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Lifx Color 1000 review: The best color-changing bulb? Not Hue you think

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.

You'll find a few extra settings in the "Effects" section of the Lifx app, complete with settings to help fine-tune them.

Screenshots by Ry Crist/CNET

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 Lifx app finally includes a scheduling feature.

Screenshot by Ry Crist/CNET

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."

Linking Lifx with Amazon Echo was quick and easy.

Ry Crist/CNET

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.

The colors

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.

From left to right, here's Philips Hue, Lifx, and Misfit Bolt all set to green. Lifx is noticeably brighter than Misfit, and noticeably less yellowy than Philips Hue.

Chris Monroe/CNET

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.

Chris Monroe/CNET

The verdict

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.

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