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As smart home speakers like the Amazon Echo get more common, a whole crop of new tech accessories have popped up around them. Smart lights are among the most popular because they’re really accessible. Everyone has lights in their home, so it’s easy to replace them with ones that can do more than just turn on and off.
If you’ve been curious about smart lights, but don’t know where to start, we’ve compiled a thorough guide to explain which lights you can get, and how to use them.
What Are Smart Lights?
The difference between smart lights and regular ones is pretty simple: smart lights can be controlled by pushing a physical switch, an app on your phone (iOS and Android), or through a smart speaker like the Amazon Echo or Google Home. To work, your smart lighting must be connected to the internet (you’ll be walked through this process in an app), so make sure you have a good WiFi router. Smart lighting is a broad category that encompasses a few different types of lights.
What Are the Different Types of Smart Lights?
Smart light bulbs come in various sizes, but fit in standard-sized fixtures, so you can easily replace your existing bulbs without any tools. Smart light strips, meantime, have an adhesive on one side, so they can be set up in hard-to-reach places like underneath furniture. Battery-powered smart lighting allows you to easily take a single light from place to place. Outdoor smart lighting can illuminate parts of your home that aren’t close to an electrical outlet. Finally, smart lamps are an upgrade over the simple bedside table options most of us use.
We’ve recommended smart lights in each category based on research and hands-on testing. All of the smart lights we recommend can be installed by a single person in under a half hour. If you download your light’s corresponding app, create an account, and choose your location, you can set it up in a matter of minutes.
Best Smart Indoor Lighting: Philips Hue Starter Kit
Philips invented the smart lightbulb category when it launched its Hue line in 2012. The company released the third-generation of the bulbs in 2016, and they’re the ones we’re recommending here. This starter kit contains a Philips Hue bridge, and three Color Ambiance bulbs.
I’ve used Philips Hue light bulbs for four years, and they’re still my favorite smart-home accessory. You set them in up three steps: First, connect the Philips Hue Bridge to your WiFi router with the included Ethernet. Next, unscrew your old lightbulbs, and screw in the Philips Hue bulbs. Lastly, search for the freshly installed bulbs in the Hue app. Once installed, you can name each bulb, and control them in a bunch of interesting ways all from your phone. For example, you can adjust the brightness of each bulb, or set a bunch of them on a schedule, so they turn on right before you come home from work.
Each of the Color Ambiance bulbs in this starter kit can be set to one of 16.8 million colors. Set a group of them to one color to change the vibe of a room, or use the Hue “Scenes” feature to recreate a soothing lighting condition, like sunrise.
Ease of use, dependability, and wide customization options are the reasons we’re recommending the Philips Hue White and Color Starter Kit. If you can only try one smart lighting accessory, make it this one.
Best Outdoor Lighting: Ring Solar Pathlight
Ring is known for its video doorbell and other smart security equipment, but the company recently got into the smart lighting space. Its Solar Pathlight is the best outdoor smart lighting set I’ve tested yet. We’re recommending the Starter Kit, which comes with two Pathlights and a Ring Bridge.
The light comes in two pieces: a stake, which needs to be firmly planted into the ground, and the light itself, which screws on top of the stake. Setting the light up takes first steps: First, plug the top light into a power adapter with the included USB cable to fully charge it. Next, connect the Ring Bridge to your WiFi router. The third step is to set up each Pathlight using the Ring app. Finally, stick each light a few inches into the ground, as if you were planting a tree.
Once they’re set up, both lights can be set to work on a custom schedule, or to turn on automatically at dusk, and off at dawn. Although they need to be charged before their first use, Ring’s Pathlights have a solar panel on top, so they recharge during the day. They also have a motion sensor, which will send a notification to your phone each time it’s triggered. You can turn the motion detection feature on and off for each light, or disable it during certain hours of the day to avoid a barrage of messages as people come home from work or school.
I was pretty skeptical about Ring’s foray into a non-security, smart-home accessory, but its Pathlights have worked very well during my tests. If you need a little outdoor lighting, this starter kit is what we recommend.
Best Smart Light Strip: TP-Link Smart LED Strip Light
TP-Link’s Kasa Smart Light Strip can accent or help illuminate parts of your home that traditional lighting can’t reach. The ultra-thin, 80-inch light strip is adhesive on one side, so you mount it around the sides of your TV (as seen in the picture above), beneath cabinets, or along other furniture.
Setting the light strip up only requires two steps: First, find a spot for the light strip, and plug it in. Then, set it up through TP-Link’s Kasa app. This smart lighting accessory doesn’t require a hub, which makes setting it up even quicker.
Although it has a completely different shape than our other smart lighting recommendations, it shares many of the same features. You can set it to turn on and off on a set schedule, adjust its brightness and colors, and group it together with other TP-Link smart lights.
What sets it apart is its modular design. TP-Link offers extensions that you can attach to create an ultra-long light strip (up to 396 inches). You can also cut the strip at certain sections to create smaller ones. TP-Link programmed its smart light strip with ten different lighting modes, so it can pulse or change colors to set the right atmosphere. You can switch between modes, or adjust other settings through the Kasa app.
If you need smart lighting in a tight-cramped space, or somewhere unexpected, TP-Link’s Kasa Smart LED Strip Light is our recommendation.
Best Smart Lamp: AUKEY Smart Table Lamp
You’ve probably been using the same nightstand light for the past ten years; AUKEY’s Smart Table Lamp is a subtle upgrade.
This is the only smart lighting accessory we’re recommending that can be used without any additional steps. Once the lamp is plugged into an outlet, you can turn it on and off by tapping the touch-sensitive plate on its head. To adjust its brightness, place a finger on top of its touch-sensitive plate and wait a couple of seconds. If you push the WiFi button on the bottom of the lamp once, you can adjust the color of the lamp (there are only four options).
Taking advantage of the lamp’s smart features is a two step process: Hold the WiFi button on the bottom of the lamp until the light starts pulsing; Then, search for the light in the AUKEY Home app. After it’s connected, you can adjust all of its settings (brightness, color, etc.) through the app.
It may not be as high-tech as the other smart lights we recommend, but it’s a subtly smart gadget you’ll interact with every single day. Best of all, you don’t need to use it as a smart device if you don’t want to.
Best Wireless Smart Light: Philips Hue Go
Most indoor smart lighting needs to be either screwed into a fixture, Philips’ Hue Go light is a notable exception. Shaped like a ramen bowl, the light can run up to 18 hours per charge. Its battery life will depend on how bright you want it to be.
If you already have a Philips Hue Bridge, setting up the Philips Hue Go light requires one step: turn the light on, and search for it using the Hue app on your smartphone. If you don’t have a bridge, you’ll need to get one and plug it into your WiFi router using the included Ethernet cable.
The bulb inside the Philips Hue Go is based on the same technology as the company’s Color Ambiance lights. That means it has the same great features, including the ability to change its color, adjust its brightness, set it on a schedule, group it with other Philips Hue lights and use it to help create a custom color scene. Philips says setting a custom scene will reduce the Philips Hue Go’s battery life down to five hours.
If you want to easily take your smart lighting from room to room, or into an outdoor area like a backyard tent, this is your best choice.