/> ED I T O R S C H O I C E IN N O V A T IO N A W A R D
X

CNET editors pick the products and services we write about. When you buy through our links, we may get a commission.

Sengled Element Color Plus Starter Kit review: Sengled's new color-changing LEDs undercut Lifx and Hue

Ryan_Crist2.jpg

Editors' Note: This review was updated on 6/11/18 to account for the addition of a Sengled channel on the free automation service IFTTT. The overall score has improved slightly as a result, from 7.4 to 7.6.

sengled-element-color-plus-led
7.6

Sengled Element Color Plus Starter Kit

The Good

Sengled's newest color-changing smart bulbs are more budget-friendly than the competition, and they offer full compatibility with Alexa and Google Assistant. The app tracks the real-time power draw of each bulb at each setting, which is a nice touch.

The Bad

Though accurate, the colors aren't as bright as you'll get with Lifx or Hue, and the app is a bit clunkier to use, too. You can't use the bulbs with IFTTT or Apple HomeKit, either.

The Bottom Line

These aren't the best color-changing bulbs that I've tested, but they offer very decent value, making them a good budget pick.

If you're intrigued by color-changing smart lights from names like Lifx and Philips Hue, but put off by the high price of buying in, then Sengled's newest smart bulb starter kit might be just what you're looking for. At $80 -- roughly the same cost as a single Lifx Plus LED -- you get two color-changing LED light bulbs that work with Alexa and Google Assistant, plus the Zigbee hub that keeps them connected to your router. Additional bulbs cost $30 each.

That's a step in the right direction as far as the price is concerned, but it comes with a couple of compromises. First, the app you'll use to control your lights is clunky to use, and less responsive than what you'll get with Lifx or Hue. Though the bulbs themselves are bright and efficient at their default setting, the colors are a bit too dim, most of them coming in well under 100 lumens. And, in spite of the integrations with Google and Amazon -- and the recent addition of an IFTTT channel -- Sengled can't hold a candle to Lifx or Hue when it comes to integrating with third parties.

Still, these bulbs work as promised and perform well enough to merit consideration as a value pick. Given that the default, soft white light setting is the only one that even comes close to what you'll get from a traditional 60-watt incandescent, I like them more as accent lights than I do as primary light sources. That said, if you're looking for a relatively inexpensive entry point to smart, color-changing lighting, you can certainly do worse.

So you still aren't using LED light bulbs...

See all photos

Specs at every shade

Let's start by taking a look at the numbers. At the default setting, the bulbs claim a light output of 800 lumens -- roughly on par with what you'd expect from a 60-watt incandescent, but from an actual power draw of just 9 watts. When I measured the bulbs for myself, I clocked them at 775 lumens, which is within our test setup's margin of error, and good for about 86 lumens per watt, which is nice and efficient.

The color temperature of that default setting is a soft white 2,619 K, which is the sort of yellowy-white tone you're probably used to. The app also offers a full range of white light tones, as well as several quick presets. The warmest of these dials the color temperature down to a dull orange at 1,993 K, and looked a bit peachy to my eye. The hottest daylight setting goes all the way up to 6,059 K, offering stark white light with just a hint of blue to it.

Neither of those extremes are very bright, though, coming in at 229 and 373 lumens, respectively. That's forgivable for the warm, candle-like setting, which would probably function best as a nightlight anyway, but more disappointing for the daylight tone. 373 lumens isn't even enough to qualify as an accent light, meaning that the setting isn't a great pick for a primary light source after the sun sets.

As for the colors, they're even dimmer still. The brightest among them are the yellow tones, with yellow itself coming in at 150 lumens and green coming in at 110 lumens. Cyan was the next brightest at 100 lumens, but nothing else was any brighter than 80 lumens. Some settings, like blue, were as dim as 11 lumens.

That's not unusual for color-changing bulbs like these. For comparison, even the Lifx Plus LED, which puts out over 1,000 lumens at its brightest setting, only puts out 59 lumens when you set it to blue. Still, I'd have been happier if a few more colors could have gotten up over 100 lumens.

sengled-hub

You'll need to plug Sengled's hub into your router to act as translator for each bulb's Zigbee radio. As an alternative, you can also use a SmartThings Hub or an Amazon Echo Plus.

Ry Crist/CNET

What about the app?

Sengled's Element Color Plus smart bulbs communicate with each other using Zigbee, so you'll need to plug Sengled's hub into your router in order to use them (it comes included with the starter kit). You can also pair them with a third-party hub that speaks Zigbee, like the SmartThings Hub or the Amazon Echo Plus.

sengled-app-white-light
Enlarge Image
sengled-app-white-light

Sengled's app lets you adjust each bulb's color and white light settings, or schedule them to turn on automatically at specific times. It also tells you how much power your bulbs are using at each setting.

Screenshots by Ry Crist/CNET

If you stick with Sengled's hub, you'll control the bulbs using the Sengled app. It made quick work of pairing with the bulbs when I was installing everything, but the app layout, which forces you to assign your bulbs to a room as soon as you pair them, was a bit confounding at times. It took me way too long to figure out how to control an individual bulb, for instance, and lighting changes weren't always as responsive as they should have been, with an occasional few extra seconds after my tap before the bulb would actually change.

The app doesn't give you as much control as I'd like, either. You can't create custom scenes like you can with Lifx or Hue, nor can you create custom groups within whatever rooms you've assigned your bulbs to in the app -- controlling the living room lamps independent from the living room fixtures, for instance.

Still, the controls are easy enough, with the usual color selectors and brightness sliders. You can also schedule your lights to turn on and off at specific times, though the app will only let you assign two schedules per bulb. You can also set a wake-up time at which the bulbs will slowly fade on to full brightness to help ease you out of bed. That's a great feature, but I'd like it better if you could customize the duration of the fade, or the specific color of the light.

Another nice feature in the app: It'll tell you exactly how much power the bulb is using at each setting. Neither Lifx nor Hue offer that in their respective apps -- point Sengled. Just keep in mind that you'll need to use Sengled's hub if you want to use Sengled's app.

Your other option for controlling the bulbs: Voice control via Amazon's Alexa or the Google Assistant. Sync either helper with your bulbs, and you'll be able to ask them to tweak the brightness of a given light or group of lights, turn them on and off, or change their color.

You can also control the lights by connecting them with the free online automation service IFTTT. Do so, and you'll be able to trigger them using anything else that IFTTT can track -- everything from the weather to your stocks to your Facebook notifications, and a whole lot of other smart home gadgets, too.  

Those are solid integrations that help these bulbs feel current and relevant to today's smart home, but I'd have liked some more options. An integration with Apple HomeKit would have brought Siri controls into play -- there isn't one. Partnerships with names like Nest and Logitech could have made it easier for users to incorporate the bulbs into their home security and entertainment systems -- there aren't any. It's really just Alexa, the Google Assistant, IFTTT or bust.

And hey, at $30 per bulb or $80 for a two-bulb starter kit, that's probably good enough. Just know that you'll find more automation options if you shop around.

sengled-element-color-plus-led
Enlarge Image
sengled-element-color-plus-led
Ry Crist/CNET

The verdict

You know what the color-changing smart bulb category needs? Value. Right now, you've got worthwhile options like Philips Hue and the Lifx Mini, but they still cost too much for many of us to justify buying in.

To that end, Sengled deserves credit here for moving things in the right direction. $30 per bulb feels right to me for a color-changing smart LED that offers compatibility with the two most popular voice assistants, and there's some extra appeal for folks who already have a compatible hub like the Amazon Echo Plus. The app is clunkier than I'd like, but it gets the job done -- and the same can be said of the bulbs themselves, in spite of the relatively dim colors. I'd probably rather splurge on Lifx or Hue in my home, but if you're looking for a color-changing value pick, the Sengled Element Color Plus Starter Kit might be one of your best bets.

sengled-element-color-plus-led
7.6

Sengled Element Color Plus Starter Kit

Score Breakdown

Features 8Usability 7.5Design 7Performance 7