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

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Orbnext offers both quick color presets and a full spectrum shade selector. Screenshots by Ry Crist/CNET

I'm glad Advanced Lumonics included both the Lamp and Palette modes, but can't say that I was terribly impressed with the latter of the two. Orbnext won't change colors as you drag your fingertip around the spectrum -- you'll need to stop and tap a separate button to actually see a change. That makes shade selection a tedious trial-and-error process. It's a small complaint, but for such a pricey little device, I wish the app felt more refined.

I also wish that the app offered more unique features. Other color-changing LED products include fun things like music syncing, multiple color cycle presets, or even the ability to create your own color cycles. Orbnext doesn't. The only cycle you get is a single arbitrary setting that fades through the same six or seven colors over and over.

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You'll need to use IFTTT to schedule color changes -- and they might arrive a few minutes late. Screenshots by Ry Crist/CNET

The app also lacks any kind of scheduling mechanism, a basic feature that any smart lighting product should really include. Instead, Orbnext outsourced the scheduling to IFTTT. This isn't a terrible thing by any stretch -- it's easy enough to craft an IFTTT recipe that changes the color at a certain time each day. Still, IFTTT's servers tend to lag every now and then, with recipes sometimes taking an extra couple of minutes to fire. You wouldn't have that issue if scheduling was localized in the Orbnext app.

For more advanced automation controls, IFTTT offers plenty of room for creativity. As of writing this, IFTTT offers 131 different channels, 105 of which can be used to trigger an Orbnext color change. Along with the obvious smattering of social networks, you'll find useful Web tools and popular smart-home gadgets, too. If you've already bought into those sorts of gadgets and services, then Orbnext's IFTTT-powered smarts will carry some extra appeal.

In my tests, I played around with a variety of triggers, and aside from the occasional delay, found them to work more or less reliably. With IFTTT, I was able to trigger color changes by stepping in front of a Belkin WeMo motion detector , favoriting a co-worker's tweet, cutting an under-performing wide receiver from my fantasy football team, parking my car at the office, and placing coins into the Quirky Porkfolio smart piggy bank.

Obviously, some triggers are far more practical than others, but the point is that the Orbnext IFTTT channel works, and works well enough that you can rely on it for all but the most urgent notification needs.

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Megan Wollerton/CNET

Orbnext is a clear smart home novelty, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. If it appeals to your tastes, I wouldn't fault you for wanting one -- but I'd advise you to consider the alternatives before spending the $129.

Color-changing smart bulbs like Lifx and Tabu's Lumen LED cost a lot less, and offer much of the same niche appeal, along with a level of general household lighting functionality that you won't get with Orbnext. If IFTTT is what's important to you, the $199 three-bulb Philips Hue Starter Pack might also be a worthier investment. For most with an interest in this sort of thing -- though certainly not all -- I have to think that one of those would be a better choice.

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