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How to buy the best smart lights

What makes smart lights so great and what do you need to watch out for?

iot smart lights

Smart lights are an ideal way to try out home automation without too much of an investment to find out if a Smart Home is really for you.

Wirelessly connected LED bulbs aren't just long-lasting; they can be controlled via an app on your phone or through voice commands from a smart assistant such as Apple's Homekit environment, Amazon's Alexa or Google Assistant.

You can also set them to turn on and off and even change colours automatically at preset times, or to set a particular mood.

This all happens via your home network. After a quick and painless setup process, your lights connect and are ready to go.

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Why buy smart lights?

  • Smart lights use LED technology and last up to 20 times longer than an old incandescent bulb.
  • You can control them remotely from your couch at home or in another country. Voice assistant support means you can speak commands to any voice assistant device (such as a Google Mini, Alexa speaker or even your smart TV) rather than use your phone.
  • A smartphone app allow for a large range of options such as grouping lights together, dimming or changing colour schemes, and creating special combinations of effects, called scenes. You can even have your lights turn on and change colour based on the time of day.

Couch control

While removing the need to flick a light switch might sound like laziness to some people, there are some real benefits to be had, especially for anyone with limited mobility.

Control via apps or voice

Having a central place to control your lights makes life easier when leaving the house, as you can turn every light off at once without wandering from room to room.

Voice assistants built into devices such as smart speakers and phones let you speak as if you were asking a question or making a command on your smartphone. You can turn lights on and off, as well as adjust colour, dimness and activate scenes you've already created. A smart speaker or other compatible device can sit anywhere in your home, as long as it can connect to your home network.

Colourful changes

Many smart lights can change hue and colour. This ranges from a limited white light spectrum (cool to warm white) up to 16 million colours, chosen by you from an easy-to-use palette.

Ever have trouble finding light bulbs that are all the same colour tone? Different regular lighting brands disagree on the exact nature of terms like "cool white" and "warm white". Opting for an adjustable white or RGB (red, green, blue) colour light means you can have uniform lighting right through your whole house.

Even better, you can change it up based on the time of day, such as enjoying white light when the sun is out and warmer colours as evening approaches. If you've ever wanted to mix things up with a splash of verdant green, vibrant red or any other non-standard colour, an RGB smart light does this without losing the day-to-day functionality of white tones – and you don't need two separate bulbs.

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Philips White and Color ambiance.

Setting the scene

Smart lights let you create scenes pre-set configurations made by you that you can activate with one button press or voice command. Set all your lights except the corner lamp to turn off when it's movie time, or have one or two glow a dim orange when you get up in the middle of the night and don't want bright house lights to wake you up.

Scenes also let you set lights to different colours, if they have that feature. Set up whiter light during the day and warmer at night. Or maybe you want to wow house guests with a futuristic purple and blue theme.

Alarming brightness

If you struggle to get out of bed in the morning, set your smart lights to turn on with your alarm.

Remote access

Remote access is a feature of many IoT devices. This lets you control your lights from anywhere, so long as you have internet access.

Only people you've trusted with your smart light account's login details can do this.

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LIFX Mini Day Dusk 

Long-lasting

Most LED and smart lights we've tested have a claimed life of up to 25,000 hours. At five hours per day, that's more than 13 years before they need replacing.

Though keep in mind, warranties are all between one and three years.

Smart light sizes and fittings

Smart lights come in all shapes and sizes. Bulbs with the standard E27 Edison screw and bayonet fittings B22 are most common, but you can get smaller bulbs as well as lighting strips and panels.

They all let you control them via an app. Most can be dimmed and almost all can be voice-controlled via a smart assistant.

Some brands have two or more options for maximum brightness, so make sure you pay attention before buying.

Colour options

There are generally three options when it comes to smart light colours:

  1. White: Like a normal bulb, some smart lights have one colour – either cool white or warm white, depending on the model and manufacturer. These are normally the least-expensive bulbs.
  2. Adjustable white: These let you control the degree of warmth your white light gives off. This way you can exactly match your smart lights to other bulbs you have around the house, or adjust the hue depending on the time of day.
  3. RGB colour: Usually among the more expensive smart lights in a manufacturer's range, some bulbs come with a full gamut of colour options. Control the colours via an app or your voice (if you have a smart assistant), and you can even program some to cycle or pulse through different colours.

Downsides of smart lights

Smart lights can make life easier, but there are some downsides.

Mo' tech, mo' problems

The more technology you add to any product, the more can go wrong. Sometimes smart lights can take much longer to respond to commands, especially when delivered via a smart assistant, and on rare occasions they might flicker without reason. They can even disconnect from your network and stop responding all together.

These problems are rare and can usually be fixed by turning the light off at the wall, waiting a few seconds and turning it back on again.

Problems with local network or internet connection

If your router is faulty or inoperable, none of the smart features will work. If your internet is down, but your router is still working, then most smart lights will still work because they can still reach your phone or smart assistant via Wi-Fi.

No matter what techy problems you may be encountering, the worst-case scenario is you use your> smart lights as regular ones (turning them on and off via a wall switch) until you can get your smart features up and running again.

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Sengled starter kit.

Updates

Occasionally, smart lights receive updates from their manufacturer. This puts them out of commission for a few minutes and they may turn on and off a few times to test new software. This happens rarely, but it's important to do the updates because they often contain new security measures.

Smart lights FAQ