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

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.

7.6 Overall
  • Features 8
  • Usability 7.5
  • Design 7
  • Performance 7

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.

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.

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.

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