The best LED light bulbs: 6 smart LED bulbs tested

6 smart LED bulbs tested: We name the best and brightest for lighting your connected home

The idea is genius. Put a full array of colored LEDs inside a standard, screw-in light bulb along with a simple wireless radio. Connect the bulb to an app on your phone and, presto, you can change the brightness and the actual color of the lights in the room with a tap or a swipe. All told, color tuning represents the greatest advancement in lighting technology since The Clapper.

Color tuning has a number of uses, from subtly adjusting the color temperature of the lighting in a room to spicing things up by giving your lighting a festive touch. Want red lights for Valentine’s Day or green ones for a St. Patrick’s Day party? A smart phone or tablet app makes it easy to tweak on the fly.

You might also want to read: Battle of the connected LED light bulbs: Cree Connected Soft White vs. GE Link

Color tuning is an emerging category, and bulbs on the market are far from equal. With no standards in place and bulbs costing a pretty penny, doing some careful research before you buy makes a lot of sense.

One of the first considerations should be the type of wireless technology the bulbs use. ZigBee solutions have a short range and require a gateway device that will limit placement to a few rooms, while Wi-Fi bulbs can be placed anywhere you have a signal, but you won’t be able to control one that’s stuck in a Wi-Fi dead spot. In large homes or buildings, this can be a significant issue. Bluetooth bulbs tend to offer somewhat better range than ZigBee, and they don’t require a gateway.

While having lots of colors is nice, don’t underestimate the importance of bulb brightness. A dazzling orange lamp doesn’t make an impression if you can’t read a book in the light it emits. All of these bulbs have their own dimmer systems included in the control app, but note that none of them will work properly on circuits with wired dimmer switches.

Here’s a broad overview of how these bulbs stack up. Use the navigation tools at the bottom of the page to move back and forth between our hands-on reviews of each of the six bulbs.

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At a Glance

The Sengled Pulse stereo system offers middling but decent sound along with bright white light.

Pros

  • Zero setup required for basic installation
  • Mobile app is streamlined and simple, with no training required
  • Audio quality is good enough for casual listening

Cons

  • Bulbs are enormous and only suitable for floodlight canisters
  • Wireless range is extremely limited
  • Dimmer is stairstepped and chunky

Limited range and a clunky mobile interface make Hue a tough sell amidst growing competition.

Pros

  • Photo-to-light hue matching feature is endlessly entertaining
  • Vibrant colors
  • Lots of configurability options, including a clever geofencing system

Cons

  • Disappointing brightness no matter what color you pick
  • Non-intuitive app interface
  • Major range issues in my installation

Lightify suffers badly from an arcane setup process, but once it gets going, it’s an impressive but simple tunable solution.

Pros

  • Unobtrusive gateway can be stashed in any nearby plug
  • Bright bulbs with quick responsiveness
  • Most attractive and familiar bulb form factor of the lot

Cons

  • Poorly designed setup process
  • Dimming isn’t smooth
  • Full-color bulbs not available yet

A big bulb doesn’t mean big light output: This dim unit trades brightness for a rock-bottom price tag.

Pros

  • Cheap
  • Super-easy Bluetooth setup
  • Some special modes make it fine as a party bulb

Cons

  • Not bright enough for use as a legitimate lighting device
  • Very short wireless range
  • App needs refining with usability in mind

Aside from its significant size, there’s virtually nothing to dislike about this spot-on bulb and its stellar mobile companion app.

Pros

  • Best-in-class control system
  • Utterly painless setup
  • Lots of fun extras turn the LIFX from a solid everyday bulb to an instant party accessory
  • Expensive

Cons

  • Enormous and unwieldy bulb size, weighs over 3/4 pound
  • Expensive

This Bluetooth bulb offers simple setup, but its control system still needs a bit of fine-tuning.

Pros

  • Dead-simple setup takes mere seconds
  • Bluetooth radio frees you from complicated wireless configuration
  • Wide range of colors to choose from

Cons

  • Very expensive
  • Some trouble with app responsiveness
  • Range limited by Bluetooth connection and proximity to bulb