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BeOn Starter Pack review: High-price peace of mind from BeOn's innovative smart bulbs

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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.

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8.0

BeOn Starter Pack

The Good

BeOn's bulbs feature an intriguing mix of security-minded features not found with other smart bulbs. They'll replay your typical lighting patterns when you're away from home, turn on automatically when someone rings the doorbell and continue to work when the power goes out. A modular, upgradeable design could bring even more features down the line.

The Bad

Basic scheduling capabilities offered by almost every other smart bulb on the market are conspicuously absent from BeOn's otherwise impressive slate of features. Also absent: integrations with third-party smart home gadgets and platforms. The bulbs are also some of the most expensive we've tested.

The Bottom Line

These Bluetooth bulbs are a legitimate temptation for anyone interested in smart security, but consider waiting to see if new battery packs bring new features into play before buying in.

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.

BeOn's smart bulbs keep an ear out for trouble (pictures)

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What's so smart about these bulbs?

BeOn Bulbs are smart security gadgets disguised as light 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.

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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 -- no IFTTT channel, no SmartThings compatibility, no Nest 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 HomeKit 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.

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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.

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Thanks to the battery built into each bulb, you can still use your BeOn lights when things are switched off -- or when the power's out.

Ry Crist/CNET

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.

That battery comes in handy with some of BeOn's automated lighting features. If you're coming home to a dark house, you can press a button in the app to turn your bulbs on for three minutes, lighting your entry even if the lamps are switched off. You can also "train" each bulb to turn on automatically when it hears the sound of your doorbell or burglar alarm. It's a cool, easy-to-use feature. Training worked like a charm each time I tested it, and once the bulbs know what to listen for, you can program them to come on in staggered intervals to help create the impression that someone's home.

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You can train your BeOn bulbs to listen for the sound of your doorbell, then turn on automatically.

Screenshots by Ry Crist/CNET

BeOn pitches this as a security feature, citing burglaries where intruders ring the doorbell before entering to make sure the place is really empty. I see the appeal, but I wonder if it might also confuse the guests you actually want to come by. I can just imagine a friend or family member swinging by while I'm away, ringing the doorbell, then coming away with the impression that I'm shunning them. An option to activate the feature during evening hours only might be a nice addition.

The other key safety-minded feature is "Security Lighting" mode. You'll turn it on with a single slider; once you do, the bulbs will automatically begin "replaying" your typical usage from a previous day to help create the impression that you're home. BeOn says that its learning algorithm identifies periods of active lighting usage, so you can rest assured that it'll look convincing. When I tested it out after a few days of use, it did a fine job.

That level of automated simplicity has a lot of appeal. You can simulate occupancy with most other smart bulbs by creating an automated schedule, but that's a lot more tedious than simply tapping a slider and letting the bulbs figure it out on their own. Still, I could see some people preferring a more hands-on approach in favor of trusting the bulbs to get it right. And again, the lack of any scheduling capabilities whatsoever is a surprising omission.

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Moving forward, new modules could offer new features.

BeOn

The modular approach

BeOn's bulbs stand to improve as time goes on, and a lot of that has to do with the modular design. After all, it's a lot easier for BeOn to introduce new features by way of new battery packs than it is for BeOn to design entirely new bulbs.

Sure enough, BeOn's website highlights the upgradeable nature of the modules, calling it a future-proof design and all but promising that new, optional features are on the way. There's plenty of potential. A module with Wi-Fi instead of Bluetooth would allow you to access the bulbs from beyond the home. A module with a built-in speaker could serve as an intercom or music streamer. A module with a temperature or humidity sensor could help you track conditions in the home.

Of course, all of that is theoretical at this point. BeOn's team hasn't committed to any specific plans for upcoming modules, nor have they committed to a timetable for when they might make their arrival. Also uncertain: the pricing. I know that I'd rather hear some more specifics on all of those fronts before plunking down my cash.

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Smarter and simpler

In the end, BeOn's strong slate of unique features and reliable performance give the bulbs an edge over the competition.

They're the right choice for anyone who doesn't want to think too hard about smarter lighting.
You don't need to worry about scheduling them. You don't need to integrate them with a hub or a larger network. You don't need to change the way you use your switches in order for them to work properly.

Still, these are Bluetooth bulbs we're talking about, and the fact that you can't integrate them into a bigger system means that you won't be able to control them from beyond the limited range of their radios. And though it might simplify things for some, leaving out scheduling capabilities was probably a misstep, especially given that these bulbs cost $75 each, or $200 for the three-bulb starter kit. If you like the specific approach to smart lighting that BeOn's offering here, I think the bulbs might be worth the price. But I'd prefer to wait and see if additional battery modules bring something new to the table -- and if the price comes down at all.

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8.0

BeOn Starter Pack

Score Breakdown

Features 8Usability 7Design 8Performance 9