If you decided it’s time to take steps towards getting your own smart home, one of the areas in which you can focus to get quick results for relatively low costs is smart lights. It’s easy to get lost with all the solutions that have recently appeared on the market, so here is a list of some terms it would be worthwhile knowing and a review of a select product from my own personal experience.
After looking at the various players I chose to go with LIFX – a Kickstarter graduate which I missed at the time of crowd funding but apparently followed through and is now one of the noteworthy players as far as I can say.
A few words about selecting a smart bulb
As with any light bulb, there are a few things to consider in choosing your bulb, and a few extra when it comes to a smart bulb:
Lumens, Temperature and Color
Lumen is a measuring unit for the strength of the light (brightness (, so if you are replacing a 60w old light bulb you are looking for a 600 – 800 lm bulb (fluorescent / led or other).
Temperature indicates the type of white light you are going to get, up to 3000K is what’s known as a warm light (with a yellowish tone), than up to 4500K come the “cool whites” and above that “bright daylight” type.
Sometimes “a simple white” is not enough and you want to inject some color to your life. A smart light bulb may offer up to “millions of colors” depending on the number and quality of its components and the little led lights inside it. While a smart light might promise changing colors, it does not necessarily mean all shades and color variations nor the transition from one color to the next. Some Smart lights are limited to whites only which means they don’t have full spectrum red green and blue led lights and they offer a range of white lights only with varying brightness and temperature.
When choosing your smart bulb, consider if you need the color option (since typically the smart white bulbs will be cheaper!). Check out the lumens and calculate the strength of the light you are after (you may need more than one bulb to get it right), make sure you have a wide temperature range to produce the right soft moments as well as bright & intense once.
Connectivity – Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and beyond
While Bluetooth is great for some things, I personally find it less reliable and practical for managing lights mainly due to range issues.
Wi-Fi connectivity is much better, in this case the lights are connected to your personal network and can be controlled from a device that is connected to that network or from anywhere in the world (if supported and if you allow it!).
There are two common methods for setting up smart bulbs (1) each bulb connects to the network independently (which is how LIFX does it), (2) using a bridge unit that is connect to the network and all bulbs connect through it (for example Philips Hue). The benefit of the second options is less stress on the Wi-Fi network with only one IP address taken as opposed to one per bulb, but the addition of the bridge increases the initial cost of the starter kit and also that bridge may be a single point of failure which shuts down access to all light in the event of a failure.
Connectivity also means the existence of an API (preferably extensive, friendly one) which allows other software developers to offer complimentary solutions without having to hack the bulb, and the support of IFTTT for creating complex rules to interact with other smart objects in your life.
What else is out there?
Other smart bulbs out there offer a built in camera you can screw into the bulb socket, a projector to display video on any surface, a speaker to play music or a Wi-Fi access point to boost your signal, so you might want to hang on to those old lamps and chandeliers before you scale down the number of bulbs you actually use for lighting 🙂
So why LIFX?
With the positive reviews following their successful Kickstarter campaign I opted for LIFX which seems to be leading the category along with the well-known Philips Hue. Other vendors for now seem to be trailing not far behind – imitating but are not quite there yet.
With a higher Lumens rate than the rival Hue, world wide availability
and free shipping (update: discontinued) – the ultimate cost of the LIFX were all important factors in this decision but I’ve since also come to know the great support service they offer.
While led lights in general are expected to last for about 20 years, and LIFX estimates a 23 years lifetime – one of my bulbs has recently “died”. Following a surprisingly quick verification and troubleshooting process to ensure the bulb was indeed a “total lost” I was offered a replacement that should be making its way to me as I write these lines…
Although unfortunate and disappointing, I guess it happens once in a while with any electronic device and the companies’ swift and favorable reaction was much appreciated (hopefully I won’t have a similar experience with any of their products in the years to come!).
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