Alexa, the voice-activated virtual assistant housed within the Amazon Echo smart speaker, knows a ton of cool tricks, but she's especially good at controlling smart lights. Turning them on and off and dimming them up and down whenever you ask her to was one of the first smart-home skills she ever mastered, and by now, there are a lot of options that'll do the job.
So which ones are best? Well, let's take a look:
Let's look at your options
Standard A-shaped smart bulbs
- TP-Link LB100 LED - $20 each
- TP-Link LB110 LED - $25 each
- TP-Link LB120 LED - $35 each
- Lifx White 800 LED - $40 each
- Lifx Color 1000 LED - $60 each
- Cree Connected LED - $15 each, requires smart home hub
- GE Link LED - $15 each, requires smart-home hub
- Insteon LED - $30 each, requires Insteon Hub
- Osram Lightify LED - $30 each, requires Lightify hub
- Philips Hue White LED - $15 each, requires Hue Bridge
- Philips Hue White Ambiance LED - $30 each, requires Hue Bridge
- Philips Hue White and Color Ambiance LED - $50 each, requires Hue Bridge
- Lifx White 900 BR30 LED - $30 each
- Lifx Color 1000 BR30 LED - $50 each
- Insteon PAR38 LED - $50 each, requires Insteon Hub
- Stack LED - $45 each, requires Stack hub
- Philips Hue BR30 LED - $60 each, requires Hue Bridge
- Haiku Light - $149 to $299 each, depending on finish.
How to pick
The bulb you go with is going to depend on a couple of different factors, including your budget, your home's design, and what sort of extra features you're willing to pony up for. Here are our picks for a variety of different scenarios.
"I just want the cheapest option, and I only need a few bulbs."
Go with the TP-Link LB100. It's a $20 Wi-Fi bulb that connects directly with your router, so it doesn't require a hub, and offers plug-and-play simplicity. It's not as bright as some of its competitors, though -- if that's a problem, you can spend $5 more to upgrade to the TP-Link LB110. It's the same bulb, but with some extra oomph in the brightness department.
"I just want the cheapest option, and I need a bunch of bulbs."
If you need a lot of lights, then it makes sense to tie them all to a dedicated lighting platform that won't interfere with your Wi-Fi network. Philips Hue is far and away the best-developed platform out there, and its white-light-only bulbs are the cheapest way in.
The two-bulb starter kit costs $70, with additional bulbs selling for $15 each. You can also add other Hue bulbs, including the more expensive color-changing ones, or even third-party ZigBee bulbs like the Cree Connected and GE Link LEDs. Both of those cost $15, too.
"I want something really fancy, and money is no object."
The Haiku Light from Big Ass Solutions (best known for their Big Ass Fans) is the obvious pick here. It's a classy, recessed fixture that's darned expensive, with models starting at $149 apiece and going as high as $299, depending on which finish you select.
Still, the Haiku Light is a very good product, offering tons of brightness, full-color tunability, and built-in motion sensors that can turn the light on as soon as you walk into the room. It's our high-end Alexa light of choice.
"I want something I can control with Siri, too."
Philips Hue is the way to go here, as it's the only choice in this roundup that works with both Alexa and Siri. Any Hue bulb will do the trick, so long as you've got the current-gen Hue Bridge plugged into your router, but if your focus is on Siri, I say go big with the full color-changing capabilities of the Hue White and Color Ambiance LEDs. Unlike Alexa, Siri can change the color of Hue bulbs (not that anyone's keeping score or anything).
"I want the best color-changing bulb."
Speaking of keeping score, Philips Hue and Lifx are neck-and-neck in terms of value. But if it's the colors you care about, I say go with the Lifx Color 1000 LED. Its colors look a lot better than Hue's, particularly the green and blue shades. The reason? Hue's blue diodes aren't as strong or as plentiful as the ones inside the Lifx LED. Another key factor: you can change the color of Lifx bulbs using Alexa commands. You can't do that with Philips Hue.
"I want to be able to change the color temperature"
You've got a couple of options if you like being able to dial between warm, yellowy tones and hotter, more bluish-white ones. The $30 Osram Lightify LED will work, though you'll also need the Osram plug-in gateway that translates its ZigBee signal into Wi-Fi that your router (and Alexa) can understand.
If you'd rather connect directly, go with the Lifx White 800 LED. At $40, it costs a little more per bulb than Osram does, but it doesn't need a hub, making it a little easier to get started with. Just know that Alexa isn't able to change color temperatures yet -- you'll need to use the bulb's app, or run a preprogrammed scene.
"I want lights that turn on automatically when I enter the room."
The Haiku Lights mentioned above do a great job with motion-activated lighting, but if you're looking for something less expensive, go with the Stack LED floodlights. They look down on you with built-in presence detectors, and will turn on as soon as they spot movement. They're also designed to detect the amount of ambient light in your home -- they'll dim down if there's sunlight pouring in, then turn back up when it gets dark. They'll also automatically shift color temperature between warm and cool as the day progresses.
"I want the best floodlights that Alexa can control."
You don't have as many floodlight options as you do classic A-shaped bulbs, but you've got a couple of good ones. For my money, the best overall balance between features, performance, and value is the Lifx White 900 LED floodlight. It works just like that Lifx White 800 bulb mentioned above, with full access to the entire white light spectrum, but it costs a little less at $30 each. It's bright and efficient, and since it uses a built-in Wi-Fi radio, it doesn't need a hub.
One last thing: Consider the switch
Bulbs are all well and good, but don't forget that Alexa can control smart switches, too. If you've got several lights that are all tied to one switch, there's no need to buy several expensive new smart bulbs. Just swap that switch out with a smart one that works with Alexa, and she'll be able to control all of them at the same time, regardless of what bulbs you're using. We've had good results in the CNET Smart Home with the Belkin WeMo Light Switch and with Lutron Caseta switches, though the soon-to-be-released iDevices Light Switch might be worth waiting for, since it adds dimming capabilities, multiswitch support and the option of syncing up with Alexa.
Another option for Alexa-powered light control: smart plugs. Plug one in and plug a lamp in behind it, and you'll be able to tell Alexa to turn it on and off. Like with the smart switch approach, that means you can use whatever bulb you like. Options include the Belkin WeMo Insight Switch, the iDevices Switch, and a wide range of plugs that work with Alexa-compatible smart-home hubs like Wink, SmartThings and Insteon.