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

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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.

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.

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