Today’s LED light bulbs showcase some bright ideas (pun intended). Manufacturers design 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 others dim via a smartphone app. Some emit a range of colored light, while others require smart hubs to connect across your entire home.
But there are a few things to consider when buying LEDs. They won’t look exactly like your old incandescents, but there are a few ways to find bulbs which suit your taste. Below are some of our favorites.
Best white LED bulb — Cree 60W Equivalent Soft White or Daylight LED ($20 for a four-pack)
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 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 25,000 hours of use — works with all dimming switches, meaning you won’t encounter annoying buzzing sounds or malfunctions when adjusting the brightness of the bulb. It’s also backed by a 5-year warranty and remains incredibly cost-effective — it comes in packs of four, six, or eight, which averages out to less than $5 per bulb.
The Daylight version is 5,000k — which gives off a cooler, bluer light — while the 2,700k “Soft White” is warmer and more yellow. Cree recently revamped its entire lineup of bulbs to improve its color rendering index; these bulbs score 85+ on a scale of 0 to 100, meaning they should more accurately reflect an object’s true colors compared to some lower-scoring LEDs.
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Best color-changing LED bulb — Lifx Color 1000 ($45+)
The Lifx Color 1000 is a color-changing LED bulb that doubles as a smart LED bulb, which makes it too convenient to overlook. The bulb, which Lifx fitted for standard E26/E27 sockets, emits an impressive 1,055 lumens, which is comparable to a 75-watt incandescent. It provides saturated and rich colors, especially compared to other color bulbs we’ve tested. The accompanying mobile app for Android, iOS, and Windows 10 devices also allows users to choose from more than 16 million colors and hues via a simple color wheel.
The Lifx remains one of the few available smart bulbs capable of operating independently of any smart home ecosystem, as the bulb features built-in Wi-Fi. This means it doesn’t require a hub. Furthermore, it integrates with Nest, SmartThings, and Alexa for voice-control. The app also offers a slew of unique features such as the ability to group bulbs together and change their settings simultaneously. The bulb lasts roughly 22 years, though we expect a shorter lifespan if you’re constantly playing with the settings.
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Best smart LED bulb — C by GE — Starter Pack ($68+)
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 owners control 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 the app allows you to group (or separate) the bulbs, as well as to control their brightness.
The Sleep bulbs produce up to 730 lumens, though they offer a bit more customization. Each C-Sleep bulb — or group of bulbs — features customization with separate light settings for the morning, afternoon, and night, allowing you to fall asleep to soft 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. Plus, it’s rare to find smart LEDs that don’t require a hub to connect with.
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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” currently 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 interface with LED smart bulbs but the Philips Hue family remains the best smart home ecosystem for those looking for complete control.
The base model fits a standard E26 base, emits 800 lumens of light, and consumes a mere 9.5 watts of power. The white LED bulb boasts a rating of 25,000 hours of use and features a dimming setting 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 due to the numerous Philips offerings which seamlessly interface with Hue. From spotlights to lighting strips, the bridge connects with up to 50 Hue lights at once and owners control it via an accompanying mobile app for Android and iOS. They’re not the cheapest LED products, 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.
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