Connected by TCP Wireless LED Lighting Kit review:

More to these bulbs than just their smarts

How about that app?
The TCP app is one of the better-designed smart home apps that I've played with. It feels polished, and the controls just make sense. This probably has something to do with the fact that it isn't new. TCP already offers a wireless CFL lighting kit that uses the same app, so they've had some time to tweak the app's user experience and work out the kinks.

From the app's main screen, you'll get a clear look at the status of all of the bulbs on your system. TCP claims that their app can control up to 250 bulbs, and that you can mix and match between the standard, A19-shaped bulbs that come in the kit and their connected CFL bulbs. You can also incorporate TCP's BR30-shaped LEDs into your system -- useful for recessed lighting setups (and again, you can currently get an even better price on these at Home Depot).

If you do opt to fill your house with TCP bulbs, you'll be able to group them into "rooms" to make things easier. From there, you can still control individual lights, or you can opt to take control of an entire room's worth of bulbs, dimming them up and down in tandem, or turning them all on or off at once.

The app also offers "Smart Control" of your lights. Using a simple interface, you'll be able to create and save specific lighting scenes, with different bulbs on, off, or dimmed to a certain level. From then on, you'll be able to return to those exact settings at the touch of a button. In addition, you can program your lights to turn on or off at different times of day, or even have them automatically sync up with sunrises and sunsets. Maybe you want your bedroom lamp to fade on when it's time to wake up -- or maybe you want the lights in your house to make it seem like you're home while you're away on vacation. TCP's app makes all of it simple, even for users who aren't necessarily technologically inclined.

One app feature that I found particularly useful: each light will flash whenever you're configuring its settings. It's a little touch, but a smart one, giving you the reassurance that you're tinkering with the right bulb when you try and change its name, or assign it to a new lighting scene.

The dedicated remote is a great feature, as is the hub's attractive, compact design. Colin West McDonald/CNET

What about features?
From the durability of the bulbs to the handy remote, the Connected by TCP Wireless LED Lighting Kit has a strong and smart design, and this carries over to its features. I was thoroughly impressed with the system's hub. Unlike most control devices that you'll find with systems like this one, TCP's Gateway is small and unobtrusive. It'd be easy to tuck it onto a shelf beside your router, and from then on, you'd probably rarely notice it.

As for that remote, it works just as you'd expect it to, with a range of about 150 feet. There are dedicated buttons for four different lights -- you can choose which lights each one controls via the app. From there, you'll be able to turn each one on and off, or dim them. You also have the option of controlling all four bulbs at once.

However, I was disappointed to learn that TCP lights aren't compatible with external control systems like the Revolv Smart Home Solution, or the Staples Connect Hub. There seems to be a smart home singularity on the horizon, with devices of all kinds joining together within unified apps and a master hub. TCP is choosing to skip that party -- it's their app and their hub, or it's nothing. Then again, perhaps it makes sense for them to wait until we have a better idea of much appeal these master hubs actually have, or which one consumers are most drawn towards.

Also, TCP might struggle to compete with other smart lighting options due to the fact that they really aren't offering anything unique. If you want an automatable LED lighting system, you have a few options capable of doing exactly what TCP's kit will do. If you want those lights to change colors, however, you'll need to go with a Philips Hue kit (or with soon-to-be-released bulbs like iLumi, LIFX, or the Lumen LED Color Smart Bulb). If you want your lights to be part of larger, more complete home automation system, you'll need a system like Insteon or Nexia. That's a lot of competition offering to do a lot of things that TCP just can't.

But maybe the only feature that matters to you is price. At $142 or less, TCP's LED kit is positioned well to compete with more elaborate, more feature-rich setups by offering quality smart bulbs at an affordable price. For many consumers, this might be the smartest feature of all.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

Are these the right lights for me?
If you're interested in automated lighting that isn't a pain to program, then they very well may be. In my tests, TCP's system worked flawlessly, and programming specific scenes or schedules was a cinch. The Gateway features an attractive, space-conscious design, the remote control was nice to have, and the bulbs were surprisingly sturdy. Best of all, those bulbs offer a very strong quality of light that I think most consumers would find very appealing.

Still, if you're already willing to spend over $100 on a lighting system for your home, I wouldn't blame you for being tempted by the Philips Hue Starter Kit. Even brushing aside the obvious novelty of a color-changing light, you'll still be getting access to fun features like geofencing and IFTTT compatibility. The question is whether or not those extra features are worth the extra $60, and for a lot of consumers, they probably will be. Whether or not they're worth an extra $90 is more difficult to say. That Home Depot price point is an awfully good deal.

Philips comparisons aside, the Connected by TCP Wireless LED Lighting Kit is a simple smart home solution that stands on its own merits. With its high-quality hardware, intuitive app, and appealing price point, it might be one of the most attractive entry-level smart lighting options currently available. If you're a value-minded, novelty-averse consumer who's been waiting for a simpler smart lighting alternative, then this could be the kit you've been holding out for.

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