LIFX WiFi enabled multi-color LED bulb

A wireless LED bulb that can change colour and be dimmed, all from a smartphone app

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LIFX WiFi enabled multi-color LED bulb
  • LIFX WiFi enabled multi-color LED bulb
  • LIFX WiFi enabled multi-color LED bulb
  • LIFX WiFi enabled multi-color LED bulb

Pros

  • Dimmable 17W LED bulb
  • Multi-colour bulb
  • Controllable from a smartphone app
  • Easy to install

Cons

  • Big investment for a light bulb
  • Have to wait for some features to come online

Bottom Line

The LIFX LED light bulb can add a lot of colour to your life. It can emit light in a huge range of colours, it can be dimmed, you can switch it on and off without leaving your couch or bed, and all of this can be done through a simple-to-use smartphone app.

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Many people will laugh at you for getting excited about a light bulb, but the LIFX LED bulb is no ordinary light bulb. It’s a LED bulb that has a built-in computer so that it can connect to your Wi-Fi network, and it can be controlled directly from your phone. Control is more than just on and off, too; in fact, the main point of this bulb is that you can set it to any colour that you want to create a unique ambience.

LIFX is an Australian start-up that initiated this project as a crowd-funded effort on Kickstarter in September 2012 (the idea came about during a conversation in a pub). Fast-forward to the end of May 2014, and the LIFX bulbs can now be bought in Harvey Norman stores. There are bulbs in store to suit bayonet and screw-in style lamps, and downlights can also be pre-ordered from the LIFX Web site (these are slated for an August 2014 release). But why would you want a light bulb that has built-in Wi-Fi?

Think of this bulb as taking you one step further into home automation of sorts. You can control the light bulb from anywhere in your home using your smartphone, but not only can you turn it off and on without getting up, you can also dim the light, change its colour, or even select a pre-set pattern for it to display. At first it’s a bit of a novelty to be able to do all these things — and quite fun — but the ability to change the colour of the bulb serves a purpose to make your living area a lot more comfortable.

You don’t have to put up with a white or orange glow and nothing else. You can change to yellow, purple, blue, green, red (and more), and vary the intensity of the bulb, which again changes those colours. The specs say you can select from 16.7 million colours, but the truth is you’re limited by how well you can control the colour wheel that’s present in the LIFX smartphone app. We love the idea of using the light bulb to change colour to suit a particular time of day, such as switching it on in the early hours to an orange colour, and then using a darker orange or red at night before going to sleep.

Here is an example of some of the colours that the LED can provide.
Here is an example of some of the colours that the LED can provide.

Physically, the LED bulb is bigger than a normal bulb because it has to account for the extra electronics, and it’s flat across the top where the light is emitted. It’s a bulb that can be placed into any lamp shade, and any holder where there is enough space. Because you’re just replacing a bulb, there is no need for a pro to install it. Once it’s in place, the next step is to switch it on and install the LIFX app.

The LIFX app is what enables you to control the light bulb from your phone, but before it can do so, it has to set it up. It finds the network that the light bulb transmits, connects to it automatically, and then tells you to select the wireless network that you want the light bulb to work on. That’s the extent of the set up. Once you select your favoured Wi-Fi network (it only supports 2.4GHz), the app then sends the SSID and password information to the bulb.

In our test, the app appeared to crash during this process, because the progress bar didn’t get past 50 per cent, but when we went ‘back’ on our phone we found that it had indeed set up our bulb. We should also mention that it took a few refreshes to find our wireless network from the list the app was generating. Since we tested in an apartment that’s littered with 2.4GHz networks all around, it listed those networks first before finding ours, even though it was the most powerful. It all worked out in the end.

The app sends the LED bulb the details for your wireless network so that it can then be controlled via your smartphone. No extra hardware is needed; everything for the network connection is in the LED bulb.
The app sends the LED bulb the details for your wireless network so that it can then be controlled via your smartphone. No extra hardware is needed; everything for the network connection is in the LED bulb.

There’s not much more to it than that. Once it’s on the network, the bulb can be controlled easily through the app. There is a wheel for selecting the colour you want the bulb to emit, as well as a button to turn it off and on, and if you find a particular colour you’re fond of, you can save that as a pre-set and come back to it at any time without having to fiddle with the colour wheel again. There is a dedicated colour wheel for white colours, and there is an ‘effects’ feature that allows you to enable things such as lava lamp mode.

More features are planned for the LIFX bulb, too, with a cloud feature in particular that will allow remote access, alarm functions, notifications, and the ability to work with services such as IFTTT (if this then that). The iOS version of the app currently supports a dim-to-sleep function, and this is said to be coming to Android soon.

Multiple lights can be controlled from the same app (they show up as a list after you have installed them, turned them on and set them up), and you can adjust the colour and hue of each one separately, or adjust multiple lights at the same time as a group. These work in a mesh network with one bulb selected as the gateway to your router.

As for power consumption, the LED bulb consumes a maximum of 17W, has a lumens rating of 1017, and the light it emits is enough for decent sized room, depending on the shade that’s used. When the light is off, its computer remains in ‘standby’ mode, which consumes a constant 3W. The LED bulb doesn’t get hot like a traditional bulb, but the part where the computer is gets a little bit warm.

Give the LIFX a go if you’re after a dimmable LED that can provide much more than a traditional light. It’s easy to install and use as long as you have a compatible smartphone for its app, and it will allow you to change the ambience of a room to whatever suits your mood.

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