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It seems everyone is selling smart lighting products How to Set Up Smart Lights So They Don't Annoy Everyone How to Set Up Smart Lights So They Don't Annoy Everyone Sometimes all you want is a smart bulb that does what it's suppose to do - turn on or off. Sometimes it can be downright difficult to get your smart light to work properly! Read More — from big box and specialty stores to local food markets. And that’s to say nothing about the many online stores out there! With so many vendors selling these products, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that more manufacturers are getting in on the fun. In doing so, however, it becomes increasingly harder to tell the differences between one smart lighting solution and another.

Thankfully, we’ve done the research for you.

In this article, you’ll learn the differences between the three most popular smart home lighting standards and see some examples of each. Then, you’ll have a better idea which solutions are best for your home and lifestyle.

What Makes a Smart Bulb Smart?

As I’ve written previously Philips Hue or LIFX? Pick the Best Smart Light Bulb for Your Home Philips Hue or LIFX? Pick the Best Smart Light Bulb for Your Home Do you find yourself overwhelmed by the number of smart lighting products available? Here's everything you need to know before you pick out smart bulbs for your home. Read More , by definition smart lighting is a technology designed for energy efficiency. Unlike traditional LED bulbs, which are also energy efficient, smart lighting solutions offer automated controls that can make adjustments based on external conditions such as occupancy or daylight availability.

To determine whether a lighting product is smart, consider two simple giveaways. First, the product will have “Smart” somewhere in its title. Second, look at the product’s description for language indicating that it’s controllable through an app.

Smart lighting products must connect to your network and other devices wirelessly in some way. Increasingly, manufacturers have turned to one of three automation standards for this to happen: Bluetooth Smart, Wi-Fi, and ZigBee.

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Bluetooth Controlled Smart Lighting

Bluetooth Smart (sometimes referred to as Bluetooth Low Energy) was first introduced in 2011 as “Bluetooth 4.0.” An extension of traditional Bluetooth, this standard is a wireless personal area network technology designed for applications in the home and healthcare, fitness, and security industries.

bluetooth smart logo

As its name suggests, Bluetooth Smart uses very little energy and operates in the 2.4GHz ISM band. As such, it has a short connection time with a high data rate. From there, it goes into “sleep mode” until a connection is re-established, hence the reason it uses little power.

Pros: Unlike ZigBee, as you’ll see below, you don’t need to buy a separate hub to use Bluetooth Smart Here's How Bluetooth Will Make Your Home Artificially Intelligent Here's How Bluetooth Will Make Your Home Artificially Intelligent Zuli is taking geofencing to the next level, and their new geofencing-capable plugs show some of the potential of what a smart home can really do. Read More light bulbs. Instead, you can use your smartphone or other controllers for communication. This solution makes sense if you don’t care what brand of smart lighting products you buy or you’d like to mix and match. On average, the price for Bluetooth Smart lights is lower than those that use other protocols.

Cons: Bluetooth Smart doesn’t allow you to control devices when outside of the range. In other words, you can’t control your lights outside of your home. Instead, you must schedule them to turn on/off at certain times BEFORE you leave home.

Another limitation: Bluetooth Smart only allows 1-to-1 connections, meaning a bulb can only be connected to one phone at a time. Therefore, if you’re in a home with multiple devices, only one of them can connect and control the bulbs at a time.

Solutions Worth Considering

The Ilumi lighting collection includes various types of bulbs. Like other solutions highlighted here, Ilumi bulbs don’t require a hub or bridge.

ilumi smart lights

The Ilumi Smart Lighting app includes various presets and effects, rise and shine features, and the ability to sync with music. Better still, the app allows you to set a default color and brightness level when you turn on the bulb using a light switch.

The Flux Bluetooth Smart LED Light Bulb is a no-nonsense Bluetooth-enabled, multicolored, smart LED light that is controllable with a smartphone or tablet. The Flux bulb is $35 (or $100 for three). This bulb features a sunrise mode that can gently wake you up each morning.

flux bluetooth led bulb

Are you looking for something a little bit different? MagicLight Bluetooth Bulbs are dimmable, energy efficient, and available in multiple bulb styles starting at just $28 per bulb.

Wi-Fi Controlled Smart Lighting

When you think about home networking, you’re almost certainly thinking of Wi-Fi. This protocol is the way most of us connect our many devices to the outside world, including computers, mobile devices, smart televisions, video game controls, and much more.

wi-fi logo

Wi-Fi takes a lot of processing power, which isn’t a problem for devices that you can recharge overnight. However, it hasn’t always been the ideal solution forsmart home products Future Smart Home Trends and the Products You'll Be Using Future Smart Home Trends and the Products You'll Be Using It's time to jump into your time machine. You’re about to uncover what could be the biggest trends in the smart home industry in 2021 and the products you might be using. Read More such as light bulbs, window sensors, and the like. In recent years, however, Wi-Fi solutions have grown in popularity thanks to improved energy efficiency.

Pros: Wi-Fi bulbs will work wherever there’s a Wi-Fi connection. Additionally, because Wi-Fi connects to the internet, you can control these lights from anywhere on the planet.

Cons: If your Wi-Fi goes down for any reason, you can’t control these bulbs. And it’s important to note that Wi-Fi lights are generally more expensive than other solutions.

Great Wi-Fi Lighting Solutions

LIFX offers a full lineup of smart lighting solutions, including A19 and BR30. Besides offering 16 million color choices, the new LIFX+ lineup includes infrared capabilities, which enhance the vision of your home security camera.

lifx plus connected wi-fi lighting

With the Flux WiFi Smart LED Light Bulb, second edition, you can connect up to 50 bulbs from your Flux Wifi Pro app. You can control these bulbs individually or when grouped.

flux wifi 750

Would you rather have an all-in-one solution? TP-LINK offers an entire lineup of Wi-Fi smart lighting solutions, including white, color-changing, and dimming bulbs. These start for as little as $35 each.

ZigBee Light Link Connected Smart Lighting

Perhaps the most common smart home wireless standard is Zigbee. Like Bluetooth Smart, it requires little power consumption. Plus, because the standard works as a mesh network Are Mesh Nets The Future of The Internet? Are Mesh Nets The Future of The Internet? Mesh nets are powerful decentralized networks that may change the way we use the internet. Here's how they work. Read More , the possible range is much greater through ZigBee Light Link.

Unlike Wi-Fi, which requires a router, mesh networks allow each device to have a wireless signal. In doing so, devices can talk to one another more directly. When one device drops out, alternative routes remain, allowing the whole system to stay online.

zigbee logo

Pros: You can use ZigBee Light Link to connect hundreds of smart home devices at the same time while Bluetooth Smart has limits, at least for now.

Cons: The biggest criticism thrown at ZigBee is that it requires a smart hub for communication. These hubs usually add around $50 to the cost of your smart lighting solution. But for many users, $50 is a small price to pay for decreased connection difficulties.

Zigbee Solutions

The Cree Connected LED bulb produces soft white light and is one of the least expensive bulbs on the market. Once installed, these bulbs are easily dimmed or brightened via an app.

ikea smart lights

IKEA’s new lineup of lighting products, TRÅDFRI, includes LED bulbs, dimming kits, remote controls, and more. Each is reasonably priced compared to other solutions.

Finally, there’s the granddaddy of them all, the Philips Hue smart lighting system.

First introduced in 2012, the lineup now includes three types of smart lighting products in various shapes, sizes, and models.

Hue white and color ambiance lights provide the most complete experience, offering unlimited colors and the ability to sync with music, TV, and games.

philips hue lighting

Philips Hue white ambiance products offer a range of natural white light and are ideally suited for rooms where you wish to concentrate, read, and relax. Philips Hue white products provide comfort, dimming lighting for the least amount of money.

About Compatibility

There are two more important points worth mentioning, and each has to do with compatibility.

First, it’s important to know that some lighting systems offer more than one standard. The most obvious example of this is Philips Hue, which, in addition to being compatible with Zigbee, also works with Wi-Fi.

ifttt welcome

Second, thanks to IFTTT, even smart lighting products that use different standards can work together. In other words, even if they aren’t compatible, your smart lighting solutions could be tied together using this free web- and app-based service.

Final Thoughts and Observations

When it comes to selecting an intelligent lighting solution for your home, I think it ultimately comes down to answering two questions. First, do you want the ability to control your lights outside of your home? And second, what are you willing to spend How to Switch Lights On or Off With Your Phone on the Cheap How to Switch Lights On or Off With Your Phone on the Cheap In this article, you’ll learn about the many ways to control lights in your home with your phone. You’ll also see how each solution compares in terms of pricing. Read More ?

If you like the convenience of turning your lights on/off with your smartphone but don’t see the need to do this outside of your home, take a look at Bluetooth Smart solutions. You’ll find these are the least expensive on the market.

If you’re more into being cutting-edge, you can’t go wrong with either Wi-Fi or Zigbee, although please remember that the latter requires that you purchase a separate hub.

one way street

In my home, you’ll find a hodgepodge of smart lighting products that use different protocols. No, this isn’t a perfect solution, but one that slowly grew over time both out of convenience and due to changing technology.

Smart lighting products, like the overall smart home marketplace, continue to evolve and there’s no way of knowing what the future holds. In five years, for example, maybe we’ll be left with just one standard, rather than many. Or perhaps things will go in the other direction, and we’ll be dealing with more standards.

The bottom line? Take your time, shop around, and find the solution that’s best for your situation.

Which smart lighting solution do you use and why? Use the comments below and let us know.

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  1. Jay Ho
    August 20, 2017 at 3:45 am

    Readers really should consider the Lutron Caseta system. Hardwired switches and included remote controls, which means no new bulbs. Flawless operation, plenty of customisation, and full integration with Google Assistant and Alexa.

  2. Jay-Ho
    August 20, 2017 at 3:43 am

    You really should consider the Lutron Caseta system. Hardwired light switches, which means no new bulbs. Behind level of customisation, Flawless control, and full integration with Google Assistant and Alexa.

  3. Johng
    August 20, 2017 at 2:57 am

    You covered the 2nd, 3rd and 4th most popular protocols. Read up on Z-Wave...you may have heard of it.

    • GP
      August 20, 2017 at 4:22 am

      This thought ran through my head too as I read the article. I hope that the author will respond with an explanation of the omission of z-wave (& z-wave plus).

  4. Steve Barnhouse
    August 19, 2017 at 10:25 pm

    I use the Wink Hub, which is conspicuously missing from your review. It connects with Bluetooth, Zigbee and ZWave compatible devices as well as WiFi. I have been using it for several years now in two different houses absmd it has performed very well. I have connected a Nest thermostat and CO2/ smoke detectorand a Honeywell thermostat, Chamberlain MyQ garage door opener, lightbulbs from GE, light switches and outlets and it all perform as it should. Why reviewers leave Wink out of such comparisons is beyond me. It has at least as many manufacturers linked into the system as Smart Things, if not more.

    • Johng
      August 20, 2017 at 2:54 am

      Wink is a POS company, that's probably why he left it out.

      • Steve Barnhouse
        August 20, 2017 at 9:05 am

        Based on what? Have you used Wink in your home? I know about the bankruptcy of Quirky and the sale of Wink to Flexx and later to Will.i.am, but my interactions with Wink have all been positive and professional. You explain nothing and provide no backup for your statement that Wink is a POS company. Back it up. This is still early days in home automation and there will be companies and platforms that come and go. Reviews should bring such concerns out in the open, but the product and service should be judged on their own merits.

  5. Scott Trosien
    August 19, 2017 at 5:06 pm

    Just getting into the home automation craze earlier this year, I have thought am awful lot about options. Having had LED bulbs in place, while rare, I have had two bulbs just stop working far other to the expected life span. Getting into a purchase cycle dependency for a particular connected-bulb technology caused me concern on the long term investment into maintaining an illuminated home.

    Costs aside, the biggest consideration is the WAF. Having experimented with other lighting and media automation systems over the years with technologies such as X-10 that mostly work ok, I have found that the Wife Acceptance Factor to be the key metric for determine what can stay in our home. If the technology doesn't work reliably everytime it is needed, then momma ain't gonna be happy. A few glitches to start with are ok, but if she wants to simply see in a room but the lights won't come on then the tech now is a hindrance to daily life.

    That said, I decided to use an approach which thus far seems to be the best solution both in a short term and long term basis. That solution I am using is to replace the light switches with Lutron Caseta dinners. This has the key advantage of being automation capable, yet work reliably completely independent of the hub and automation technologies such as SmartThings. Worst case that my equipment rack is down, the house lighting still can be controlled with a local switch. I specifically avoided going with zwave switches because of the dependency that creates on an infrastructure.

    Through this approach, as long as the dinners do not have a significant failure rate , this is the most reliable and scalable lighting control infrastructure one can have. Integration with SmartThings for motion sensing and complex automation as well as controlability through a Google Home/Alexa enhance the experience but are not essential to simply being able to turn a light on.

    While the entry cost can be significantly higher than smartbulbs, one is free to use whatever bulbs over wishes in any fixture with this solution

    One does not have to rewire every switch to get going; I started with one switch at a time then expanded from there. Without sounding like too much of a Litton commercial, the technology also easily accommodate 2-way and 3-way lighting controls. All said, my wife is comfortable with the system and world quite well! Hope this helps bring in another option on smarty lighting.

  6. Shane Ludwig
    August 19, 2017 at 3:56 pm

    I settled on the Wink ecosystem, after trying out Cree and TP Link hubs. With tie-ins to IFTT and Amazon Echo, plus the myriad supported products, it is an entire home automation solution. We're considering a Nest thermostat as well as adding sensors for home security.

    I'm not sure when this article was written, but pricing of Zigbee has come down. You can get Sengled Smart bulbs for $10. A starter kit with 2 bulbs and a hub is $40.

  7. Ray-Allen Taylor / co Ochi
    August 19, 2017 at 8:03 am

    Nice summary , thanks for that.
    I started out with Osram, Just to find, that one part of a smart home is very very crucial; the app!!
    I like the lights by Osram, and my thought was 'its Osram, they should know what they do", but they don't. (Mo).
    For me a smart home should be something that connects to all parts of your live and the apps and services within. Like the Google assistant, Alexa, ifttt or stringify.
    So whatever smart home solution one chooses, have a good , very good , thought about how you want to use it and if the choose product is able to communicate with all your services .

    I ended up mixing my started Osram smart Home with the Ikea bulbs.
    The light is great, the bulbs are unexpensive and I can handle them via the Osram Hub (which I eventually will replace with the Ikea hub).
    Even though the Ikea solution is not able I communicate with most of the services in my live, I am very sure they will soon. And I am sure that Ikea has enough costumers to allways make them work on their smart home solution.

    And I would not recommend using the Bluetooth solutions. Once you started building your smart home, there will soon come a time where you sitting somewhere, away from home, asking yourself "did I turn off the lights?"