Several new smart bulbs are scheduled to be introduced in June at Light Fair 2104 in Las Vegas. So while we wait, here’s a look at the smart bulb currently available. (See Table 1 below.)
I’m defining a smart bulb as any light bulb that can be controlled by your phone, using some form of wireless communication. Smart bulbs can be often be controlled in groups of two or more, allowing you to specify a lighting profile for a room. Control functions include on/off, dimming, and for RGB bulbs, color mixing.
(I’m also just looking at A19 bulbs at this time; if you’re looking for a smart PAR30 spotlight lamp, here’s my review of the Luxera.)
Just like in conventional incandescent-replacement LED bulbs, there’s quite a variation in bulb styles in smart bulbs.
The two differentiators with smart bulbs are the wireless communication method and light color. Today’s smart bulbs use either Bluetooth Low-Energy (BLE) or some form of networked communications, which I’ll categorize loosely as WiFi. BLE requires no other hardware than the bulb and your BLE-capable smart phone. Its simplicity makes it easier to get the lights up and running, but limits the system’s ability to interact with the environment. BLE also limits the smart phone compatibility to newer versions: For example, an iPhone must be a 4S or later to have BLE. A WiFi-based system requires a router and/or a gateway to the router. The added expense can be daunting, but it also opens your lighting up to the Internet of Things. [More here on Internet of Things and LEDs.]
The other differentiating feature is whether the bulb is white-only or capable of colored light through its red-green-blue LEDs. White-only bulbs, like conventional LED bulbs, use phosphor-converted white LEDs, are less expensive, and can also produce a more reliable white when simple illumination is all you need. RGB lights can offer you a rainbow of colors if you’re interested in experimenting with different color temperatures or with mood lighting. However, the ability of RGB lights to consistently over time produce a particular set of colors or color temperature is currently doubtful; the three R, G, B LEDs age at different rates and their color mix will shift. If you expect a group of smart lights to produce a visually identical color temperature, RGB smart bulbs are probably not there yet. But if you just need a solitary bulb in a room or work area, or to color-wash a wall, then yes, they can do that job.
Here are the smart bulbs I have come up with so far. I think that come the beginning of June after Light Fair 2014, there will be more smart bulbs introduced, but here’s what looks available for now. Am I missing anything? Please let me know, since I’m working on an article reviewing all of them.
Table 1– Smart LED Light Bulbs
|Insteon (hub extra)||insteon.com||$30/bulb; hub is $130||Dual mesh;RF/powerline||White||591|
|LiFX||LiFX.co||$98/bulb, no hub needed||WiFi||RGB-W||1,000|
|TCP Connected starter pack||TCPi.com||$49||WiFi (6LowPan)||White||800|
 starter pack of 3 bulbs & hub
 starter pack of 2 bulbs & hub