Spotlight on LIFX LED bulbs

October 3, 2013 1:57 PM PDT / Updated: October 3, 2013 1:57 PM PDT
Kickstarter

LIFX is a Wi-Fi-enabled LED bulb that you can control on your Android or iOS device. Much like the Philips Hue and fellow crowd-funded lighting project Ilumi, LIFX bulbs boast functionality way beyond that of incandescent lights or even other LEDs.

LIFX began on Kickstarter with a $100,000 goal, and ended up with pledges totaling $1,314,542 by the end of its campaign. Though the funding period is over, you can still preorder a LIFX bulb on the Web site for $89. That $89 will net you a highly customizable, energy efficient LED light that claims to last for up to 40,000 hours, or 25 years.

LIFX comes in three socket options: the Edison Screw, the Bayonet Cap, and the Downlight. The Edison and Bayonet are both 15-watt bulbs that give off a strong 900 lumens worth of light. Each comes in either pearl white or gunmetal gray finishes. The 8-watt Downlight measures 600 lumens, and comes in gunmetal gray only. If you buy one to three bulbs at a time, each will cost $89; buy four or more and the price drops down to $85 per bulb. LIFX offers a two-year warranty on all bulbs, and your smartphone needs to run at least iOS 5 or Android 2.2 for compatibility.

For comparison, Philips Hue bulbs have 600 lumens, 8.5W ratting, cost $199 for the Starter Pack with the required networking hub ($59 individually), and work with Edison-style light sockets. Ilumi offers two Edison bulb varieties, a 10W, 800 lumen bulb, and a larger 15W, 1,100 lumens version. Ilumi is still in Kickstarter mode, but has already exceeded its funding goal; supporters are scheduled to receive their bulbs in December 2013. I expect to write a full review of this product around that time, including more-detailed pricing information. For now, you have to pledge at least $59 to receive an Ilumi bulb (although they are already sold out at that price level).

LIFX installation is as easy as screwing the bulb into your light fixture. Each LIFX bulb has a built-in Wi-Fi chip that can communicate with your router, Android, or iOS gadget. And if you have multiple bulbs, they can talk to each other on a 802.15.4 mesh network, like the kind used by the Zigbee-based Hue.

The LIFX app allows you to adjust bulb brightness individually, by room, or even control the entire house. You can also change bulb color to mark a festive occasion or to complement your current mood. You can set a bulb to slowly brighten as you wake up and slowly dim as you fall asleep. You can also program your lights to turn on when you get home and to switch off when you leave. LIFX is currently working on a Software Development Kit so you can customize your usage.

Kickstarter

Like LIFX, Philips Hue bulbs simply screw into an obliging light socket. But, you do also have to plug the bridge hub into your wireless router -- this is what enables your smartphone to communicate with Philips' ZigBee-based bulbs. So you're paying more up front for the starter kit, but individual bulbs are $30 less than LIFX bulbs. The Hue also works on Android and iOS devices, and it is also a channel on the popular IFTTT service.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

Ilumi bulb installation is also incredibly straightforward. Unlike Wi-Fi-based LIFX and ZigBee-based Hue, though, Ilumi is strictly Bluetooth-based. Ilumi offers HyperLux LED technology, which claims to make the brightest, most energy efficient multicolor bulbs of its kind and is also working on a SDK. Every Ilumi has a range of at least 100 feet, and the bulbs can talk to one another via the wireless mesh.

Ilumi

LIFX, Philips Hue, and Ilumi are all connected bulbs with corresponding apps that allow for some level of home automation and remote control. LIFX and Ilumi are both crowd-funded projects that don't require a bridge to operate. LIFX is Wi-Fi-based, whereas Ilumi runs on Bluetooth 4.0 (and, therefore, has limited remote range). The Philips Hue relies on a hub, so there's a higher cost and more installation up front. On the other hand, each Hue costs $59 compared with LIFX's $89. Philips works alongside IFTTT to deliver increased customization. At the same time, both LIFX and Ilumi are working on SDKs so you can get creative without IFTTT.

Think about what you want from a connected bulb and that might help you pick a favorite. Do you plan to buy dozens of connected lights? The $59 Hue bulbs are more cost effective. Interested in a smart light that doesn't need a hub? Look at LIFX or Ilumi. From there, it's really a matter of preference: Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. Keep checking back for forthcoming reviews of LIFX and Ilumi. And while you wait, here's a list of awesome crowd-funded lighting projects .

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Where to Buy

LIFX bulb (Wi-Fi, Pearl White)

Part Number: BUL-11-A21E26-W

MSRP: $89.00

See manufacturer website for availability.

About The Author

Megan writes reviews in CNET's Louisville, KY office.