Smart Bulbs vs Smart Switches: What’s the difference?

When you think of a smart home, one of the first things that probably comes to mind is smart lighting. The appliance is one of the most popular and accessible parts of your household, and it really isn’t that much effort to get it set up yourself. There are quite a few different bulb options out there, but what if you’re just looking to be able to toggle your existing lights and not worry about color? If that’s the case, you might want to look into getting some smart switches instead. But what are smart switches, and how do they compare to the bulbs currently on the market?

Let’s break it down.

Smart Bulbs

There are quite a few brands doing smart bulbs these days. We’ve got Phillips, LIFX, and even IKEA shipping a variety of different options at varying price points. Some of these bulbs can only do white light, but there are more premium options which can change to any color you like. There is a pretty large price variance because of this fact, so you can find bulbs ranging from $15 all the way past $80 a piece.

Smart bulbs can be controlled in groups or individually. One of the benefits of using smart bulbs is the fact that you can toggle or dim lights on a light-by-light basis. Since they each have their own Wi-Fi connection and are controllable within the app itself, you’re able to select individual colors for single lights or entire groups, assuming you get the color versions. This is great for cases such as when you are relaxing in a room and want to have a soft light, or many other situations that leave you wanting to make your space a little more comfortable. If you want to add some color to your space, this is also the only way to do it, as a smart switch will not have the ability to magically turn your regular lights colorful.

Bulbs like Phillips Hue or LIFX have different presets built in which allow you to get a specific feel in your room with a number of bulbs. Whether you want to feel like you’re on a desert island or simply just want to concentrate better, these presets are great for setting a specific mood on the fly. If you don’t like the ones included in these apps, you can always make your own to quickly elicit a specific feeling throughout your space.

These lights are extremely easy to set up as well. They can be inserted into any regular light socket, though models like LIFX are a little more oddly shaped. If you’ve got light covers over your bulbs you’re going to want to check and make sure they fit over the model you have. While the Phillips Hue bulbs worked fine for us, our light covers were a bit too small for LIFX, so measure before you buy. Lights like Phillips Hue need a special communication device called a bridge to help connect them to the internet, but other options like LIFX can connect without any extra equipment.

If you simply want to plug in your lights and get going, individual smart lights are a good choice. That being said, there are quite a few benefits to smart switches that these lights can’t cover.

Smart Switches

smart switches

Smart switches work by replacing your existing light switch or outlet, and enabling a connection between the switch and the internet. In this way, it is the switch that is connecting to the internet and not your light, so you are really just toggling the light switch remotely.

Smart switches are great for areas of your home that have many lights you’ll always want to turn on at once, since you only have to flip one switch in order to actually control all the lights at the same time. With a smart switch, you’re effectively able to control a whole room with just one switch, as opposed to needing to order multiple bulbs to get the job done. This all depends on your existing home wiring though, and you’ll have to make sure you have a ground wire for this all to work. If you think your house might be running on some old cabling, it might be worth using smart bulbs instead.

Smart switches are great for simple wireless on/off capabilities. You can control groups of lights with your phone, and they even work with Amazon Echo and Google Home so you can toggle them with your voice. Smart bulbs work with these services as well, but it’s nice to be able to turn off switches in your home with your voice just as you would manually. Additionally, since many switches work to turn outlet power on and off, it’s possible to use these switches to turn on things like your coffee maker or anything else you would plug in. Companies like Belkin also make dedicated wall outlets that can perform this same function, so you can always use something like that instead if none of your switches connect to wall outlets.

Smart switches do require a little bit of electrical know how, and you’ll need to do some wiring to get your old switch out and the new one in. While you’re doing this make sure you turn off your breaker for that room, otherwise you could seriously injure yourself. If you don’t know what you’re doing there are some helpful guides on the internet, but you may want to call someone in to help.

Important note for parents: If you have little ones, smart switches have another major benefit — if your little one switches it off, you can turn it back on remotely. If your kid turns off the switch that’s connected to your smart light bulb, the bulb simply won’t work until the switch is turned back on. For those with toddlers and preschoolers especially, you can see how this could quickly become a big plus for smart switches and a massive downside for just using smart light bulbs.


In the end, smart bulbs and switches both offer very similar features. They can both set groups to toggle entire rooms on and off, and can be controlled from your phone or voice assuming you have one of the major voice assistants on the market today. While switches won’t be able to offer the same level of customization as individual smart bulbs, they are much cheaper to implement throughout your house. That being said, they are much more difficult to install, as smart bulbs can simply be plugged directly into your existing light socket without changing any of the wiring in your house.

Whichever option you choose is ultimately up to you. We used a combination of them in the DGiT smart home to save a bit of money and get the best of both worlds, so that might be worth considering as well. Either way, adding a way to toggle your lights wirelessly will save you quite a bit of time and money, and you’ll never want to go back once you have it.

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