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Smart lighting: A beginner’s guide

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Let there be (connected) light

Ikea’s Trådfri line of smart lighting.
Ikea

When it comes to smart home tech, the sheer breadth of products and integrations available can get overwhelming fast. An easy way to get started? Smart lighting. Setting up just one smart light bulb makes your home more controllable than before, and because bulbs are small and easy to change, they’re ideal for playing around with in rental apartments as well.

But first: What is smart lighting anyway? Very simply, it’s lighting connected to the internet so you can control it with an app, or increasingly, with a voice assistant like Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, or Siri, using the Amazon, Google, or Apple smart devices that have those services built in. With smart lighting, “control” is no longer just about powering on or off, it’s also about dimming, timing, colors, color temperatures, and how all of those things can be programmed to match your mood or activity.

Intrigued? Read on for three ways to hop on the smart lighting train.

Start with a single bulb

Merkury Innovations Color Smart A21 Light Bulb, $12.88.
Walmart

You can get your feet wet with just one smart LED bulb. There are true one-and-done products like these TP-Link bulbs (available in both dimmable white and multi-color) or this multi-color bulb from Walmart; they work with your Wi-Fi router, so you only need the bulb, a lamp to plug it into, and a free app for control. Screw one in and you can start dimming the light with an app or schedule, say, a “Halloween O’Clock orange mood light” every night.

Flatpack retailer Ikea also jumped onto the smart lighting scene earlier this year with its Trådfri collection, a range that includes a few ridiculously easy-to-use “dimming kits” comprising a bulb and a wireless dimmer or remote—no app required.

Set up a starter kit

If you’re looking for a more flexible system right out of the box, consider getting a smart lighting starter kit, which usually includes multiple bulbs for greater coverage around the home and an internet-connected hub that give the bulbs their smart features.

Curbed’s sister site The Verge recommends smart lighting systems from Philips Hue. Kits are available in “White,” “White Ambiance” (“Ambiance” meaning you can change the color temperature from a bright, white light to a soft, warm light), and “White and Color Ambiance” varieties—each come with multiple bulbs and the Hue Bridge hub for connecting with smart assistants.

Philips Hue White Ambiance 4-Bulb Starter Kit, $144.
Amazon

A similar bundle is available at Wink, which includes a hub that connects to a wide range of compatible smart home devices, such as doorbells, thermostats, and more.

Ikea’s Trådfri smart lighting collection also offers a larger “Gateway” starter kit with two bulbs, a remote control, and a “Gateway” hub that makes the bulbs controllable via an app. The updated TRÅDFRI gateway and app now work with Apple HomeKit.

While the hubs in these starter kits are an extra step—problems connecting them to Wi-Fi routers is a common complaint with these products—they do prepare you for potentially expanding your smart home set up down the line.

For example, hubs will let you add on and control many bulbs at once, incorporate compatible accessories like motion sensors, or use voice control via integrations with voice assistants from Amazon, Google, and Apple.

Use a smart plug

TP-Link Smart Plug Mini, $29.99
Amazon

It’s possible to have smart lighting without buying new bulbs. As it turns out, there are magical Wi-Fi-enabled “smart plugs” that turn whatever you plug in them (yes, even “dumb” devices!) into smart, remote-controllable products. A Curbed staffer, who went with the TP-Link Smart Plug Mini and loves it, can now use his Echo to ask Alexa to turn on the A/C.

The smart plug doesn’t require an Echo or another hub to work, though. Simply plug any regular lamp or standing light into the smart plug and download TP-Link’s free Kasa app to control the light remotely or schedule it to turn on and off at specific times. Some well-rated alternatives are available from BearDot, GYMLE, and Wemo.