that you can automate and control with your voice , and if you're looking to make the upgrade, you'll find plenty of options. That includes a growing number of LED smart bulbs from reputable brands that cost $20 apiece or less -- roughly the same price you'd pay for a plain old dumb LED .
Now, believe me, I could rattle on at lengthof smart light bulbs like these (and of ), and I've got lots of data to share from the weeks of tests we ran in the CNET lighting lab -- but I'm assuming you're here for some quick buying advice, so let's start there.
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Wyze Labs is a Seattle startup run by former Amazon developers, and its ethos is selling bargain-priced, user-friendly smart home gadgets direct to consumers. We already like the brand's dirt-cheap cameras -- now, it's offering dirt-cheap smart bulbs, as well. The cost? $8 plus shipping.
They aren't just cheap -- they're great smart light bulbs, too, with lots of brightness and full support for Alexa, IFTTT and the Google Assistant. They also offer a full range of color temperature options ranging from soft white to daylight, which is incredibly rare to find in a smart bulb that costs less than $20, let alone less than $10. And, with Wi-Fi radios in each one, you won't need any extra smart home hub hardware plugged into your router in order to use them. All of that makes them one of the easiest smart lighting picks I've tested at a truly terrific value. Read Wyze Bulb review
Of all of the smart lighting platforms available today, Philips Hue's is the most well-connected, and at $15 each, the system's Hue White LEDs are a true bargain. The only downside? Despite the recent addition of Bluetooth that lets you connect direct with your lights for basic app controls, Hue bulbs require the Hue Bridge to take full advantage of their numerous features and integrations with platforms like IFTTT and Apple HomeKit, so you'll need to start with something like the $70 kit with two Hue bulbs pictured above.
Either way, we say it's worth it -- especially if you plan on expanding your smart lighting setup over time. The ecosystem of Hue lights is diverse and well-developed, and the wide array of features and integrations can't be matched. On top of that, the White Philips Hue LEDs offer plenty of brightness and a decent dimmable range, and while Philips Hue bulbs aren't color bulbs and won't change colors, they'll do a good job at making the colors in your home look vivid and true. Bottom line: If you own a Hue Bridge or you're willing to buy one, then these are the smart light bulbs you should be filling your home with. Read more about Philips Bluetooth Hue bulbs
Sengled's Element lineup of smart bulbs are basically a less expensive version of Philips Hue. They lack support for Apple HomeKit, and they don't dim down quite as low as the Hue White LEDs do, but otherwise, the pitch is the same -- cheap bulbs that require a Zigbee hub or an Amazon Echo Plus.
What's important is the price. At $8 each, these are pretty much the least expensive smart light bulbs on the market, and if you don't have a hub, let me point out that Sengled's two-bulb starter kit is $30 less than Hue's, too. I'd rather a pay a bit more for everything that comes with the Hue ecosystem, but if you just want a functional set of smart lights that are as inexpensive as possible, then these light bulbs will absolutely get the job done
And yes, the $8 Wyze Bulb is technically cheaper, but since you'll buy it direct from Wyze Labs, you'll need to tack on a few bucks for shipping. If you just want to keep costs down as low as possible, go with Sengled.
(Note: Sengled tells me that it's now selling this bulb under the name "Sengled Smart LED Soft White A19.") Read more about Sengled LED bulbs
GE Lighting is a Made for Google partner, so it's no surprise that its lineup of C by GE Bluetooth smart light bulbs all work really well with the Google Assistant. Specifically, they're all able to pair directly with the Google Home, Google Home Mini and Google Home Max smart speakers, as well as the Google Home Hub smart display. Just screw the bulb in and turn it on, then take control of it using the Google Home app.
From there, your Google Home device works as the hub, offering snappy voice control and the ability to control your lights on your smartphone when you're outside of Bluetooth range. With two-packs of the standard C by GE Life LED available for $25 or less (GE says that it'll soon sell single light bulbs for $13 apiece, too), these light bulbs are a low-cost no-brainer for fans of the Google Assistant.
(Note: GE Lighting recently ditched the "Life" branding with this bulb -- it's now just called the "C by GE Soft White LED.") Read more about C by GE Soft White LED bulbs
The Lifx Mini White is a $20 Wi-Fi bulb with a terrific app and support for Siri, Alexa and the Google Assistant, plus an excellent channel on IFTTT. It isn't quite as bright as I'd like, but it dims well and you can start using all of its features as soon as you turn it on, hubs be damned.
The Sylvania Smart Plus LED works with HomeKit, too, and it's often on sale for a few bucks less, so you could consider that bulb as an alternative. You could also go with Philips Hue, but you'll need the Hue Bridge plugged into your Wi-Fi router in order to sync with Siri. But for my money, Lifx gives HomeKit users the most bang for their buck. Read more on CNET
Just want a cheap smart bulb that's as bright as possible? Head to Home Depot and spend $12 on a Cree Connected LED. The Wyze Bulb is technically brighter at 921 lumens, but that's only at its daylight color temperature setting. At a soft white 2,700 K -- the most popular color temperature setting -- the Wyze Bulb puts out 880 lumens, which is just shy of Cree's 894 lumens.
Aside from that, Cree's LED light bulb also features a unique design that eliminates the bulky heat sink at the base of the bulb. That approach helps it cast a lot more light downward, and makes it a great pick for a bedside reading lamp. The only catch? You'll need to pair this bulb with a Zigbee hub in order to control it. The Hue Bridge, the Amazon Echo Plus, the SmartThings Hub and the Wink Hub are your top options. Read more about Cree Connected LED bulbs
Which light bulbs did you test?
For this roundup, I homed in on cheap smart bulbs that you can buy for $20 or less. Here's all nine of them in a handy comparison chart:
Smart bulbs you can get for $20 or less
||Min and max brightness||Wireless standard||Compatible platforms||Requires hub?||Price|
|C by GE Life LED||15 - 828 lumens||Bluetooth||Alexa, Google Assistant, Apple HomeKit, IFTTT||No (requires C-Reach Hub to connect with Apple HomeKit, and a C-Reach Hub or Sol smart lamp to connect with Alexa)||$20 for a 2-pack|
|Cree Connected LED||49 - 894 lumens||Zigbee||Alexa, Google Assistant||Yes (Hue Bridge, SmartThings Hub, Wink Hub, Amazon Echo Plus, Amazon Echo Show, other Zigbee hubs)||$12|
|Eufy Lumos Mini LED||47 - 827 lumens||Wi-Fi||Alexa, Google Assistant||No||$16|
|Lifx Mini White LED||6 - 644 lumens||Wi-Fi||Alexa, Apple HomeKit, Google Assistant, IFTTT||No||$20|
|Philips Hue White LED (Bluetooth version)||13 - 850 lumens||Zigbee, Bluetooth||Alexa, Apple HomeKit*, Google Assistant, IFTTT* (*requires Hue Bridge)||No hub needed for basic app controls, or to connect with compatible Alexa and Google Assistant devices||$15|
|Sengled Element Classic LED||70 - 873 lumens||Zigbee||Alexa, Google Assistant, IFTTT||Yes (Sengled Smart Hub, Hue Bridge, Amazon Echo Plus, SmartThings Hub, Wink Hub, other Zigbee hubs)||$8|
|Sylvania Smart Plus LED||3 - 848 lumens||Bluetooth||Apple HomeKit||No (requires Apple HomePod, Apple TV or always-on iPad for HomeKit control outside of Bluetooth range)||$17|
|TP-Link Kasa KB100 LED||26 - 635 lumens||Wi-Fi||Alexa, Google Assistant, IFTTT||No||$15|
|Wyze Bulb||86 - 921 lumens||Wi-Fi||Alexa, Google Assistant, IFTTT||No||$8|
I'll add new light bulbs to the list as we test them and update this guide accordingly. Some of the next ones I've got my eye on include the TP-Link Kasa KL110 and the Lifx Mini White 800L. Both are updated versions of the light bulbs I've already tested here that increase the brightness to 800 lumens. I'll also be soon testing out Sengled's smart Wi-Fi bulbs, which were recently given a permanent price cut and are . Expect fresh intel on all of those in the coming weeks.
How did you test them?
I spent a few weeks testing these light bulbs out. For each of them, that included a trip to the CNET lighting lab, where we load them into an integrating sphere and use a spectrometer to take carefully calculated readings for things like brightness, color temperature and dimmable range.
In addition, I spent time testing each light bulb's ability to connect with voice assistants, and, where applicable, their respective companion apps (Cree and Sylvania's light bulbs don't come with apps of their own, and instead rely on the apps of whatever platform you choose to connect them with).
Brightness, light spread, color quality and more
Let's start with the specs, because there are some important differences to consider. For instance, if you're looking for a bulb that you can use in a reading lamp or some other light fixtures where brightness is especially important, then you'll probably want to rule out the TP-Link Kasa KB100 and the Lifx Mini White. Neither of those get any brighter than 650 lumens -- bright as far as accent lights go, but not bright enough to shine as the primary light source for an average-size room all on their own.
Light spread matters, too, as lots of LED smart light bulbs have bulky heat sinks at the base that block a lot of the downward cast light. For instance, the Philips Hue White LED puts out a very respectable 850 lumens, but not a lot of that light makes it down beneath the bulb. The Cree Connected LED and the Sengled Element Classic LED both did much better, as you can plainly see in those comparison shots above (note: we'll soon be updating these comparison shots to include new bulbs, including our new top pick, the Wyze Bulb).
Those shots were all taken with fixed exposure and white balance settings. In addition to letting you get a good, comparative look at how bright each bulb is, they'll also give you a hint at how well they might illuminate the colors in your home. That wall in the background is plum purple, but different bulbs light it up differently, affecting the way the color looks. To my eye, the two that got it the closest were the Philips Hue White LED and the C by GE Life LED. Neither one is as exceptional at color rendering as, say, a, but they're both at least better than the average LED at it.
As for dimmability, each of these light bulbs will dim smoothly and without flicker or buzz -- one of smart lighting's top perks. Just don't try and use any of them with your dimmer light switches, because the dimming hardware in your wall will clash with the dimming hardware inside of the bulb, causing it to strobe.
I'll have more to say on the specific dimming capabilities of each of these light bulbs in a future post, but know that all of them passed my tests by dimming down well below 100 lumens at minimum settings. Lifx, GE, and Philips Hue were all especially strong here, and able to dim down below 20 lumens at the 1% setting.
The bulb that went the lowest, though? That'd be the Sylvania Smart Plus LED -- it dimmed down to just just 3 lumens at its minimum setting.
Most smart light bulbs do a good job of being clear about the platforms they support by putting little "Works with" badges on the packaging. If you're an Apple HomeKit user, for instance, then look for bulbs that have the "Works with Apple HomeKit' badge on the box. Easy, right?
Well, not really. The problem? Some bulbs require hubs to work with certain platforms, but not others. For instance, the C by GE Life LED can connect directly with Google Home speakers and use them as a hub for control outside of Bluetooth range, but if you want to connect with Alexa, then you'll need the C-Reach plug-in hub, a separate $50 accessory.
I've done my best to make those connection requirements clear in that comparison chart a few sections up, but here's a quick breakdown by platform:
Pretty much everything works with Alexa at this point, so you've got lots of options. If you have an Echo Plus (or a separate Zigbee hub), then take advantage of that speaker's Zigbee radio by going with Zigbee smart bulbs like the Philips Hue White LED, the Sengled Element Classic LED or the Cree Connected LED. The Echo Plus can control all of them.
If you don't have an Echo Plus or a Zigbee hub and you don't want to buy one, then go with a Wi-Fi bulb from Wyze, Lifx, Eufy or TP-Link. Of those four, I'd either go with Wyze for the extra brightness or Lifx for its best-in-class app.
Like Alexa, the Google Assistant works with almost every major smart light on the market, so again, you've got a lot of options. Even so, I think the C by GE Life LED is an easy standout here. The direct Wi-Fi connection with a Google Home smart speaker is easy to install and speedy in action, and the bulbs themselves offer lots of quality, too.
If you want to spend no more than $20 on a smart bulb that works with Siri, then your options are the Philips Hue White LED, the Lifx Mini White LED or -- if you catch it on sale -- the Sylvania Smart Plus LED. GE tells me that it plans to launch HomeKit compatibility for its C by GE bulbs by the end of May, so stay tuned for that, as well.
I like Hue's platform, but you'll need the Hue Bridge to connect with HomeKit. The Sylvania LED is a decent bulb that can connect with HomeKit right out of the box, but you can't control it from beyond Bluetooth range unless you have an Apple HomePod, an Apple TV or a dedicated, always-on iPad to serve as a HomeKit hub. Meanwhile, the Lifx Mini White needs no hub at all to connect with HomeKit, and the Lifx app will work from anywhere, too. It just isn't as bright as the other two. Brightness aside, that's the one I'd probably go with.
The smart home is evolving fast, and there's a lot to keep up with. If you're confused about any of your options and need some more help, head to my CNET profile page and click the little envelope icon to send a message straight to my inbox. I'm also happy to field questions on Twitter.
Just need to know a little more about LED light bulbs in general? Myis here to help.
Originally published April 29.
Update, July 28: Added new details about low-cost bulbs from Wyze, which recently won an Editors' Choice here on CNET.