Skip to main content

I bought cheap smart light bulbs thinking they could be decent. I was wrong

It started off innocently enough. I had a small project that I wanted to do, and I needed a multicolor smart bulb to do it. At the same time, it was a silly little project, so I didn’t really want to spend all that much money on it. Until then, I’d only purchased Philips Hue white bulbs, which are nice – but a bit pricey. Surely, there’s a less expensive option. Right?

Do the math. Smart lights are expensive!

Smart lighting is one of the biggest investments you can make into your smart home. Don’t believe me? Take a look around your home and count the number of light bulbs in your home. From where I’m sitting in my kitchen as I write this, I can see 12 light bulbs that would need to be replaced. Conservatively, a white smart bulb is around $20 or so.

Quick math says that from where I sit, I need to drop around $240 just to replace the bulbs I can see. I could replace all the bulbs in my house with white-only bulbs, or get a nice OnePlus phone. It’s not an easy call. For colored light bulbs from Philips, the cost is considerably more. But let’s get back to my project.

I decided I was smarter than all that, so I went on Amazon and searched for a cheaper alternative. Wow, holy cow! I found a set of four smart light bulbs, full color, from Magic Home WiFi, for $35! That’s just over $8 per bulb! Goodbye to you, Philips Hue!

Installation was typical. You download the app, and since there’s no bridge, you connect each bulb individually via its own Wi-Fi. Once you connect to the app, you can use it to do the usual controls — like change the colors and turn them on and off. There are even some neat app functions like synchronizing lights to music, or using your camera to change the light to a specific color. You can link your account to Google Assistant, so you can bypass the app entirely if you want to. Amazing! But then, things took an unfortunate turn.

The wheels come off

I don’t recall what exactly was the first blip on the radar. I think it had something to do with me having the audacity to turn off the light switch for the fixture the bulbs were in. Suddenly, those two just stopped working. It took me about 20 minutes or so to get them back up and running. It turns out there’s a fairly standard method of resetting the bulbs by turning them off and on three times. But then I had to go through the whole setup procedure again.

Suddenly, one or more of the bulbs will stop working and I’ll have to troubleshoot it.

I’ll spare you a detailed account of every time I had to go through that same procedure. It’s in the dozens by now. The cause can be anything including a temporary loss of Wi-Fi (for example, resetting my router), a temporary loss of internet, accidentally flipping the light switch, or just it being a day that ends in “Y.” Suddenly, one or more of the bulbs will stop working and I’ll have to troubleshoot it, burning away anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes.

Adding insult to injury, about three months after I bought the bulbs, one of the four just stopped working entirely. When that happened, dear reader, I simply threw it in the trash. I didn’t research to see if there was a way to reset it, or look to see if there was some kind of fuse. I am just so sick of these things that the day they fail to respond to a minimal amount of troubleshooting, they will go into the trash.

More money goes a long way

Can you spot the difference? Image used with permission by copyright holder

There is a lesson to be learned here. “You get what you pay for” comes to mind. “Read Amazon reviews more closely” is another. If there is anything that I have learned about smart home technology, it’s that there are several name brands that stand out in each category, and they are name brands for a reason. A smart home needs to be smart, and these bulbs are not. I actively hate them now.

But I also consider them a lesson well learned. When it comes to smart tech, don’t be cheap. If a name brand that you recognize is a lot more expensive than some knock off brand from wherever, there’s a good chance it’s because they have put in extra amounts of research and development and quality assurance testing to ensure a premium customer experience. Definitely read reviews, like those here at Digital Trends, for example. But also, before you take ta risk to try out some less expensive option, make sure that it’s worth the extra effort that may go into setting it up, or maintaining it long-term. Otherwise, you’re better off just paying a little bit more and enjoying an easier life.

Oh, and that project I was working on. Appropriately, the light bulb I used for that is the one I have the least amount of trouble with. I make it turn red when I’m recording a podcast, so other members of my household know to be quiet. I’ve still had to reset it a few times, but that one bulb has worked fairly well. The other three were complete dumpster fires, and had it not been for that package deal, this opinion piece may have slanted in an entirely different direction. As it stands, it’s a valuable lesson that’s well worth the $35 it cost me — and the $35 it will save you from spending.

Editors' Recommendations

Adam Doud
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Adam had been writing in the tech space for nearly a decade. When not hosting the Benefit of the Doud podcast, he can be…
GE Lighting launches Smart Hexagon Panels with support for Alexa and Google Home
The GE Lighting Smart Hexagon Panels installed in a game room.

Cync by GE Lighting has officially launched the Dynamic Effects Smart Hexagon Panels, making it the latest member of the ever-growing Dynamic Effects family. Compatible with both Alexa and Google Home, the panels are designed to offer a highly programmable lighting solution for home theaters, game rooms, or anywhere else in your home that might benefit from a pop of color.

The Hexagon Panels clock in at $190 for a pack of 10 -- putting them above similar products from Govee and other lighting brands. However, the GE Lighting panels are well specced, featuring 16 million colors, six controllable zones within each hexagon, and directional control for music and light shows. If you don’t want to create your own light shows, you can choose from a list of pre-built options.

Read more
Govee jumps on the Matter bandwagon with new LED Strip Light
The Govee Light Strip installed on a shelf.

Govee is responsible for many of the best smart lights on the market, and today the company revealed its first-ever Matter product -- the LED Strip Light M1. Now available for $60, the LED Strip Light M1 is hoping to bring a bit more versatility to Matter, which continues to gain momentum throughout 2023.

Apple HomeKit users should be particularly excited about the LED Strip Light M1, as its support for Matter also means it’ll play nicely with Apple’s smart home ecosystem (which is another first for Govee). The lights are just as robust as you’d expect for a product from Govee, offering 60 light beads per meter, up to 50 adjustable points per meter, more than 64 Light Modes to customize their performance, and the ability to purchase an extension kit if you need more than the included 6.54 feet.

Read more
GE Lighting launches colorful, customizable rope lights with a built-in microphone
The Dynamic Effects Neon-Shape Smart Lights glowing purple.

After debuting at CES 2023, the Dynamic Effects Neon-Shape Smart Lights from GE Lighting are now available for purchase. These highly customizable lights can be controlled using the Cync smartphone app, but also use a built-in microphone to adjust their performance in real time based on the audio of their surroundings.

The Dynamic Effects Neon-Shape Smart Lights actively listen to your home to detect sounds coming from nearby music, video games, or other activities to provide an immersive lighting experience. It’s a nifty feature -- and one that should help set it apart from the competition. You’ll also be able to use the built-in microphone to issue voice commands, and you can control the lights with Amazon Alexa or Google Home.

Read more