Insteon LED Bulb review: Value and usability shine with this smart bulb

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The Good The Insteon LED Bulb is about as easy as home automation gets -- just screw it in, add it to your network of devices, and start scheduling away. With only 8W of energy usage and a life expectancy of 52,000 hours, this is a power-saving bulb built to last.

The Bad The bulb is only available in one size and one tone, and it isn't quite as bright as we'd like. For smartphone controls, the Insteon app definitely isn't our favorite.

The Bottom Line At just $29.99 per bulb, this automatable light source will fit nicely into existing home automation networks, serving as an appealing alternative to more expensive dimmer modules and smart switches.

7.8 Overall
  • Features 7
  • Usability 9
  • Design 8
  • Performance 7

Light bulbs have long been seen as symbolizing good ideas, and that's exactly how Insteon hopes you'll see its LED bulb. For starters, the Insteon LED Bulb will shine as brightly as a 60W incandescent bulb while using only 8 watts' worth of energy, putting it squarely in line with other energy-saving LED bulbs. But this is Insteon we're talking about, and sure enough, this bulb is fully automatable on Insteon's network, no separate dimmer module required. Just pick a lamp or light fixture, screw in the Insteon LED Bulb, and you'll be able to control it right alongside your other Insteon gadgets by using the Insteon Hub.

A fully dimmable bulb with built-in dual-band networking capability brings some interesting flexibility to your home automation scenes. Automating an overhead ceiling light used to mean breaking out the toolbox and hard-wiring a special light switch into the wall. Now, it's as easy as replacing the light bulb. Plus, while most other, comparable LED light bulbs boast average life expectancies of 25,000 hours or so, the Insteon LED Bulb promises to last an estimated 52,000 hours. According to Insteon's claims, if you ran the light every single night for 8 hours, it wouldn't burn out for almost 18 years.

The price of a standard LED light bulb can range greatly depending on the variety and on subsidized pricing, but most comparable bulbs will cost you somewhere between $10 and $25. The Insteon LED Bulb, on the other hand, costs $29.99, and in my eyes, that's a very reasonable price, especially considering that the dimming modules and smart switches you'd otherwise be using to dim and automate the lights in your home will typically cost you at least $50. You'll need an Insteon Hub or another compatible home automation control center in order to use it, but if you're already an avid home automator, or if you're looking for reasons to get started with Insteon (aside from the lack of monthly fees), then I think you'll find the Insteon LED Bulb very appealing.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

Design and features

Just looking at the Insteon LED Bulb, you can tell that it isn't your average light. It sports an attractive and weighty design, with the hemispherical bulb housed in a durable white plastic casing. At a weight of 6.2 ounces, it's noticeably heavier than a standard light bulb -- the cheap flex lamp I used for a few of my tests could barely support it.

With its 8W of energy usage, the Insteon LED Bulb claims to produce as much light as a 60W incandescent bulb (the Insteon site actually lists it as 60W to 100W). This might be pushing it just a little, as the bulb definitely looks to be at least slightly on the dimmer side of expectations. We weren't surprised to find that it puts out 591 lumens of light, which isn't terrible, but still falls short of other leading LED bulbs, which can put out as much as 900 lumens or so. With its warm tone, the Insteon is fine for an accent light, or if used in combination with other light sources, but don't expect to light up an entire room to satisfaction with just one.

The Insteon LED Bulb has a color-rendering index (CRI) of 82, which is on par with an above-average household bulb. The CRI score is actually an average of several scores, each rating the light source's ability to faithfully reproduce colors in comparison with natural daylight. The higher a light's score, the more accurate it will make colors appear. Bulbs that score in the 90s are typically only used by photographers and other professionals with a need for vivid, highly accurate, natural-looking light; bulbs in the 80s tend to be higher-end bulbs for everyday home use.

As a rating system, the CRI is far from perfect, but still, 82 is an acceptable score. However, with standard LED bulbs like Cree's TrueWhite 60W Replacement and the Philips EnduraLED scoring in the low 90s (the same can be said of the Philips Hue), I'd feel a little better about Insteon's offering if it had scored somewhere above 85.

To control the Insteon LED Bulb, you'll need an automation control center like the Insteon Hub, which will connect your bulb to your home network. You'll be able to turn the light on or off remotely, either from a computer or from Insteon's free smartphone app, available both for iOS and Android devices. You'll also still be able to turn the light on and off manually like any other light, although automations and remote capabilities go out the window once you switch off the power.