Best Smart Lights 2021: Bulbs, Strips and Lamps

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 White And Colour Ambience Starter Kit B22

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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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