If you want the best smart light and best smart bulb for your home, you'll find it here. Whether you want white, dimmable lights or colour mood lighting that you can control from your phone - or even smartwatch - we reveal the best smart LED bulbs and smart lamps for your connected home in the UK in 2016, and explain the benefits of ditching those traditional incandescent bulbs for LED. Also see: Best smart heating systems 2016 UK.
Best smart light buying guide: LED is the future
Some key benefits to using LED rather than incandescent bulbs are that they use less energy, produce less heat, and last much longer. All smart lights use LEDs. Of course, smart lighting is also pretty cool. Some of the bulbs we've listed below can set mood lighting for the different rooms in your house, be controlled from afar or scheduled to turn on and off at preset times from your phone or tablet, and even to function as an alarm, gently waking you in the morning. Some of the smart bulbs can even blast out tunes from your ceiling as they have built-in speakers.
But there are some down sides, too. A problem with LED lighting is that it's still much more expensive than the technology it replaces. Yes, you'll make savings on your energy bill and in buying fewer replacement bulbs, but how long will it take you to return your investment and start seeing those savings? That's not something we can easily answer for you, since it will depend on how much you're spending on and what you're using to light your home right now, but you can see how much we've managed to save in our article LED vs Halogen: Why now is the right time to invest in LED bulbs.
You can buy LED bulbs on the cheap, but as with any tech you'll get what you pay for in the quality of light, brightness and coverage. We'd recommend sticking to well-known brands, and looking for those sold with decent warranties. Good returns policies are important, too, since there's no guarantee that low-voltage LEDs will work on your particular transformers or dimmer switch.
Colour temperature and brightness are important for home use. The former is measured in Kelvin, where 2700-to 3000K is a warm white; higher values look cooler and lower values warmer. Brightness is measured in lumens - look to match or exceed that provided by your current bulb. Also see: Best smart switches: Belkin Wemo Insight Switch vs Efergy Ego - how smart is home automation?
The beam angle determines the spread of light the bulb produces. For replacing spotlights look for around 40 degrees; for replacing incandescent bulbs aim closer to 140 degrees.
Best smart light: Philips Hue
Starter Kit costs £176 from Amazon UK.
The Philips Hue is a remote-controlled lighting system for the home, using standard screw-fit lightbulbs that can be adjusted from a smartphone app.
That control extends to brightness, colour and timing - you can set your lights to come on at preset times, or when you approach or leave the home, and even entirely remotely over the internet when you're miles away.
With the system set up, you can have three bulbs in the same room or set in different rooms, although many of the preset lighting schemes use complementary colours so work best with the three bulbs in view together.
With a little exploration of its possibilities, and some of your own creativity to blend it with your home and lifestyle, it will literally light up your life.
Best smart light: LIFX
LIFX makes a range of Wi-Fi-enabled LED bulbs which are controlled via an app on your smartphone. There are multicolour and while bulbs availablein both E27 and bayonet fittings. The new Color 1000 is smaller than the Original lamp yet has the same very bright 1055 lumen output - roughly equivalent to a 75W incadescent lamp.
LIFX bulbs are reasonably expensive, with a single bulb costing from £59.99 at Amazon UK, but you can get bulk discounts if you buy direct from LIFX. Shipping is a flat rate of $20 but you'll save around £60 in total if you buy four at once.
Many will find it worth the outlay, as the bulbs offer excellent light quality, whether colour or shades of white. We particularly like the fact that the app separates whites and colours and you can adjust the color temperature to minic natural light at different times of day. If you have more than one bulb you can group them and either synchronise the colour and brightness, or use one of the 'themes' which sets their colours and brightness independently. Themes make it fast to set mood lighting: tap on Focussing and you'll get a mainly bright white light, while dream turns your room into dim greens and blues. LIFX says you need four bulbs in a room to make it really come alive, but we found that just two was enough for a larger than average living room.
Grouping lights also makes it easier to control the bulbs from an Apple Watch or Android Wear device. On the Apple Watch you can only turn them on, off and adjust brightness: it isn't possible to change the colour, unfortunately.
You can control the lights at home or remotely via the app, and you can also set up integration with other devices such as your Nest thermostat, Amazon Echo and it also supports IFTTT. The latter means you can get the lights to turn on automatically when you arrive home, and turn off if you leave as well as plenty of fun things such as making them flash blue when you are mentioned on Facebook, for example.
You can also schedule the lights to turn on (or fade on) at certain times - you just create a new 'scene' with your chosen your colour and brightness.
LIFX claims each bulb lasts 27 years and offers a two-year warranty.
Best smart light: Elgato Avea
The Elgato Avea costs £35 per bulb from Amazon UK.
It might look fairly ordinary, but the Avea is a smart LED bulb you can control with your iPad or iPhone (Android is not currently supported). In fact, you can control up to 10 of them from a single iDevice, creating different mood lighting for every room in the house.
This 7W LED screw-fit bulb has a class A energy rating. You can set a static colour or choose from one of seven themes, which slowly flow through preset colours.
The Avea also functions as an alarm, turning on at a scheduled time. Rather than blinding you with light and forcing you to hide under the covers it'll gradually brighten just like a natural sunrise.
The Elgato Avea is a good and affordable buy if you want a single Smart LED bulb. You can add to the system too, but the app is a little basic for our liking and the lack of Android support is a shame.
Best smart light: Yeelight
Yeelight is a new company which was funded by Chinese phone giant Xiaomi. You can buy its smart light bulbs from Amazon, although the range available in the UK is smaller than in China. We tested out the Yeelight Lamp, which has its own dedicated app that's separate from the smart Bluetooth bulbs which use the Yeelight Blue app. Both the lamp and coloured bulbs, then, can only be controlled within Bluetooth range. For many people this is better than Wi-Fi as there's no setup, no account needed: you just scan, pair the lamp and start using it.
The Yeelight Lamp costs about £45 from Amazon. That's not bad value when you consider that some of the single bulbs here cost that much. It's well made and has an opaqe shade so you can't see any of the LEDs inside. Handily, you can control it using the two buttons on top, and you simply drag your finger around the circumference to increase or decrease brightness. It gives off a top-quality light (it claims to use Osram LED chips), whether you choose a shade of white or colour. It's not the brightest, but it's intended to be a bedside lamp, not to light a whole room. You can change the hue and brightness from the app as well as setting timers for it to turn off after a delay.
If you only need a white lamp, Yeelight also makes a Wi-Fi bulb with an E27 screw fitting which costs just £13.95 from Amazon. That's barely more expensive than many premium LED bulbs. (See our LED bulb buyer's guide.) This uses yet another app, but means you can control the bulbs remotely, should you need to. It's also not hugely bright at 610lm and the 4000K colour temperature is fixed and can't be adjusted, but these are dimmable. That means you can use them with a dimmer, but also you can dim them via the app.
Best smart light: Xiaomi Yeelight RGBW E27
Unlike the Bluetooth-based Yeelight bulbs, this Xiaomi Yeelight bulb - which suffers from confusing branding as it doesn't use a Yeelight app – uses Wi-Fi.
This brings a more complicated setup, but also allows you to control the bulb remotely. What’s more confusing is the sheer number of Xiaomi and Yeelight apps to choose between on the App Store. Once you’ve figured out that you need the Xiaomi Mi Home app, things get easier, although you do have to create a Xiaomi account and you can’t select the UK or even Europe as the region where you’ll use the lamp.
As for the bulb itself, it’s well made and looks stylish. The 600 lumen output isn’t the brightest, but it’s more than acceptable for the price. We’re not fans of the app which doesn’t allow you to choose a colour as precisely as some rivals, and there’s still some Chinese notification pop-ups, such as the one which tells you a firmware update is available: thank goodness for Google Translate.
A handy feature is the ability to set a default brightness and colour to use when the main light switch is turned off and back on again.
Thanks to both white and coloured LEDs, the lamp can produce good whites, from warm to cold, and a decent range of colours. However, as mentioned, the imprecise colour selection in the app means you can’t always get exactly the shade you want. But at around £20 per bulb from GearBest (which supplied the light for us to review), it’s a cheap option.
Best smart lightb: Belkin Wemo LED Lighting Starter Set
The Belkin Wemo Starter set costs £79 from Amazon UK.
Unlike other smart lightbulbs the Belkin Wemo doesn't change colour to suit your mood; it's meant simply as a direct replacement for existing 60W incandescent bulbs, or the energy saving fluorescent equivalent.
The kit includes two bulbs: you can choose between bayonet or Edison Screw varieties. Each is rated at 800 lumens, which may not be as bright as your old-school incandescent, but it's still impressive compared to many competing LED bulbs. You also get a Wemo Link in the pack, which acts as a bridge between the bulbs and your Wi-Fi router.
You create 'rules' for the lamps to work and these can be for them to turn on and off at sunset and sunrise, or at times you choose. They can be individually named and controlled, and you can even set a dimming period so the lamp fades in to your set brightness over a few minutes (or even up to 30 minutes). You can also define a sleep period, so the bulb will turn off after a set time, just like a TV or radio. We like the ability to dim the lights, too - and at set times.
The Wemo LED Lighting Starter Set is a good introduction to smart lighting. The app is easy to use and lacks only geo-fencing, and the Link plug has Wi-Fi so doesn't need to be connected directly to your router unlike Philips' hub. We'd like to see the price drop, but if you know you'll benefit from the smart aspects or have other Wemo sensors or gadgets, this is a good choice.
Best smart lightbulbs 2016: Olixar Light Beats Bluetooth Speaker Bulb
A single Bluetooth bulb costs £24.99 from MobileFun.
A Bluetooth speaker and a light bulb aren't things you would normally put together, but it's a combination that really works. Olixar's Light Beats Bluetooth Speaker Bulb is a very cool gadget, but not unique. Also see the MiPow Playbulb and Sengled Pulse below.
But we love it. The beauty of pairing light bulb and speaker is that, provided the light is turned on, the speaker is fired up and ready to go. There's no fiddling with buttons, and no need to charge the speaker or plug it into a wall outlet. You just grab your phone or tablet, connect to the Olixar Speaker Bulb over Bluetooth 4.0, and are instantly ready to blare out music, podcasts and audiobooks from the ceiling.
This high up, central position is ideal for rocking out audio without obstruction. Not that this 3W speaker is especially loud, but loud enough - about the right level to create a nice atmosphere and fill the room without annoying those in the flat or room upstairs.
The Olixar Light Beats Bluetooth Speaker Bulb is such a cool idea, really useful and a fantastic gift for that person who has everything. There are a couple of down sides, such as its ability to function only when the light is turned on and the fact the speaker will die with the LED, but it'll outlast any traditional bulb and it could even save you on your electricity bill.
Best smart lightbulbs 2016: 1byone Smart LED bulb
The 1byone Smart LED bulb costs £24.99 from Amazon UK.
Much like the MiPow Playbulb Color listed below, the 1byone Smart LED Bulb is an LED lightbulb with a built-in Bluetooth speaker. Unlike the Olixar above it will change colour as well as playing music.
We had issues with the poorly translated Chinese app, but once connected you can tap on the Lamp tab and control the colour and brightness. 300 lumens is roughly the output of a 20- or 30W halogen lamp so it's not bright enough to light a room.
It's intended more for mood lighting. Compared to a more expensive colour bulb such as Philips Hue or LIFX, and most dedicated white lamps the 'white' setting is very cold and bluish. There's no easy way to get a warm white hue, and even the oranges and yellows are quite weak in comparison to better quality bulbs.
To play music, just go to the Music tab where you'll find a long list of the music stored on your phone. While the speaker is reasonably loud and can fill an average-size living room, the quality isn't great. But that's probably not why you'd buy a colour-changing speaker bulb anyway - this thing is a great talking point.
Best smart lightbulbs 2016: Lava BrightSounds portable Bluetooth Speaker and Smart Lamp
Lava BrightSounds costs £39.99 from Amazon UK.
Smart lightbulbs are the latest addition to the smart home, but what about when you're away from home? We love this Lava BrightSounds smart lamp and portable Bluetooth speaker, and reckon it's one of the best gadgets you'll take camping this year.
Okay, so the Lava BrightSounds is not a mains-connected smart bulb like the other examples in this round-up. But it's dimmable, portable, waterproof, rechargeable, takes phone calls and plays music, and it does use an LED bulb, which makes it longer-lasting and more energy-efficient than traditional incandescent bulbs. All that makes this the smartest lamp we've ever seen. It'll also make a great addition to a kid's nightstand, able to allay their fears of the dark and play them lullabies as they gently fall asleep.
With a lithium-ion battery inside, this Bluetooth speaker and smart lamp can offer up to eight hours of music playback, or up to 10 hours use as a lamp, all off a three- to four-hour charge from empty. You can also use it while it's plugged into the mains.
We're pretty taken with the Lava BrightSounds. It won't appeal to everyone, but if you're planning a camping or festival trip, a BBQ party in the garden, or even just fancy a cool reading- or night light, this all-in-one Bluetooth speaker and LED lamp is worth a look.
Best smart lightbulbs 2016: What else is available? The best of the rest
We've not yet tested the following LED smart bulbs and smart lighting, but they are well worth a look.
Best smart lightbulbs 2016: Tabü Lümen
Tabü's Lümen is a Bluetooth 4.0- rather than Wi-Fi-connected bulb, which operates at up to 30ft via a mobile app for iOS and Android. You can control up to 10 of these smart bulbs from a single device, and the company claims each will last 30 times longer than a traditional bulb and use five times less power. Tabü Lümen lets you control colour and brightness, set a gentle wake-up alarm, and the Lümen will also notify you of incoming calls. Each bulb costs £44.95 from Amazon UK; Tabü also sells the LüMini and Lümen Strip.
Best smart lightbulbs 2016: Sengled Pulse
Pulse from Sengled is another Bluetooth speaker bulb like the Olixar Light Beats, but with a JBL multi-channel speaker within it is quite a bit more expensive - 179.99 Euro from Sengled, or £149.99 from Amazon UK. You do get a pair of bulbs for that price, however, and these JBL bulbs are dimmable.
Best smart lightbulbs 2016: MiPow PlayBulb
The third speaker bulb in this round-up, the MiPow Playbulb is a £59.99 Bluetooth 4.0 speaker bulb that can be controlled from your mobile device. It's also dimmable.
We've reviewed the Color edition of the PlayBulb (read our MiPow PlayBulb Color review), and right now you can scoop some fantastic savings over at GearBest.
Best smart lightbulbs 2016: Insteon LED bulbs
Insteon creates LED bulbs much like Belkin's Wemo that you can buy in the UK from Amazon for around £30 each. These bulbs are white only, but controlled by your phone and dimmable. Plus, Insteon sells a larger bulb for recessed lights.
Follow Marie Brewis on Twitter.