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Connected by TCP Wireless LED Lighting Kit review: More to these bulbs than just their smarts

But can these brainy bulbs compete with the Philips Hue?

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Ry Crist
Ryan_Crist2.jpg

Ry Crist

Senior Editor / Reviews - Appliances

Originally hailing from Troy, Ohio, Ry Crist is a text-based adventure connoisseur, a lover of terrible movies and an enthusiastic yet mediocre cook. A CNET editor since 2013, Ry's beats include smart home tech, lighting, appliances, and home networking.

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8 min read

After this review initially published, TCP cut the price of their LED kit from $169 down to $142. They also announced exclusive pricing options on their products through a partnership with Home Depot, where the kit currently sells for just $109.99. The review has been updated to reflect these pricing developments.

Connected by TCP LED Lighting Control System
8.2

Connected by TCP Wireless LED Lighting Kit

The Good

The budget-friendly <b>Connected by TCP Wireless LED Lighting Kit</b> is a cinch to set up, and the app is easy to use as well. Each bulb gives off 800 lumens -- more than Philips Hue or Insteon LED bulbs.

The Bad

TCP doesn't offer compatibility with cool Web services like IFTTT or new all-in-one hubs like Revolv, the way that Philips does.

The Bottom Line

For basic lighting automation needs, this TCP kit will do the job nicely -- and it won't break the bank, either. For more advanced features and controls, consider the competition, but be prepared to splurge.

The smart home options just keep on coming. The latest is the Connected by TCP Wireless LED Lighting Kit, which will set you up with three LED bulbs, the "Gateway" hub that serves as their collective brain, and a handy remote control. Setup is a breeze -- just plug in the Gateway, screw in the bulbs, and download the free TCP app to your Android or iOS device. You'll be controlling your new lights within minutes.

As smart lighting kits go, there isn't a lot to dislike about what TCP's offering here. Each bulb gives off a very respectable 800 lumens of warm, natural-looking light, yet still manages to claim a life expectancy of 25,000 hours. The TCP app is intuitive and easy to use, even when you're programming advanced lighting scenes and schedules. The Gateway is compact and well-designed, mindful of the fact that space is at a premium on today's typical router shelf. The addition of a separate remote control is another nice touch.

Control your lights with the Connected by TCP Wireless LED Kit (pictures)

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This brings us to the cost. At $142.99, this lighting kit certainly doesn't come cheap -- but it's still priced quite competitively. An Insteon Hub and three of its LED bulbs will cost you at least $200, while the three-bulb Philips Hue Starter Kit will set you back $199. If you're willing to sacrifice the remote control, you can save even more money by buying TCP's LED 2-pack for $99 (it includes the Gateway, but not the remote), then adding the third bulb a la carte for $30.

Perhaps the best deal of all, though, lies with TCP's exclusive partnership with Home Depot, where the LED kit is available for just $109.99. Additional bulbs are cheaper, too, costing just $16.97 as opposed to the suggested retail price of $29.99. At those prices, this kit is an undeniably exceptional value -- no word on how long those deals will last, though.

Even at a price point of $142, TCP's kit makes a lot of sense for a budget-minded consumer interested in basic, entry-level smart lighting. However, if you want more advanced functionality from your lights, then a more powerful system might be worth the extra cash.

TCP LED bulbs (right) glow with a comparable brightness and color temperature to 60-watt incandescent bulbs (left). Ry Crist/CNET

Bulb breakdown
As LED lights go, TCP's bulbs are definitely on the impressive end of the spectrum. You'll often see LED bulbs stretch the truth by claiming that 600 or even 400 lumens of light output makes them comparable to 60-watt incandescents, which average 880 lumens of light output. TCP bulbs, however, put out 800 lumens each, so when they say "60-watt equivalent," they mean it. Also, with 11 watts of power usage, this means that TCP bulbs are putting out about 73 lumens per watt. That's a number to be proud of.

TCP bulbs glow at a color temperature of 2,700 degrees Kelvin, which gives them a warm, yellowy quality. If you're thinking about replacing your incandescents, but are worried that you'll be forced to subject yourself to cold-toned, bluish light, then you'll be pleasantly surprised by what you get from TCP.

Connected by TCP LED Bulbs Philips Hue LED Bulbs Insteon LED Bulbs
Lumens 800 600 591
Life span 25,000 hours 15,000 hours 52,000 hours
Watts 11 8.5 8
Efficiency 73 lumens/watt 71 lumens/watt 74 lumens/watt
Color temperature 2,700K 2,000K 2,400K

Additionally, TCP bulbs are rated to last 25,000 hours. Though 25 times better than the common incandescent, this is still a fairly average number for an LED bulb. All the same, it's a number that I'm happy with, given the above-average brightness. At three hours a day of average usage, it'll last well over 20 years before fading to 70 percent of its original brightness (the current definition of a "dead" LED). Even then, it'd still be shining with around 560 lumens worth of light output. Insteon's LED bulb, for comparison, starts out with a light output of 591 lumens.

TCP warrants all of their lighting kits for two years, which helps lend some credibility to their longevity claims. It's not as bold a warranty as the Cree TW Series LED, though -- with 800 lumens and a lifespan of 25,000 hours, same as TCP, Cree bulbs come with a warranty of ten years. With a bar that high, it would have been nice to see TCP put a little bit more money where its mouth is.

On the left, a TCP LED bulb that we dropped several times intentionally. On the right, a Philips Hue bulb that we accidentally dropped once. Ry Crist/CNET

Another interesting thing about TCP's bulbs: they bounce. Most light bulbs...don't. It was a sad day here at CNET Appliances a few weeks ago when someone who shall remain nameless accidentally dropped one of the Philips Hue bulbs we were testing from a height of about a foot. The Philips bulb shattered, just like most light bulbs would have. If it had been a TCP bulb, however, we probably wouldn't have had a mess to clean up. Even dropping it from three feet up or higher, neither the bulb nor the hardware inside of it seem inclined to break (and believe me, we tested this over and over again -- there's something strangely satisfying about watching a light bulb bounce.)

I'm not about to sit here and criticize Philips for designing bulbs that break when you drop them, but still, I'm impressed with how durable TCP's LEDs are. Maybe you'll never drop one of their bulbs, but given how much more they cost than your standard light, it's reassuring to know that if you do, you probably won't be forced to replace it.

With the TCP app, you'll have full control of your lights, as well as the ability to schedule them to turn on and off at specific times. Screenshots by Ry Crist/CNET

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.

Connected by TCP LED Lighting Control System
8.2

Connected by TCP Wireless LED Lighting Kit

Score Breakdown

Features 8Usability 9Design 8Performance 8