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Throughout that time, whenever a friend, family member, coworker or stranger would ask me for advice on how to smarten up their light bulbs, I would usually tell them to start at the same place: Philips Hue. Put simply, Philips Hue is the best-developed smart lighting platform that you can buy into.

It's been around for several years now, it has an impressive and diverse portfolio of products to pick from, it's updated regularly with new features and integrations -- and it works with just about everything, from voice control via Siri, Alexa and the Google Assistant to larger smart home platforms such as Apple HomeKit, Logitech Harmony, Google Nest and Samsung SmartThings. Same goes for budget brands like Sengled and , each of which offers a color-changing LED light bulb for $25 that connects directly with your Wi-Fi network and works with Alexa and Google.

The new lineup of Philips Hue outdoor lights get even pricier -- a single, color-changing Calla pathlight for your garden , while a . They don't change colors, but I'd much rather have Ring's motion-activated outdoor lights, most of which cost a fraction of what Hue charges.

And don't even get me started on Hue's overpriced light fixtures, which include the Signe floor lamp. All of which is a long-winded way of saying that the smart lighting category has evolved to the point where you've got a lot of alternatives to Philips Hue that are worth considering before you spend hundreds. And if you really couldn't care less about the colors, and just want a simple, dimmable soft white bulb that you can control with voice commands, worry not -- I've got a rundown for those, too. (Disclaimer: CNET may earn a small share of the revenue for any purchases made through the links on this page).

Ry Crist/CNET The Hue app and Hue's many integrations with third-party services and devices give you all sorts of ways to tinker around with your lights -- but for the past several years, Australian start-up Lifx has been building a smart lighting ecosystem that's almost as good. That said, Lifx lights speak Wi-Fi and don't need any extra hub hardware to connect with your router, so buying in is a bit less expensive up front.

Then you'll want light bulbs that support Apple HomeKit, the iOS-based smart home platform that runs via software on your phone or tablet. A single multicolor bulb that pairs directly with Apple's Home app on your iPhone can currently be had for just $25 on Amazon. None of them feel as high-end as Hue, but if you just want to say "Hey Siri, hit the lights" without breaking the bank, they'll get the job done just fine.

Aside from costing less, Ring's outdoor security lights are the more practical pick, as each one features a built-in motion sensor.

A two-pathlight starter kit with the mandatory Ring Bridge costs $80 -- that's where I'd start if it were my yard we were talking about. In addition to the bulbs listed above, I also considered color-changing LED options from names like Feit, TP-Link Kasa and Anker's smart home offshoot, Eufy.

TP-Link's newest color changer looks fancy, but with an unimpressive app and no support for Apple HomeKit, it's not enough of a deal at $30. The first big thing that jumps out is that the newest, plastic-topped version of the Hue bulb is noticeably less bright than all of these alternatives.

My guess is that the Hue team wanted presets like "Energy" that use those higher color temperatures to "pop" when users turn them on.

That's what you get with a competitor like the Lifx Mini, which delivers 880 lumens at its default white light setting. Meanwhile, the colors with Philips Hue and Sengled were the least bright of the bunch, with the C by GE LED falling squarely in the middle. We used separate, locked-down camera settings for the soft white shots, since the bulbs are each considerably brighter in those.

I plan to do a little more digging into the different ways each voice control platform handles color commands, so stay tuned for an update on that front. "I expect the Echo Plus is sending hue saturation commands to the bulbs, which it takes directly from the screen RGB HSV values," Yianni tells me. In a nutshell, there are a number of different ways to define a specific color as a coordinate -- and when it comes to cyan, Alexa and Philips Hue seem to be misaligned.

Outside of Hue, you won't find such a good mix of features and design with any of the other apps. Then again, if you're going to use your bulbs with a voice assistant or a larger smart home platform like Apple HomeKit, then these apps don't matter nearly as much, because you'll really only use them for the initial pairing process, and perhaps to troubleshoot if you're ever having connection issues. I have a couple of Lifx bulbs in my home that I've picked up on sale over the years and, as much as I like the app, I really only use it on the rare occasion where I want to create and save a new scene.

When you have friends over for cheesy slasher flicks, you can make them red to set the proper mood. If that's good enough to scratch your itch for multi-color lighting, then skipping Philips Hue isn't a compromise at all -- it's just a smart decision.


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