BeOn's pitch: a smarter smart bulb. Each one features a yellow module that pops right into the center of the bulb; that module includes a battery backup that'll let the lights shine without power, a microphone that listens for your doorbell or burglar alarm, and a Bluetooth radio that lets you sync things up with your smartphone. BeOn's bulbs learn your usage patterns, too. Tell the system you're away for the evening, and the bulbs will automatically "replay" your typical lighting changes to make it look like you're home -- no programming needed.
It's an intriguing pitch -- both for the focus on security and for the built-in batteries, which keep your automations working even when things are switched off (or when the power's out). That frees you up to use your lights like you normally would, and it gives these bulbs a strong selling point over more traditional smart bulbs that require you to leave your switches on.
The problem is that, unlike a lot of those more traditional alternatives, BeOn's bulbs are really expensive -- $75 each, or $200 for a three-bulb starter kit (that comes out to roughly £50/AU$105 per bulb, or about £130/AU$285 for the kit. BeOn Bulbs aren't available outside of the US yet, but the company hopes to expand internationally in 2016). Your automation options are also surprisingly limited -- you can integrate them with your doorbell or your alarm system, but you can't program a timed schedule of your own, or integrate them with a larger smart home platform. I like these bulbs a lot, but unless that battery-powered, module-centric approach is what's most important to you, I'm not sure that they're worth the high cost of buying in.
What's so smart about these bulbs?
Almost all of their features are geared in some way toward better peace of mind at home. You can turn them on remotely if you're coming home to a dark house. You can tell them to automatically simulate occupancy while you're away on vacation, or whenever the doorbell rings. You can use them for temporary emergency lighting if the power ever goes out.
That's an appealing level of functionality that surpasses what you'll get from most of the competition, almost all of which focuses solely on simple scheduling and remote on/off control. Interestingly, though, BeOn falls a little short with those more basic levels of smart control. You can't schedule them to turn on or off at specific times, and -- as of now -- there isn't any way to pair them up with things like motion detectors or contact sensors that track when doors get opened and closed.
There also isn't anything by way of third-party compatibility at this point. BeOn offers no official integrations with larger smart home systems or platforms -- nochannel, no compatibility, no support. That might change down the line, as BeOn has suggested that new integrations might come into play by way of updated battery modules. Swapping the original, yellow battery out for an updated green version that includes an Apple-approved chipset could bring compatibility into play, for instance.
All of that is still yet to be determined, and nothing is promised as of right now. For now, these bulbs are standalone products that you'll use separately from any other smart home gear you might own. If you're aiming for a big, comprehensive connected home setup where everything works with everything, that might give you some justifiable pause prior to making a purchase.
Do they work as promised?
After spending some time playing with a couple of BeOn bulbs in the CNET Smart Home, I've come away impressed. As smart bulbs go, they're exceptionally easy to use -- just insert the battery packs, screw them in, open the app and pair over Bluetooth. From there, all of the features are just a tap or two away.
For basic bulb control, you'll swipe up from the app's home screen to reveal each of your lights. Tap one, and you'll see a button for turning the light on and off, along with a slider for dimming them up and down. You'll also see the bulb's battery level. Most of the time, this will read as "GOOD" -- the batteries charge automatically whenever the light's turned on.
Thanks to those batteries, you'll be able to turn each bulb on in the app even when the lights are switched off, or when the power goes out. BeOn claims the batteries will allow the lights to shine for up to four hours on a single charge, though this depends on the brightness setting. I tested them out at full brightness, and they only lasted for about two hours. You'll need to dim down a bit if you're trying to ration your battery power for any longer than that.
Speaking of brightness, the 10-watt BeOn bulbs are certifiable 60-watt replacements, ringing in at around 775 lumens when I tested them out in our lighting lab's integrating sphere. That's within the margin of error of 800 lumens, the approximate brightness of a 60-watt incandescent bulb. In battery mode, the lights dim down a bit to help conserve power, putting out closer to 500 lumens at max brightness -- just slightly brighter than what you'd expect from an average 40-watt bulb.