Smart Bulbs vs Smart Switches

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Which To Choose – smart switch, smart dimmer, smart bulb or smart plug?


Seriously, what’s the deal when it comes to all these similar devices?  Apart from considering connectivity, it is also important to compare the similar smart products such as dimmers, bulbs and plugs, so you can choose the best option for your needs.  We have already mentioned smart dimmers so let’s start there and look at them in more detail.


A smart switch or a smart dimmer?

Smart switches and Smart dimmers are both embedded with similar sophisticated technology which give you all the benefits of access, control and scene setting. They are both products which require installation and they work in a similar way through your wireless connection via a dedicated app, or your home automation hub. The installation of smart switches and dimmers requires your home to have neutral wires (except for the Lutron Caséta switch). Therefore installation is not for everyone and we would strongly advise you employ an electrician to carry this work out for you.  Once installed though, these products are easy to use.


So the two products have many similarities, but the main advantage of a smart dimmer over a smart switch is that it allows you to dim your lights in the same way as a conventional dimmer.  This allows you to save electricity and to control your lights beyond the on/off option of a switch. You can therefore and set a wider range of scenes and ambience, in different areas of your home.  


On the other side of the coin, the simple toggle on/off option of smart switches is perfect for products in your home other than lighting – such as in wall controlled air conditioning, fans and fireplaces.


In our opinion both products have a major place as integral to a smart home.  We suggest that the best option for lights in main living areas of your home, is a smart dimmer which allows you to get the most out of all possible options for control.  Smart switches can work in tandem with these dimmers, to control other products such as fans, or in rooms where you may not need the dimming functionality. By thinking about smart products in this way, you may find you need both smart switches and smart dimmers working together to give you the best of both worlds.


A smart switch or a smart bulb?

Focusing solely on home lighting, there is also the option of smart bulbs. Developed originally to save energy, smart bulbs are LED light bulbs you can turn on or off using your smartphone, a hub/home automation system or tablet.  Like smart plugs, they work using wireless connectivity such as Bluetooth, WiFi, Z-Wave or ZigBee.


Whilst they work in the same way, smart bulbs do not contain the level of sophisticated technology that a smart switch/dimmer or smart plug does.  However, smart bulbs are easy to install. You do not need to be a DIY guru or an electrician to change a light bulb, but you do to install a smart switch or dimmer.   There are some options in terms of different colours and a single smart bulb seems inexpensive compared with other smart products (although more expensive than a conventional bulb).  


So they are a very attractive alternative to a smart switch or smart dimmer, but there are several drawbacks.  The first is the cost. If you want to buy more than one bulb, the overall cost soon outstrips the cost of a smart switch or dimmer both of which can control several bulbs and work with any bulb.  Smart switches and dimmers essentially change ordinary bulbs into smart bulbs, so it is unlikely you would want to use a smart bulb with a smart switch, unless you are looking for the ability to change the colour or hue of the light that is emitted from the bulb. The second disadvantage of smart bulbs is that if you want to do more than control a single bulb or want more options than a simple on or off, you will definitely need a hub of some type.


You may already have a home automation system in your home or you may choose to buy one to integrate all your home smart products, either way you will need to choose the brand of smart bulb very carefully.  Each brand works better with some systems than others and there are smart bulbs that require a very specific gateway such as Phillips Hue Bridge. It is true that some bulbs can work across more than one system, but take care – for example a Bluetooth option may seem like the simplest approach, but because of it’s limited range, you won’t be able to control a Bluetooth bulb away from home.  


Overall then, smart bulbs are a good option for single lamps or an area where you do not or cannot install in wall smart switches or dimmers.  


They can give you some remote access and control and may be an attractive toe in the water trial of smart products. But remember, watch the cost if you are buying multiple bulbs  and make sure the bulbs you buy are the best ones to work with your existing in home wireless connection or hub if you already have one.


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A smart switch or a smart plug?

Smart plugs are intelligent plugs that let you control the power supply of almost anything plugged into them via your smartphone or a smart speaker assistant like Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Apple’s Siri.  So you can remotely turn on or off your lamps, electric crockpot, tv or whatever you have plugged into your smart plugs, getting your home ready for your return. They are as easy to use as conventional plugs and if you have a smart plug for a lamp, you do not need to also use a smart light bulb.  Smart plugs are great for monitoring power and unlike smart switches and dimmers, require no professional installation.


However smart plugs are no substitute for a smart switch which can control many features hard wired into your home (ceiling lights, fans and such like), unlike plugs which cannot control ceiling lights as they only control what is plugged into them.  


In addition, a single smart switch or smart dimmer enables you to automate a lot of lights, not just a single lamp.


In summary, smart plugs are great for controlling features such as lamps, music systems and items you use conventional plugs for and they are great working in tandem with smart switches, dimmers and other smart products to enable you to control the ambience in all your rooms.  We can all appreciate the advantages of being able to turn off the tv or computer in the kids room, without the need to leave the living room. We have reviewed the best smart plugs and which protocol they work best with, to help you make your choice.


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