My family's first computer, bought in the '80s, was a Commodore 64. Over the next two decades, second-hand computers cycled through my parents' offices, but it wasn't until 2000 that my brother and I received our first desktop. Within a few weeks, a thunderstorm gathered and lightning struck near electrical wires in our neighborhood, sending a surge of electricity into our house. Something inside our hard drive crackled and smoked: the desktop died.
In the 15 years since then, I've insisted on surge protectors for my computers, and my cautious approach has extended to include video game consoles and TVs. Surge protectors are different from basic power strips -- they divert detrimental energy kicks away from valuable electronics. But some surge protectors are better than others; they last longer, divert more energy and offer additional features.
Tri Cascade's i-Bright7X Smart Surge Protector is one of those high quality protectors. Despite a learning curve, it boasts impressive base performance and loads of extras. The one big problem is price. The 4-foot, 6-foot and 8-foot i-Brights sell for $110, $130 and $140 respectively. Most customers won't dish out three or four times the cost of a normal surge protector, but for those who need the particular combination of features it offers, the i-Bright is a solid buy.
Surge protectors generally fall into two categories: MOV and non-MOV. The metal-oxide varistors (MOVs) used in most consumer protectors absorb joules of energy when a surge occurs, but they degrade over time and break altogether in large surges. Non-MOV protectors use more expensive and durable equipment, like inductors, to clamp down on surges. Where MOV surge protectors typically slide in under $40, non-MOV protectors can cost upwards of $200.
Casual consumers will usually find MOV surge protectors sufficient, whereas non-MOV protectors are more appropriate for environments where power outages are common, or where industrial-size machinery (which can cause inductive energy kicks) is installed.
The i-Bright Protector uses MOVs that can absorb 3150 joules before they fail, placing the protector in competition with other high-end MOV surge protectors like the APC SurgeArrest 11, which can absorb 3,020 joules. But the SurgeArrest costs almost $100 less than the i-Bright Protector, so you're probably wondering, what's the deal?
The first distinction you'll see between the i-Bright protector and other MOV surge protectors is its design. The i-Bright is colorful but classy, versatile but efficient. It features five outlets on top, which can be toggled or scheduled remotely. Two more outlets are on the side -- labeled "Always ON" -- and two USB ports are beside those, each channelling 2.1A of power, which is enough to charge even a tablet at a respectable clip.
A clever, plastic guard blocks the standard RESET switch from accidental bumps and nudges -- an insightful addition for users whose surge protectors live under desks where enduring accidental kicks is part of the job description. The i-Bright also acts as a Wi-Fi extender. It won't fix major connectivity problems at your house, but strategic placement might give a nook with a bad Wi-Fi connection a helpful boost.
The Surge Protector's software is also bursting at the seams, and it's probably the main reason for the price hike. You can monitor the device on your laptop through the website, but you can also download the mobile app to monitor it remotely. The energy-tracking displays are accessible and helpful, and the scheduling works.
I was a little disappointed by the lack of in-depth energy usage analysis. The only data you can access is in the past 24 hours, and unlike other apps like iDevices, no conversions from amps to estimated costs are available. That means you'll have to do a Web search to find out how much you're actually spending on the electronics plugged into the protector -- an annoying extra step.
The scheduling feature is also weirdly confusing. Selecting particular times, like you might do in other apps like Piper or SmartThings, is supplanted with tapping or clicking on orange or gray bars to select blocks of time during which electronics will be powered on or off. It's an odd decision, and the app screen for scheduling is completely unwieldy. Most of the time it couldn't tell whether I was selecting a block of time, scrolling up and down or swiping to other days of the week.
I like how jam-packed this device is with design elements and software features, but I don't like how long it takes to set up and use. The Protector comes with not one, but two giant fold-out direction sheets. Between updating Java, setting up a new account on the website, downloading the app, discovering the device and syncing it to the Smart Home Wi-Fi, it took 45 minutes to get it up and running.
Not only is it difficult to set up, it's difficult to know when to use it. Surge protectors, as I mentioned before, are mostly used for electronics like TVs, game consoles and computers -- you know, expensive hardware that burns energy. The problem is, game consoles and computers both need to be shut down properly before cutting power to them, and I would never schedule them using the i-Bright for fear that I'd forget to power them down properly beforehand, perhaps resulting in data corruption. Scheduling might be useful for lights, but then you can't use the remote access outlets for those big energy-burners at all.
The problems of remote scheduling could have been solved if individual outlets had individual schedules, but the i-Bright Protector doesn't offer that level of personalization. Of course, not many have (with the exception of the otherwise middling Quirky Pivot Power Genius).
For many people, a $110 (or more) power surge protector just seems like a waste of money. But the i-Bright is a really solid product that meets currently-unmet consumer needs. Ambitious DIYers rigging up custom devices could really benefit from a surge protector like this, because they could monitor complex electronics setups. Users with older houses that have limited wall outlets could take advantage of the basic power strip features, but also the remote control for lights.
This Surge Protector isn't cheap, and it's not worth the price if you're buying it for any single feature. But altogether it is a unique and useful package of goodies, making it a solid buy for the price.