How to Buy the Right Smart Bulbs

How to Buy the Right Smart Bulbs

Person managing smart light bulbs via a tablet
Reading Time: 6 minutes

We have come a long way from incandescent light bulbs, which expend most of their short lifetime on heat instead of light. LED light bulbs took the market by storm with their amazing efficiency. They use up to 75% less energy and last up to 25 times longer than traditional filament light bulbs.

In 2020 alone, the LED market has grown to C$24.6 billion worldwide. However, this was just the beginning of the lighting evolution. Because LED bulbs can last for about 25,000 hours on average, and because LED—Light Emitting Diode—is a highly flexible electronic component, it was natural for it to evolve further into smart bulbs.

Smart bulbs offer you the next level of lighting—remote control over all the lighting in your home. Just like LED light bulbs, they have come down in price significantly; far enough to fill every corner of your home with customizable lighting. Keep reading to know more.

What Is a Smart Bulb?

When we say that a piece of equipment is smart, we mean the degree to which it can be precisely controlled. Twenty years ago, the extent of lighting “smartness” was that we could use a light timer, setting the light to turn off or on at a certain time of day. Soon after, motion sensors became more common, where lights automatically turn on when they detect motion in a pre-set range.

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Another layer of smartness was added when motion sensors were coupled with daylight sensors about ten years ago. Today, we have a much-expanded scope of smartness. Smart bulbs can now be connected to a wireless network. Through apps, either on your desktop, smartphone, or tablet, you can then control and automate smart bulbs to whatever degree its software allows. Smart bulbs are the same size as your traditional incandescent bulb, but they pack a lot of miniaturized electronic power, just like your smartphone.

Smart Bulbs or Smart Switches?

Smart bulbs represent a plug & play approach to automating your home’s lighting, such as Philips Hue, Teckin, or Merkury smart bulbs. You simply plug them into an appropriately sized base, and that’s it. You are then all set to control them via an app.

On the other hand, if you desire greater control over multiple lights or the entire lighting in your home, you could replace your old wall switches with smart switches. When installed, you will be able to use smart switches just as regular wall light switches but with all the extra benefits of smart bulbs, expanded to your entire home. Smart switches then control the dimming and timing of lights however you configure them, so the bulbs don’t have to be smart themselves.

Just like smart bulbs, smart switches are controlled via an app, even if you are outside your home—usually connecting the electronics through a Wi-Fi network or Bluetooth. Smart switches represent a comprehensive solution to smarten-up your home because you can use them for smart-enabled appliances, such as waste disposals, refrigerators, dimmers, thermostats (heating and cooling), smart speakers (Amazon Echo), security cameras, etc.

In short:

  • Smart bulbs work with normal wall switches and bulb bases—E12 and E26 being the most common sizes.
  • Smart switches replace your old switches, making normal light bulbs smart, but they can also allow you to seize remote control over a variety of smart-enabled electronics.

Things to Consider Before Buying a Smart Bulb

The type of smart hub you choose with smart switches will depend on what kind of compatibility you want. SmartThings, Google Home, Amazon Alexa, and Apple HomeKit have different sets of compatibilities. Moreover, you will find that it is more natural to control your devices and smart bulbs with voice commands rather than using your smartphone.

This is another reason to check the compatibility of your smart bulbs or smart switches. The latter will often include a compatibility list for light bulbs, such as Lutron, Philips Hue, WeMo, iDevices, or LIFX. If you have both smart bulbs and smart switches, you may find yourself in a situation where you have to replace your smart bulbs with the non-smart ones so their electronic circuits don’t clash.

Do I Need a Home Automation Hub/Bridge or Not?

Just as a USB-C Hub or Wi-Fi Router allows you to connect multiple devices, a dedicated home automation hub or bridge allows you to connect multiple smart bulbs, representing a middle ground between a smart switch and a smart bulb.

If you don’t want a permanent installation in the form of smart switches, hubs/bridges provide an excellent option. Moreover, smart bulbs from the most popular lineups, such as Philips Hue, use their own Zigbee protocol instead of Wi-Fi. This means that your network will not be burdened with additional data that could reduce your internet speed. More importantly, your smart lights will work even if your internet is down.

Bluetooth vs Wi-Fi

Bluetooth was designed to enable wireless communication between Bluetooth-enabled devices, such as smartphones, speakers, headphones, earbuds, microphones, keyboards, mice, etc. This means that a Bluetooth wireless network doesn’t need a hub/bridge to function. Unfortunately, this type of network has a much shorter range than Wi-Fi.

With a Wi-Fi smart bulb or hub, you can access your lighting from any place on the planet that has internet access. Therefore, when it comes to choosing whether to buy a Bluetooth or Wi-Fi smart bulb, you must decide if you only want to control your lights when you are close to them. If that is the case, choose a Bluetooth variant.

Moreover, even if you choose a Wi-Fi network to power your smart lights, it doesn’t necessarily have to have a hub/bridge. For example, VOCOlinc and LIFX solutions tap into your home Wi-Fi to work, so they don’t need their own hub for the lights dispersed through your home.

What Are The Benefits?

If you still use traditional incandescent light bulbs, the benefits of switching to smart LED bulbs are multifold:

  • Because LED lights last between 15,000–50,000 hours, they pay for themselves within two years at most, or sooner if you got one on a discount!
  • Smart LED lights consume between 50%–80% less electricity while providing equal luminescence, which means you will save money in the long-run.
  • Most smart bulbs can be configured to change color, brightness, and color temperature.
  • You can set them to recognize different voice commands for different lighting effects and moods.
  • You can configure or automate smart bulbs to produce different lighting based on time of day or even program them to fool would-be burglars in your absence.
  • Smart bulbs’ sensors make your life easier—you no longer have to grope in the dark for light switches and potentially step on your pet or run into something.

What Are The Drawbacks?

Smart bulbs are still expensive compared to normal non-LED bulbs and non-smart LED bulbs. Moreover, you may end up spending more time micro-managing them than you would like. Other than that, because we are dealing with advanced electronics, they have a slightly higher failure rate compared to ordinary bulbs. Lastly, you need to make sure they are compatible with your entire remote/automated home ecosystem.

Pick a Platform for Voice Control

We all know from sci-fi movies how objects are controlled—via voice commands. While they don’t allow you to be super precise, like shifting to the exact color hue, voice control represents the most intuitive way to navigate through your smart home devices.

If you already have Google Home, Google Nest, Amazon Echo, or Apple’s HomeKit, check directly with the manufacturer if your smart bulb will work with these voice assistants.

Smart Outlets

Smart outlets are an inexpensive solution to turn ordinary appliances and fixtures into smart devices. With a smart outlet, you can turn your appliances on and off from your phone, or (in some cases) with your voice through smart speakers.

Outside of a hub/bridge and a smart light switch, you can opt for a mobile and cheaper non-permanent solution—smart outlets. By simply plugging them into a regular outlet, you gain a platform to smarten up your light bulbs, which can then be paired with voice assistants.

Kasa Smart Wi-Fi Plug Mini, Wyze Plug, and Wemo Mini are all great and affordable smart outlets. However, only Wemo supports all ecosystems—Google, Amazon, IFTTT, and Apple—while the first two don’t support Apple’s HomeKit.

Conclusion

If you are planning to build a new house or renovate an apartment, the choice is simple. Have the contractors install in-wall smart switches instead of regular switches. They range from basic ones like the inexpensive Kasa Smart HS-220 to the more expensive Leviton Decora Smart Voice Dimmer, which has integrated Wi-Fi radio and an Amazon Alexa smart speaker.

On the other hand, if you don’t want to be locked into a particular ecosystem, smart outlets and smart bulbs provide non-permanent smart lighting solutions. Just like smart switches, smart outlets make ordinary bulbs smart, while smart bulbs offer the most convenient plug & play option for smaller apartments.

Then, all you have to do is pick the connectivity system—Wi-Fi or Bluetooth—and verify which smart bulb is compatible with each voice assistant so you can intuitively use voice commands to set the mood for your home.

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