The easiest way to make your home smarter? Install smart lights. Jefferson Graham shows how in this Talking Tech video.
MANHATTAN BEACH, Calif. – Asking Alexa to change the color of a lamp from white to red is about as cool as it comes. And gosh, you can make a similar request to the Google Assistant and go from red to blue, or orange.
Siri will dim the lights for you and, like the other personal assistants, turn the lights on and off, on command.
Is it any wonder that smart lighting has become one of the most popular categories in the growing smart home space? Jiggling with your existing door lock and exchanging it for a smart model, or adding a new doorbell with a video camera can be a chore. Changing a lightbulb? Not so hard.
However, there are several key questions and concerns to ponder before diving into the world of smart lights.
Why add smart lights?
They’re fun and convenient, both in using your voice to command the lights on and off, creating mood lighting and “scenes” like recessed color lighting while you’re watching TV. And you can set timers to have the lights turn on automatically from outside the home.
Great, where to start?
First, think long and hard about price. You can buy a two-pack of plain white 60W bulbs at Home Depot for under $10. Philips Hue, the top seller of smart lights, will sell you a 60-watt twofer for $30.
But what about that “Hub?” I heard about
Yes, the Hue lights, as well as others from Hive and Sengled, need to be connected to a “hub,” which is an additional cost. A two-pack with the Hub from Philips costs around $100.
The benefit of a hub is it can do more elaborate setups, like mood lighting on movie night in the living room. The downside is it’s yet another product asking to take up valuable real estate on your electrical strips. The plug on the Philips hub the company sent for review is so big it takes up two spots on the six plug strip, and it also has to be connected physically to the router. Do you have an open slot in your router to add the hub?
One nice perk of the Philips hub: We were able to pair both the Amazon Echo Show speaker and the Google Home from the Hub, despite both being competing platforms.
What about going hubless?
A quick search for smart lights on Amazon shows many lights now advertising their services saying “No Hub Required.” We plugged one of these smart lights, from Eufy, a company owned by Anker, into a traditional lamp, and got Siri, the Google Assistant and Alexa to turn it on and off, dim the light, and set a timer for shine times.
We paid $22 for the one Eufy light. What we couldn’t do with it was change colors. However, Eufy has a model that switches colors – without a hub, thank you, for $34.99.
Smart Plug to the rescue
If you want to save money, and you’re satisfied with using your voice to just turn the lightbulb on and off, look at a Smart Plug. Both Amazon and WEMO have plugs available for around $25, and they’re as simple as simple gets. You plug the smart plug in to an electrical outlet, add your non-smart lamp, and train Alexa, Google and/or Siri to turn it on and off. You can also set up timers for the lights as well. (Boo alert – the smart plug is another electrical strip abuser. The thing is giant and takes up way too much space. How about a more economically sized version guys?)
Let’s get started
With Amazon Echo and Google Home products, you’ll need to go to their smartphone apps to add the devices, in order for them to understand your commands. Apple’s Siri is within the Home app on the iPhone.
“Turn on all the lights.”
“Turn off all the lights.”
“Make my kitchen brighter.”
“Dim the lights.”
“Brighten the lights in the living room to 75 percent.”
“Make my lights warmer.”
“Make my lights cooler.”
“Turn my kitchen lights green.”
“Set the lights in the den to Relax.”
“Turn on Read in the study.”
Adding the lights to the Amazon Echo Show and Google Home speakers was a breeze. Getting them to respond correctly, as always with personal assistants, was sometimes a chore.
Google got it right 80 percent of the time, while Amazon was in the 50 percent range. Apple’s Siri was way behind, at 10 percent.
Much of it is diction and using the exact phrase the assistants need to hear. Alexa often couldn’t understand when I asked to “Turn on the lights,” until I switched it to “Turn on the Hue lamps,” or “Change the color of Hue Lamp 1 to red.” Google responded with “I don’t understand that” a few times but was pretty spot on for turning the lights on and off and changing colors. Siri could turn on the lights occasionally but never turned them off.
Setting up the Philips Hue Hub took a 45-minute phone call to tech support, the Eufy install and getting the WEMO smart plug connected also required 30 minutes with tech support. The issues: not recognizing the home Wi-Fi, the password and general connection woes.
Now that’s not smart.
Have questions about smart lighting? We’d love to answer your questions on Twitter, where I’m @jeffersongraham
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