Tech

Instantly change the atmosphere with the best smart lights we’ve found

If you’re looking to give your home a refresh, there’s no faster way than to change the lighting. Decorative smart lights can act not only as wall art but as mood lighting as well.

And that’s not even getting to the smart functionality. Smart lights can be operated remotely, by voice commands, or on a schedule. Many can also pulse in time to music, or add drama to your TV or gaming set up.

Scheduling your lighting to come on at dusk or home time means your house will always have a welcoming glow when you need it. And scheduling it for morning can help you to wake more gently than a blaring alarm.

Plus, there’s the lazy pleasure of being able to dim the lights pre-movie, via your phone, tablet or even your smartwatch, without having to get up from the sofa.

We’ve reviewed and rated products from simple, white, dimmable lights to smart lamps with additional functionality, like the Dyson Lightcycle, which adjusts its brightness in relation to your local daylight. We’ve also got recommendations for the most fun, versatile and vibrant colour-changing panels.

And, if you read the smart buying guide after our round-up, we explain how ditching traditional incandescent bulbs for LEDs can be an advantage.

If you’re interested in building up your smart home ecosphere, check out our round-ups of smart heating and smart plugs.

Philips Hue Starter Kit – Best Smart Bulb System

Philips Hue is one of the best-known smart lighting systems. The starter kit comes with three standard screw-fit lightbulbs that can be adjusted from a smartphone app, and a hub that connects to your router. 

Control extends to brightness, colour and timing – you can set your lights to come on at preset times, or when you approach or leave the home, and even entirely remotely over the internet when you’re miles away. 

With the system set up, you can have the three bulbs in the same room or set in different rooms, although many of the preset lighting schemes use complementary colours so work best with the three bulbs in view together. You can control up to 50 bulbs, which should be plenty even for the biggest homes.

With a little exploration of its possibilities, and some of your own creativity to blend it with your home and lifestyle, it will literally light up your life. And like LIFX, you can control your Hue bulbs with Amazon’s Echo.

The latest Hue bulbs now even work without the hub, catching up to smart lighting rivals, though you’ll still want the Hub to link them all together and unlock the full functionality.

Read our full Philips Hue White And Colour Ambience Starter Kit B22 review

LIFX Smart Bulb

LIFX makes a range of Wi-Fi LED bulbs which are controlled via the excellent smartphone app. There are colour (including white) and dedicated white bulbs available in both E27 and bayonet fittings.

The Generation 3 lamp outputs 1,100 lumens, and the LIFX + is the same but also incorporates infrared LEDs that shine at night to light up the room for your security cameras.

LIFX bulbs are expensive, which is their main drawback, but you can get small discounts if you buy in bulk. The fact no hub is needed means that you save money compared to other systems such as Hive and Philips Hue.

Many will find the bulbs worth the outlay, as they offer excellent light quality, whether colour or shades of white, and the colour bulbs also offer the full range of white shades.

We particularly like the fact that the app separates whites and colours and you can adjust the colour temperature to mimic natural light at different times of day. If you have more than one bulb, you can group them and either synchronise the colour and brightness, or use one of the ‘themes’ which sets their colours and brightness independently. 

Grouping lights also makes it easier to control the bulbs from Alexa, the Google Assistant or (if you choose HomeKit enabled models) Siri.

LIFX also supports IFTTT, so you can get the lights to turn on automatically when you arrive home and turn off if you leave, as well as plenty of fun things such as making them flash blue when you are mentioned on Facebook, for example.

The range has expanded to include GU10 bulbs, and LIFX Mini, which should fit in smaller spaces where the large versions are too big.

Lightwave Dimmer Switches – Best Dimmer Switches

LightwaveRF

Lightwave is a smart lighting solution that’s a bit different to the others in this round-up, since it requires you to replace your light switches rather than the light bulbs themselves. It’s ideal for homes with multiple spotlights that would otherwise be incredibly expensive to individually replace, and also means that when one bulb blows you can just buy a regular replacement. Sadly, it’s UK-only for now.

To set up Lightwave you need to purchase the £129.99 Link Plus hub, which manages your assorted Lightwave kit, and you can then add on as many or as few Lightwave devices as you like. Each light switch costs from around £60, but there are various versions – and you can save money by opting for the first generation models, which are functionally fairly similar.

The Web Link will also manage other smart home devices from the company – you can set up devices that control your hot water and individual room heating, motion detection, and the opening and closing of blinds or curtains. You can also install smart switches on your plug sockets that allow you to turn the power on and off when required.

Lightwave has a companion app through which you can turn switches on and off from your phone or tablet, and through which you can set up schedules or timers that are ideal if you are going on holiday.

Lightwave integrates with Google Assistant, Amazon Echo and Apple HomeKit devices, plus IFTTT. 

Read our full LightwaveRF review

Cololight Pro – Best Value Decorative Light

Cololight Pro

The Cololight Pro is a decorative smart light, with a compact design that’s easily customisable. Comprising small hexagonal panels, the light can be formed into different shapes and programmed into a wide range of solid colours, dynamic effects and customisable patterns.

The design isn’t extremely robust – one knock and the whole construction can go tumbling. However, once you’ve got it in the shape you want, it can be a striking addition to any desk, end table or gaming setup. The Cololight can also be mounted onto the wall with an additional kit.

At this price point (from £39.99 for three panels), the Cololight undercuts lots of other similar products by quite a bit, and is a great product to start to experiment with if you’re interested in arty lighting.

Read our full Cololight Pro review

Nanoleaf Shapes – Best Features in a Decorative Light

Nanoleaf Shapes Hexagons

Nanoleaf Shapes are far from cheap but they’re a dynamic way to combine smart lighting with wall art. You can combine panels of different shapes (there are two sizes of triangles, plus the hexagonal panels we reviewed) to create your own interlocking designs.

They’re easy to set up and use, although the app is not very helpful at explaining all of the features.

Shapes can be set up to complement your TV or monitor and have touch sensors so that they can be used for games. You can adjust their brightness and they should last for 25,000 hours (34 years for two hours per day).

They can be controlled via their control panel or the app, although for some features, you’ll have to use the desktop app, rather than the mobile version. And they’re compatible with Apple HomeKit, Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and more.

They come with a 2.5m power cable, which will give you a bit of leeway in positioning your design.

Read our full Nanoleaf Shapes Hexagons review

Nanoleaf Elements – Most Stylish Decorative Light

Nanoleaf Elements

With the Elements set, Nanoleaf has created a set of lights that looks good both on and off – important really, in decorative lights. The panels have a textured, wood-effect finish that adds a touch of Scandi aesthetic to your wall. In our opinion, they’re the best looking Nanoleaf set yet. The lighting also reaches to the edge of the panels, which is an improvement on earlier sets.

However, all this comes at a price. Not only are they expensive but their features are limited. Instead of supporting colours, they only display a range of white light. This means they won’t support Screen Mirror or gaming gear integration. The music integration is also a bit patchy but there are other good features in the app, such as scheduling and gesture control. 

Bear in mind that if you’re not confident in setting up, the included manual isn’t a huge help and you might have to watch a YouTube video or two.

Read our full Nanoleaf Elements review

Nanoleaf Light Panels – Triangular Nanoleaf Set

Nanoleaf Light Panels Starter Kit

The Nanoleaf Light Panels are something a little different: a set of connected, Wi-Fi enabled wall-mounted light panels that can be used to set a variety of different patterns and sequences.

The accompanying app allows you to set the colour of each of the panels independently (available in starter sets of four, nine, or 15), or set all the panels to cycle through a colour palette, using one of a few different flow patterns. You can also vary brightness and speed – right up to an epilepsy-threatening max.

Creative types can program their own palettes and effects to save to the system, while the less inspired can use the pre-installed selection, or download a few more within Nanoleaf’s app. There’s also IFTTT and Alexa support so you can control it with your voice, use it as a light alarm or set it to respond to various triggers.

Assembling the panels is astonishingly easy – they just click together, and you can expand the starter kits with three-panel expansion packs. They attach to the wall with double-sided scotch tape, included in the pack, so feel very sturdy when attached but shouldn’t take too much work to take off the wall and move around.

The networking side of things is a little less reliable though – our panels have dropped from our Wi-Fi network a few times, and occasionally refused to re-connect. We’re hoping this aspect of the product improves, because when the set works, it’s one of the most stylish smart lights around.

Nanoleaf Canvas – Square Nanoleaf Set

Nanoleaf Canvas

The Nanoleaf Canvas is a follow-up to the original triangular set, but not as advanced as the Nanoleaf Shapes (see above). It consists of nine square LED panels that you can arrange as you like and mount on your walls in just about any configuration. Connecting and mounting the LED tiles is quick and easy, the Wi-Fi signal is solid, and the app and smart assistant support are both easy to integrate, so you can quickly control the lights from your phone or with voice controls.

There’s an optional mode to have the tiles change colour in response to music, although the rhythm support is fun but flawed and very dependent on how close to your speakers you can get the panels. The system is also expensive, especially if you have ambitions to build a sprawling design with tens of panels. Finally, the ‘cross’ effect produced by the LEDs in the centre of the panels is a bit jarring, and detracts slightly from the overall visual.

Still, it’s great fun playing around with designs for different occasions or moods, and once you’ve set it up, it’s a brilliant piece of interactive wall art that doubles as mood lighting.

Read our full Nanoleaf Canvas review

LIFX Z – Best Light Strip

LIFX Z

LIFX’s range includes an LED strip called LIFX Z. The starter kit includes the power supply and separate small controller box, to which the strips connect. You get two 1m strips in the box, and additional strips (you can have 10 in total) cost £29.99/$29.99 each. There’s also an expansion kit which comes with four strips, but this a little harder to find in stock.

What’s impressive is how bright these strips are – much brighter than Osram Lightify or Philips Hue, and with far better colour reproduction than the cheap strips you can buy. Plus, like other LIFX bulbs, they don’t require a hub, so can work on their own as long as they’re in Wi-Fi range. Plus, each strip supports eight colour zones and you can either choose a ‘theme’ or ‘paint’ your own colours using the app. 

Thanks to separate white LEDs, the strip also creates fantastic white light. You can choose from 2500-9000K, which is a huge range covering very warm white to cold bluish light.

The strips will adhere to most flat surfaces, are water resistant and bend vertically. However, it’s awkward to make them go round corners or install in a bay window as they’re not flexible horizontally along their length. 

Dyson Lightcyle Morph – Replicate The Natural Daylight Cycle

Dyson Lightcycle Morph floor lamp

There’s no denying the sophisticated tech at play inside the stylish Dyson Lightcycle Morph, but there’s also no getting away from the hefty price tag – £499.99/$649.99 for the desk version, and £649.99/$849.99 for the floor-standing model.

As the name suggests, the Morph is many lamps in one. It can be a task light, a reading lamp, a spotlight and – if you swing the bulb back over the perforated metal central column – it transforms into a muted, ambient light. 

It also has a daylight setting. Using a unique time, date and location-driven algorithm, the Lightcycle Morph adjusts its colour temperature and brightness in relation to your local daylight, providing the right light for the right time of day – no matter where you are in the world. (Dyson claims it used over a million satellite-based measurements of light conditions around the globe.)

It’s easy to set up and operate, and offers unrivalled brightness, dimming and colour-temperature controls. However, between the price tag and its fragility, we wouldn’t recommend it as a purchase for parents of young children.

Read our full Dyson Lightcycle Morph floor lamp review

Hey! smart strip – Best Value Light Strip

Hey! smart strip

The 12W RGBW LED smart strip from Hey! is excellent value. If you’re looking for an inexpensive way to add colourful backlighting to a gaming or TV set-up, it’s a great option. In the box, you’ll get a 5 metre LED strip, which can be stuck to most surfaces, and a power supply.

It’s easy to set up (as long as you have a good wi-fi connection) and the straightforward app makes it simple to control your lights and change their appearance at a touch. There are two lighting options: white and colour. The colour option is controlled with a touch wheel that allows you to choose from an endlessly tweakable spectrum of colours. You can also adjust the brightness and saturation for more subtle effects – good news, because maxed out, the colours are pretty lurid.

The white lighting option has a dimmer but no way to change the warmth of the light, which is a relatively neutral white.

You can opt to adjust the lighting yourself or choose from one of the pre-set ‘scenes’ that either cycle through colours (‘soft’, ‘colourful’ or ‘dazzling’ are examples) or create moods like ‘night’ or ‘leisure’ (static white light, at various brightness levels). There’s even a reading scene, although I think you’d struggle to read a book by its rather dim setting. Still, it creates a nice atmosphere for reading on an electronic device. You can also create and save your own scenes.  

Hey! also makes other smart lights, including bulbs and spotlights. The light strip, like most of the company’s products, is compatible with Alexa and Google Assistant for voice control. Hey! smart items are nicely boxed and come with an easy-to-follow start-up guide, making them good options for the less technically-minded.

Hive Active Light – Best for Hive Users

Hive Active Light Starter Kit

Hive lights require a Hive Hub. You can get the starter kit if you don’t already have a Hive Hub, but if you already have Hive Active Heating installed in your home, you can buy bulbs individually.

Hive bulbs come in bulb and candle models for both bayonet and screw settings and there are two different colour options. The Cool to Warm White bulb will, as the name suggests, allow you to change the colour temperature of a white light from cooler to cosier shades. 

The Hive Active Light Colour is a little more expensive but will give you a full spectrum of colours.

There’s also a fixed white dimmable bulb, which is the most cost-effective option. Just note that it isn’t compatible with dimmer switches: brightness is adjusted via the app.

Hive also makes GU10 spotlight bulbs, in both dimmable white and Cool to Warm. With a 350-lumen output, each GU10 is roughly equivalent to a 35W halogen version, but uses just under 5W at full brightness.

With all of the bulbs, you’ll get the best value if you buy multipacks.

LIFX Beam – For Highlighting Structural Features

LIFX Beam

Beam is ‘feature lighting’ rather than being designed to light up a whole room. It’s a lot like LIFX’s Z kit, but instead of flexible LED strips, you get six plastic ‘beams’ which stick to your wall and join together using magnets.

As well as whites and colours, you can choose themes or paint your own selection of colours along the length of the Beam kit, then you can animate those colours with various effects. 

There’s integration with Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri (plus HomeKit) as well as IFTTT. And like other LIFX lights, this one supports the Day & Dusk feature, which emulates natural light through the day.

Read our full LIFX Beam review

Elgato Avea Flare – Light Alarm Function

Eve Avea Flare

The Elgato Avea Flare is a smart LED lamp you can control with your iPad, iPhone, or Android device. You can control up to 10 of them from your phone, creating different mood lighting for every room in the house. 

You can set a static colour or choose from one of several themes, which slowly flow through preset colours.  

The Avea also functions as an alarm, turning on at a scheduled time. Rather than blinding you with light and forcing you to hide under the covers, it’ll gradually brighten just like a natural sunrise. 

The Elgato Avea is a good and affordable buy if you want a single smart LED lamp. You can add to the system too, but the app is a little basic for our liking. 

Read our full Eve Avea Flare review

Govee Glow smart table light – Affordable Ambient Light

Govee Glow Smart Table Lamp

The Govee Glow is an attractive table lamp that doesn’t look a million miles away from the much more pricey Dyson Lightcycle Morph. If you’re looking for an ambient light and you have limited space and budget, the Glow is a good option.

However, where the Morph will give you a number of different lighting options, from a bright working light to a soft relaxing glow, the Glow will only give you the latter. It’s not really even bright enough to read by.

But as a mood light, it works brilliantly, diffusing light through the punched out holes in its column. You can change the colours and perform all the other controls via the Govee app on your phone or by using a voice assistant. There are also buttons on its base for switching it on and off the old fashioned way.

Read our full Govee Glow Smart Table Lamp review

Lava BrightSounds – Best Camping Light

Lava BrightSounds 2

Smart lightbulbs may be the latest addition to the smart home, but what about when you’re away from home? We love this Lava BrightSounds smart lamp and portable Bluetooth speaker, and reckon it’s one of the best gadgets you’ll take camping this year.

Okay, so the Lava BrightSounds is not a mains-connected smart bulb like other examples in this round-up. But it’s dimmable, portable, waterproof, rechargeable, takes phone calls and plays music, and it uses an LED bulb, which makes it longer-lasting and more energy-efficient than traditional incandescent bulbs.

All that makes this the smartest lamp we’ve ever seen. It’ll also make a great addition to a kid’s nightstand, to allay their fears of the dark and play them lullabies as they fall asleep. 

With a lithium-ion battery inside, this Bluetooth speaker and smart lamp can offer up to eight hours of music playback, or up to 10 hours use as a lamp, all off a three- to four-hour charge from empty. You can also use it while it’s plugged into the mains. 

We’re pretty taken with the Lava BrightSounds. It won’t appeal to everyone, but if you’re planning a camping or festival trip, a BBQ party in the garden, or even just fancy a cool reading- or night light, this all-in-one Bluetooth speaker and LED lamp is worth a look. 

Read our full Lava BrightSounds 2 review

Smart light buying guide

Smart bulbs can create different mood lighting for different rooms in your house, give you control from afar or allow you to schedule on and off times from your phone or tablet. 

With growing support for smart speakers like the Amazon Echo or Google Home/Nest, you can use voice control to turn smart lights on or off, dim them, or change their colour – the sort of brilliant smart home feature that’s entirely unnecessary but spectacular fun once you have it set up.

Smart lights come with different fittings, including the bayonet type as well as E27 screw (and some come with adapters to fit both), although it’s harder to find smart bulbs that use the common GU10 spotlight fitting – and expensive to fit out a full range of spotlights.

All smart lights (certainly all those we’ve seen) use LEDs. Some key benefits to using LED rather than incandescent bulbs are that they use less energy, produce less heat, and last much longer.

But there are some downsides, too. A problem with LED lighting is that it’s still much more expensive than the technology it replaces. Yes, you’ll spend less on your energy bill and in buying fewer replacement bulbs, but how long will it take you to see a return on your investment and enjoy those savings?

Colour temperature and brightness are important for home use. The former is measured in Kelvin, where 2700-to 3000K is a warm white; higher values look cooler and lower values warmer. Brightness is measured in lumens – look to match or exceed that provided by your current bulb. 

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