For years, Philips Hue's high-profile connected LEDs have been the color-changing smart bulbs to beat.
Well, the Lifx Color 1000 beats them.
Lifx is brighter than Philips Hue. It's more efficient. It puts out more accurate colors. It boasts the better app of the two. It also closes the gap with Philips' third-party dominance by featuring compatibility with IFTTT, the Nest Learning Thermostat, and the Amazon Echo smart speaker, among others. Unlike Philips Hue's Zigbee bulbs, Lifx bulbs communicate using Wi-Fi, which means that they don't need a hub -- and that you don't need to purchase a $200 starter kit in order to buy in.
At $60 each (about £40, or a little over AU$80), Lifx bulbs are still awfully expensive -- perhaps prohibitively so. I know I'm still holding out for the cost of color-changing connected light to come down. Still, if I were buying in today, the Lifx Color 1000 is almost certainly the bulb I'd go with.
The Lifx Color 1000 looks like a more compact version of the original Lifx LED. It's the same flat-topped build as before, but roughly half an inch shorter, and with about 2 ounces less heft. It also uses less energy -- 11 watts at peak brightness, as opposed to 17 watts from the original.
In spite of this, the new Lifx manages to put out more light than before. When we tested out its brightest setting (the default, a soft white 3,500 K), the original clocked in at 956 lumens. As its name might suggest, the Lifx Color 1000 bumps that number up above 1,000 lumens. With more light from less energy, it's a clear step forward from generation one and a very efficient lighting option that emits over 90 lumens per watt at peak settings. By comparison, Philips Hue's newest bulbs put out less than 75 lumens per watt (734 lumens of light output at their brightest setting from a power draw of 10 watts).
The Lifx app offers sixteen separate white-light settings ranging from 2,500 to 9,000 K. If you dial the color temperature up or down from the default 3,500 K setting, the brightness drops off a bit. This fall is a bit more pronounced than it was in generation one, where the warmest and coolest settings -- 2,500 K and 9,000 K -- are actually slightly brighter than what you see in generation two. That tells me that the second-gen bulb is more specifically calibrated around that default setting and designed to optimize brightness at 3,500 K while still using less energy.
One other note -- I appreciated that the Lifx Color 1000 was designed in such a way that the default setting is the brightest part of the spectrum. This isn't the case with Philips Hue, where the sweet spot in the white light spectrum sits at about 4,000 K -- a different color temperature than the bulb's default.
Still, the Lifx Color 1000 isn't a perfect design. The flat-topped bulb doesn't protrude any further than the width of its base, which keeps it from casting as much light downward as it does upward (I had a similar qualm with the Misfit Bolt LED). Lifx makes up for it somewhat by being a much brighter option overall, but I still would have appreciated a more omnidirectional design.
You'll dial between those white light settings using the Lifx app on your Android or iOS device. A quick tap on the "Colors" button switches you over to a full RGB color wheel -- rotate your shade of choice to the top, and the bulb will change colors accordingly.
There are a couple of things I like about this approach. First, with a color wheel, it's easy to turn the specific shade you want to the top. With competitors like Philips Hue and Misfit Bolt, you pick your color by dragging a little light bulb icon over a specific part of a full-screen spectrum. It looks nice, but it's a bit of a pain in practice -- your finger inevitably blocks the part of spectrum you're aiming for, making it tough to see which shade you're actually selecting.
I also like the specificity that comes with the Lifx approach. Each of those 16 white-light settings are labeled by color temperature. With the colors, each shade is marked as a specific degree of the circle. In both cases, it's easy to come back to your exact shade of choice. None of the competitors label the colors in their spectrums like that -- if you want to return to an exact shade, you're forced to approximate it.
The only downside to the color wheel approach is that you can only select one color at a time. With Philips or Misfit, you can change the colors of more than one bulb by dragging bulb icons to multiple parts of the spectrum on a single screen. With Lifx, you can group bulbs together and change them in tandem, but you'll need to change them one at a time if you want them to shine in different colors.
Tapping on "Themes" brings up a list of preset color cycles that are similar to what you'll find on the home screen of the Misfit Bolt app. Each one is tied to an emotion like "Cheerful" or "Exciting," and paired with a colorful icon that gives you a good sense of the variety of tones that will be included. I liked that feature as a no-fuss way to pick out a color cycle for Misfit Bolt, and I like it here with Lifx, too.
You'll find a couple of gimmicky extras in the "Effects" section of the Lifx app. These include a mode that mimics a flickering candle, a mode that cycles through random colors, and a press-to-strobe function. Most of them offer a good deal of additional settings to help you tweak the effect to your liking.
There's also a music visualizer that can sync lighting changes in rhythm with whatever music you're playing. This is always a fun feature to break out at parties, but you'll want to note that Lifx does it a little differently. Most smart bulbs will sync the lights with whatever music is streaming out of your device, but Lifx instead uses your phone's microphone to sync with the sound going in. This works well enough if you're playing music on your phone itself, but if you're playing music on a separate sound system, you'll need to leave your phone next to the speakers in order for the effect to work.
The other feature worth talking about is scheduling. When it first launched, Lifx didn't offer a way to program your bulbs to turn on and off at specific times -- something I criticized when I first reviewed the original bulb. In response, Lifx added a channel on the online automation service IFTTT, and pointed out that you could use IFTTT to schedule lighting changes (in addition to lots of other things).
This was a nice step forward, but I was still unimpressed with the lack of scheduling capabilities in the Lifx app itself. Fortunately, Lifx has since updated its app to fix that problem, adding in a very nice scheduling feature that offers in-depth, easy-to-use controls for automated lighting. I especially like that you can program how long you want it to take for your lights to fade on. Stretching that period out for a few minutes or longer is a great way to simulate a sunrise and help ease you out of bed in the morning.
Lifx has also done a good job of continuing to integrate with notable third-party services and devices. Along with adding Cortana-powered support for PCs and devices running Windows 10, Lifx works with notable names like the Nest Learning Thermostat, the SmartThings connected home platform, the Logitech Harmony Hub, and the Amazon Echo smart speaker, which offers another way to control Lifx bulbs using spoken commands. That last bit helps Lifx compete with the Apple HomeKit-compatible Hue bulbs, which work with Siri.
The Echo integration was easy to set up when I tested it out -- just open the "Skills" section of the Alexa app and give Amazon access to your Lifx login info. From there, you'll be able to control your bulbs by talking to Alexa. It's a bit clunkier than I'd like, though. After saying "Alexa" to wake the speaker up, you have to say "ask Lifx" to activate the Lifx skill, followed by your actual command. So, a full command might sound like: "Alexa...ask Lifx to dim the bedroom lamp to 10 percent."
Still, it worked reliably well, and it let me switch to specific colors, too -- which you still can't do with Philips Hue's Echo integration. That one's a bit of a head-scratcher, as Hue was one of the very first products to team up with Amazon Echo. Despite the head start, Echo can still only turn Hue bulbs on and off, or dim them up and down.
So, the specs are strong, the app is impressive...how about those colors, though?
From the beginning, color quality has been one of Lifx' strong suits, and things are no different with the Color 1000. In fact, the specific color tones are practically indistinguishable from what you'll see with the first-gen bulb. That's a good thing -- the first-gen bulb's colors were spot on.
Each color tone I tested out was vivid and relatively bright, with no real weak spots to speak of. As we've seen before, Lifx does an especially good job producing a bright, true shade of green, a color that Philips Hue struggles with, even in its second generation. It's also able to produce a striking, icy, cyan-colored tone, a color that Philips Hue flat out whiffs on due to its limited number of blue diodes. Lifx is also a much, much brighter option than the Misfit Bolt, which looks downright dim when you turn the two on side by side.
Like Misfit, Lifx relegates the colored diodes to the bottom 50 percent of the bulb's brightness scale. Dial Lifx up above fifty percent, and it'll start adding in the white diodes. This desaturates the colors and produces bright, tinted white light, which actually works well for more practical and subtle lighting applications.
Among color-changing smart bulbs, the Lifx Color 1000 is the brightest and the most efficient. Its colors hit the mark across the spectrum. Its app is the most fully-featured and easy to use. It boasts a number of useful third party integrations with popular products and services -- enough to put this bulb on the same level as the very well connected Philips Hue LEDs. It won't work with Apple HomeKit (or with Siri) the way that Philips Hue bulbs will, but integrations with Alexa and Cortana help close the gap.
At $60 each, Lifx bulbs definitely aren't cheap. If you're just looking to try out a bulb or two for a Halloween party, you're probably better off with something like Misfit Bolt, which sells for almost half of what Lifx costs. On the other hand, if you're looking to go all-in and fill a large home with dozens of smart lights, you might prefer a system like Philips Hue that doesn't rely on your Wi-Fi network, and uses its own dedicated Zigbee signal, instead.
Still, I think there's an awfully big middle ground between those two extremes. If that's where you're at, then Lifx is almost certainly your best option.