Lifx Smart Lightbulbs – Let There Be Multiple Colors of Light

Lifx - A Wifi-enabled Smart Lightbulb.

Lifx – A Wifi-enabled, app-powered, Smart Lightbulb.

A few weeks ago, I was standing at the register in a Best Buy wondering if I was stupid, or what. After all, there I was, spending $80 on a lightbulb…

The Lifx bulb, itself.

The Lifx bulb, itself.

Even with a lifespan claimed at 40,000 hours, 23 years of standard usage, Lifx’s $100 MSRP for a lightbulb is not exactly a cost-effective lighting solution. Still, I wanted to upgrade some of the lighting in my apartment, and had been intrigued by the Phillips Hue line of LED Smartbulbs. But $200 for 3 bulbs and a hub, the Hue was more bulbs, and more complexity, than I was looking for.  When I saw the Lifx Smartbulb on sale at Best Buy recently, I dug into some research. Since each Lifx connects directly to your Wifi router, it needs no hub. So, I decided to head on down, and pick one up to try out.

Lifx running a soft-white color, at full power (75 watt equivalent). All the other lights in the apartment are off.

Lifx running a soft-white color, at full power (75 watt equivalent). All the other lights in the apartment are off.

Lifx has gone with an Apple’esque unboxing experience. The box itself is solid and well made. Setup is a relative breeze. When you first turn in the Lifx Smartbulb, it sets up it’s own Wifi network that you join your iOS or Android device. Then, simply run the Lifx app and share your device’s Wifi settings with the Lifx.  Boom, your new smart bulb is connected to the Internet. Now lightbulbs get firmware updates too. It’s a new world out there, people.

Royal purple.

Royal purple.

The variety of color options, even for white-light, with the Lifx is mind boggling. From blindingly pure through dimly soft whites, and pretty much the full colors from the rainbow. Additionally, even if the lamp is not a dimmer, you can set the brightness for the Lifx Smartbulb. When displaying colors, dimming allows for the colors to become much deeper and richer.

Green living with a lightbulb that gives you green lighting.

Green living with a lightbulb that gives you green lighting.

Another benefit to the Lifx is that it uses surprising little energy considering it’s Wifi-enabled. About 17 watts at 100% brightness, and about 1.7 watts when in standby (light-switch is off), so the Lifx can still be connected to and responsive control via the app. Running up to Wireless-N, it’s insane to think my lightbulb has a faster connection to the Internet than my Playstation 3. The iOS version of the Lifx app is impressive. It’s responsive, with a thoughtful UI and user-experience. The little touches, such as visual cues as to the colors settings for individual bulbs, demonstrate a high-level of user-consideration and polish.

Screenshots from the Lifx iOS app, showing the various controls for shading, dimming, etc.

Screenshots from the Lifx iOS app, showing the various controls for shading, dimming, etc.

In fact, as you can see above, I was so impressed, I ended up buying a second Lifx, one for the living room and one for my office/guest bedroom. I really like being able to set a particular color when I’m watching a movie, or playing a game. It’s just a little something extra that adds to a more immersive, theater-like, experience. That said, there are some downsides to the Lifx. First, it’s a little slow to come on. The company claims that some future firmware upgrades will help out, but, these are not instant-on light bulbs. At $100 MSRP, that’s a little disappointing. Lastly, at least for iOS users, the lighting effects from the Lifx app only work while the app is running. If you switch to another app, or answer a call, the effect will stop. Lifx says they are working with Apple to reclassify the app as a “Music” app, so it can run in the background and still work when switching apps. The bulb itself is a little tall, but not giant. Without a doubt, it is heavier than most light bulbs. If you live in earthquake-country, and put it in a skinny and tall lamp, you will want to plan for that thing being top-heavy.

I’m hopeful that this minor issues will be fixed, and that these danged smart bulbs last their 23 years. Even at half, I believe I’ll end up getting my moneys worth of enjoyment out of the Lifx Smartbulbs. They certainly are a luxury, and a toy, but, at the end-of-the-day, they’re good geeky fun.

Pros:

  • Allows you to select from a very large number of colors.
  • Setup is very simple and straightforward.
  • The app is well made and user-friendly.
  • A much easier and less expensive to way to ‘test the waters’ on SmartBulbs.

Cons:

  • Special lighting effects (candle flicker, music visualizer, etc) for iOS users are currently limited to when the app is active. If you jump back to the home screen, or switch tasks, the effect will stop. Android users do not have this limitation.
  • Some features, such as timing and scheduling, are not available yet.
  • Not instant-on, Lifx bulbs take a couple of seconds to come on.

Verdict = Recommended.

Mike Knotts

Mike Knotts was born in 1968 in a small town in southern Indiana. Even when very young, Mike showed a love for all-things technical and sci-fi. Moving with his family to California in the early 80's, he eventually graduated from UC Santa Barbara with a degree in History. Rather than put that to good use, Mike continued to pursue his passion for technology by working for early, regional ISP's in the mid 1990's. He currently resides in the Pacific Northwest, where he works as a project manager for an Internet startup. Mike is a co-founder of Geekometry.

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