Epic battle time! Are you thinking of dipping your toes into home automation this 2015 holiday season? Smart home lighting is typically the first step people take by replacing a few bulbs in their homes. But with more and more options available the decision has become increasingly more difficult. Whether you want a color bulb, or a basic white bulb, there are plenty of reasons to skip certain brands over the other. Keep reading to decide which bulbs to buy as we compare the Philips Hue versus Belkin WeMo versus LIFX versus GE Link versus TCP Connected versus Misfit Bolt smart light bulbs.
Testing performed here is the culmination of months of on-going experimentation. With new hardware released constantly some of the items in this review are so new they have been on the market for just weeks, while other devices have resided in our homes for some time. This review is also not all inclusive, but instead focuses on the most popular products and best brands on the market today. By omitting those devices with a smaller level of support or sub-par quality we are providing you a curated reviewing, giving consumers what we believe are the best options worthy of your consideration.
FORWARD: Future Proof
Beyond selecting the best quality product, buyers of smart home hardware should also attempt to future-proof their purchases. Even though new versions of hardware are always on the horizon, it is still crucial to select a brand/eco-system of products that will allow expansion, and potential integration and diversification into other realms. Make sure the tech you buy today will play nicely with the tech you plan to buy tomorrow.
Perhaps the best two smart home platforms that exist right now are the Apple HomeKit platform, and the Works with Nest (also known as Nest Weave) platform. Both of these companies, Apple & Nest, are working hard to make integration across various products work seamlessly, and allow people to expand their smart home with ease. Both companies want to be the central focal point of your future smart home, but each are taking a very unique approach.
Nest is using their current connectivity to create triggers which then allow other interactions to occur between their device and your new products. One example of this might be having your thermostat automatically turn on when you unlock the front door and enter the house. Another would be having your nearby lights turn on when your smoke detector senses motion, or flash red if it detects smoke/fire. Direct relationships like these can exist between devices, and making them happen intuitively is the current goal of the Works with Nest program.
In contrast Apple’s integration is a bit more passive, at least for the time being. Unlike Nest, who is clearly trying to show off a more cause-and-effect type of tech relationship, HomeKit is really meant to be more of a central nervous system for the actual control of varying devices. Their primary method of control is meant to be Siri, their voice command system from your Apple devices. You are able to turn on lights, unlock doors, and more using your Apple iPhone, Apple Watch, or similar Apple product. And with the release of iOS 9 you can now use triggers to create actions though as I recently reviewed, there are still some limitations. Where Nest makes these interactions a bit more seamless and hands-off though with limited variation, Apple expects you to program the interactions yourself with a more granular level of control. In this regard Apple is mimicking existing smart hubs, but using their own cloud and hardware requirements.
If you’re looking to future-proof your tech today, buying devices that work with Apple or Nest’s platforms is one great option. Another option is to consider a 3rd party smart hub that offers a more broad spectrum of product compatibility. My three favorite examples of this type of device are the Samsung SmartThings Hub, the Wink Connected Home Hub, and the Staples Connect Hub. The future of the Wink Hub is in jeopardy, with Quirky’s recent sale to Flextronics of the Wink brand, but their recent blog post indicates they will be moving onward, and upwards. Staples has done very little to update their platform recently, and while this is what I currently use for my testing, the interface is bland at best, though the service has proven reliable. Finally, there is the SmartThings Hub, who recently released their newest hub, and a slew of updates, integrations, and even their own new sensors. All three are viable options.
Another interesting newcomer to the Smart Home arena is the Amazon Echo, which is meant to provide voice commands to control your various devices. The Echo is not a central hub, but more so is a device which can introduce voice into the smart home, and works with both iOS and Android. Our favorite part of the Echo is how it can be combined with either the Wink Hub or the SmartThings Hub, making a great team for your smart home. In the coming weeks I’ll be publishing a review that directly compares Apple HomeKit versus the Wink Hub and the SmartThings Hub. For the latter, we’ll be teaming that home up with the Amazon Echo to provide is similar levels of performance using localized voice commands. Stay tuned for more on how to assemble a more complex smart home.
As you read the various reviews below on lighting, try to think about other home automation products that you may desire in the future. Make sure the bulbs you choose are compatible with a platform you like, such as the Wink Hub or SmartThings Hub or Works with Nest. Check compatibility on those respective manufacturer’s web sites, to ensure you can grow your smart home over time. And if you want to use Siri, try to err towards HomeKit compatible products (which in this review is just one option).
We’d love to hear your comments below. Do you have questions about making two items work together? Ask us– and we’ll reply quickly! We love talking tech… but for now, let’s go test those bulbs!
If you’ve never heard of the GE Link Connected LED Light Bulb line-up, you’re not alone. They are almost exclusively sold at Home Depot stores due to their relationship with the Wink Connected Home Hub family. And thanks to a relationship between GE and Wink, these bulbs are most likely on your radar if you are about to purchase a new (or are already an existing owner of a) Wink Hub system.
The GE Link bulbs use a wireless protocol called Zigbee to communicate, and like most of the bulbs here will require some sort of hub to make them work since they lack WiFi. If you already own a Wink Hub that is the best way to use these bulbs, but for most of you reading this review you probably don’t already have a hub, or maybe aren’t ready to make that purchase until you learn a bit more. Don’t fret, as there is a really nice GE Link Starter Kit which includes two bulbs, and a miniature version of their hub that you can plug into any outlet, and is quite affordable. This mini hub does have some future limitations as to the number/type of devices it can control, but for a starter kit, is more than adequate to make your entrance into smart home lighting. And you can always get full-size Wink Hub down the road, if you want!
Getting started with this kit is relatively easy, simply plugging in the Link Hub, screwing in the two bulbs, and using your iOS or Android smart phone app to get going. Although the starter kit only includes two A19 bulbs, GE does also offer BR30 bulb and PAR38 bulb options, should you want to add/upgrade down the road. We tested the lights with our existing Wink Hub and setup was painless. We’d also speculate they MIGHT work with any Zigbee controller but didn’t test this theory.
SIDEBAR: If you’ve been shopping at Home Depot, you’ve probably also seen the CREE Connected bulbs as well as the INSTEON Bulbs on the same shelves. We’ve opted to NOT include those two options here for a very crucial reason. If you’re just getting started, both of them require purchasing a hub that works with their products, and don’t offer what we consider an affordable starter kit. In the case of the CREE bulbs, any Zigbee compatible hub would work, such as the SmartThings or Wink. In the case of the INSTEON Bulbs, you must use their propriety system hub, which we also don’t like due to their closed eco-system. Either way, these products are not as easy to get started with and/or don’t offer any benefits over the other items tested here. Our suggestion: stick to the products you see here, as they are our top picks.
We like the GE Link bulbs for their entry-level cost, and decent performance. Brightness on these A19 bulbs was very strong, but they cast a rather strange beam pattern compared to other bulbs, with sharper edges and less softness. They also had “streaks” in the middle of the beam that came up from the lamp shade, as shown in the comparative photo in the gallery versus TCP. But they are bright, and for the $15 price offered a good bang-for-the-buck investment/entry.
Dealing with the user interface you get the Wink app/platform, which is what you’re getting into with their starter kit or the hub. It is easy to use and relatively intuitive, but the level of control isn’t quite as powerful as the SmartThings hub down the road. Still we liked the colorful, friendly menus, the easy-to-follow setup instructions, and the other on-screen helpful hints that Wink has baked into their software.
There was a time that the GE Link bulbs were the only $15 smart bulb, but that time has passed. We have some slight concern about Wink’s future, but hope they stick around since their platform is VERY robust, offering integration with a wide variety of other non-lighting products. If you future home involves a smart garage door, door lock, or similar item, the Wink hub compatible products list is pretty extensive, making these bulbs a great start point.
At this point we would recommend the GE Link bulbs in situations where you already possess a Wink hub and/or you want a low-cost white-only $15 bulb that works nicely with that hub. But keep in mind they lack a color-adjustable bulb, and no offer no warmth-adjustable options for their white bulbs. So if you want your first step into smart lighting to have more than just fixed-white brightness, keep on reading!
Like the GE Link above, the TCP LED Connected A19 bulbs are most readily seen when shopping at Home Depot, or other similar hardware stores. And also like the GE bulbs, they come standard in kits of A19 bulbs, but also offer a BR30 bulbs and PAR38 bulbs for those in need. Additionally, the TCP series of bulbs are white only, without the color options you’ll see from other brands later in this review.
Like the GE Link Starter Kit which includes a small hub in the box, the TCP Connected Starter Kit comes with their own hub, which they call a Gateway. However, where the GE unit is completely wireless other than power, the TCP Gateway must be plugged by Ethernet cable directly into your home network/router. Note that you can purchase the TCP Gateway separately, should you desire to not buy their starter kit for some reason (such as going straight to BR30/PAR38 bulbs). We found that having to plug into your home network by Ethernet makes the TCP system slightly more complex, but hardly what we would call difficult to setup.
For those concerned about future expansion these TCP bulbs are compatible with the Wink Hub, which again is why you’ll find them at many hardware stores. They can also integrate with a SmartThings Hub, which is what we tested thoroughly (and use daily!). We love that the TCP bulbs have diverse integration. In our testing we have motion sensors (from Samsung) that turn on our TCP lights automatically, and it works great. You can do the same thing with the GE bulbs, with a Wink Hub and compatible motion sensor, too!
But again, all of this is getting ahead of ourselves. If you’re just getting started in the world of home automation and smart lighting, you’re probably more curious as to why you would pick the TCP bulbs over the GE Link bulbs, or vice versa?
In truth they are both nearly identical. We like that with the GE Link bulbs tend to be slightly cheaper per bulb. But we preferred the softer beam pattern of the TCP bulbs over the GE Link bulbs. Both offered similar rated at 800 lumens of white output, though the GE bulbs were just perhaps marginally brighter. Furthermore, we don’t much care for the design of the TCP app, but we love having the ability to create schedules, take pictures of your places, create rooms, dim the bulbs easily and be able to make multiple schedules according to specific times, days, and even sunrise, sunset. Many of these scheduling features are also available with the GE bulbs using the Wink app, though setting up some of it was easier on TCP.
Overall we found the TCP app is great for those who want simple, easy-to-define schedules. We would even recommend this platform for “the parents” (i.e. the Baby Boomer generation), as we don’t think it is as confusing or overwhelming like some of the other apps (we’re looking at you Philips Hue). Visually speaking the TCP app was not nearly as pretty as the Wink app, but both offered similar usefulness for a just-getting-started system.
If your future smart home should include the purchase of an Amazon Echo, then there is no difference between the TCP bulbs and the GE Link bulbs. Both will require you have a Wink or SmartThings hub to interface the Echo to the bulbs. This is not a big deal but it does contrast the Philips Hue system, which can connect directly to the Echo without the Wink/SmartThings extra. Also take note that the TCP/GE bulbs have no way to be part of a HomeKit setup at this time, which again the Hue can do! (See more on that later in this blog post)
Bottom line is this: the TCP bulbs are every bit as good (or bad) as the GE Link bulbs. They both lack white bulbs that can adjust for warmth, and neither offer a color bulb option. But both have a variety of sizes on the market, making it really a coin-toss between TCP vs GE, with the TCP having that softer beam/light pattern, but the Wink having a more direct connection to a hub that has greater future expandability. If you are totally new to the market, we might skip the TCP bulbs and go right to the Wink Hub and some GE Link bulbs.
TCP is a good way to get your feet wet, but we can’t help but feel like the other options (below) that are somehow better, even if more expensive. If you want to start off inexpensively sure white-bulbs are okay, but if you’re willing to spend the extra cash you can get a much more “colorful” experience with your purchase. Let’s keep going!
It has been over a year since Belkin International and OSRAM Sylvania formed a partnership for WeMo Home Automation products, and the first products from this alliance have now trickled onto the market over the past few months. For purposes of our lighting test here, their Belkin WeMo Smart LED Light Bulb will remain the focal point of this segment of our review. We’ve also included their recently released WeMo LIGHTIFY LED Flexible Strip. This device comes in direct competition with the Philips Hue strip, both which are very fun to add to your smart home setup. Look further down, into the Philips section, for our thoughts on that light strip.
For outdoor lighting Belkin WeMo now sells their WeMo Osram Lightly Gardenspot Kit, though we did not test these (maybe next spring?). All in all the Belkin WeMo lineup continues to grow, and it is one we’re very excited about. Belkin WeMo offers everything from smart cameras, to smart wall switches, to smart outlets, and even a WiFi-enabled smart Crock-Pot Slow Cooker!! For this blog post we’ll focus on their two best-selling lighting options, but paint us curious about the rest of their hardware. If you need other size bulbs, they even offer a Sylvania Ultra IQ BR30 (WeMO compatible).
Like the GE/TCP kits, there is a WeMo Smart LED Lighting Starter Set, which includes two bulbs and a hub. Their hub is very similar in size and function to the GE Link device, where you simply plug the small power-cube-sized device into an outlet. Setup is simple, and the app is very easy to follow. As a matter of fact, the Belkin WeMo app is one of the nicest, cleanest of the bunch here. This is partially because of the limited function, but also in general is just comes off as more intuitive to use.
If you’re thinking about buying a WeMo LIGHTIFY LED Flexible Strip remember you’ll need their little WeMo Link hub. Should you not already possess a WeMo Link hub you can purchase a WeMo Osram Lightify Flex RGBW Starter Set, which comes with the hub as well as the light strip itself. At this point you may have noticed that the price of admission to the WeMo lighting is slightly higher than GE/TCP, but once you’ve got a hub take note that the price per A19 bulb is the same $15-20 approximately. What you will find missing, sadly, is the lack of any BR30/PAR38 bulbs options at this time that are official WeMo products. As noted prior, they offer that Sylvania Ultra IQ BR30, but hopefully the OSRAM alliance will bring more added sizes and options to their market offerings soon.
Our initial setup didn’t go so well, with hiccups trying to get the WeMo Link to recognize the bulbs and light strip. This contradicts our prior WeMo experiences, which have always been very solid. Once tech support got us figured out we were able to use the app to create timers and functions just like the GE/TCP hardware and apps. In our case, there is (at the time of writing this blog) an iOS 9 error they are working to fix. We had to setup the WeMo Link with an Android device we had laying around, and then move back over to our iPhone. This worked, but they hopefully will resolve it soon!!
SIDEBAR: When we purchased our setup, we got the WeMo Osram Lightify Flex RGBW Starter Set which came with the Link hub their system requires. At the same time we picked up a Belkin WeMo bulb, just one bulb without hub. Little did we know/realize this was the old bulb. They are now offering bulbs that are warmth-adjustable, but we’ve only managed to find those as part of their start kits, and only at local big-box stores. So please note that while we didn’t include testing of this feature, if you want warmth adjustment for your A19 bulbs, they do offer such, just make sure you get the OSRAM Lightify versions.
Belkin’s WeMo app includes things like sunrise/sunset and other features that made the overall experience quite pleasurable. Overall we’d describe the interface of the WeMo app being colorful like GE/Wink, easy to use like TCP, and generally speaking VERY nice for users of all skill levels. Generally speaking the WeMo brand products is probably the simplest for newcomers, since the simplicity of the feature set allows the app to be a little more watered down.
For those focusing on future-proof concerns, the WeMo hardware has a direct integration with the Amazon Echo, allowing you the ability to add future voice control without the need for a smart hub (like the GE/TCP bulbs would require). That means that starting off with WeMo and then moving into the Echo is a simpler experience. You can also integrate your WeMo hardware with the SmartThings Hub, just like the TCP setup. So where GE hooks to Wink, TCP & WeMo work with SmatThings, providing future growth for things like motion sensor triggers and the likes. Without a smart hub, however, you can get some of that control using IFTTT if you want to get crazy with your home automation. But we’ll admit that for most people the out-of-the-box experience is adequate.
Performance of the lighting gets interesting here, as the rating/lumen output of the Belkin WeMo Smart LED Light Bulb was on par with the other $15-20 bulbs. For more money you can get their new $30 OSRAM Lightify version which offers a tunable feature where you can set the warmth of the bulb to your specific desires as we mentioned. This is in contrast to most other white bulbs, which have purely adjustment for brightness and nothing else. (Note that later we’ll show you a LIFX bulb that offers this same warmth feature, but with more lumen output, for only $10 more, and needing no hub). This may not be a feature everyone needs, but it does add a layer of adjustability that puts the WeMo on a pedestal over the rest of the entry-level bulbs at this price level.
Belkin is a brand that has been around for ages, and their quality is top-notch. We loved the whole overall experience, though we would like to see a broader range of bulb size options. As shown in the photo gallery, the light was nice, bright, soft, and attractive. We have no issue recommending these bulbs for their price.
One thing we noticed during our testing was that anyone with the WeMo app installed on their smart device who was also connected to your local WiFi would have access to any of your local devices. This was odd, in a world where most smart home devices require a username and password, that the WeMo would be this open. This is something we feel needs looked at by the Belkin team, to make more secure in the future.
If you don’t need a color bulb and want a superior app experience, the WeMo Smart LED Lighting Starter Set is a great place to begin. We loved the color light strips, which I’ll discuss later in the Philips Hue section. And we like that Belkin is taking smart home products beyond just lighting, offering switches, kitchen appliances, and more.
If you’re torn between TCP, GE, and WeMo, you’ll really need to consider your future plans, and how much more home automation / smart home tech you plan to get. Belkin’s WeMo lineup brings light switches, smart cameras, and more “cool products” to the same app, which has merits all to itself, even though some of those devices they offer won’t integrate with certain hubs. And they do really nice integration with the Amazon Echo.
But if you’re still holding out for the bulbs that changes color … just keep on reading!
When I first heard about the Misfit Bolt Smart Light Bulb I’ll admit it was a surprise. Why did a wearables company want to make a smart bulb? They tout some of the special features being the ability to turn your light(s) on with your Misfit wearable device, which I suppose is cool if you want that sort of thing. Still, I don’t personally see the two overlapping enough to totally make sense. But who am I to judge? And when you consider this bulb is $10 cheaper than the other color-changing bulbs, we HAD to review it.
We like it, even though it is a fairly new product that isn’t super well-known. But this is currently the only bulb from Misfit, so it is a smaller eco-system with, at the time, ZERO integration into third-party apps. But if you’re not too worried about future expansion, saving that $10 might make sense. That is, assuming the quality of the bulb is still worthy of the price. And sadly, it most definitely is not.
We pitted the Misfit Bolt against the new Philips Hue color changing bulbs which are $10 more expensive, and require a Hue hub to work. Although you get the direct WiFi connection with the Misfit Bolt, that is indeed the only advantage you’ll get with this bulb. As you can see in the gallery above, the Bolt failed to hit colors accurately, even more so than the Hue. In all instances the colors were washed out when on full-brightness, making for a rather dismal experience. When we dimmed the bulbs down to about 50% we managed to get a sharper level of saturation, but still not satisfactory, and then it was also less bright.
We had considered not including the Misfit Bolt, but found the price attractive and the product intriguing. I found it most odd that the box itself was placed near their fitness bands, rather than with the other bulbs, at my local electronics store. In the future we expect there to be more integration with other smart home products, so while the Bolt isn’t our top pick right now, you should keep it, and the brand, on your radar.
However, until they can improve the color quality, we’d spend the extra $10 for the very similar LIFX Color 1000 bulbs we test later in this review. For now, let’s check out some BETTER color bulb options on the market.
By now you’ve probably already heard of the Philips Hue Bulbs product line. Philips has a prominent display of their Hue product in most big box stores, typically stocked with dozens of their Philips Hue White and Color Ambiance Starter Kits. For quite some time now the Hue lineup has been the benchmark for smart lighting, thanks to Philips being one of the first to introduce color-changing bulbs that could be controlled by your smart phone.
Like the other Starter Kits, you get a couple A19 bulbs and a hub. And like some of the other manufactures, Philips offers other bulb size options. What sets the Hue lineup apart is that they offer a wider range of bulb options than most others, as you can see when you shop their products here. Spot lights and desk lamps are just some of the fun options they offer, but again for our testing here we’ll be focusing on the Philips Hue A19 Bulbs as well as their Philips Hue Lightstrip Plus product.
SIDEBAR: It is important to note that in the Fall of 2015 Philips launched a new lineup of products, updating some of their existing bulbs. Their old “Lux” branded white bulbs are now called the Philips Hue White, which were bumped up from 600 to now 800 lumens. The same goes for their color bulbs, which are also 33% brighter and were renamed Philips Hue White and Color Ambiance Bulbs. Furthermore, the new Philips Hue Lightstrip Plus now offers an extension feature, allowing up to 33-feet of lighting! Our testing here includes all the latest versions of all this hardware, for your benefit.
If you are going to delve into the the Hue product line, and get their Philips Hue Starter Kit as most people do, you’re spending more than the competition by quite a bit. Part of this is due to the fact that you’re getting three bulbs, where most other kits only provide two. But the bigger reason the price is more? Color. Getting a color-changing bulb has been the differentiating factor that has made the Hue a top seller in this category. And up until now nobody has managed to touch Hue in that realm. But I encourage you to read the next section before you buy, because the new LIFX hardware gives the Hue a run, and maybe even bests it! (you’ll have to read it to find out!)
Still, the Philips Hue is a tried-and-true piece of kit, with solid build quality and an app that works relatively well. Setup of the Philips Hue Starter Kit is simple, no worse or better than the rest of this group by any major distance. Follow the on-screen prompts to add new bulbs, and away you go! We’re not huge fans of the “drop-pins” that the Hue app uses to change the colors of the bulb. Overall we feel the Hue app isn’t the most intuitive, and in truth, not the most powerful. We had to use IFTTT to produce some of the triggers and automation we wanted with smart lights, or in some cases, a complete 3rd party app to get the sunrise/sunset features we desired. Where some of the other apps (TCP, or WeMo) are very simple to use, the Hue app can be quite confusing at first. But once you master how it works it functions satisfactorily.
Perhaps most importantly about their new products is that the new Hue hub is HomeKit compatible, and that sets it aside in this test as being the only light bulbs that offer this feature. None of the other smart lighting we tested here works with Apple’s Siri system, so if you’re set on having HomeKit function then this is currently your only option. Note that Belkin announced plans to add HomeKit months ago, and we suspect brand like LIFX will follow. But at this time there is no roadmap data from either manufacturer to indicate when this may actually occur.
Due to some product release delays our Hue testing was unable to include new white-only Philips Hue White bulbs. We did manage to get our hands on the new color bulbs, and even the new Philips Hue Dimmer Switch, as well as the noted Philips Hue Lightstrip Plus. We suspect most people are interested in the color products, so our focus is primarily there. We’ve had Hue products for a while, so the first thing we did was compare the new 800-lumens bulbs to the old 600-lumens bulbs.
You can really see the 200-lumen increase in brightness, but the color spectrum remains problematic, with only the red and green colors being accurate. Blue is always a bit purple, cyan/aqua is always washed out (too white). Overall the old bulbs versus new only really increased brightness, but provided no better performance than the old Hue bulbs they replaced. Our comparative photos (old vs new Hue) wasn’t worth showing here, as the only difference on the camera was the brightness. You’ll just have to take our word for it, they are brighter!
If you’re a current Philips Hue bulb owner, would we suggest upgrading? If you find your existing setup isn’t bright enough then yes, you’ll get 33% more output. And if you want HomeKit, the new hub is the only way to get there. But beyond that, existing Hue bulb owners may not want to spend the money to upgrade just for a little bit more light. If you have a Hue setup now, the Hub alone is a worthy upgrade, but the bulbs are probably not worth the coin.
As for the Philips Hue Lightstrip Plus, the improvement there was not just in brightness, but also color performance, extendability (length), and flexibility. Right off the bat you’ll notice, when compared to the old Hue light strips, these new guys are indeed far more bendable. You can wrap them around things more easily, like a table or similar. But our favorite new feature/option is the Philips Hue Lightstrip Plus Extension, which allowed us to finally get the lights near one of our tester’s fireplace to look proper and not fall short of the end edges. (See the photo included in the gallery)
Earlier we talked about the WeMo LIGHTIFY LED Flexible Strip, and that we would compare it to the Philips Hue Lightstrip Plus — so let’s do that! In the Hue gallery (above) you can see a few photos and their captions will help explain what you are looking at there. For whatever reason the spacing of LEDs from the old-to-new Hue strips has changed. However, all three strips had very similar overall brightness output. We found the new Hue strips “spacing” did cause your some vertical strips on the wall during our testing, but pulling the strips away from the wall can help.
Again, if you have existing Hue strips, the new Philips Hue Lightstrip Plus might not be worth the price of admission just to upgrade. All three strips did a great job hitting color saturation, far better than their A19 bulb counterparts. This was always the case, even with the older Hue hardware. And we’d have a hard time really saying that the WeMo LIGHTIFY LED Flexible Strip was greatly any different from the Philips Hue Lightstrip Plus. Frankly we wouldn’t say one is better than the other, at all– and would suggest you simply buy the light strip that matches your planned ecosystem. In the off chance you are shopping exclusively for a light strip option, we’d probably go with the Philips Hue device just because they have a broader spectrum of other fun lighting options you can get down the road.
You’ll need to read the LIFX section below to our final thoughts on the Philips Hue color bulbs, but with their broad variety of bulb sizes and established eco-system, Philips Hue remains one of our favorite options. And with HomeKit support it was my personal choice for my home in a long-term environment. Furthermore, Hue has more integration into 3rd party apps and hubs than any other platform out there, so it remains a very future-safe option. You can also link up to an Amazon Echo directly, no extra hubs needed.
But before you over that Philips Hue Starter Kit make sure you read the next section about the LIFX Color… I promise you, it is worth your time! I’ll just say that the Hue bulbs are no longer the “only game in town” …. 🙂
Like Philips who recently updated their smart bulbs, the LIFX brand also has some new hardware on the market just in time for the holiday season. Their two primary options are the LIFX Color 1000 A19 smart bulb, and the LIFX White 800 smart bulb, and they just released a BR30 bulb option right as we posted this blog article. If you can live with just those two sizes then you should definitely give these new bulbs your consideration.
The setup of our LIFX bulbs was an absolute cinch. Download the app, setup an account, plug/screw in the bulb, app finds the bulb, links to your WiFi settings, and you’re all set! You can name the rooms your bulbs are located, and even name each specific bulb. In comparison, the Philips Hue setup is no complicated process by any means, but you have the hub, and then you connect your devices. It’s one small extra step, but one more step nonetheless.
Both Hue & LIFX could be easily set up by a tech novice. If you’ve ever set up a router, a computer, or a smart phone, you’ve actually set up something that is more difficult than these lights. The app walks you through the process like a reliable tech friend. It’s easy, convenient and fantastic!
LIFX has made their app a bit more user friendly than Hue, and we’d describe it as being situated somewhere less complex to navigate than Hue, but perhaps not as simple and intuitive as Belkin or Wink. That isn’t to say it is bad, and actually we quite like the color wheel versus the drop-pins that Hue uses, and such. And the large size of the menus would be great for people with aging eyes.
Furthermore, LIFX has some simple yet cool effects baked into the app that you can only get with Hue by using 3rd party apps. With LIFX you can have it flicker like a candle, or even have the bulbs change color according to ambient sound/music. That one is a lot of fun for when you want to turn up the music and just dance! You can also use a strobe feature, but this one you need to hold down in order to enact it in case you have any health issues. Again, you can get all of this with Hue, but you currently need third party apps to achieve them.
Both Hue and LIFX have Apple Watch apps, though neither have complications as of yet. With Hue, you have the same control you have as from your widget on the notification screen. You can only opt to press from a select number of pre-created scenes (10 total and one of which is the all off scene). With LIFX you have a bit more control. You can choose the level of brightness of the bulb, but only with the last scene you were on. You don’t have scene options, sadly, on the Apple Watch app. (We’ve included a few photos of the LIFX Apple Watch app for your review in the gallery – but we don’t feel these watch features alone are probably deal breakers for anyone).
If you’ve got a huge arsenal of bulbs, you may need a large selection of scenes. In that case the
During our testing we integrated both the LIFX and Hue with IFTTT. We found that you can set color and brightness for Hue, but not fade. Comparatively, you have more control of the LIFX bulbs in IFTTT, including fading. We also tested the LIFX when connected to our SmartThings hub and it worked every bit as good as Hue, or any other smart bulb setup. And there is no hub to worry about with the LIFX bulbs. So if you’re looking for future expansion for your smart home, the LIFX bulbs can be integrated just as much as Hue if SmartThings is your planned hub.
Without a doubt the BEST color bulbs we have ever tested are these new LIFX Color 1000 bulbs. WOW!! You can really see those 1,000 lumens pumping out the brightest, most vibrant possible colors. The LIFX Color 1000 bulbs had a far superior accuracy to the color we selected, no matter what color you choose. You’ll see a series of photos in the LIFX gallery above, showing this off. In the past the Hue did a poor job with Blue and Aqua, and their new bulbs were no different. That was not the case with the LIFX Color bulbs, which were always spot-on! Not only are they able to provide a pure-blue, they also hit cyan/aqua, the color the Hue has never managed to cover properly. Kudos, LIFX… you did good!
If you want the brightest color bulb on the market, with the most true-to-life color accuracy, LIFX Color 1000 bulbs are the answer. But you’ll have to sacrifice options, since they only have a few sizes, and none of the fun “gadget” lights that Philips offers. We tweeted at LIFX and they assured us more sizes are coming, but provided no time table. That is good to know, so that you don’t buy into an ecosystem that limits your lighting options.
Down the road if you want Amazon Echo integration you’ll need a smart hub, unlike the Philips Hue which can be bridged directly to Echo. Still, we tested this by using our Samsung SmartThings Hub and things worked flawlessly, if you’re willing to go that route. Being able to tell “Alexa” to turn lights on/off with Echo/SmartThings is one way to avoid needing HomeKit, which is something we plan to talk more about in our next blog post.
We also tested the LIFX White 800 smart bulb, which was admittedly a bit less fun than the LIFX Color 1000 bulbs, but equally as important. Compared to the $15 GE bulbs, the $18 TCP bulbs, or the basic/old $15 WeMo bulbs, the LIFX White 800 adds a “warmth wheel” (that brown colored wheel in the gallery above). This is something that you can get in the new $30 WeMo bulbs (which we did not test). But what really makes the $40 cost of the LIFX White 800 worthwhile is the lumen output, which was rated similarly to others but proved to be brighter, and better. It blows our mind just how much brighter these LIFX bulbs are compared to the competitors.
And with that… let’s do a quick wrap-up!
CONCLUSION: Shedding Light
Simply put, you can’t really go wrong with any of the entry-level options. If you are totally new to the market, we really liked the Wink Hub and some GE Link bulbs, just because their hub offers a LOT of future smart home options. We also felt the bang-for-your-buck white bulbs that are the TCP LED Connected A19 bulbs are also a good place to go, but future expansion still requires some sort of hub, making it just marginally more expensive to expand down the road. But as these hubs are only $50-100 typically, you may prefer to save that now, and spend it later.
The WeMo Smart LED Lighting Starter Set from Belkin is a reasonable place to start, and they offer Samsung SmartThings Hub integration, making their hardware a reasonable place to go if you like what they have to offer. We liked their wide spectrum of products, beyond just lighting, which might be attractive for many users who want more from their home right away.
The best, brightest, and most accurate color bulbs are the LIFX Color 1000 bulbs. And the best eco-system with the most integration and future-proofing would be the Philips Hue White and Color Ambiance line of products. The Hue hardware also adds HomeKit support.
Mixing and matching many of these devices is easy to do thanks to devices like the Samsung SmartThings Hub, which is a personal favorite of ours. You can also use many of these with the Wink Hub, which remains another great option. We’ll have a review of both of these hubs, when paired to an Amazon Echo, coming at you VERY soon. In that review we plan to discuss those pieces of hardware, and compare/contrast them to Apple HomeKit, too!
Still, smart bulbs alone do not make a smart home. These light bulbs tend to be just a gateway to the next step, such as door locks, motion sensors, or smart cameras. In future posts we’ll be comparing some of those pieces of kit, providing feedback about our favorites this holiday season, both for a HomeKit, and for other platforms. If you plan to expand your home, stay tuned here to arijaycomet.com for more curated smart home tech reviews!
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