Swapping standard lightbulbs for smart bulbs — ones that link directly to smart ecosystems to remotely control lighting — is perhaps the simplest step in the path to “smartening up” a home. CNN Underscored spent the last few months testing 10 top-rated smart bulbs, judging them based on how each was to set up, brightness and color options and reliable connections to smart home systems. And all that testing led to one clear winner:
Best overall smart bulb: Wyze Bulb Color ($15.98; amazon.com)
The Wyze Bulb Color ticks all the boxes you want from a smart bulb, outpacing all other bulbs we tested — no matter their price point.
The Wyze bulb produced colors accurately — meaning, for instance, reds didn’t veer into pinks or oranges, which we confirmed using a color sensor — and shifted between brightness levels in a way that outmatched even the Philips Hue option that’s triple the price. Thanks to a high level of brightness, the Wyze was also able to paint the wall in a fashion that normally requires a bulb plus lightstrip configuration. And if you prefer a white light, you have the option to adjust the temperature, changing the resulting light from warmer, orange glows to cooler, more natural white light.
From unboxing to controlling the light, Wyze was as uncomplicated as a regular old lightbulb. We simply screwed the bulb into a fixture, opened the Wyze app to complete the setup — and that was that. In use, the app acts as an easy-to-navigate control center. Tap the Color Bulb to turn it on and open the dedicated control panel, then choose a shade from the color wheel filled with thousands of options. The Bulb Color is really responsive to the commands, taking less than a second to register and then render specific controls. We didn’t encounter any delays with controlling the Wyze Bulbs, though your home’s Wi-Fi network may affect these speeds.
Pairing the bulb to Alexa or the Google Assistant was equally seamless, allowing us to easily control features through the respective apps (Alexa or Google Home) and through the smart speakers themselves. So all it took to change the vibe of a room was asking Alexa, for example, to change the light’s color.
Wyze does not offer pairing to Apple’s HomeKit, though. So if that’s a must for you, we suggest the Nanoleaf Essentials Bulb, though it does trade Wi-Fi connectivity for Thread (a mesh network that neither bogs down nor hogs up your Wi-Fi). You’ll need a HomePod Mini or an Apple TV 4K with the new Siri Remote, as these act as a Thread Router. The Essentials Bulb offers bright and vibrant colors along with quick controls via the Home app or Siri on your Apple device.
How we tested
Over four months, CNN Underscored put 10 smart bulbs to the test.
Upon receipt of each bulb, we closely examined and timed how long the setup took. We tested each bulb in several fixtures — a traditional table lamp, above-counter hanging fixtures, tall floor lamps and individual receptacles — noting how well each bulb could cast light and retain its connection. We tested how long it took for a command to be registered and how quickly a routine would engage. When it came to Alexa, the Google Assistant or Siri, we tested each bulb with all ecosystems that it could integrate with. Lastly, we took a closer look at the included warranty to see what would be covered.
Other smart bulbs we tested
LIFX A19 White ($9.99; amazon.com)
LIFX’s A19 White bulb is a pretty simple and standard bulb. Setup was quick, a bit longer over the Wyze Bulb, but we didn’t have any major connectivity issues with it. Like with Wyze, you’ll need to make your own LIFX account to get it set up. As a white bulb, it can’t create colors, but it does let you switch the temperature of the white. Overall, it’s a pretty standard white bulb with connectivity for the three major ecosystems: Amazon, Google and Apple.
LIFX Mini ($34.99; amazon.com)
The LIFX Mini is a tiny bulb that can still create a lot of light and not sacrifice the quality of it. Like the LIFX A19 White above, this does support Amazon’s Alexa, the Google Assistant and Apple HomeKit, with no hub required as well. We just think you’re paying a premium for a slightly smaller build when you could opt for a Wyze Bulb two-pack for cheaper.
Nanoleaf Essentials Bulb ($19.99; nanoleaf.com)
If you have a HomePod Mini and want to use HomeKit as your smart home ecosystem, the Essentials Bulb makes a lot of sense. It won’t clog up your Wi-Fi network, as it uses (and did we mention strengthens) a Thread network for reliable connectivity. It’s Apple only for now, though, and that limits it a bit. Still, the quality of light and brightness is on par with our top pick.
Kasa Smart Bulb ($12.99, originally $21.99; amazon.com)
Kasa’s Smart Bulb is a pretty run-of-the mill bulb. It also works with Amazon Alexa or the Google Assistant out of the box, but the setup experience wasn’t as seamless as the Wyze Bulb Color. Additionally, Kasa’s bulb wasn’t as responsive over Wi-Fi for controls and to render the changes in color or brightness.
As the Bluetooth bulb from Philips Hue, the long-standing brand was able to reduce cost but also shorten the feature list. This bulb still lives within the Philips Hue app but connects only over Bluetooth, and you’re limited to using only 10 bulbs. It’s not the longest runway, and the connection wasn’t as strong as other bulbs we tested — notably lagging behind the standard Philips Hue bulbs and even our top pick.
The White Ambiance bulb builds upon the Bluetooth option with a strong range of shades from a single white bulb. Yes, traditional brightness control is here, but Philips Hue expands on this with warmer and cooler tones. All of this is housed within the Philips Hue app for Android or iOS (the same as the above), and you can integrate with smart home ecosystems (Amazon, Google and Apple included). You will need to get the Hue Bridge, an additional $59.99, for full features, though.
The bulb that put Philips Hue on the map performed really well in our testing, but it’s no longer the only option. Wyze’s Bulb Color proves that with time, the brand can match the color and feature set for a much lower price. Philips Hue White and Color still offers a vibrant selection of colors, unique preset modes and strong connectivity. You’ll need to invest in the Hue Bridge to get the most out of the system, and while it does provide a strong connection, it’s not necessary for most users. However, Philips Hue does support Amazon Alexa, the Google Assistant and Apple’s HomeKit out of the box.
Ring A19 ($14.99; amazon.com)
We’re big fans of Ring across its many product lines, and the A19 bulb works well in specific setups. The Amazon-owned brand is still very much security first, and the A19 bulb is a way to light up your house when you’re not home. It can be triggered to light up if a sensor detects motion or if a Ring Doorbell picks up someone. If you’re in the Ring ecosystem, the A19 Bulb makes a lot of sense, and it uses Amazon Sidewalk network for strong connectivity. You’ll need to get the Ring Lighting Bridge to make it happen, though.
Wyze Bulb ($19.99; amazon.com)
The original Wyze Bulb is really the same product as our top pick, Wyze Bulb Color, but with just one color. It’s controlled through the same intuitive Wyze app for Android or iOS. Pairing is quick and you can expand controls to a smart home ecosystem like Amazon or Google without the purchase of a hub. For a bit more, the Wyze Bulb Color makes the most sense.
Read more from CNN Underscored’s hands-on testing: