Best Smart Home Lights – Review of Philips Hue, LIFX and more

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If you going to start a Smart Home, the first area people look is Smart Lighting. Who makes the Best Smart Home Lights? Who should you start with?

There’s the heavy hitter (Philips Hue) along with up-and-comer, LIFX, and many more. Read my honest reviews of the best smart lighting you can buy below.

The best smart lights?

The best smart lights for your home? Philips Hue

The best smart home lights: what you need to know first

There are two main ways that Smart Lights work: ZigBee or Wifi. While almost everyone knows what WiFi is, ZigBee is a bit more obscure.

LIFX is the most popular smart light system that uses Wifi. This is just like any other device you’d connect to Wifi in your home. While this seems like a positive, it can actually be a negative. Here’s why: in congested areas like residential areas, or even worse, condos, Wifi is very congested. This can lead to unpredictable controls and behavior in your smart lighting system.

ZigBee is a bit more reliable than Wifi for smart lighting. Here why: it uses a different part of the spectrum than wifi. This means that you’re less likely to have congestion around your smart lights. Also, ZigBee uses a mesh network with each device. So, the more devices you have, the more reliable (and more distance you can cover). Philips Hue is the big dog in the ZigBee Lighting area.

The best smart lights: how I picked

I’ve tried out every major brand of Smart Lighting you can imagine. From the standard (and by standard I mean simply on/off/dim controls) GE Link light bulbs, Cree Connected and Osram bulbs to more advanced systems like LIFX. What ended up being the most important to me was simple: reliability. I wanted lights that never disconnected and always worked when they were supposed to.

This wasn’t as easy as it sounds, unfortunately. Which brings me to the winner of the Best Smart Home Lights…

The Best Smart Home Lights: Philips Hue

Best Smart Lights? Philips Hue

Best Smart Lights? Philips Hue

Philips Hue is my hands-down winner in the smart lighting category. They are more expensive, but they are incredibly reliable. This works with Wink and Amazon Alexa perfectly. I actually don’t use the Philips Hue app as much because it isn’t as easy to use. As mentioned in my Smart Home Start Guide, I really don’t need the app with all of the Robots and Shortcuts set up.

As I mentioned, Philips Hue operates on the ZigBee spectrum, creating a mesh network of devices. I’ve got 49 Philips Hue devices right now in my home and they are all operating perfectly. I’ve got a couple of non-Philips Hue lights (outside and in the basement, for example) and it seems like 1 or 2 of them is always offline. While this may seem like not a big deal, it really is. Having a reliable Smart Lighting System is one of my most important aspects of any smart home.

Philips Hue also has a full eco-system of products. From the standard, full-color A19 (the size of the common standard American light bulb socket) Light Bulb:

Best Smart Light – Philips Hue

To BR30 Lights (over-head, recessed lighting):

Best Smart Lights

Best Smart Lights – BR30

Down to accessories, like the Philips Hue Remote/Wall Switch:

Read some other best buttons and remotes for smart home devices.

My favorite is the Philips Hue Motion Sensor:

Why Philips Hue is the best Smart Light – great accessories.

All this together makes for an incredibly powerful set up for your smart lighting system.

The only downsides of the Philips Hue Smart Lighting System are:

  1. Price. All Smart Lights are expensive. However, here’s where I’ve found the best deal on a three-pack.
  2. Philips Hue Requires its own hub. It’s not ideal, but it’s part of what makes Philips Hue the best smart lighting out there. You do need a hub that you can plug into your wireless router.

Best Smart Lights: My Suggestions

I have mostly Philips Hue light bulbs and the Philips Hue hub.

I have some GE Link light bulbs (both BR30 and standard size), Cree Connected and some Osram RGB bulbs. If I had to do it over again, I would buy all Hue light bulbs.  I would, however, get more tunable Hue bulbs, not RGB. The tunable Hue bulbs allow you to only change the color “warmth” – from a “cold” white to a “warm” white – which is what I mostly use the RGB bulbs for. They are also a lot cheaper!

I use the GE Link Light Bulbs outside (on my front porch overhand), as I don’t care if they are ruined. They are just a simple warm white, which works really good. If you need some cheap lights without color, these are good ones to get for outside. So far, no problem with them. I just don’t love them for inside.

I also just got these Osram RGB Garden Spots for the front lawn. They are BRIGHT! I’ll post some photos soon. So far, these work really well with my schedules set up to light up the outside at night.

Best Smart Lights: What else I tried

I also tried LIFX Bulbs before ultimately settling on Hue. I was able to trade someone online for the bulbs, which was nice. There is a good trading post/used forum on Facebook for home automation products. As I mentioned, there can be a ton of interference with Wifi signals, especially in a close neighborhood or even worse – an apartment/condo. I had Fiber internet installed in my home and was getting 3-4 MBPS (when I was paying for 1,000!) over WiFi. That’s why I bought the Google OnHub, which has several antennas that send signals at 2.4 Ghz and 5 Ghz. Not to get too technical, but the 5 Ghz band is much less crowded. Google OnHub can then send different signals to different devices automatically based on what needs the bandwidth. You can also set priority devices.

The LIFX bulbs were my favorite in terms of color reproduction and brightness. If that’s important to you, and you only need a couple – LIFX may be a good solution.

What about LIFX? Should you look at LIFX?

What about LIFX? Should you look at LIFX?

Long story, short, the more WiFi-dependent devices you have, the more interference and competition for the same signal. LIFX wasn’t as consistently responsive on my network, so I made the change. However, I preferred the actual light bulb and app over Philip’s hue. I just didn’t want another 30+ devices on my WiFi network. Some people don’t like the added Hub, but I think it’s worth it.

LIFX also just debuted the LIFX+, I don’t have any need for it but it also adds the ability for infrared (invisible) light for use with your security cameras. This is the latest generation LIFX and I haven’t heard anything bad about the new LIFX+ lights.

Pros and Cons

One of the biggest pros of any Smart Light is that they are LED! LEDs last a long time (typically 50,000 hours vs. 1,200 hours for incandescent lights). They also are (usually) cool to the touch. The best news, they use a LOT less power. LEDs use about 6-8 Watts. Incandescent lights use about 10 times that amount, typically around 60 Watts! That’s a huge difference. You don’t need to worry about having a couple extra lights on. Some municipalities will also give you rebates for buying LEDs. You’ll save money and have full control over your smart lights.

Here’ aresome of the Pros and Cons of each Smart LED Lights

Philips Hue Uses unique frequency. Most reliable. 3rd-party apps available. HomeKit compatible. Price. Official app isn’t great. Doesn’t respond to Wink commands as quickly as other lights.
LIFX Brightest, best colors of any of the lights. Great official app. Cheaper than Hue. Uses WiFi. No native Wink integration.
GE Link Cheap. Very responsive with Wink. Unreliable. Have had to reset same lights over and over.
Osram RGB Cheaper than Hue. Native Wink support. Unresponsive. Unreliable. Official app doesn’t work unless you get an Osram hub (then it doesn’t work with Wink). Weird effect when changing colors.
Cree Connected Similar to GE Link. Cheap. Responsive. My least favorite of all the lights. I’ve had reliability issues and the reset process is difficult (To reset: 2 seconds off, 1 second on…really?!).

Remember how I didn’t want to have to use my phone? In addition to the GoControl motion sensors, I have the Lutron Connected Lightbulb Remote. This lightbulb allows me to assign shortcuts to buttons on the remote. See my current set up below:

My Lutron Connected Bulb Remote setup in Wink

My Lutron Connected Bulb Remote setup in Wink

I also use motion sensors a lot! Check out my quick start guide to a smart home where I talk about some of the short cuts that I use and robots that I use. You can also get the Philips Tap to act like a light switch.

I also use Amazon Alexa a lot to control the lights. You can set up groups (the Amazon Alexa app even has a section devoted to smart home devices) to tell Alexa, “Turn Downstairs On.” She will then turn on all the lights in the downstairs group. You can also use IFTTT to tell Alexa to Wink trigger shortcuts. There are some other apps that I haven’t used very much that allow you to do similar functions (Yonomi and Stringify are the front-runners here).

The Downside of Smart Lights

Here’s the biggest issue with Smart Lights: light switches. You’ll have to train your family (and guests) to not use the light switches. I know that sounds really silly, but in order for the lights to work, they need to be powered “on” all the time. This allows the hub to communicate to the light, even when the light itself is off. This was easy for my wife and I since we moved into a new house and the switches were really confusing.

Are there any other options? Sure – you could do a smart light switch AND a light, but that’s a bit overkill. If you just want simple on-off functionality, you could simply buy a smart switch. I’ve played around with them, but I greatly prefer the Smart Light option. One option that I wish I knew about before was a micro, in-wall controller like this bad boy. It fits snug within your existing switch and it acts like a toggle. If you flip the switch up isn’t always on, it just changes it from the previous state. If it was on before, it would turn it off. This is really nice to use with a setup like Wink. It allows you to control via an app (and Robots and Schedules) without telling people to not touch the switches.

What about power usage? I can’t find the article right now, but somewhere I read that a single LED light that is not turned on but is powered on, will use the same amount of energy in 1 YEAR in that state than a standard light bulb uses in 2 MINUTES! So, don’t worry about power usage.

The great news is that if you don’t have your system fine-tuned to where you don’t need an app and someone needs a light on, you can simply switch the switch off then on again. The light will come back on. All the lights I’ve used will come back on. At what state they come back on is a different story. If your light was previously a green color, for example, LIFX is the only one that will remember that previous state. Philips Hue and most other lights will simply turn to a warm white color (I hate the color but the light works!).

I chose not to review any Bluetooth lights simply because of range.

Bottom Line

It all depends on what you are looking for. What Hub do you need to sync with? What’s your budget? If budget is no issue, I’d recommend that Philips Hue system. It works with Wink and SmartThings. It’s not perfect, but constantly being updated. Even better, if you want to change only color warmth, Philips offers a cheaper version that doesn’t produce all the crazy colors but different levels of “cool” and “warm” light.

What do you think? What lights do you enjoy?

See also:

The Best Cheap Smart Lights

Coming soon: Best Wink Lights


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