We’ve come a long way since we first looked at smart bulbs back in 2015, but there’s one thing that hasn’t changed. If you want the best smart bulb for your money, then you should get the Philips Hue White and Color Ambiance Starter Kit (available at Amazon).
If this is your first time using these popular smart home accessories, there are a few things you should know about smart bulbs. For starters, a smart bulb goes way beyond picking whatever is cheapest at your local hardware store. Depending on which smart bulb you buy, you’ll be able to do things like set timers, change the temperature of the bulb (from a warm yellow to a cool blue/white), change the light of the bulb to any color of the rainbow, and even control them through your Amazon Echo or Google Home.
We tested 14 smart bulbs (or nearly 30 if you count the bulbs from our initial roundup back in 2015) and used them side-by-side to compare usability, responsiveness, and ease of setup. Keep reading for a closer look at our favorite smart bulbs on the market today.
Philips Hue White and Color Ambiance Starter Kit (Gen 3)
Where To BuyClick for price Amazon Buy $184.33 Walmart Buy $159.99 Target Buy $114.99 TechRabbit Buy
Across the board, the Philips Hue smart bulbs topped all of our tests thanks to an easy setup, a robust suite of features, and an intuitive app. Additional support with smart assistants like Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri add tremendous benefit to an already impressive portfolio. Once you throw in the additional rainbow of possible light colors, these are without a doubt the best smart bulbs you can buy.
The only downside is that unlike some other smart bulbs, the Hue bulbs do require a hub in order to work. Additional hardware isn’t usually a strong point, but it’s a small price to pay for the sheer performance and reliability the Hue bulbs offer—especially if you opt for the Starter Kit that comes packaged with the hub.
Philips also continues to sell its second-gen starter kit, which was our previous Best Overall pick. It lists at $179.99, with the only difference being that the third-gen kit comes with "richer color" bulbs.
- Additional Hue White and Color Ambiance bulbs - $49.99 at Amazon.
C-Sleep by GE
GE overhauled its smart lighting strategy with a brand new line of simple smart bulbs called C by GE, and the company promises a wider range of features (like remote control) sometime in the near future. As it stands, though, the C-Sleep was the best bulb for white light when it came to being… well, a light bulb.
Unlike the others, which rely on WiFi and/or hubs, the C by GE smart bulbs work via Bluetooth. Unfortunately, that means you won’t be able to control your lights unless you’re within range (a potential problem if you have a particularly large home or want to control them remotely.) Likewise, if you’re looking for a bulb that will work with a smart speaker, you’ll have to take a bit of a gamble. Until the C-Reach smart bridge is released, there’s no telling how well (or how poorly) it will work.
On the bright side, the C-Sleep has a nifty feature that automatically adjusts the color temperature based on the time of day. It will glow a warmer yellow light in the evening to help you fall asleep and a cool white/blue light in the morning to help you start the day. While we don't have any scientific proof as to whether or not the bulb can help with your sleep cycle, it's certainly a nice touch that helped it score high in our rankings.
What to Know About Smart Bulbs
After spending a few years testing and writing about smart bulbs, we've learned a few things that can help you decide which smart bulb to buy, and what to expect from your purchase. Switching from regular light bulbs to smart bulbs may be a bit of a hassle upfront (and a price increase), but once everything is set up, the bulbs are easy to control and there are so many benefits to how you can customize your home’s lighting.
Setting up a smart bulb goes a bit beyond simply screwing the light bulbt into a socket and calling it a day. Now, there's the question of whether or not it needs a "hub," works via Bluetooth, or can function on your WiFi network alone. Smart bulbs that work with a hub are most common. Once you've set up a hub, you'll go through an in-app setup process to identify your bulbs, assign them to rooms, and give you full control over their features.
Smart bulbs can do much more than turn your lights on or off via your phone or a smart speaker. Smart bulbs can control brightness, adjust color temperature (a cool blue/white light to a warm yellow), and change the light to any color in the rainbow.
Outside of color and brightness, most smart bulbs will have additional options for creating scenes or setting schedules. Scenes are pre-existing or custom settings of color and brightness that you can easily select—making it a snap to change your room from a bright white light to a soothing dim blue that's easier on the eyes. Schedules are exactly what it sounds like. You can set your bulbs to automatically adjust based on time of day, alarms in the morning, or even changes in your location, such as turning lights off/on as you leave or come home from work.
Most of the smart bulbs we tested are compatible with Amazon Alexa, Google Home, Apple HomeKit and Samsung SmartThings—just make sure to double check so you're not buying an outlier.
Other Smart Bulbs We Tested
TP-Link LB100 Smart Bulb
If you’re a little wary of delving into smart bulbs, then your best bet is to go for something that’s a little more affordable. You’ll also want something easy to use and gives you a good idea of what it's like to use smart bulbs.
The TP-Link LB100 checks off each of these boxes and does it with style. For around $20 a bulb, you can try out smart lighting in your own home. You won’t be able to adjust the color of the bulb at all, but there's still plenty else you can do. Dimming the bulb, setting a schedule, and creating scenes are all things that are possible with the TP-Link—and you don’t even need a hub. Our only gripe with this budget pick is how long it took for commands from the app to register on the bulb itself, but it really was only an issue when it came to dimming. Even still, $20 is a small price to pay for such an affordable smart bulb.
C-Life by GE
The alternative to the C-Sleep mentioned above, the C-Life doesn't have the same automatic light cycle as the C-Sleep, but still aced our tests thanks to its easy setup and intuitive controls. Much like the C-Sleep, compatibility with smart speakers isn't available until the C-Reach bridge is released and the bulbs are likewise limited to Bluetooth only.
If you're not worried about remote control and like the idea of a smart bulb that's incredibly easy to use, the C-Life by GE is a clear winner.
Philips Hue White Ambiance Starter Kit
Each of the Philips Hue smart bulbs has a near identical app experience and setting up each of the bulbs was about as flawless and painless as it could be. The only real difference in each kit lies in the level of control you get over each type of bulb.
The Philips Hue White Ambiance bulb lets you adjust the color temperature of the bulb. That means you can adjust the light through a range of warm yellow and cool blue/white colors. There are also four default “recipes” that alter the light based on whether you’re relaxing, reading, concentrating, or looking to get energized. If you don’t need a bunch of flashy, vivid colors, the White Ambiance is a great runner up that gives you some white color options without paying for the premium package.
- Additional Hue White Ambiance bulbs - $27.99 at Amazon.
Philips Hue White Starter Kit
While the White and Color Ambiance and the White Ambiance smart bulbs topped our charts, the standard White bulb came in a little lower on our list. While the app and setup were identical to the higher ranking Hue bulbs, the lack of features or control left us a little disappointed.
You’ll still be able to set a schedule, control them remotely, and dim them (the same as the other Philips Hue bulbs), but that's about it. The Hue White bulbs are the definition of a regular bulb that’s gotten only the barest bit of smart features, which is reflected in the starter kit's low price. While that might be all some people are looking for, in a roundup of the best smart bulbs, it just doesn’t compare.
- Additional Hue White bulbs (two-pack) - $29.99 at Amazon.
Sengled Element Plus Kit
The Sengled bulbs, like most of the others on this list, are exceptional smart bulbs that offer a variety of excellent features. The Element Plus kit includes a tunable bulb that will let you adjust the color temperature of the bulb from a warm yellow to a cool white. Unfortunately, the only platform it's compatible with is Amazon's Alexa. While that's great news for Echo owners, you're out of luck if you'd prefer Google Home or Apple HomeKit.
Sengled also includes a nice touch by promising to plant one tree per bulb that's setup—with more promotions coming soon. While it shouldn't be the deciding factor when it comes to choosing the smart bulb that's right for you, it'll certainly make you feel good.
- Additional Sengled Element Plus bulbs - $14.99 at Amazon
Sengled Element Classic Kit
In terms of features and setup, the Element Classic Kit is nearly identical to the slightly more expensive Element Plus Kit. The only real difference is that the Element Classic bulb is not tunable and you'll only be able to control brightness. At around $35, this kit is an absolute steal if you're just looking for a reliable smart bulb that isn't bogged down with extraneous features.
- Additional Sengled Element Classic bulbs - $8.99 at Amazon
Ikea Tradfri Gateway Kit
Where To Buy$79.99 Ikea Buy
The smart bulbs from Ikea are cut from a slightly different mold than the others that appear on this list. In addition to using your phone to control the bulbs, you can also pair them with one of the remotes Ikea offers. There's a small disc remote for dimming that's about the size of a half dollar, or a larger disc remote that's more akin to a hockey puck. Through the latter, you can control brightness and color temperature, as well as turn the bulbs on or off.
While the remotes are definitely a different take on the smart bulb concept, I found them a little awkward to handle. Smart home tech is all about simplifying your life and making it more convenient. A remote that can easily be lost in couch cushions or misplaced around the house is pretty much the opposite of that.
Still, the Ikea bulbs worked like a charm when it came to responsiveness and handling different brightness settings. They're a solid choice if you're not a fan of the others on our list.
Editor's Note: Compatability with Google Home, Apple HomeKit, and Amazon Alexa is coming soon, and as soon as it does we'll test our review unit and take another look at our rankings.
Additional Ikea Tradfri bulbs:
LIFX + A19 Night Vision
The LIFX + A19 Night Vision adds something either totally amazing and applicable to you, or nothing at all. Nearly identical to the LIFX A19, this model features the addition of infrared light. What does that mean? Well, when the bulb is turned off via the app, it'll emit infrared light that's meant to enhance any night vision used by your security cameras. It worked brilliantly during our tests, but ultimately won't matter much if your home isn't equipped with night vision security cameras.
The LIFX A19 had everything I was looking for in a smart bulb. It doesn't require a hub, isn't prohibitively expensive, offers color changing, and works with nearly every platform. Setup on an iPhone worked like a charm, I was able to breeze through each step and run my tests without issue. Unfortunately, my normal day-to-day phone is an Android phone. Trying to setup the LIFX bulbs on an Android phone was frustrating, confusing, and downright maddening. Even with the help of a coworker, it took way too long and required too much hassle.
While I was finally able to get the bulbs connected and run through the rest of my tests, I'd recommend a different bulb if you own an Android phone. You should only have to go through the setup process once with each of your bulbs, but it'll be enough to turn you away from smart bulbs altogether if you decide to give it a go.
TP-Link LB120 Tunable White Light Bulb
The LB120 is nearly identical to the LB100 we chose as our Best Value pick. The only difference is that you're able to change the temperature of the bulb from a warm yellow to a cool blue/white light. It might not seem like much, but having even that amount of customization in your lights can go a long way—especially when paired with the ability to dim the lights for the time of day.
Like the other TP-Link smart bulbs though, the LB120 was disappointing in how responsive the lights were to commands from the app. While on/off worked like a charm, dimming or changing the temperature noticeably took a few seconds longer than we would have liked to see.
TP-Link LB130 Color Changing Bulb
Another entry in the realm of affordable smart bulbs is the TP-Link LB130. For a mere $40 you can get a bulb that doesn't require a hub, can cycle through the full-color spectrum, and is easy to setup. So why didn't it earn top marks? Well, like the other bulbs from TP-Link, the LB130 wasn't very responsive. There was a serious delay when it came to dimming the bulb or changing colors that made the whole experience more frustrating than convenient. Still, at such a low price, there's only so much you can ask for.