It's been just a little over four years since Australian inventor Phil Bosua introduced his idea for a color-changing, Wi-Fi-enabled LED on Kickstarter. Now, Lifx is already selling its third-generation smart bulb, the Lifx Plus.
The Lifx Plus looks and works just like the Lifx bulbs that came before it, but it adds in infrared diodes that cast out invisible light when the bulb is turned off. That's the same light that night vision cameras use to see in the dark, which means the Lifx Plus can give NV cameras greater visibility in low light conditions.
It's a cool, creative feature that worked well when I tested it out, which makes Lifx Plus worth considering if you use night vision cameras to keep an eye on your home. But if you don't, then I say don't bother -- at $80 each (which converts to about £65 or AU$105), they cost more than standard Lifx LEDs and they don't bring anything else new to the table besides the night vision trick.
Design and features
The Lifx Plus sticks to the same flat-topped design as previous-gen Lifx bulbs, adding only a plus sign beneath the Lifx logo. Like the existing Lifx bulbs, it's an 11W LED that promises to put out about as much brightness as a 75W incandescent bulb -- 1,100 lumens.
It sticks to the same playbook on the smarts front, too. Like the original Lifx LED and last year's second-gen Lifx Color 1000, each Lifx Plus bulb uses a built-in Wi-Fi radio to connect directly with your home network. Once everything's synced up, you'll be able to control the bulbs on your phone from anywhere with an internet connection.
The app controls include a complete spectrum of colors as well as sixteen dedicated white light settings. Those range from a warm, candle-like glow at 2,500 kelvin to hot, bluish-white daylight tones at 9,000 kelvin. The app also offers a number of preset color themes and lighting effects, including a music visualizer and a strobe function. You can also schedule lighting changes to happen at specific times of day, or at sunrise or sunset.
Lifx bulbs are compatible with a variety of third parties. You can sync them up with the SmartThings connected home platform, the Nest Learning Thermostat and Nest Protect smoke detectors. Or you can sync them with the Amazon Echo and Echo Dot smart speakers and get voice-activated lighting changes through Alexa, Amazon's virtual assistant. Lifx also has a fairly robust channel on the online automation service IFTTT, which lets you trigger lighting changes using any number of IFTTT-compatible gadgets and services.
That said, none of those partners are new this generation. Compatibility with Apple HomeKit, the set of smart home protocols in the software that runs iPhones and iPads, is still missing. HomeKit compatibility is the most-requested feature from the Lifx user base, but for now at least, Lifx COO Tim Peters would only tell me to "stay tuned."
The third-gen Lifx Plus bulbs work just the same as the past Lifx bulbs, but they were at least a little bit brighter than before at every color and white light setting I tested. That's a nice step forward given that they don't use any more energy than last year's bulbs do.
Still, they aren't quite as bright as advertised. At their brightest setting, the default 3,500 kelvin, I was only able to get the Lifx Plus' lumen count up to 1,015 -- a bit short of the stated 1,100 lumens and barely any brighter than last year's Lifx Color 1000. The results were much better at other white light settings, though -- particularly the bluish-white daylight tones, where Lifx Plus offers you an extra 200 lumens or so across the board. A small improvement, but a noticeable one.
The colors have gotten brighter, too, but again, only incrementally so. Compared with the very first Lifx bulbs, the Lifx Plus only puts out noticeably brighter colors at yellow, green and cyan. Other shades essentially finished in a tie, although Lifx Plus always came out slightly ahead.
Lifx continues to nail color accuracy, too, with bold, vivid shades that match whatever color you're trying to select in the app. That's long been an advantage over arch-nemesis Philips Hue, but not any longer since the latest Hue bulbs finally put out respectable shades of green and cyan.