Smart Lights Can Offer Both Perks and Hassles for Your Home
The promise of smart lights is you don't have to get out of bed to turn off the lights. WSJ's David Pierce explains three reasons you might want these connected bulbs in your home—and how they can become more hassle than they're worth.
Photo/Video: Emily Prapuolenis/WSJ
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- I never really understood smart lights. There are so many other smart home ideas that I totally get. Coffee that's just magically ready in the morning. A front door that knows unlocks every time I get home. A house that's always the perfect temperature. But a light that I don't have to get up to turn on and off that costs like 10 times as much as my normal light bulb? Pass. And yes, smart lights are the number one smart home thing people are interested in. So I got my hands on a whole bunch of different kinds of smart lights, installed them all over my house, and decided to see what all the fuss is about. After a lot of testing, I found three good reasons to get a smart light, three reasons they're still way too much hassle, and a pretty workable solution for people who really want to get into it. Let's start with the good stuff. Reason to get a smart light number one: Never coming home to a dark house. This is all about peace of mind and security but being able to turn on all the lights in the kitchen or in the whole house just feels really good. Reason number two: Automated lighting is awesome. Many of these lights let you set up a schedule. Bright, cool light in the morning to wake you up, off during the day when it's bright, then warmer and dimmer at night to help you relax. Reason number three: Being lazy rules. Sure, I could get up and go around and turn off all these lights one by one but since many smart lights integrate with virtual assistants, like Google Assistant or Alexa, it's so much easier to just say, "hey Google, turn off all the lights" and then not worry about it. Generally after living with them for a bit, I'm sort of sold on the idea of smart lights but actually using them is not nearly as wonderful as it should be, which brings me to stupid smart light thing number one, the switch problem. Okay, so you install a smart light, get everything set up and working, then someone comes through and flips the switch off. Perfectly normal thing, right? Except you've just cut off all the power to your light and it won't connect again until you've flipped the switch back up. Stupid thing number two: These are still too difficult to set up. Some of these devices have their own hubs, which is good and bad. Good because the hub connects directly to the router, making it easier to get your bulbs connected to the internet. Bad because these hubs tend to cost more and it's just another thing to have plugged into your wall. Others work directly through an app on your phone but those are often a lot finickier with getting stuff connected. Stupid thing number three: Smart lights are really expensive. This Philips Hue starter set is $70. This LIFX bulb, just the bulb by itself, is about $50. In general, you're looking at somewhere between $10 and $25 for a full-feature smart bulb. If you want to a full-color bulb for more than just white, which gives you more control over things like color temperature and does some really fun party tricks, you're looking at about double that. Either way, it's a lot of money, especially if you're trying to outfit your whole house. After all the testing I've done, here's my recommendation. If you just want to get one or two smart bulbs, the C by GE Full Color Smart Bulb is the move. They're the easiest to set up, since GE worked with Google to do everything in the Google Home app. You can Alexa too, but that requires a separate hub. If you want a house full of smart bulbs though, the Philips Hue ecosystem is the one you can really invest in. The hub makes it easy to connect and manage all your lights. Philips makes lots of lamps and light strips you can integrate. Plus it works with tons of other devices and assistants. For an even simpler setup, though a more limited one, there are smart plugs. These devices go into your wall and can turn on anything that's plugged in with just the press of a button. Smart plugs are, frankly, a dime a dozen, though I've had good luck with this one from Anker's Eufy brand. But if you want smart lighting that lasts and you don't mind doing a little bit of DIY electrical work on your light switches, you really want to buy a smart dimmer switch. I particularly like this setup from Lutron called the Caseta, which plugs into a wall and adds a a smart dimmer to any lamp you have. You can also buy a switch that screws into the wall, like this one from Lutron, but that's a little more work. Either way, it solves the switch problem perfectly. One bit of warning, though. Try not to mix smart switches and smart bulbs. They kind of clash sometimes. Ultimately, you just have to pick a way and stick with it. My home is all-in on smart switches, smart plugs, and dumb bulbs with one exception. It's pretty great t have tons of colors and funky features on the light in the living room. It's a huge addition to movie night. Hey Google, turn all the lights red and put on Stranger Things. (quiet EDM music)