One of the quickest and most effective ways to give your home a makeover is to upgrade your lighting. Not only can smart lighting provide a change in atmosphere, but it can streamline your lifestyle. You can schedule lighting to come on at preset times or control it by voice, phone app or even your smartwatch.
We’ve reviewed and rated products from simple, white, dimmable lights to smart lamps with additional functionality, like the Dyson Lightcycle, which adjusts its brightness in relation to your local daylight.
We can also recommend the most versatile and vibrant in colour-changing panels, if you want to incorporate mood lighting into your wall art.
And, if you read on below our round-up, we explain how ditching traditional incandescent bulbs for LED can be an advantage.
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Philips Hue Starter Kit
Philips Hue is one of the best-known smart lighting systems. The starter kit comes with three standard screw-fit lightbulbs that can be adjusted from a smartphone app, and a hub that connects to your router.
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 the 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. You can control up to 50 bulbs, which should be plenty even for the biggest homes.
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. And like LIFX, you can control your Hue bulbs with Amazon's Echo.
The latest Hue bulbs now even work without the hub, catching up to smart lighting rivals, though you'll still want the Hub to link them all together and unlock the full functionality.
Read our full Philips Hue review.
LIFX makes a range of Wi-Fi LED bulbs which are controlled via the excellent app on your smartphone. There are colour (including white) and dedicated while bulbs available in both E27 and bayonet fittings.
The Generation 3 lamp outputs 1,100 lumens, and the LIFX + is the same but also incorporates infrared LEDs that shine at night to light up the room for your security cameras.
LIFX bulbs are expensive - their main drawback - with a single Generation 3 costing £59.99 at Amazon / US$59.99, but you can get small discounts if you buy in bulk direct from LIFX. The latest LIFX + bulb costs £79.99 from Amazon. The fact no hub is needed means you save money compared to other systems such as Hive and Philips Hue.
Many will find the bulbs worth the outlay, as they offer excellent light quality, whether colour or shades of white, and note that the colour bulbs also do the full range of white shades.
We particularly like the fact that the app separates whites and colours and you can adjust the colour temperature to mimic 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.
Grouping lights also makes it easier to control the bulbs from Alexa, the Google Assistant or (if you choose HomeKit enabled models) Siri.
LIFX also supports IFTTT so 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.
Lightwave Dimmer Switches
Lightwave is a smart lighting solution that's a bit different to the others in this round-up, since it requires you to replace your light switches rather than the light bulbs themselves. It's ideal for homes with multiple spotlights that would otherwise be incredibly expensive to individually replace, and also means that when one bulb blows you can just buy a regular replacement. Sadly, it's UK-only for now.
To set up Lightwave you need to purchase the £129.99 Link Plus hub, which manages your assorted Lightwave kit, and you can then add on as many or as few Lightwave devices as you like. Each light switch costs from around £60, but there are various versions - and you can save money by opting for the first generation models, which are functionally fairly similar.
The Web Link will also manage other smart home devices from the company - you can set up devices that control your hot water and individual room heating, motion detection, and the opening and closing of blinds or curtains. You can also install smart switches on your plug sockets that allow you to turn on and off power when required.
Lightwave has a companion app through which you can turn on and off the switches from your phone or tablet, and through which you can set up schedules or timers that are ideal if you are going on holiday.
Lightwave integrates with Google Assistant, Amazon Echo and Apple HomeKit devices, plus IFTTT.
The Cololight Pro is a decorative smart light, with a compact design that's easily customisable. Comprising small hexagonal panels, the light can be formed into different shapes and programmed into a wide range of solid colours, dynamic effects and customisable patterns.
The design isn't extremely robust - one knock and the whole construction can go tumbling. However, once you've got it in the shape you want, it can be a striking addition to any desk, end table or gaming setup. The Cololight can also be mounted onto the wall with an additional kit.
At £39.99/US$44.95 for the 3-pack starter version, and £79.99/US$74.99 for a 6-pack version, the Cololight undercuts lots of other similar products by quite a bit, and is a great product to start to experiment with if you're interested in arty lighting.
Nanoleaf Light Panels
The Nanoleaf Light Panels are something a little different: a set of connected, Wi-Fi enabled wall-mounted light panels that can be used to set a variety of different patterns and sequences.
The accompanying app allows you to set the colour of each of the panels independently (available in starter sets of four, nine, or 15), or set all the panels to cycle through a colour palette, using one of a few different flow patterns. You can also vary brightness and speed - right up to an epilepsy-threatening max.
Creative types can program their own palettes and effects to save to the system, while the less inspired can use the pre-installed selection, or download a few more within Nanoleaf's app. There's also IFTTT and Alexa support so you can control with your voice, use it as a light alarm, or set it to respond to various triggers.
Assembling the panels is astonishingly easy - they just click together, and you can expand the starter kits with three-panel expansion packs. They attach to the wall with double-sided scotch tape, included in the pack, so feel very sturdy when attached but shouldn't take too much work to take off the wall and move around.
The networking side of things is a little less reliable though - our panels have dropped from our Wi-Fi network a few times already, and occasionally refused to re-connect. We're hoping this aspect of the product improves, because when the set works, it's one of the most stylish smart lights around.
The Nanoleaf Canvas is a follow-up to the original triangular set. It consists of nine square LED panels that you can arrange as you like and mount on your walls in just about any configuration. Connecting and mounting the LED tiles is quick and easy, Wi-Fi signal is solid, and the app and smart assistant support are both easy to integrate, so you can quickly control the lights from your phone or with voice controls.
There's an optional mode to have the tiles change colour in response to music, although the rhythm support is fun but flawed, and very dependent on how close to your speakers you can get the panels. The system is also expensive, especially if you have ambitions to build a sprawling design with tens of panels. Finally, the ‘cross’ effect produced by the LEDs in the centre of the panels is a bit jarring, and detracts slightly from the overall visual.
Still, it’s great fun playing around with designs for different occasions or moods, and once you’ve set it up it’s a brilliant piece of interactive wall art that doubles as mood lighting.
LIFX's range also includes an LED strip called LIFX Z. The starter kit includes the power supply and separate small controller box, to which the strips connect. You get two 1m strips in the box, and additional strips (you can have 10 in total) cost £29.99/$29.99 each. There's also an expansion kit which comes with four strips, but this a little harder to find in stock.
What's impressive is how bright these strips are - much brighter than Osram Lightify or Philips Hue, and with far better colour reproduction than the cheap strips you can buy from, say, eBay. Plus, like other LIFX bulbs, they don't require a hub, so can work on their own as long as they're in Wi-Fi range. Plus, each strip supports 8 colour zones and you can either choose a 'theme' or 'paint' your own colours using the app.
Thanks to separate white LEDs, the strip also creates fantastic white light. You can choose from 2500-9000K, which is a huge range covering very warm white to cold bluish light.
The strips will adhere to most flat surfaces, are water resistant and bend vertically. However, it's awkward to make them go round corners or install in a bay window as they're not flexible horizontally along their length.
There’s no denying the sophisticated tech at play inside the stylish Dyson Lightcycle task light, but there’s also not getting away from the hefty price tag - £449/$599 for the desk version, and £649/$899 for the floor-standing model.
Using a unique time, date and location-driven algorithm, the Dyson Lightcycle adjusts its colour temperature and brightness in relation to your local daylight, providing the right light for the right time of day – no matter where you are in the world. (Dyson claims it used over a million satellite-based measurements of light conditions around the globe.)
As an occasional light, it doesn’t make much sense financially, but if it’s in use through the day for work or at either end of the day as you wake and prepare for sleep, then its value gets better for each of the 60 years that it promises to last. From a health point of view, it's equivalent to about a year of gym membership - and it should prove its worth by getting your body and mind back to natural light patterns.
It’s easy to set up and operate, and offers unrivalled brightness, dimming and colour-temperature controls.
Read our full Dyson Lightcycle review.
Hive Active Light
Hive lights require a Hive Hub. You can get the starter kit if you don't already have a Hive Hub, but if you already have Hive Active Heating installed in your home then you can start adding smart lighting from just £15/US$17.99.
The Hive Active Light Colour bulb is an easy and smart way to introduce lighting into your smart home environment, but is more expensive than the Cool to Warm White bulb, so the latter is easy to recommend, as being able to change the colour temperature of the white light is a very handy feature.
If you just want a fixed white that's dimmable, there's an even cheaper bulb that costs £19 / US$17.99, or in the UK costs £49 for a pack of three. Just note that they're not compatible with dimmer switches: brightness is adjusted via the app.
Now, too, those white bulbs come in GU10 spotlight form again in both dimmable (£15) and Cool to Warm (£19) and get cheaper the more you buy. These aren't yet on sale in the US, however. With a 350-lumen output, each GU10 is roughly equivalent to a 35W halogen version, but uses just under 5W at full brightness.
Beam is 'feature lighting' rather than being designed to light up a whole room. It's a lot like LIFX's Z kit, but instead of flexible LED strips, you get six plastic 'beams' which stick to your wall and join together using magnets.
As well as whites and colours you can choose themes or paint your own selection of colours along the length of the Beam kit, then you can animate those colours with various effects.
There's integration with Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri (plus HomeKit) as well as IFTTT. And like other LIFX lights, this one supports Day & Dusk which emulates natural light through the day.
Read our full LIFX Beam review.
Elgato Avea Flare
The Elgato Avea Flare is a smart LED lamp you can control with your iPad, iPhone, or Android device. You can control up to 10 of them from your phone, creating different mood lighting for every room in the house.
You can set a static colour or choose from one of several 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 lamp. You can add to the system too, but the app is a little basic for our liking.
Read our full Avea review.
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 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 to turn on and off at sunset and sunrise, or at other times you choose. They can be individually named and controlled, and you can even set a dimming period so the lamp fades into 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.
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.
Read our full Belkin Wemo LED review.
Smart lightbulbs may be 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 uses 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, to allay their fears of the dark and play them lullabies as they 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.
Read our full Lava BrightSounds review.
Smart light buying guide
Smart lighting is undeniably cool. Bulbs can create different mood lighting for 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 function as an alarm, gently waking you in the morning.
With growing support for smart speakers like the Amazon Echo or Google Home, you can use voice control to turn smart lights on or off, dim them, or change their colour - the sort of brilliant smart home feature that is entirely unnecessary but spectacular fun once you have it set up.
Smart lights come with different fittings, including the bayonet type as well as E27 screw (and some come with adapters to fit both), although it's harder to find smart bulbs that use the common GU10 spotlight fitting - and expensive to fit out a full range of spotlights.
All smart lights (certainly all those we've seen) use LEDs. Some key benefits to using LED rather than incandescent bulbs are that they use less energy, produce less heat, and last much longer.
But there are some downsides, 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 see a return on your investment and enjoy some savings?
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.