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10 best smart light bulbs: Control with an app on your phone

David Phelan
·10-min read
From colour-changing systems to bulbs you can control wherever you are, your living space will never be the same
From colour-changing systems to bulbs you can control wherever you are, your living space will never be the same

Smart lighting used to be the preserve of the wealthy, costing a fortune for a custom install of deluxe equipment. Once it was in, there was often no room to grow the system.

All that has changed, with smart lights costing much less and being easily fitted.

In most cases, there’s no installation required, other than screwing in the bulb and launching the relevant smartphone or tablet app or connecting the bulb to your smart home system.

And there’s almost always easy flexibility so you can add to the set-up whenever you like.

When integrated with a smart home system like Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant, you can schedule the lights to come on when you arrive on the doorstep in the dark or imitate your presence with lights switching on when you’re out.

Some smart lights can change colour, so you can set a mood that’s energising in the morning, and adjust to help you concentrate in the afternoon and relax in the evening.

We’ve tested for effectiveness of lighting, ease of use, value for money and simplicity of set up.

In most cases, bulbs are available in both screw fit (E27) and bayonet (B22) or offer an adaptor from one to the other. And some bulbs come with other fittings, such as the smaller GU10.

Wattage on LEDs is different from conventional wattage, so we’ve listed the LED and equivalent conventional wattage to give an indication of brightness.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world and expert advice. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.

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Philips hue white and colour ambience starter kit E27

Brightness: LED 9w, equivalent to conventional 60w, 800 lumens
Smart hub required? Included
Compatibility: Hue app, Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant

Philips knows pretty much all there is to know about lighting, including and how to illuminate a room in different colours or adapt to different situations. It makes a lot of different hue lights and you’ll see a few of them here because they’re that good. If you only need your bulbs to light up in white, you can choose a cheaper starter kit, but the ambiance kit has a wide colour spectrum, (there are 16 million). There’s also a white ambience option, where the bulb can vary between cool and warm white shades. Along with two bulbs, a hue bridge is included which attaches to your broadband router. There’s also a battery-powered dimmer switch, which is a handy addition so any family member who doesn’t have a smartphone or hasn’t embraced smart lighting so can still turn the lights off.

Buy now £129.99, Philips

LIFX A60 wifi smart LED light

Brightness: LED 11w, equivalent to conventional 70w, 1100 lumens
Smart hub required? No
Compatibility: LIFX app, Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant

The LIFX range is superbly simple to use and for extra convenience, it works without a hub. The bulbs are also stylishly designed, so you may feel that they don't need to hide under a lampshade. The LIFX app has a colour wheel so you can choose the hue and then adjust the brightness from 100 per cent down to nothing. This isn’t to say the light it emits is more fairground – it is a warm and pleasant light, whichever colour you choose.

Buy now £54.99, Amazon

Sengled element dimmable LED

Brightness: LED 9w equivalent to conventional 60w, 800 lumens
Smart hub required? Included
Compatibility: Sengled app, Alexa, Google Assistant

This is a great budget option: two bulbs and a hub for much less than the Philips hue kit. But these are only available in a basic white, don’t change colour and the build quality is no match for Philips. Once you’ve bought the starter kit with its hub, the bulbs are very affordable – £13 each – so you can add more around the house over time. The Sengled app lets you schedule times for the lights to go on and off and can control up to 64 bulbs.

Buy now £22.47, Amazon

Hive active light dimmable

Brightness: LED 9.5w equivalent to conventional 60w, 800 lumens
Smart hub required? Yes, sold separately
Compatibility: Hive app

If you are already invested in the Hive ecosystem – the company also makes smart plugs, motion sensors, a thermostat and more – then this is a good choice as everything can be controlled by the same app. Not to mention the same hub, which is available in two versions – the Hive hub costs £80 and looks humdrum, the other, called Hub 360, costs £99, looks stylish and has a microphone to listen out for noises like a smoke alarm or a window being smashed so it can alert you. As with the Phillips products, there are many different Hive bulbs, coming in different sizes and colour capabilities.

Buy now £19.00, Hive

LFX mini

Brightness: LED 9w equivalent to conventional 60w, 800 lumens
​Smart hub required? No
Compatibility: LIFX app, Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant

It won’t surprise you to learn that this bulb is similar to the LIFX above but smaller. It has a different shape – it’s rounded like a traditional bulb instead of sporting a flat top – and looks cute. Coming in various versions, this is the multicolour model but there’s also plain white or day and dusk, which cleverly change white tones as the day hurtles by.

Buy now £35.99, Amazon

LIFX + A60

Brightness: LED 11w equivalent to conventional 70w, 1100 lumens
Smart hub required? No
Compatibility: LIFX app, Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant

It looks pretty much like the basic LIFX, but it has a clever extra: it can help an infrared-enabled security camera to see better in the dark, whether that’s simply seeing further outside or improving the vision in a dark corridor, for example. In other respects, it matches the regular LIFX bulb in terms of millions of colours being available, scheduled on and off capabilities and the simplicity of not needing a separate hub, just the bulb.

Buy now £54.99, Amazon

Philips hue lightstrip outdoor

Brightness: LED 19w, variable lumens
Smart hub required? Sold separately
Compatibility: Hue app, Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant

This light strip is very versatile, so you can use it to mark your pathway or glow from the wall of your house. Some strips from other brands need to be hidden as looking directly at the strip shows the constituent colours. Here, the colours are mixed inside so you see a uniform single colour when you look at it. Of course, it’s capable of millions of colours, changing dynamically, if you wish, plus the other hue features, such as voice control if you have a compatible smart speaker. It’s two metres long but a five-metre version (£149.99) will also be available soon.

Buy now £79.99, Philips

Philips hue appear outdoor wall light

Brightness: LED 8w equivalent to conventional 50w, 1200 lumens
Smart hub required? Sold separately
Compatibility: Hue app, Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant

The black metal exterior makes this a handsome outside wall light that is perfect for the garden or drive, even more so as it's weather-resistant. You can set it to recognise when you’re arriving home and light automatically, which it does by recognising your smartphone. The light shines both upwards and downwards. As this is a colour bulb, you can change how it looks at the tap of the app.

Buy now £129.99, Philips

Nanoleaf canvas

Brightness: Conventional 60w
Smart hub required? N/A
​Compatibility: Alexa, Google Assistant

Original triangular light tiles and these canvas square ones came before the hexagonal Nanoleaf shapes. The tiles are 5.9in square, with touch-sensitive surfaces that even let you play whack-a-mole type games by tapping individual tiles. You can set up animations, or it can respond to a musical beat. The smarter kit, as it’s called, includes nine light squares, one of which is the control square for the other eight. There are also sets designed to be hung on the wall in particular ways.

Buy now £179.99, Nanoleaf

Nanoleaf shapes

Brightness: Conventional 60w, 100 lumens per panel
Smart hub required? N/A
Compatibility: Alexa, Google Assistant

Nanoleaf is something different. It’s a modular system where individual hexagonal panels (each measuring about 9inx8in) are attached together to make a wall (or even the ceiling) a large flat light. You attach the panels with the supplied double-sided tape or with screws. The panels can change colour or even follow pre-determined patterns of light change. They respond to touch and even to music – they can chase the rhythm of the song you’re playing. You can choose between kits with nine, 15 or 21 panels. Join the waiting list to get notified for when it’ll next be in stock.

Buy now £179.99, Nanoleaf

Smart lighting FAQs

What’s the benefit of smart lighting?

There are lots of uses for smart lights, such as being easily controlled from your smartphone or tablet. If this makes you think of someone so lazy, they can’t cross a room to turn a switch, that’s not the point at all. It means you can control the lights in your home one at a time or in a group from wherever you are. So, you can turn on a light as a security deterrent even if you only remember when you’ve arrived at your holiday destination. Or if the light you want to turn on is at the far side of a room, you don’t need to stumble across in darkness to reach the switch, just shout and let a virtual personal assistant turn it on.

Do I need extra equipment?

In some cases, extra equipment is required. Some light bulbs need their own hub that they connect to wirelessly, others link directly to your phone. Some smart speakers have a home hub built in, like the Amazon echo plus.

What are some of the more advanced features?

Smart homes are about more than just smart lighting. You can integrate multiple effects into the tap of an app or voice command. For instance, it’s easy with a hub like the Apple homepod to set up a scene so that when you say, “Hey Siri, it’s movie night”, the system dims the lights, closes the blinds and turns the Apple TV set-top box on.

Many bulbs can change the colour of their light output, so you can change the ambience of the room in an instant. Some lights have speakers built in, so you can have music playback at the same time.

What smart systems will smart lights work with?

Every smart light has its own app to control the effects it creates. Additionally, many have integration with the main smart home platforms: Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s Assistant and Apple’s Siri. So, with the right command you can control everything just with your voice.

How long do the bulbs last?

Typically, lifespans of 25,000 hours are quoted, which means three hours’ use a day will see you through over 22 years.

The verdict: Smart lights

Philips is the brand to look for, with the most versatile and capable bulbs and a wide range of them. The Philips hue white and colour ambience starter kit is a great place to start. For something simpler, with no hub required, the LIFX range, such as the LIFX+ A60, is sensational and very easy. The shapes are unlike other bulbs, which certainly makes them eye-catching. Or, for something different, try the Nanoleaf wall light panels (either the shapes or canvas) which look tremendous.