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Smart Bulb vs. Smart Plug: Which Is Best?

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When it comes to installing smart lighting, you have lots of choices. Perhaps the biggest is whether you should go with smart light bulbs or smart plugs that you plug your light fixtures into.

There are pros and cons of each, so weigh your options carefully. We’re taking a closer look at both options.

Why Use a Smart Bulb?

Kasa smart light bulb.
Image Credit: Kasa

A smart light bulb is an LED bulb that can connect to a smart home network and be controlled by a corresponding mobile app or smart speaker, such as an Amazon Alexa or Google Home device. Smart bulbs can screw into any existing light fixture, so you can turn the light on or off with simple voice commands to your smart speaker. You can also use the bulb’s app to set schedules for turning on and off the light.

Some smart bulbs do more than just turn on or off. If you spend a little more money, some more expensive smart bulbs let you:

  • Dim the bulb’s brightness from 10% to 100%
  • Change the bulb’s color temperature (warmer yellowish-white to cooler blue-white)
  • Change the actual color of the bulb’s light, so you can have a red light for Valentine’s Day or a green one for Christmas

Naturally, the more options available, the higher the price of the bulb. Basic on/off single-color bulbs are the lowest-priced ones.

Related: Got a Smart Bulb? Here’s How to Set It Up

What Use a Smart Plug?

D-Link smart plug.
Image Credit: D-Link

A smart plug is a plug that plugs into an existing electrical outlet and can be controlled via a companion app or smart speaker voice commands. Most smart plugs are simple on/off devices—you can turn on or off whatever is plugged into the smart plug. While most people use smart plugs to control lamps and other light fixtures, you can plug just about any electrical device into a smart plug to turn it on or off. Like smart bulbs, you can use a smart plug’s app to set an on/off schedule for the plug.

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Related: What Are Smart Plugs and What Do They Do?

What you can’t do with a smart plug is anything fancy, like dim the light or change the light’s color. It’s essentially an on/off switch, which is why it can be used with anything electrical that’s plugged into it. When you want simple on/off operation, that’s what a smart plug does.

When Do Smart Bulbs Make Sense?

smart-bulbs-everything

Smart bulbs are easy to install—just screw them into existing light fixtures. Leave the light fixture on, then you can turn the bulb on or off with your smart home app or smart speaker.

A smart bulb makes sense in the following circumstances:

  • You want to be able to dim a specific light
  • You want to be able to change the light’s color temperature (cool to warm)
  • You cant to be able to change the light’s color

When Do Smart Plugs Make Sense

Eve Energy smart plug

Smart plugs are also easy to install—just plug the smart plug into an existing power outlet and connect the device you want to control into the smart plug. Leave that outlet turned on, then you can turn the connected device on or off with your smart home app or smart speaker.

A smart plug makes sense in the following circumstances:

  • You only need to turn the light on or off
  • You cant to control a light with a non-standard bulb (that is, one you can’t find a smart bulb for)
  • You want to control a string of lights, such as Christmas lights

What Option Should You Choose?

When it comes to smart lighting, which smart device makes more sense for you—a smart bulb or a smart plug? It depends on how you want to use it:

  • If you just want simple on/off operation, nothing fancy, choose either a smart bulb or a smart plug
  • If you can’t find a smart bulb of that specific type, choose a smart plug instead
  • If you want to control a string of lights, choose a smart plug
  • If you want to be able to dim the light, choose a smart bulb with dimmable functionality
  • If you want to change the color or color temperature of a light, choose a smart bulb with that feature

What other factors might you want to consider?

First, think about the space required. A smart plug plugs into a normal electrical outlet, which means it sticks out several inches from the wall. Depending on the model, it may also cover up more than one outlet on a wall plate. If space is at a premium—or if you think you might bump into a plug sticking out of the wall—then a smart bulb is a better choice.

Smart Plug Connected to Electrical Outlet

Another thing to consider is versatility. A smart bulb is simple—it lights up your room and that’s all it does. A smart plug, on the other hand, can control any device you plug into it. If you want to use it for different things at different times—for example, to control Christmas tree lights during the holidays and a normal lamp the rest of the year—then a smart plug is the better choice.

Finally, there may be situations whether neither a smart bulb nor a smart plug is the best choice. If you have an outlet or light in your house that is controlled by two different switches—one upstairs and one downstairs, for example—smart bulbs and smart plugs can both get out of sync. In this situation, a better choice is a smart switch that replaces your existing switches and automatically senses the on/off state of what’s being switched.

Note, however, that smart switches are more expensive than either smart bulbs or smart plugs. They also require some wiring expertise to install. If that’s what you need, however, you can find smart switches at your local hardware store.

Related: How to Install a Hardwired Smart Switch

Making the Most of Smart Home Technology

Smart bulbs and smart switches are easy ways to turn your home lighting into smart lighting, controllable from your smart speaker or phone. Smart plugs let you turn any lamp into smart light but are limited to simple on/off operation. Some smart bulbs, however, offer additional functionality and could let you dim a particular light or change its color or color temperature.

Both options have a place in your home and are easy ways to harness smart home technology.


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