A light!

The light bulb has been around a long time, and we all know how to turn one on. So what's the big deal about Smart Lighting? Well, yes, you can turn your lights on and off from your smartphone, but that's not what's so ground-breaking about Smart Lighting. It's the power it gives you to create a lighting profile for your home, providing a safe and comfortable living environment while saving energy and enhancing convenience. And unlike traditional timers, you can change these settings on the fly, you can set lighting levels that provide a more elegant environment, and you can set up a range of home automation routines, such as turning lights on when you arrive home.

We've been testing various Smart Lighting technologies from the very early days  of the industry, and many of the first-round players have come and gone. And trust us, these are still early days for Smart Lighting, so consider yourself a pioneer if you choose to embark on the Smart Lighting journey with us. There were surely be continued change in the market, and some big-name players may leave, while others enter. In this guide, we're going to step through the technologies in play today, hightlight only the solutions we think are optimal for most users. Right now, the most important players are the Wink Hub and the Amazon Echo, which provide the bookends to this guide, so to speak. In between are all the lighting technologies you'll be connecting to Wink and Echo to bring your Smart Lighting world to life!  

Wink

Keep in mind that when dealing with lighting, we are trying to update one of the very first forms of consumer electronics, dating back to the late 1800s, and that means we need to work around some of the vestiges of the past. If you're willing to "go behind the wallplate" to directly interface with your home's electrical system, you can achieve even greater feats than if you simply work with smart bulbs and plug-in switches, but all have their role to play. For controlling built-in lighting in your home (i.e., anything other than a free-standing lamp), we recommend the use of smart switches for large banks of lights, or connected bulbs for single bulb installations. And even for free-standing lamps, we believe the most straight-forward approach is to use connected bulbs, although in some situations (such as when you already have bulbs you like), a connected outlet may be preferable.

Prices shown in this guide use real-time pricing engines, so they are always up-to-date. Note that due to limited availability of these products around the world, we are only able to provide links to our U.S. readers at this time. If you decide to purchase one of the cards we profile, please use the links we provide, which helps support continued development of this guide. 

Smart Lighting - Spring 2016

    The Bargain Smart Home Hub:

    Wink Hub

    It all starts here: the connected hub. You need a hub to make your smart lighting system come to life, and Wink cut through all the noise by introducing a hub that nearly every manufacturer could get behind. It has a great app and tremendous customer support, along with frequent updates. It allows you to control bulbs from Philips, Cree, and GE, among others, as well as in-wall and in-outlet switches from Lutron and Leviton. It will also interface with a wide variety of connected devices (or "robots"), such as the Nest thermostat, Schlage door locks, and several brands of window shades. Note that the Wink is extremely popular and often sells out at Amazon, but you can often find it available at Home Depot.

    The Guru's Tip:

    Sound to good to be true? Well, in a sense it is. Wink made its Wink Hub nearly universal by essentially giving it away, while charging manufacturers for the "Works with Wink" certification. Originally sold for $50 (almost certainly at a loss), Wink's business model was in part responsible for Wink's parent company going bankrupt. Well, Wink now seem to be on the mend, and with a more realistic price of $70, the Wink Hub is still a great value and cheaper than any other leading hub.

    The Connected A19 Bulb:

    Cree 60W-Equivalent 2700K Dimmable

    There are lots of connected bulb manufacturers out there, and even more peddling the "latest and greatest" LED bulbs. Among all the players, we think U.S.-based Cree is most committed to advancing the state of technology and bringing it to consumers at a fair price. Cree's bulbs have the three features we think are most important: they're dimmable, offer 60W-equivalent light at under 12W of power draw, and have a 2700K color temperature (anything higher is not pleasant for a home environment). Oh, and they're actually high quality too, unlike some of the cheap knock-offs that will never come close to their rated lifespan and buzz like crazy.

    The Guru's Tip:

    Note that we do not recommended using connected bulbs for multi-light fixtures requiring a wall switch, such as track lighting. Not only do they often require something other than A19-style bulbs, they're also better served by a single smart switch, which we profile later in this guide. It's easier to control and saves you money.

    The Connected BR30 Bulb:

    GE Link Wireless BR30

    Need flood light bulbs for an application where you have just one or two bulbs in total? Then go for GE's connected BR30 bulb, which of course works with Wink.

    The Guru's Tip:

    Because some flood light applications (such as kitchens) use many bulbs, a connected switch is often a better solution than multiple connected bulbs like GE's BR30.

    The In-Wall Switch:

    Leviton Decora Universal Switch

    If you have a bank of non-dimmable lightbulbs that you'd like to control, this is the switch you'll want to use. It can be programmed via the Wink App to turn lights on and off via a schedule or event (such as arriving or leaving the house), while still offering manual control at the wall switch.

    The Guru's Tip:

    Don't use a connected switch to control a single bulb or even two bulbs, as it's not cost-effective used in that manner.

    The Standard In-Wall Dimmer:

    Leviton Decora Universal Dimmer

    This is the device you'll want to use to control a bank of dimmable lights, such as track lighting in a bedroom, bathroom, living room, or kitchen. The beauty of a connected switch is that you can have your lights controlled automatically via your hub without taking away your ability to manually control the lights when you enter the room.

    The Guru's Tip:

    Keep in mind that if you use this dimmer with non-dimmable bulbs, the bulbs will malfunction, most likely by flickering on and off. If you're looking for excellent dimmable "dumb" bulbs for use this dimmer, we suggest TCP's cost-effective, high-quality offerings, like its excellent A19 and BR30 models.

    The Deluxe In-Wall Dimmer:

    Lutron Caseta Dimmer with Pico Remote

    Lutron's been in the lighting business longer than most smart-tech companies have been in existence, and these switches are the very best in-wall models on the market. In addition to allowing automated, smartphone, and wall switch control, this model comes with a free-standing remote. That's perfect for placing next to your couch for quick controls without reaching into your pocket for a phone. The remote will even work from across the house! By the way, if you're looking for excellent dimmable "dumb" bulbs for use with Lutron's dimming switches, we suggest TCP's cost-effective, high-quality offerings, like its excellent A19 and BR30 models.

    The Guru's Tip:

    We've tested the Caseta system with Lutron's own Caseta hub, and it's good at what it does, but unless you're only using Lutron products, it's extremely limited. You definitely want to take advantage of Lutron's interoperability by going with a Wink Hub instead.

    The Plug-In Option:

    Leviton Decora Plug-In Dimming Lamp Module

    This switch allows you to remotely control floor-standing and desk lamps that are already equipped with long-lasting LED bulbs.

    The Guru's Tip:

    To be clear, we only recommend an in-outlet module if you already have dimmable LED bulbs that you've invested good money in and want to keep for the 25 years or so that they should last. Otherwise, connected bulbs like those we list above are a much more streamlined solution for floor lamps and desk lamps. Why? Because you can still take control of them manually by switching the lamp off and then on again, whereas with a connected outlet, once your hub cuts power to the outlet via a preset schedule, the lamp becomes inoperable until you pull out your smartphone to manually turn it on.

    One Controller to Rule them All:

    Amazon Echo

    Amazon's Echo is marketed as an all-knowing personal helper, but we think that its "killer app" isn't the ability to tell you the weather outside your door or the latest baseball score, but rather its ability to function as the center of your smart home world. With the ability to speak to the Wink Hub (among others), and more importantly allowing you to control these with your voice, it takes smart home technology to the next level. No more fishing around in your pocket and then scrolling through endless app screens to turn on and off lights for each individual system...hallelujah!

    The Guru's Tip:

    Now that the Smart Home capabilities of Echo have caught on, there is currently a one-month wait just to receive one! Trust us, it's not because you can check sports scores with Echo!