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TP-Link LB130 Multicolor Wi-Fi LED review: Too many compromises with this color-changing smart bulb

The Good The TP-Link LB130 is a bright, efficient smart lighting option that works with Alexa. The app offers more features than you might expect, including a scheduling tool, an energy tracker, and a Circadian Mode.

The Bad You can't change the bulb's color using Alexa commands, and most of the features feel tacked on and poorly executed.

The Bottom Line If you want to splurge on a color-changing smart bulb, you're better off just going with Lifx or Philips Hue.

7.4 Overall
  • Features 6.5
  • Usability 8
  • Design 7.5
  • Performance 8

There's a growing list of lights that you can control by talking to Amazon's Alexa, the virtual AI assistant housed within the Amazon Echo and Echo Dot smart speakers. Among them are a couple of devices from TP-Link, which has emerged as a decent budget option for Alexa-compatible gadgets.

Those options include the TP-Link LB130, a color-changing Wi-Fi bulb that costs $50. It's less of a bargain than TP-Link's smart plugs and non-color-changing smart bulbs, but it's still priced 10 bucks below what you'd spend on the comparable Lifx LED, a color-changing Wi-Fi bulb that also works with Alexa.

Like Lifx, the TP-Link LB130 is a bright, efficient bulb that offers full color and color temperature control through a companion app for Android and iOS devices. And, also like Lifx, you don't need a hub because it uses its own built-in Wi-Fi radio to connect directly with your home's router.

But the LB130 is not as well-featured or well-connected to third parties as Lifx and Philips Hue are. And, unlike Lifx, which offers its own custom Alexa skill, you can't ask Alexa to change the LB130's color, nor can you trigger color changes using outside services like IFTTT. There are just a few too many compromises here for me to recommend it over Lifx or Hue, even if it costs a little less.

Screw in, turn on, sync up

The nice thing about smart bulbs like the LB130 that use Wi-Fi as opposed to something like ZigBee is that you don't need to plug any sort of hub into your router in order to translate their signal. You just screw the thing in, turn it on, and pair with it in TP-Link's "Kasa" app.

Getting the TP-Link LED up and running with Alexa is a cinch.

Chris Monroe/CNET

To do so, you'll follow the app's instructions and connect with the Wi-Fi signal that the bulb puts out when you first turn it on. Then, you'll jump back into the app, where TP-Link will tether the bulb back to your home network. From there, you'll be able to turn the bulb on and off, dim it up and down, or change its color and color temperature using the app's controls.

If you want to pair it up with Alexa, just open the smart home section of the Alexa app, tap "Get More Smart Home Skills" and search for the Kasa skill. When you enable it, it'll ask you to provide your login info -- once you do, you'll be able to ask Alexa to scan for the bulb and add it to the list of devices she can control.

From there, Alexa can turn the bulb on and off or dim it up and down. You can also group it with other Alexa-compatible lights to control everything at once.

You can't, however, ask Alexa to change the color. For that, you'll need to use the app, which is a significant disappointment. After all, you aren't buying this bulb if color control isn't at least somewhat important to you, not when the non-color-changing version costs 30 bucks less. And it's not like Alexa-enabled color changes are impossible -- Lifx made it happen using a custom Alexa skill that lets her switch to any shade you like, provided you tack "tell Lifx" onto the start of your command.

You'll select the bulb's color or color temperature using these spectra.

Screenshots by Ry Crist/CNET

Superficial features

So, the TP-Link LB130 is an Alexa-compatible color-changing bulb that won't let Alexa change the colors -- and that's not the only instance where the features come up short.

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