Today’s LED light bulbs are showcasing some bright ideas (pun intended). Manufactures today are designing household LED bulbs that have the potential to last for decades, and when combined with their decreasing sticker price, they’ve become more affordable and popular than ever. However, it’s not all due to the new technology. Thanks to newly enacted efficiency standards, traditional incandescent bulbs have been phased out in favor of more-efficient, environmentally friendly alternatives.
In theory, purchasing a bulb with a short payback time and 20-year lifespan often seems like a good choice. Compounded with the increasing number of smart home products, LED bulbs may one day become just as familiar to us as the 60-watt incandescent. Still, how do these extra-terrestrial bulbs stack up? Which LED bulb is best for your home? Some have a 30-year lifespan or emit a better light quality than your standard 60-watt incandescent, while some can be dimmed using a smartphone app. Some are capable of emitting a range of colored light, while some require smart hubs to connect across your entire home. That said, below are some of our current favorites.
Best white LED bulb – Cree 60W Equivalent Soft White LED ($10+)
In recent years, Cree has established itself as one of the premiere LED bulb manufacturers in the world, creating affordable, effective lighting solutions to replace the energy-sucking incandescent bulbs that plague our poor light sockets. In particular, their “Soft White” 60W equivalent bulb offers an incredible combination of longevity, brightness, and value that no other bulb can touch. Capable of emitting 815 lumens while consuming just 10 watts of energy, the hyper-efficient A19 standard bulb — rated at 30,000 hours of use — is fully compatible with all dimming switches, which means you won’t encounter any annoying buzzing sounds or malfunctions when adjusting the brightness of the bulb. Backed by a 5-year warranty, the bulb is also incredibly cost-effective and comes in packs of four, six, or eight, which averages out to less than $5 per bulb.
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Best colored LED bulb – MiPow Playbulb Rainbow ($38+)
Technically, we’re cheating a bit here. MiPow’s Playbulb Rainbow doubles as a colored LED bulb and a smart LED bulb, which makes it too convenient to overlook. The Rainbow, which is fitted for standard E26/E27 bulb sockets, is capable of emitting 680 lumens, comparable to a relatively dim 60-watt incandescent. The bulb’s accompanying mobile app for Android and iOS devices also allows users to choose from more than 16 million colors and hues via a simple color wheel.
The Rainbow is one of the few available smart bulbs capable of operating independently of any smart home ecosystem, as the bulb uses Bluetooth 4.0 rather than a Wi-Fi connection. The app — which, admittedly, can be a bit laggy at times — offers a slew of unique features, like the ability to group bulbs together and change their settings simultaneously, and a few custom “rainbow” modes that change the bulbs’ color over time. The Rainbow is rated at 20,000 hours of use, though we expect it might be shorter if you’re constantly playing with the settings. For just $38, though, we’re not sure there’s any bulb on the market that offers this level of functionality without a smart home ecosystem.
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Best smart LED bulb – C by GE — Starter Pack ($70)
In 2015, General Electric introduced the “C” starter pack, a Bluetooth-compatible set of two “C-Life” and two “C-Sleep” LED bulbs capable of functioning independently of any smart home hub or ecosystem. The bulbs, which are controlled by the eponymous “C by GE” iOS or Android app, feature a set of capabilities that depend upon the bulb type (Life or Sleep). The Life bulbs produce up to 800 lumens of light with a fixed 2,700k color temperature, and you can use the app to group (or separate) the bulbs, as well as to control their brightness. The Sleep bulbs are capable of producing up to 730 lumens, though they offer a bit more customization. Each C-Sleep bulb, or group of bulbs, can be customized with separate light settings for the morning, afternoon, and night, so you can fall asleep to soft, warm 2,000k light and wake up to bright 7,000k light. The options available through the C app are fairly limited in terms of smart bulb functionality, but the clarity and brightness of the bulbs is top notch, and it’s rare to find smart LEDs that don’t require a hub to connect with. Read more here.
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Best LED bulb for a Smart Home ecosystem – Philips Hue family ($15+)
The smart home is more popular than ever, evidenced by the myriad “smart hubs” that are now available. Assuming you’re not concerned with your house becoming self-aware, you may very well want to invest in a smart hub to control your security, your thermostat, and — of course — your lighting. Several hubs on the market are built to interface with LED smart bulbs, but the Philips Hue family is the best smart home ecosystem if you’re looking for complete illuminative control.
The base model white LED bulb, built to fit in a standard E26 base, emits 800 lumens of light while consuming just 9.5 watts of power. The bulb is rated for 25,000 hours of use, and can be dimmed if combined with the Philips Hue Dimmer kit. The Hue Starter Kit includes the Hue bridge hub, as well as two standard white LED Hue bulbs for $80, but the real reason we recommend the Hue family over all others is because of the numerous Philips offerings that seamlessly interface with Hue. From spotlights to lighting strips to colored bulbs, the bridge can be connected with up to 50 Hue lights at once, and controlled via the company’s official mobile app for Android and iOS. They’re not the cheapest LED products out there, but the ease of access — combined with the power to control your entire home’s lighting at once — makes this our first choice when it comes to Smart LED ecosystems. Read our full review.
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