The best smart bulb bargains of 2020: Philips, Lifx, GE, Wyze and more

0
28


For years, I’ve maintained that smart lights are the most sensible entry point into the connected home. They’re simple, they’re relatively inexpensive, and you’ll use them each and every day, complete with the convenience of automation and voice control. And don’t even get me started on the energy savings, or the perfect, flicker-free dimming.

If you’re looking to make the upgrade, there are plenty of smart bulb options to consider, including a growing number of LED smart bulbs from reputable brands that cost $20 apiece or less. That’s roughly the same price you would have paid for a plain old dumb LED just six or seven years ago.

Now, believe me, I could go on about the benefits of smart light bulbs like these (and of LED lights in general, especially compared with the inefficient incandescent bulbs they replaced), and I’ve got lots of data to share from the weeks of tests we ran in the CNET lighting lab and here at my home… but I’m assuming you’re here for some quick buying advice, so let’s start there. Here are my favorites — none of which will cost you any more than $20.

Ry Crist/CNET

My new top pick among cheap smart bulbs for 2020 is the $13 Philips Wiz Connected LED. It isn’t a Hue bulb, but it does offer a full spectrum of RGB color settings in addition to the white light settings, which you almost never see for anything less than $30.

With Wi-Fi radios in every bulb, the Philips Wiz Connected LEDs don’t need a hub to pair with your router, and they can connect with Alexa or Google Assistant for voice controls, too. Apple HomeKit isn’t supported, but you can still control the bulbs using a limited range of Siri voice commands using Apple’s Shortcuts app. The Wiz app, which you’ll use for setup and programming, is surprisingly full-featured, too. Along with basics like grouping and scheduling, it offers a wide array of fun color cycles, plus useful extras you don’t often see at this price range like vacation mode lighting and energy tracking. All of that helps make it the first bulb you should consider if you’re looking for something smart.

Read our Philips Wiz Connected LED review.

Ry Crist/CNET

At just $10, the color-changing 60W-replacement version of Cree Lighting’s new, second-gen smart bulb is an outstanding value for anyone who likes the lights red, blue, green, purple or any other shade you like (and yeah, it does white light, too). 

The bulb supports both Alexa and Google Assistant voice controls without need for any extra hub hardware, so you can literally just screw it in, turn it on, pair with it in the Alexa or Google Home app, and then tell your assistant of choice to make the lights whatever color you like. I prefer the extra features in the Philips Wiz app, but the Cree Connected Max LEDs at least let you schedule automated lighting changes, and you can also set your bulbs to mimic the white light tones of the sun throughout the day. Not bad for 10 bucks!

As of writing this, Cree Lighting’s bulb is listed as out of stock on Amazon after its initial launch, but more stock is expected to arrive by the end of November. You’ll soon start seeing them on the shelf at Home Depot, too.

Read our Cree Connected Max LED review.

Chris Monroe/CNET

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 Google Assistant. They also offer a full range of color temperature options ranging from soft white light to daylight, which is 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, and a truly terrific value.

Read our Wyze Bulb review.

Ry Crist/CNET

It’s absolutely nothing fancy — no app of its own, no unique features — but this Zigbee smart bulb from the Home Depot store brand EcoSmart costs less than $9, and it even comes with a physical remote. Don’t care about the remote, or already have one? You can also get the bulbs in a two-pack for less than $10, which is a fair price for dumb LEDs with no smarts whatsoever.

With Zigbee radios in each bulb, you can pair these lights with an Amazon Echo Plus or a SmartThings Hub to start controlling them from your phone or with your voice, and like the Wyze bulbs, they even include multiple white light settings ranging from yellowy soft white (2,700K) to bluish-white daylight (6,500K). Like I said, they aren’t fancy, but they worked perfectly with Alexa when I tested them out at home, making them a great, no-frills value pick you can use anywhere.

Ry Crist/CNET

Now available for $19 each (and regularly on sale for as little as $10), the Lifx Mini White is a well-established Wi-Fi smart bulb with a terrific app and support for Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant, plus an excellent channel on IFTTT. It isn’t quite as bright as I’d like with a max setting of just 650 lumens or so, but it dims well and you can start using all of its features as soon as you turn it on, hubs be damned.

There are other smart bulbs that work with HomeKit, but only a few that don’t require a hub. Compared to those, the superior Lifx app features and integrations put it over the top. If you’re a HomeKit user looking for white-light automations like the lights coming on as soon as your phone detects that you’ve returned home, the Lifx Mini White is the best value.

Meanwhile, the color-changing version of the Lifx Mini is a lot more expensive at $45 — but it also boasts the best-looking colors of any smart bulb in its class. Consider it a worthy splurge candidate, but keep an eye out for sales.

Read more about how smart bulbs dim.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

GE Lighting is a Made for Google partner, so it’s no surprise that its lineup of C by GE smart light bulbs all work really well with Google Assistant. Specifically, they’re all able to pair directly with the Google Nest Audio and other Google Nest smart speakers and displays. Just screw the bulb in and turn it on, then take control of it using the Google Home app. 

From there, your Google Nest device works as the hub, offering snappy voice control and the ability to control your lights on your smartphone when you’re outside of home. As for price, a 2-pack of white-light bulbs costs $25 — a bit more per bulb than the cheapest Google-friendly lights, but still worth it for the ultra-smooth compatibility, in my opinion.

One last note: GE Lighting just released new second-gen, Direct Connect bulbs that use Wi-Fi instead of Bluetooth and add in better support for Alexa. As of writing this, they’re the same price as the first-gen bulbs at Best Buy — but if those first-gen bulbs go on sale, Google Assistant users should feel free to go with them instead. They’re just as good as the new ones at working with Google.

Read our C by GE Soft White LED bulbs first take.

Ry Crist/CNET

Sengled’s lineup of smart bulbs are basically a less expensive version of Philips Hue, and they work just as well with Alexa (and with Google Assistant, too). 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. With standard, white light LED smart bulbs starting at $10 each, they’re among the least expensive smart lights on the market, and if you don’t have a hub or an Echo Plus, let me point out that Sengled’s two-bulb starter kit with a hub included is $30 less than Hue’s, too. I’d rather 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 Sengled will absolutely get the job done, and the bulbs work like a charm once you connect them with Amazon’s smart speakers.

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. Sengled’s $10 bulbs ship free on Amazon.

Read our Sengled LED bulbs first take.

Of all of the smart lighting platforms available today, Philips Hue’s is the most well-connected, and at $15 each (note the link below is a $30 two-pack), 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 such as 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 with multiple color options, 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 our Philips Bluetooth Hue bulbs first take.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Just want a cheap smart bulb that’s as bright as possible? Check out the new line of Cree Connected Max LEDs, which includes an extra-bright, A21-shaped 100W replacement bulb (that’s it there on the left in the image above). At a cost of just $13, it’s capable of hitting 1,600 lumens at maximum, white-light brightness, and it includes a full spectrum of color settings, too. For comparison, a 1,600 lumen Philips Hue White bulb costs $20, and it can’t change colors at all. Plus, thanks to the built-in Wi-Fi radio, you won’t need a hub to connect the Cree Lighting bulb with Alexa or Google Assistant for voice controls. 

Read more on CNET.

Which light bulbs did you test?

When this roundup first published in 2019, I homed in on cheap smart bulbs that you can buy for $20 or less. Now, in 2020, I’ve added in several new options, all of which can be had for less than $15. Here’s all of them in a handy comparison chart — just keep in mind that I don’t have access to my lighting lab here during the pandemic, so I haven’t been able to take brightness readings for the newest bulbs on the list. When that changes, I’ll be sure to update this post.

Smart bulbs you can get for $20 or less

Min and max brightness Wireless standard Compatible platforms Color settings Requires hub? Current price (as of 11/20/20)
C by GE Soft White LED 15 – 828 lumens Bluetooth Alexa, Google Assistant, Apple HomeKit, IFTTT White light only No (requires C-Reach Hub to connect with Apple HomeKit, and a C-Reach Hub or Sol smart lamp to connect with Alexa) $25 for a 2-pack
C by GE Direct Connect LED 800 lumens (testing to come) Wi-Fi, Bluetooth Alexa, Google Assistant, Apple HomeKit, IFTTT Full color No (requires C-Reach Hub to connect with Apple HomeKit) $12
Cree Connected LED (1st generation) 49 – 894 lumens Zigbee Alexa, Google Assistant, SmartThings White light only Yes (Hue Bridge, SmartThings Hub, Wink Hub, Amazon Echo Plus, Amazon Echo Show, other Zigbee hubs) $12
Cree Connected Max 60W Replacement LED (2nd generation) 800 lumens (testing to come) Wi-Fi, Bluetooth Alexa, Google Assistant Full color No $10
Cree Connected Max 100W Replacement LED (2nd generation) 1,600 lumens (testing to come) Wi-Fi, Bluetooth Alexa, Google Assistant Full color No $13
EcoSmart A19 Smart LED 800 lumens (testing to come) Zigbee Alexa, Google Assistant, SmartThings Tunable white light Yes (Amazon Echo Plus, Amazon Echo Show, SmartThings Hub) $9 for a bulb with remote, $10 for a 2-pack
Eufy Lumos LED 47 – 827 lumens Wi-Fi Alexa, Google Assistant White light only No $33 for a 2-pack
Lifx Mini White LED 6 – 644 lumens Wi-Fi Alexa, Apple HomeKit, Google Assistant, SmartThings, IFTTT White light only No $19
Nanoleaf Essentials LED 800 lumens (testing to come) Wi-Fi Alexa, Google Assistant, Apple HomeKit, IFTTT Full color No $20
Philips Hue White LED (Bluetooth version) 13 – 850 lumens Zigbee, Bluetooth Alexa, Apple HomeKit*, Google Assistant, SmartThings*, IFTTT* (*requires Hue Bridge) White light only No hub needed for basic app controls, or to connect with compatible Alexa and Google Assistant devices $30 for a 2-pack
Philips Wiz Connected LED 800 lumens (testing to come) Wi-Fi Alexa, Google Assistant Full color No $13
Ring Smart LED Bulb 800 lumens (testing to come) Zigbee Alexa White light only Yes (Ring Bridge, Amazon Echo Plus, Amazon Echo Show) $10
Sengled Soft White Smart LED (Zigbee version) 70 – 873 lumens Zigbee Alexa, Google Assistant, SmartThings, IFTTT White light only Yes (Sengled Smart Hub, Hue Bridge, Amazon Echo Plus, SmartThings Hub, Wink Hub, other Zigbee hubs) $10
Samsung SmartThings LED 800 lumens (testing to come) Zigbee Alexa, Google Assistant, SmartThings White light only Yes (SmartThings Hub, Amazon Echo Plus, Amazon Echo Show) $10
Sylvania Smart Plus LED (Bluetooth version) 3 – 848 lumens Bluetooth Apple HomeKit Full color No (requires Apple HomePod, Apple TV or always-on iPad for HomeKit control outside of Bluetooth range) $20
TP-Link Kasa KL110 White Light Smart LED 800 lumens (testing to come) Wi-Fi Alexa, Google Assistant, IFTTT White light only No $14
Wyze Bulb 86 – 921 lumens Wi-Fi Alexa, Google Assistant, IFTTT Tunable white light No $8 (plus shipping)

How did you test them?

I spent a few weeks testing each of these light bulbs out. For the ones tested in 2019, 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. And, like I said, I’ll run those same tests for the new bulbs on the list as soon as I can. I miss that ol’ integrating sphere, lemme tell ya.

I also spent a lot of time testing each bulb’s ability to connect with voice assistants and, where applicable, their respective companion apps. Some lights, including EcoSmart and Sylvania bulbs, don’t come with apps of their own, and instead rely on the apps of whatever platform you choose to connect them with.


Ry Crist/CNET

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, 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 enough of that light makes it down beneath the bulb. The Cree and Sengled LEDs both did much better, as you can plainly see in those comparison shots above. (Like my spec tests, new comparison pics featuring all of the new bulbs tested in 2020 are coming soon.)

I’ll have a full set of comparison shots from our lab in the months ahead, but for now, here’s a look at how our new top pick, the Philips Wiz Connected LED, compares against Lifx and Philips Hue at its default soft white setting. Not much difference at all, really.


Ry Crist/CNET

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 GE Reveal LED, but they’re both at least better than the average LED.

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 existing, physical dimmer switches, because the dimming hardware in your wall will clash with the dimming hardware inside of the bulb, causing it to strobe.

Different smart bulbs dim differently — the Lifx Mini White LED (top row) uses a logarithmic dimming curve, which gives you a greater number of distinct settings in the top half of the bulb’s range. The TP-Link Kasa LED (bottom row) uses a linear dimming curve — a lot of the settings above 50% look identical, but you’ll see bigger differences between settings beneath 10%.


Chris Monroe/CNET

Another wonky thing worth knowing about smart bulbs is that some, like Sengled and TP-Link, will dim the light down using a linear dimming curve — i.e. the 10% setting gives you 10% of the full lumen count. Others, including Philips Hue and Lifx bulbs, use a logarithmic dimming curve that dims the light faster in the top half of its dimmable range, where it’s harder for the eye to detect changes from setting to setting. Bulbs like those offer a better overall range of distinct settings, but they won’t offer much of a difference between any of the settings under 10%.

You can read more about smart bulb dimming curves here if you’re interested, but know that all of the ones I’ve tested for this roundup thus far have 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 3 lumens at its minimum setting.

As you shop, look for little badges on the box that tell you which platforms each bulb works with.


Ry Crist/CNET

Platform compatibility

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 first-gen C by GE 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. The second-gen C by GE Direct Connect LEDs are a little better — they still connect great with Google, and now, you don’t need a hub to pair them with Alexa, either.

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:

Amazon Alexa

Pretty much everything works with Alexa at this point, so you’ve got lots of options. If you have a fourth generation Amazon Echo speaker (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 LED, or the EcoSmart LED. The new Echo can control all of them. Same goes for other Echo devices with a built-in Zigbee radio, including the second-gen Echo Show, the Echo Show 10 and older Echo Plus.

If you don’t have one of those devices and you don’t want to buy one, then go with a Wi-Fi bulb from Wyze, Philips Wiz, Cree Lighting, Lifx, Eufy or TP-Link. Of them, I’d go with Wyze for the extra brightness or Lifx for its best-in-class app and its excellent IFTTT channel. 

The full color version of the Lifx Mini boasts the best-looking colors of any bulb in this price range, but it costs $35. If you want Alexa-compatible colors for less than $20, go with Philips Wiz or a Cree Connected Max bulb.

Google Assistant

Like Alexa, 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 C by GE LEDs are 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. 

The new, second-gen, “Direct Connect” versions of the bulbs work well with Alexa, too — but you probably don’t care too much about that, so it’s fine to stick with the first-gen versions, especially since it’ll be a lot easier to find them on sale.

Apple HomeKit

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. C by GE bulbs support Apple HomeKit now, too, but you need the C-Reach plug-in hub accessory, which is sold separately.

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 quite as bright as the other two. Brightness aside, that’s the one I’d go with.

That said, Nanoleaf just released a new color-changing bulb that works with HomeKit, doesn’t need a hub, and costs just $20. I haven’t had time to test it out just yet, but it’s up next on my to-do list. If it works as promised and delivers easy-to-use, Siri-friendly colors at that price, it’ll contend for the top HomeKit spot.

Other platform points of note

Amazon, Google and Apple aren’t the end-all-be-all, mind you. For instance, if you’re a security-minded Ring customer, then you might want to check out Ring’s $15 smart bulb, which is also available as a weatherproof outdoor smart floodlight. Just keep in mind that you’ll need to have a Ring Bridge, too, so it’s really only worth it if you’ve already bought in with Ring’s smart lights, or if you’re planning on it.

Meanwhile, you can control several of the bulbs in this post on the Samsung SmartThings platform, and Samsung even boasts its own SmartThings-branded bulbs for just $10 a pop.

The takeaway from all of that is that it’s as easy as ever to find a good bargain on smart lights, regardless of what platform you use. If you’ve already bought in with one, you’ll want to be sure to stick with bulbs that work with it. If you haven’t committed to a platform yet, consider bulbs like Lifx and Philips Hue that work with just about everything. That’ll help keep your options open in case you decide to expand your smart home.

cheap-led-smart-bulbs-promo

Ry Crist/CNET

Questions?

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? My light bulb buying guide is here to help.

More smart home recommendations





Source link