Orbnext review: Orbnext offers color-coded smart-home ambience

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CNET Editors' Rating

3.5 stars Very good
  • Overall: 7.0
  • Features: 6.0
  • Usability: 8.0
  • Design: 7.0
  • Performance: 7.0
Review Date:

The Good Orbnext is an attractive desk ornament, and -- thanks to its IFTTT channel -- it's more practical than you might think.

The Bad The Orbnext app is pretty sparse, lacking features like a music sync mode or custom color cycles. We also struggled to come up with IFTTT recipes that felt truly useful.

The Bottom Line At $129, Orbnext isn't an easy to splurge to justify, but makers, automation geeks and IFTTT aficionados might enjoy the niche appeal.

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"Your world at a glance" -- that's what Colorado-based Advanced Lumonics is offering with Orbnext, a Wi-Fi enabled, color-changing desktop novelty. With 10 multicolor Cree LEDs housed within frosted glass and its own channel on IFTTT, Orbnext can change colors to notify you of things like important emails, new followers on Twitter or anything else you can think up.

The rub, of course, is that Orbnext costs a hefty $129. In Australia, that comes out to around AU$185 once you factor in international shipping -- in the UK, you'll need to drop a cool £100. That certainly isn't inexpensive, especially when you consider color-changing LED competitors like Philips Hue, Tabu Lumen and Lifx that each cost a lot less per light. Cool factor aside, Orbnext is still very much a novelty item, and unless it has you dazzled, I think you can safely resist the urge to splurge.

orbnext-7.jpg
Megan Wollerton/CNET

As I'm sure you've noticed by this point, the cube-shaped Orbnext isn't an orb at all. The name is a callback to the Ambient Orb, a color-changing sphere from 2004 that offered basic ambient notifications before notifications were really a thing. The Ambient Orb was attractive and futuristic -- perhaps to a fault. As CNET's Brian Cooley said at the time, "All we know is that we like this thing."

Advanced Lumonics is likely hoping that in today's smartphone-centric age -- and with IFTTT doing the heavy lifting -- a color-coded, design-oriented, ambient light notification gadget makes a little more sense. To an extent, I think that it does. As a geeky sort of splurge, I can see the appeal.

That appeal cuts two ways. First, there's the surprising practicality of the thing. With Orbnext and IFTTT, you'll be able to program color changes for whatever you deem important. Maybe you want it turn bright red if the boss emails you, or green whenever your fitness tracker detects that you've hit a daily goal. For a subtle, unobtrusive notification mechanism that lets you keep your phone in your pocket for once, you could really do a lot worse.

The other angle comes down to design: Orbnext is pretty to look at. With frosted glass and colorful minimalism, it's an attractive little desktop decoration capable of casting a futuristic sheen over just about any workstation.

Still, the minimalist design isn't perfect. While the frosted glass certainly gives Orbnext the feel of a high-end gadget, it also looks a little bit like plastic. One or two additional design flourishes might have helped to reinforce the high-end aesthetic.

orbnext-app.jpg
The Orbnext app is simple, but a bit sparse. Screenshots by Ry Crist/CNET

For basic control over Orbnext, you'll use the "blink.n.play" app from Advanced Lumonics. That name comes from the pairing process -- to connect your Orbnext, you'll hold it over your phone while the app blinks a rapid light pattern coded with your Wi-Fi info. That's the same trick that Quirky uses to connect products like the Porkfolio, the Pivot Power Genius, and the Aros Smart Air Conditioner, which isn't too surprising, given that those products use the same ElectricIMP motherboard as Orbnext.

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Where to Buy

Advanced Lumonics Orbnext

Part Number: CNETAdvanced Lumonics Labs Orbnext

MSRP: $99.00

See manufacturer website for availability.