Lifx review: Multicolor muscle lets IFTTT handle the smarts

In the new Smarts tab, you'll find nine Themes, along with the bulb's third-party integrations. Tap one of these, and you'll be able to start setting up that integration. Screenshots by Ry Crist/CNET

New "Smarts" to play with

Beyond color and white mode, you'll have access to a few basic Effects like a press-to-strobe mode and a candle-mimicking mode. Gone, however, are the Scenes of Lifx 1.0, which allowed you to save a certain set of colors and brightness levels, then return to it with just a tap. The Lifx team claims that this was one of the least-used features in the app, so they replaced it with a tab dubbed "Smarts."

As of now, these Smarts are two-fold. First, you get a selection of different Themes to play with. These themes are really just small thumbnail images of things like sunsets, mixed berries, and a crashing wave. Select one of them, and your lights will each randomly select a color from the image. There's a rainbow-esque theme that essentially works as a crapshoot -- other, more monochromatic themes offer effects that are a little more focused.

The new Lifx IFTTT channel brings all sorts of new possibilities to the table. Screenshot by Ry Crist/CNET

Below the Themes, you'll find a Services section that lists the bulb's third-party integrations. As of now, there are just three: the Nest Learning Thermostat, the Nest Protect Smoke Detector, and IFTTT. Tapping any of the three options will send you to pairing instructions to help get you started.

I was a little curious as to why the Lifx team would get rid of its Scenes outright -- as it stood, the feature was about as close as the app got to any sort of scheduling functionality, one of its most head-scratching omissions. Since originally publishing this review, Lifx added a neat feature where you can drag your finger over a bulb's name and quickly set it to fade off over a specific period of time, but still, not any sort of full-fledged scheduling mechanism. Getting rid of the Scenes seems like a big step backward, even if the Lifx team says no one was using them.

The answer here is the new Lifx IFTTT channel, to which the bulb essentially outsources much of its missing functionality. With IFTTT's "if-this-then-that" style recipes, you can set your Lifx bulbs to come on at specific times, or when an IFTTT-compatible motion detector gets triggered, or when somebody mentions you in a tweet. It's a pretty colossal upgrade, and I'm kind of puzzled it took Lifx this long to make it happen.

Regardless, the important thing is that it's here now, and it's quite good. You have a good number of Lifx-based IFTTT Actions to choose from (the "then-thats" of your recipes) -- these include turning the bulb on or off, and also changing to a specific color. You can even tell the bulb to "breathe" out a series of light pulses in whatever color you like, perfect for an ambient notification. If you want three red pulses whenever the boss emails, it's easy to set up.

You'll need to upgrade the bulb's firmware using the separate Lifx Updater app. Screenshots by Ry Crist/CNET

One caveat, though: you'll need to upgrade your bulb's firmware before you'll be able to take advantage of the new features. To do so, you'll need to download a separate "Lifx Updater" app, then follow its instructions.

The process is fairly painless, although it took me about 90 minutes and roughly 30 percent of my phone's battery to get through it. Once you're done, you'll be able to sync your bulbs up with the long-awaited Lifx Cloud, which is the key to unlocking all of the new features and integrations.

lifx-bulb-comparison-product-photos-3.jpg
View full gallery (6 Photos)
The Lifx (right) hits the same perfect shade of green as the Lumen LED (center), but it gets there in much brighter fashion. Colin West McDonald/CNET

Color quality

Smarts aside, we can't forget about the Lifx's core functionality. If you're paying $99 for a color-changing bulb, you're going to want those colors to be bold, vivid and accurate.

So, how well does the Lifx perform in terms of color quality? The answer is that it does an admirable job. I'd call it more accurate with its colors than the Philips Hue, which struggles with green, but not quite as accurate as the Lumen LED, which does the best job with blue, in spite of being a simpler, dimmer smart bulb.

blue-comparison-lifx.jpg
View full gallery (6 Photos)

lifx-bulb-comparison-product-photos-1.jpg
View full gallery (6 Photos)
Like the Philips Hue, the Lifx take on blue skews a bit purple when compared with the more accurate Lumen LED. It's a subtle difference in our chromaticity graphs, but fairly obvious to the naked eye. Colin West McDonald/CNET

However, like the Philips Hue, the Lifx has a distinct edge over the Lumen LED in terms of its natural tones. Both offer full spectrums of white light to choose from, while the Lumen LED only offers a single, 2,700K tone as a default. When we put the Philips Hue to the test, we found that its range of natural light fell almost perfectly in line with what you'll get from incandescent lights of various color temperatures.

We got the same result when we put the Lifx through the same test. No matter which one of the Lifx app's 16 white light tones we selected, the color plotted perfectly along the same path that incandescents travel. That tells us that in terms of color, the Lifx is just as accurate a replacement for incandescent lighting as the Philips Hue is, and that's a legitimate selling point for each bulb.

For a closer look at our comparison shots, be sure and check out our full gallery for the complete rundown.

View full gallery (6 Photos)
Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Conclusion

As multicolor LEDs go, the Lifx is probably the best-looking one that I've seen, and certainly the brightest. With dozens of diodes and 1,000 lumens to its name, it's a muscular bulb, capable of producing bright, vivid light of any color you want. Like the Philips Hue LED, it offers both a full color spectrum and a natural light spectrum, but by allowing you to combine the two simply by dialing a color's brightness up from 50 to 100 percent, it essentially offers you a third spectrum of tinted white light to play with -- and that makes a lot of sense for more practical household lighting scenarios.

Last year, I stopped short of recommending Lifx due to the key features that weren't in the app, most notably scheduling and automation capability. They still aren't there, which is less than reassuring, but the addition of a Lifx IFTTT channel at least makes that sort of functionality possible. That, coupled with the Nest integration, makes Lifx a dramatically more functional bulb than it was at launch, and it's a lot easier to justify spending $99 on it as a result.

Editors' Top PicksSee All

 

Discuss LIFX bulb (Wi-Fi, Pearl White)

Conversation powered by Livefyre