Lifx review: Multicolor muscle lets IFTTT handle the smarts

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MSRP: $99.00

The Good Putting out bright, vivid, accurate colors and a full spectrum of natural tones at up to 1,000 lumens, the Lifx bulb boasts impressive lighting qualities. The new IFTTT channel adds some sorely needed smart functionality, too.

The Bad The bulb's app still isn't useful for very much more than basic color selection. Also, despite some progress, Lifx still lags behind Philips Hue in terms of third-party integration and overall user experience.

The Bottom Line Lifx has slowly been getting better, and the recent addition of an IFTTT channel is its biggest step forward yet. If you're tempted by color-changing smart LEDs, it merits consideration.

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

Review Sections

We've seen potential in the Lifx smart LED since first reviewing it in the spring of 2014. With 1,000 lumens to Philips Hue's 600, Lifx claims to be the brighter, better color-changer -- and a more accessible one, too. Unlike Hue bulbs, which require you to plug a ZigBee bridge into your router, Lifx bulbs have Wi-Fi radios built right in. That makes each one usable right out of of the box, with no bridge or hub necessary.

The hardware is certainly sound with Lifx -- it's still one of the brightest and most powerful color-changing smart LEDs you can currently buy. The software, however, has always left a little to be desired. In my initial review, I was disappointed by the lack of key features like scheduling or custom color cycles. Compared with the well-developed Hue ecosystem, Lifx had a lot of catching up to do.

Now, after about a year on the market, Lifx has made up some of that ground. It was one of the first third-party products to integrate directly with the Nest Learning Thermostat and Nest Protect smoke detector, and as of last week, it has an IFTTT channel, too. There's also a new version of the app, although most of the features I've been waiting for still aren't there -- instead, they've been more or less outsourced to IFTTT.

All in all, Lifx has come a long way, and if you've been waiting for the brains to catch up with the brawn, that's welcome news. At $99 per bulb, it's definitely a bit of an investment -- though keep in mind, you'll need to spend a minimum of $199 to get started with Philips Hue.

At 10.4 ounces, the Lifx is much bigger and heavier than the Philips Hue or Tabu Lumen LEDs. Ry Crist/CNET

Design and usability

The Lifx eschews the traditional, rounded bulb design in favor of a flat-top approach. Coupled with its coarse-grained plastic body (available in either black or light gray), the Lifx has an appropriately luxurious look and feel. Even before flipping it on, you can tell it isn't an ordinary light.

With 17 watts powering it (twice as many as the Philips Hue), the Lifx bulb promises to put out up to 1,000 lumens at peak brightness, which puts it in the ballpark of a 75-watt incandescent, which will typically put out 1,100 lumens.

Peak brightness typically applies to a color-changing bulb's white light, with the colored light coming in significantly dimmer. In the case of the Lifx, you're given the option of adding in white light on top of the colored light. Pick a color like green and dial it up to 50 percent, and you'll get pure green light -- anything higher than 50 percent will begin adding in the white diodes.

The result is that you get a full spectrum of "tinted" light to play with, which brings the bulb's colors up into the same range of brightness that you'll get with pure white. That's an interesting trick that you won't see with the Philips or Tabu Lumen bulbs, and one that makes those colors slightly less of a party night novelty. Those tinted tones actually look downright good when coupled with the right home decor.

Like most LEDs that claim equivalency with 75-watt incandescents, the Lifx is bigger and heavier than other bulbs, weighing in at 10.4 ounces. That bulk comes from the additional heat sinks necessary to regulate the heat from those extra diodes (the Lifx has almost three times as many diodes as a Philips Hue bulb does). Given the weight and size, it isn't an ideal bulb for small lamps. It also runs a bit hot for an LED, so you definitely won't want to use it in an enclosed fixture.


The Lifx features almost three times as many diodes as you'll find in a Philips Hue LED. Lifx

The Lifx will light up as soon as you screw it in and turn on your lamp, but to control your bulb you'll need to download the Lifx app, available now for Android and iOS devices. The Lifx team has demonstrated the app controlling 50 lights at once, so you'll have no problem managing multiple bulbs. We kept it a little simpler with out setup, testing out just a few bulbs in tandem.

As soon as you open the app, it walks you through the pairing process, which is about as easy and straightforward as it gets. When you first turn a Lifx bulb on, it broadcasts a Wi-Fi signal. Join this signal as you would any other Wi-Fi network, then return to the Lifx app and jump back to your home network. That's it.

The process took me about a minute, and was even easier than my experience pairing other devices that use a similar, Wi-Fi based approach, like Belkin WeMo Switches . Heads up, though: the bulbs are only as secure as your Wi-Fi password. Anyone who has access to your home network can download the Lifx app and have access to your lights, too.

Setting up new Lifx bulbs is an easy process that takes about a minute. Screenshots by Ry Crist/CNET

Once your bulbs are synced up with your home network, you'll be able to control them from your phone or tablet. After spending more time with the bulbs, I've encountered the occasional quirk and hiccup -- moreso than I've seen with Philips Hue. Still, I've never encountered anything that couldn't be solved with a little bit of fiddling, or by restarting the app.

Quirks aside, the app gets a lot of things right. The interface for selecting specific colors is especially well-designed. Instead of moving a tiny selector around a wide spectrum of colors (the approach that Philips and Tabu take), you'll simply rotate the spectrum itself. Tap a color, and it'll automatically rotate to the top.

In other apps, where you drag the selector around, your finger inevitably ends up covering the part of the spectrum that you're trying to see, and that makes hitting a precise shade a tedious trial-and-error process. There are no such headaches with Lifx. It's a subtle difference, but one that makes for a patently better user experience with the product's core function: changing colors.

The Lifx color wheel is a patently better way of selecting shades than the ocean of pixels Philips offers. Screenshots by Ry Crist/CNET

Lifx offers a separate color wheel for white light tones, which range from orangey, warm white shades to hot, bluish-white variations on daylight. This is similar to the dedicated white-light spectrum that Philips offers directly above its full color spectrum. Again, rotating a wheel is a lot easier than navigating an ocean of pixels with your fingertip blocking the view.

In the center of the Lifx color wheel, you'll find a dial that dims the light up and down. As said earlier, in color mode, anything above 50 percent brightness will start adding white light to the color you've selected.

This definitely makes for brighter light, but it also decreases the saturation of the shade. For the types of bold, vivid colors you'd want from a party light, you'll want to stay at 50 percent. For a subtler (and perhaps more practical) color effect, go ahead and dial it up towards 100 percent.