Dot, and most recently, a revamped Echo Dot. The Tap has a less-expensive speaker, and the Dot isn’t designed to play music at all, but both can summon Alexa, Amazon’s cloud-based virtual assistant. What’s more, you can also summon Alex from Amazon Fire TV devices that come with a voice remote. And Amazon is also allowing third-party manufacturers to integrate Alexa connections directly into their own products, with the trippy Invoxia Triby being the first.
Alexa has a very broad range of capabilities, but this story focuses on the smart light bulbs that Amazon’s powerful virtual assistant can control, many of which we’ve reviewed. We’ll do another story that covers other types of products in the coming weeks, but for most people, lighting is at the top of the list of smart-home systems they’d like to control with voice commands.
Whether you’re coming through the door with an armload of groceries or you’re startled by a bump in the night, the ability to say “Alexa, turn on the lights” to banish the darkness is a wonderful thing. Here are some of the smart bulbs that make that possible.
Cree Connected: It might not be the prettiest bulb in the box, but Cree’s Connected LED casts very even soft-white light and has outlived the since-discontinued GE Link Connected LED bulb that we compared it to last year. This is a ZigBee bulb and therefore relies on a hub to connect to your router and to Alexa.
GE Link: GE is one of the oldest names in lighting, but the company is still finding its place in the new world of consumer LEDs. GE has since discontinued its line of Link bulbs with ZigBee radios, but you can still find them in stock at Amazon and elsewhere.
GE introduced a new line of LED bulbs—C by GE—that have Bluetooth radios, but these cannot be integrated with Alexa at this time.
Insteon Dimmable LED Bulbs: Insteon has been in the smart-home business for a very long time using their own dual-band networking protocol (commands travel via both radio waves and over power lines for redundancy). Insteon has two bulbs that can be connected with Alexa via an Insteon hub. There’s an A19-style bulb that produces 737 lumens (just shy of a 60-watt equivalent) and a PAR38-style for use in recessed lighting cans. Both models are dimmable.
LIFX White: LIFX’s distinctive-looking bulbs are available in tunable white and tunable color, and in two form factors: A19 and BR30 for use in ceiling cans (the BR stands for bulged reflector). These bulbs connect directly to your Wi-Fi router and therefore don’t require a bridge or gateway. Lifx’s earlier dimmable A21 bulb impressed us with its brightness (up to 1000 lumens). We’ll have a review of the company’s newer bulbs soon.
LIFX Color: LIFX also offers color bulbs in both A19 and BR30 form factors. Like its white smart bulbs, these LEDs are outfitted with Wi-Fi adapters so and can connect directly with Alexa by way of your Wi-Fi router.
Osram Lightify: Osram, a 70-year-old German lighting company, spun off its LED lighting business as Ledvance earlier this year. As with Philips’ bulbs, Ledvance’s Lightify bulbs have embedded ZigBee radios and need a gateway to connect with Alexa. We reviewed the company’s Lightify Tunable White LED bulb last year, and we’ll have reviews of the company’s latest white and color LED bulbs soon.
Philips Hue: This is arguably the most well-known smart bulb lineup on the market. It’s available in color and white LED models, as well as in light-strip form. Being equipped with ZigBee radios, Philips’ bulbs require a bridge that must be hardwired to your router to connect with Alexa and your smartphone.
Hue bulbs are available in a variety of other form factors as well, including BR30 and A19 (white only). You’ll find our review of the first-generation Hue color lights here. We’ll have a review of Philips’ second-generation bulbs soon.
Philips Hue Lightstrip Plus: Light bulbs aren’t the only way to illuminate a room. LEDs mounted to flexible strips are an easy way to add colorful accent light to a room, pathway lighting to a hallway, or to quickly add under-cabinet lighting in the kitchen. You can even cut them to whatever length you need.
We compared the Philips product to Osram’s partnership with Belkin’s WeMo Switch earlier this year and found the products comparable, but the Osram/WeMo hookup has since ended. The Osram Lightify Flex product line is still on the market.
Stack Lighting BR30 Downlight Kit These light bulbs have built-in motion sensors that can turn the lights off when no one is in the room. A second sensor adjust the bulb’s color temperature to match the time of day to match your circadian rhythm, which the company says will help you sleep better and wake up more alert. They require a hub in order to communicate with Alexa. The company is also working on bulb that’s closer in appearance to an A19.
TP-Link Smart Wi-Fi series: Best-known for producing routers, TP-Link has jumped into the smart lighting market with three products. As the series’ name indicates, these A19-style bulbs connect directly to your Wi-Fi router and therefore don’t need a hub to also connect to Alexa. The LB100 is the least expensive at $20, but it produces only 600 lumens of brightness (equivalent to a 50-watt incandescent). The $25 LB110 is more comparable to the typical incandescent bulb, putting out 800 lumens of brightness. Both of these put out a warm light rated at 2700K.
TP-Link’s $35 LB120 bulb also produces 800 lumens but you can tune the color of its light from a warm 2700K to a cool 6500K. All three of the bulbs can be dimmed, but only via an app or from the cloud. They cannot be used with physical dimmers. These bulbs were selling for much more than MSRP when we checked prices on Amazon. We found the LB110 at Home Depot selling at its $25 list price, but the LB100 and LB120 were both priced $5 higher than MSRP.
An alternative approach to smart lighting
Installing connected light bulbs isn’t the only way to get smart lighting. I’d argue the better alternative is to install smart light switches, especially if most of your home’s lighting comes from ceiling cans, pendants, or lamps plugged into wall outlets controlled by switches. It’s a little more expensive in the short run, but it gives you much more freedom in the long run.
All of the bulbs described above cost much more than the typical dimmable LED because they all have radios built into the them. And a large majority of those bulbs cannot be installed in fixtures that are controlled by dimmer switches. If you’re going to have to replace a dimmer switch to install a smart light bulb, it might be more cost-effective to replace it with a smart dimmer switch and put a dumb dimmable LED in the socket. That way, if you have a broader smart-home system, you can link the switch to your door or motion sensors, so that the light turns on automatically when you enter the house or a room. You can also connect most smart switches to Amazon’s Alexa, but you will need to install a hub.