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Smart Home

Best smart light bulbs for 2019 (plus switches, light strips, accessories and more)

I've spent six years testing out smart lights for a living. Here's the stuff I'd buy.

Smart bulb? Smart switch? Both?

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Smart home tech is everywhere these days -- and smart lights that you can automate and control from your phone or with voice commands are one of the best ways to jump on board the bandwagon. And, with lots and lots of new connected lighting products hitting the market in 2019, you've got more options than ever. 

Even better: the uptick in competition means that you've got plenty of options that are easy to afford, too

That includes $8 smart bulbscolor-changing bulbs for less than $25 each and dimmable smart switches and nifty new lighting accessories for less than $50 apiece. If you're willing to splurge, smart statement pieces from names like Nanoleaf and Lifx promise to cover your walls in color, too. By the way, expect to see more of those by the end of this year.

All of those options mean that you've got a lot of products to sort through once you're ready to make the upgrade -- and that's where we come in. Whether it's bulbs, wall panels, switches, light strips or accessories that you're after, here are all of our top smart lighting picks after years spent testing the things out.

Best smart lights of 2019

Best white-light smart bulb Wyze Bulb $8 each, plus shipping Works with Alexa, Google Assistant, and IFTTT See it online
Best smart floodlight LED Philips Hue White BR30 Floodlight LED $20 each, or 2 for $35 Works with Apple HomeKit, Alexa, Google Assistant and IFTTT See it online
Best color-changing smart bulb Lifx Mini LED $35 each Works with Apple HomeKit, Alexa, Google Assistant, Cortana and IFTTT See it online
Best smart light strip Lifx Z Multicolor Light Strip $90 for a 6.6-ft. starter kit, $30 for 3.3-ft. extensions Works with Apple HomeKit, Alexa, Google Assistant, Cortana and IFTTT  See it online
Best smart switch Lutron Caseta In-Wall Dimmer Switch About $100 for a 1-switch starter kit, about $60 for each additional switch Works with Apple HomeKit, Alexa, Google Assistant and IFTTT See it online
Best color-changing wall panels Nanoleaf Canvas $200 for a 9-panel starter kit Works with Apple HomeKit, Alexa, Google Assistant and IFTTT See it online
Best smart lighting accessory Lutron Aurora dimmer dial $40 each Works with Philips Hue See it online
Best outdoor smart lights Ring Pathlights $80 for a 2-light starter kit Works with Ring cameras and Alexa See it online

Disclosure: CNET may receive a share of revenue from any purchases made via the links on this page. The products recommended are chosen independently by CNET editors.

Chris Monroe/CNET

As it turns out, the cheapest smart bulb is one of the best. I'm speaking of the Wyze Bulb from Seattle-based startup Wyze Labs, which you can pick up direct from the company's website at $8 each, plus shipping. With Wi-Fi radios built into each bulb, you won't need any extra hub hardware plugged into your router in order to use them, or to connect them with Alexa, the Google Assistant or IFTTT. Just screw them in, turn them on, pair them with the Wyze app, and bask in the glow of dirt-cheap smart light.

Read more: The best cheap smart bulbs

Beyond being ridiculously cheap, these things are pretty darned good bulbs, too. For starters, each one offers a full spectrum of white light color temperature settings ranging from a warm, candle-like 2,700 K to hotter, whiter daylight tones that approach 6,000 K. No other bulb I've tested that retails for less than $20 can offer that, let alone a bulb that retails for less than $10. On top of that, Wyze bulbs are some of the brightest I've tested, ranging from 880-921 lumens depending on what color temperature you've got them set to.

The only real downside: The Wyze app offers lighting timers and a vacation mode, but the shortcuts feature that you use to schedule lighting changes at specific times feels a little limited. No biggie, though -- you can schedule automated lighting changes using IFTTT, or an Alexa or Google Assistant routine.

Other options worth considering

If you want something a little more advanced than the Wyze Bulb, then consider going with Philips Hue. At $15 each, its Hue White LEDs are a lot more affordable than you might expect, and the newest Bluetooth versions can pair directly with Alexa or the Google Assistant without need for the Hue Bridge.

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Google Home users should check out GE's new line of smart bulbs, which are designed specifically to pair well with the Google Assistant.

Chris Monroe/CNET

That said, if you prefer the Google Assistant, then you might be better off with a C by GE smart bulb. GE Lighting is a Made for Google partner, and its bulbs are designed to pair seamlessly with Google Home smart speakers and Google Nest Hub smart displays. You don't need a hub, and you don't even need the GE app -- just turn the bulbs on and sync them with your setup right from the Google Home app. From there, you'll enjoy some of the snappiest and most responsive voice controls we've tested.


Chris Monroe/CNET

There aren't as many smart floodlights as classic, A-shaped smart bulbs, but your options are growing. That includes a pretty significant new addition from Philips Hue, which recently released a floodlight version of the popular Hue White bulb described above. 

Read more: Which LED floodlight should you hang overhead?

I like the Hue White floodlight for all of the same reasons I like the regular-sized bulb. It's bright, it's efficient, it's affordable -- and it's part of a very good smart lighting platform that works with everything. Like the rest of Hue's new bulbs, the new floodlight uses both Bluetooth and Zigbee, so you can skip the Hue Bridge and just pair directly with your phone or with Alexa or Google if that's all you want. Best Buy sells single bulbs for $20 and a two-pack for $35.

Other options worth considering

Again, if you're an Alexa user looking for something cheap, then Sengled leads the way with a $10 smart floodlight that can pair directly with the Echo Plus or the Echo Show (if you don't have one of those, you'll need the Sengled hub plugged into your router).

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A Lifx Plus LED on the porch helps this night vision camera see a man outside the window it couldn't see otherwise.

Lifx

Sengled makes floodlights that change colors, too (and obviously, so does Philips Hue). But if it's colors that you want, I say it's worth it to go with Lifx, an Australian startup that routinely aces our color quality tests with bold, bright shades that look terrific. The company's lights all use Wi-Fi to talk directly to your router, so they don't need a hub, they come with an excellent, full-featured app, and they work with Siri, Alexa, the Google Assistant and IFTTT right out of the box. 

A color-changing Lifx floodlight costs $45 at Best Buy. That's not cheap, but it's also $5 less expensive than you'll pay for a similar floodlight from Philips Hue. Lifx floodlights are also a few hundred lumens brighter at peak settings than any competitor we've tested to date. Couple that with the color quality, and you're looking at a very worthy upgrade pick.

You might also consider upgrading to a Lifx Plus LED. Along with the colors, the "Plus" part is an extra set of diodes in the bulb that put out invisible infrared light whenever the light is turned off. You can't see that light -- but night vision cameras can, which makes it much, much easier for them to see in the dark, especially at a distance. At a little over $50 each, the floodlight version is expensive, but it might be worth the splurge if you use cameras to keep an eye on things that go bump in the night.

And hey, speaking of Lifx...


Chris Monroe/CNET

Like I said, I think Lifx belongs right at the top of your list if you're looking to add a smart pop of color to your home's lighting scheme. The brand sells a variety of bulbs and smart lights that all put out bright, great-looking colors, all of which can connect with Alexa, Siri or the Google Assistant with absolutely no need for a hub.

Read more: The best color-changing smart bulbs that cost less than Philips Hue

At $35 each, the Lifx Mini is your least expensive way in. Despite the "Mini" branding, it's actually brighter than Philips Hue's color-changing bulb, and the colors are as vivid as they come, outshining every other competitor that we've tested to date. The full-featured app is a bright spot, too, with easy control of your lights via convenient color dial and lots of nice extras like animated effects and an auto-scheduling Day & Dusk mode, as well.

Other options worth considering

Lifx gives it a pretty good run for the money, but on the whole, Philips Hue still boasts the best smart lighting platform money can buy. If that matters to you more than the Lifx bump in brightness and color quality, then Philips Hue is probably worth the extra cash. The newest color-changing Hue bulbs with Bluetooth radios that let you use them without the Hue Bridge sell for $50 a piece, but you can save $10 if you're willing to buy the $90 2-pack.

sylvania-smart-bulb-1

The Sylvania Smart Plus Bluetooth LED is a decent budget pick if you just want something cheap that'll work with Siri.

Chris Monroe/CNET

If you're just controlling your home's lights using the Alexa or Google Home app, then the platform strengths of Lifx and Philips Hue are a little less important -- and you can probably afford to go with something less expensive. Again, I like Sengled bulbs for Alexa users, and C by GE bulbs for Google Assistant users. Each brand offers color-changing smart bulbs for about $25 a piece.


Want something less expensive than Lifx or Philips Hue that'll work with Apple HomeKit, and with Siri? Check out the color-changing Sylvania Smart Plus LED, currently available for about $26 each.


Ry Crist/CNET

Lifx is a pretty clear winner when it comes to color-changing light strips, too -- namely, the 9.8-foot Lifx Z light strip. It doesn't come cheap, but the colors look just as great as you'll get from Lifx bulbs, and it's capable of putting out multiple colors at once, which gives you a lot more room to create custom scenes and animated effects. None of the top competitors can put out more than one color at a time, not even Philips Hue. 

The Lifx Z starter kit usually retails for a fairly steep $90, but you can get it for a little less at Best Buy. I bought one on sale a few years ago for the back of my living room TV -- I've had to tape it in place after the TV's heat wore down the strip's adhesive backing, but apart from that, we love the thing.

Other options worth considering

$80 is obviously a lot, so I can't say I blame you if you'd rather go with something that costs a lot less. I haven't tested it just yet (and I'll update this space once I have), but Sengled's Zigbee light strip is one of your newest options, and it only costs $50. Just know that you'll need a Zigbee hub to control it -- Sengled's hub, the SmartThings Hub, or an Amazon Echo Plus or Echo Show will all do the trick.

homepod-sylvania-smart-plus-homekit-light-strip

Sylvania's Bluetooth light strips are a good budget pick if you like controlling things via Siri.

Chris Monroe/CNET

The Sylvania Smart Plus Light Strip is even less expensive, and available on Amazon right now for less than $40. It uses Bluetooth to pair directly with your phone without need for a hub, and while it doesn't offer native support for Alexa or Google, it does support Siri. It isn't as bright as Lifx and it only puts out one color at a time, and the Siri voice controls were occasionally laggy in my tests, but it's a reasonable budget pick for HomeKit households, especially at its current price.


Tyler Lizenby/CNET

If you've got a hardwired light that you'd like to be able to automate, you can swap the bulb out for a smart bulb -- or you can just smarten things up at the switch. That's an especially cost-effective approach if that switch controls several bulbs at once.

Among all of the smart switches that we've tested at the CNET Smart Home, our favorite has long been the Lutron Caseta. Lutron is a lighting aisle mainstay, and its smart switches use a proprietary signal called Clear Connect. That means that they require the Lutron Bridge in order to connect with your router, but the good news is that Clear Connect is about as swift and reliable as wireless protocols come.

Aside from the strong performance, Lutron's Caseta switches come in a variety of colors and designs, and apart from the dimmable version seen here, you can also get standard on/off switches, wall-mounted remotes that can serve as a second switch for three-way setups, audio control switches that sync with Sonos and also fan controls for automating a ceiling fan. If you really want to go big, you can add Lutron's luxurious automated shades to your setup, too. Whatever you choose, all of it will work with just about everything, too: Alexa, Google, Siri, Nest, IFTTT -- you name it.

A single Lutron Caseta switch with the mandatory Lutron Bridge and a Pico remote that you can mount in the wall or take with you around the house is available on Amazon right now for $78. That's a great price for a solid foundation that you can build on whenever Lutron stuff goes on sale.

Other options worth considering

If you like the idea of a smart switch that works with everything, but would prefer something that doesn't need a hub, then take a look at the WeMo Dimmer, which uses Wi-Fi to connect directly with your router. It features an elegant, touch-sensitive design that looks snazzy without calling too much attention to itself, the app offers lots of helpful automation controls, and it works with just about everything, including Alexa, Google, Siri, Nest and IFTTT. It's also a little less expensive than when it first launched, and currently available on Amazon for less than $50 a piece.

Just want something simple and inexpensive? Check out TP-Link's Kasa line of smart switches, all of which can connect with both Alexa and Google without need for a hub. For my money, I like the $35 version that'll dim the lights.


Chris Monroe/CNET

If you want to go all out with smart lighting -- maybe for a game room or a kids room -- then you might consider color-changing LED light panels for your walls. A Toronto-based startup called Nanoleaf got there first with its triangular Aurora panels. Now, it offers square-shaped, touch-sensitive Nanoleaf Canvas panels, too.

The panels can display a wide variety of animated effects, including a library with hundreds of user-created options that are free to try for yourself. They also feature a built-in microphone that lets them animate in rhythm with whatever music you're listening to or whatever game you're playing. You can turn them on and off with a tap and switch between presets with the built-in buttons on the base panel, but they also support voice commands via Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant.

A nine-panel Nanoleaf Canvas starter kit now costs $200 -- the same as the triangle-shaped versions. I like both, but prefer Canvas because of the touch controls and the fact you get a little more room to expand your setup if you feel so inclined. You might also consider holding out until the end of the year, because new hexagon-shaped versions are in the works. Even if those don't entice you, they might mean that a bigger discount on the Canvas panels is coming, too.

Unlike Nanoleaf, Lifx Tiles can put out multiple colors at once, which makes it a lot easier to craft customized designs.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Other options worth considering

At the moment, Nanoleaf's main competitor is Lifx, which offers its own color-changing, square-shaped wall panels called Lifx Tiles. The 5-Tile starter kit isn't as expandable as Nanoleaf, but the advantage is that each Tile can put out tons of colors at once, which opens the door to lots of really neat effects.

The Tiles aren't quite as easy to install as Nanoleaf, and the software was pretty glitchy back when the product first launched. I suspect that might have been a product of Lifx rushing to catch up with Nanoleaf, so I'd like to get the things back out sometime soon to see if they work any better than before. I'll update this space when that happens -- but if you're ready to buy in right now, they're currently $50 off at Best Buy.


Ry Crist/CNET

Smart bulbs are great, but do you know what's not-so-great? The fact that turning things off at the switch cuts their power, and cuts your power to control them via voice, app or automation. That's an all-too-common smart home headache, especially if you're living with kids or houseguests.

Thankfully, Lutron came up with a clever solution this year. It's called the Aurora, and it's designed to pair wirelessly with Philips Hue lights. The really clever part is that you literally snap it in place over top of whatever dumb light switch is wired to your Hue lights. That locks the switch into the on position and lets you turn things on and off at the wall without actually cutting power to the bulbs -- that way, your automations and voice controls will keep on working even when the lights are switched off.

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The Philips Hue Tap is a fantastic little smart remote that powers itself each time you press a button.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Other options worth considering

Philips Hue's users are the most spoiled when it comes to accessory options. In addition to the Aurora, you could add one of Philips Hue's wireless dimming remotes to your setup, or maybe a motion sensor -- Hue offers both an indoor and an outdoor version. 

My favorite of the bunch, though, is the Philips Hue Tap. It's a circular remote with four buttons that can trigger specific lights or specific Hue scenes (if you have a Hue Bridge, it can trigger Apple HomeKit devices, too). The thing that makes it truly great is that it powers itself using the kinetic energy of each button press. No batteries, no recharging -- just finger power. Best of all, it won't break the bank -- you can get one right now for about $40.

If you like that finger-powered approach, but would rather have it in a light switch design that you can mount in your wall, then check out the Click smart switch from RunLessWire, previously known as the Illumra. Like the Tap, it needs no batteries or wires., and comes with four programmable buttons that also support Apple HomeKit devices.

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The Nanoleaf Remote is a one-of-a-kind smart home device.

Chris Monroe/CNET

One other remote worth mentioning -- the Nanoleaf Remote. It's by far the most unique that I've tested, with a 12-sided, dodecahedron-shaped design with a built-in accelerometer and color-changing LEDs. To use it, you assign different Nanoleaf scenes or HomeKit automations to each side, then trigger them by rotating that side to the top (you can also dim your Nanoleaf panels up and down by rotating it on your table top).

Crazy pitch? Perhaps, but there's nothing wrong with a little bit of functional novelty. And, at $50, the price isn't too painful.


Tyler Lizenby/CNET

You don't have a ton of outdoor smart lighting options, but we're some interesting ones are starting to emerge. The latest (and the one that I'd buy into if it were my home we were talking about) is Ring Smart Lighting, which includes a variety of hard-wired and battery-powered outdoor lights with built-in motion sensors. Along with triggering the lights to come on, those motion sensors can also trigger your Ring cameras to start recording.

Some of Ring's lights are admittedly a bit ugly, but I'm a fan of the battery-powered Ring Pathlights, pictured above. You can stake them anywhere you like, which makes it easy to add motion sensors in places on your property where you couldn't before. For instance, I can just imagine adding one along the path to an outdoor, above-ground pool -- if your child ever wandered in that direction, you'd receive a notification on your phone.

A starter kit with two Ring Pathlights and the mandatory Ring Bridge costs $80 -- from there, you can expand your setup with additional Pathlights for $30 each, or with any other Ring products you might have your eye on.

Originally published July 10.
Update, July 28: Now includes information about the Wyze Bulb, a recent Editors' Choice-winner here on CNET.