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

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.

7.3 Overall
  • Features 9
  • Usability 7
  • Design 5
  • Performance 8

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.

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

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.