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Tabu LuMini LED review: A smaller smart bulb that's big on value

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MSRP: $34.99

The Good The Tabu LuMini LED offers the same ease of use, fun factor, and high color accuracy of last year's Lumen LED. It also costs half as much.

The Bad There are no white diodes in the RGB-only LuMini, meaning that it does a terrible job when it tries to replicate incandescent light. Also, some of the features still feel a bit underdeveloped.

The Bottom Line At $35, this flashy bulb is one of the most affordable and accessible smart color LEDs we've seen. If you want an easy way to add a little color to your life, give it a shot.

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7.8 Overall
  • Features 7
  • Usability 9
  • Design 8
  • Performance 7

Review Sections

Tabu's LuMini LED is a pint-size follow-up to last year's color-changer, the Lumen LED . We got a close look at it when we were at CES in January, and now, after a successful Kickstarter campaign, the LuMini is set to begin taking orders next week. Like its predecessor, it connects with your smartphone over Bluetooth 4.0, allowing you to change the color of your light on demand.

Color-shifting party tricks aside, the real headline here is the price. At $35 per bulb and usable straight out of the box, the LuMini costs just half of what you'll pay for the Lumen LED, and far, far less than what you'll spend to get set up with a Philips Hue Starter Kit . While not as powerful as either of those options, the LuMini provides legitimate color-changing charm -- and it does so without breaking the bank.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

Design and usability

The LuMini features a short, cylindrical, pencil eraser of a bulb that sits atop a white plastic body. As LEDs go, it blends in with the crowd a little more than its heavier, aluminum-bodied predecessor, the Lumen LED. With the generally unorthodox designs of LEDs becoming more and more orthodox, it's hard to tell that much is special about this little light from looks alone.

This can't be said once the light is actually flipped on, though. Connecting your bulb to the app is a quick and nearly automatic process, and once you're set up, you'll be treated to a wide array of vivid colors. Those come thanks to the LuMini's RGB diodes, the same ones we saw in the Lumen LED. The Lumen LED's white diodes, however, are notably absent in the LuMini. Tabu got rid of them with the smaller design, and without them, the LuMini is almost incapable of mimicking natural, incandescent-style tones.

Changing among colors is as easy as swiping your fingertip around on a color wheel. That color wheel can feel a little cramped on a phone screen, though. Hitting the boldest shades of each color is simple enough, but landing on the perfect, subtle mix of purple and red might take a little bit of fiddling before you feel satisfied.

For convenience, you'll be able to add up to six bulbs into a single group, and then control them all at once. I tried this out with a LuMini and a Lumen LED, and it worked great, with minimal lag separating the two as I darted my finger back and forth on the color wheel.

Like the Lumen LED before it, the LuMini uses Bluetooth 4.0 to connect with your device, so iOS users will need something newer than an iPhone 4 or an iPad 2 in order to control it. There's an Android app as well, but you'll want to be sure that your device uses both Bluetooth 4.0 and Android 4.3 (the Samsung Galaxy S4, the Nexus 7, and the Note 3 would all work).

Android users might want to consider holding out, though, as the Lumen's Android app is still playing catch-up with the iOS version. Key features, including the music sync mode, are notably absent, which is a definite disappointment.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

Smart features

Despite the LuMini's smaller size, Tabu hasn't compromised much, if anything, in terms of smarts. As you play with Tabu's app, you'll find that you can control the LuMini in all of the same ways that you're able to control the Lumen LED. There's a proximity sensor that automatically turns your light on to a specific color whenever the bulb detects your phone within range, along with four color cycling presets, a mode for scheduling the light to fade on in the mornings, an incoming call alert, and a music sync mode -- exactly the same options you'll get with the Lumen LED.

The proximity sensor worked like a charm in my tests, though you'll need to keep the app running in the background. I also appreciated the wake-up mode, which will gradually turn the light on at a time of your choice. I just wish Tabu had taken things a bit further and offered full scheduling, with off times as well. As it stands, the timed controls of the LuMini and the Lumen LED still feel underdeveloped, especially compared with brainier bulbs like Philips Hue LEDs and even non-color-changing smart options like the Connected by TCP Wireless LED Kit .

The LuMini has a customizable music sync mode that'll flash the light in time with your favorite songs. Colin West McDonald/CNET

The LuMini does manage to set itself apart with its music sync mode. Philips Hue still doesn't offer this directly through the Hue app, choosing instead to leave music syncing to third-party developers. Tabu's music syncing, on the other hand, is a marquee feature of the app, which feels appropriate given the bulb's obvious tilt toward fun and festivities.

The controls are a little simpler than I'd like -- you'll select a song from your device's library (or from an existing playlist), and the the light will begin flashing in rhythm with the music as best as it can, gradually shifting through a five-shade color cycle that you can customize with tones of your choice.

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