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Lifx Mini Wi-Fi Smart Bulb review: Still a great color-changing smart bulb (and still too expensive)

The Lifx Mini is a terrific smart bulb that works with Alexa, Siri, IFTTT, and the Google Assistant. We just wish it cost less.

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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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6 min read

It's been an awfully busy year for Lifx. After introducing support for Apple HomeKit and the Siri controls that come with it, the color-changing smart light brand expanded the lineup to include several notable new products, including Lifx Tile wall panels, Lifx Beam fixed light strips, and three new "Lifx Mini" LED smart bulbs.

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7.3

Lifx Mini Wi-Fi Smart Bulb

The Good

The Lifx Mini puts out plenty of light, and offers all of the colors, features, and integrations that you get with standard-size Lifx bulbs at a lower cost.

The Bad

At $45 each, the color-changing Mini bulbs are still awfully expensive, and the design still doesn't cast enough downward light. The pairing process, newly revamped to align with HomeKit, is also a little more confusing than it ought to be.

The Bottom Line

These are excellent smart bulbs, but it's tough to justify the splurge unless you catch them on sale.

Those three bulbs include a fixed, white-light-only bulb for $25, a color tunable "Day and Dusk" bulb for $30 and a fully-color-changing bulb for $45. That makes them the least expensive Lifx offerings to date.

Still, I would have liked to have seen a bigger price cut. Yes, $45 is a step in the right direction from the $60 that you'll still need to spend on a standard-size Lifx color-changer, but it isn't an apples to apples comparison since that bulb is noticeably brighter. The better comparison is probably that middle-tier Day and Dusk bulb -- it offers the same form factor as the color-changing Lifx Mini, the same Wi-Fi radio, the same app, the same software, the same support for HomeKit, Google, IFTTT and Alexa and the same general lighting specs. The only difference is obviously that the color-changing bulb includes RGB diodes. Those diodes cost Lifx pennies a piece, but they merit a 50 percent price increase? Something doesn't add up.

Color-changing smart bulbs have always been expensive, often prohibitively so. HomeKit-compatible color-changers from Sylvania and Philips Hue cost $45 and $50, respectively, so the $45 Lifx Mini fits right in -- and that's the problem. At the right price, it could have lived up to its Mini moniker and helped bring the cost of connected color down to a more reasonable and enticing level. Instead, it's just another expensive light bulb that changes colors.

New design, new specs

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The Mini's design keeps it from putting out as much downward-cast light as it should.

Ry Crist/CNET

The original, flat-topped Lifx bulbs all promise to put out well over 1,000 lumens at peak brightness. The new Lifx Mini is more modest by comparison, promising 800 lumens from a power draw of 9 watts -- roughly as much brightness as you'd expect from a common 60W incandescent while consuming less than a sixth as much energy. Those numbers checked out when I tested the bulb in CNET's lighting lab, with the Mini's default setting coming in at a comfortable 828 lumens.

Aside from that default 3,500 K setting, the Lifx app offers 15 other white-light settings that range from a candle-like 2,500 K up to an icy, bluish-white 9,000 K. None of them are as bright as that default setting, though. Dial to either extreme, and the bulb will only put out about 450 lumens at full brightness -- closer to what you'd get from a 40W bulb.

As for the colors, you still get 360 of them, each one showing up as a single degree on the app's color wheel. To pick a shade, just rotate it to the top -- from there, you can dim it up and down using the big ball in the middle, or adjust a little slider at the 12 o'clock position to add in white diodes for more of a pastel look. It's precise, intuitive and comfortable to use -- my favorite color-changing interface of any smart bulb I've tested, by a lot (and yep, I still like it a lot better than Hue). 

And, like the Lifx bulbs that came before it, those colors look great. I measured the brightness and accuracy of a variety of them, and didn't find any notable weak points. As color-changers go, Lifx bulbs have always been about as spot-on as they come.

This brings us to the new, extra bulbous design. It's a little funny-looking, and perhaps not as slick as its flat-topped predecessor, but it does a slightly better job of casting light evenly in all directions. It still isn't perfect, though. Like the original, the sides of the bulb don't bulge out any further than the base of the bulb, which means that very little light is actually angled down. The previous bulbs were bright enough to make this a moot point, but with the Mini, you might notice that it doesn't cast quite as much downward light as your old light bulbs did. That's not ideal if you're trying to read under it.

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In addition to the classic color wheel, you can now program "Day & Dusk" natural lighting changes.

Screenshots by Ry Crist/CNET

App upgrades

I've been using a couple of Lifx bulbs in my own home for a couple of years now, and I've always appreciated the steady stream of incremental improvements to the app. They're usually small, subtle changes meant to fine-tune the experience -- the addition of scheduled fades, for instance, or the newly added ability to cycle your lights through pastel shades. It's a conservative approach that keeps things fresh and fun without compromising what makes it a good app to begin with.

That said, there are some significant new additions to the app this year. The first is a feature called "Day & Dusk," and any Lifx light that changes colors can take advantage of it, not just the $30 bulb that puts Day & Dusk right in its name. 

What Day & Dusk offers is four lighting presets meant to mimic the natural progression of light throughout the day. There's a "Wake Up" preset that puts out neutral daylight to help you feel less groggy in the morning, presets for "Day" and "Evening" that match the progression of sunlight, and a "Nightlight" preset that puts out a dull, dimmed-down orange as you sleep. Turn the feature on, and your lights will automatically cycle through whichever of those four presets you've enabled on the days of your choice. The Lifx app even shows you a little color-coded line graph of how the light will act throughout the day based on your settings. It's a great visual, and a smart way to make automated light a little more intuitive.

Day & Dusk still needs a little work, though. For instance, you can't adjust the color or brightness of those four presets (at least, not yet), and while you get to pick the start time of each one, you can't activate different presets on different days. For instance, if you wanted the nightlight setting to come on every night, but only wanted the wake up lights to come on during weekdays, you can't do that.

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On iPhones, the Lifx Mini lets iOS handle most of the pairing process.

Screenshots by Ry Crist/CNET
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The app still includes previous-gen pairing instructions that don't quite line up with the new bulbs.

Screenshot by Ry Crist/CNET

The other big change to the app has to do with the way you pair with your lights, at least on iOS devices. Before, your Lifx bulb would broadcast as a Wi-Fi network when you first turned it on -- to connect, you'd just join the network and let the Lifx app finish syncing everything up. Now, instead of showing up as a Wi-Fi network you can connect with, HomeKit-compatible Lifx lights like the Mini will show up in your iPhone's settings as a device you can pair with your existing Wi-Fi network. 

In other words, Apple is doing what the Lifx app typically does by pairing the light to your home network. From there, it'll show up in the Lifx app as a bulb that's on the local network. To finish pairing, you can "claim" the light to connect it with your Lifx account and control it from anywhere, or you can finish pairing it with HomeKit.

Lifx tells me that the change is meant to make the pairing experience better using Apple's onboarding protocol, but it's worth noting that not all Lifx bulbs use this protocol. First- and second-gen Lifx bulbs don't work with HomeKit, and, oddly, neither do the likable Lifx Z color-changing light strips, which were released just months before HomeKit compatibility was announced as an upcoming feature. The app still connects with those lights the old way, which means there are now essentially two onboarding mechanisms built into the app, along with the in-app option to pair your bulb with HomeKit. At any rate, it's a little more confusing than it probably should be, but at least everything works.

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Ry Crist/CNET

The verdict

The Lifx Mini is a good little bulb that does its job well. Despite the smaller stature, it still puts out the brightness you'd expect from the sort of bulb you'd probably use it to replace, and it still puts out the vivid color quality that we've come to expect of Lifx. On top of that, it boasts the best app for color-changing light control, as well as key integrations with Alexa, Apple HomeKit, the Google Assistant, IFTTT and more. Years of steady development at Lifx HQ are paying dividends.

I just wish that the price represented more of a step forward. At $45 each -- the same price as other high-profile color-changers that have been out for months, if not years -- the Lifx Mini is a lateral move at best. It's good, but it's not worth getting excited about.

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7.3

Lifx Mini Wi-Fi Smart Bulb

Score Breakdown

Features 9Usability 7Design 5Performance 8
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