April 22, 2024


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Lumen LED Color Smart Bulb review: Smart, but still a bit dim

In an age where people are starting to expect more from their lights, we’ve already seen Philips offer wireless color controls for its Hue LED bulbs, not to mention some competition from crowdfunded upstarts like Lifx and iLumi. Now, Lumenation wants to get in on the fun with the Lumen LED Color Smart Bulb, a color-changing bulb from Tabu that you can control right from your smartphone over Bluetooth 4.0.

At a suggested retail price of $69.99, the Lumen definitely doesn’t come cheap, although it does cost $20 less than what you’ll pay if you preorder a bulb from Lifx or iLumi. As for Philips, a single Hue bulb will cost you $59.99, but if you want to use it, you’ll need a Hue Bridge, which Philips only sells as part of the $199.95 Hue Starter Pack. Granted, with three smart bulbs in the box, the Hue Starter Kit offers a better price per bulb than any of the current competitors. For one or two bulbs, though, Lumen bulbs look like they might be a smart, affordable alternative — just so long as you aren’t expecting anything more than the most basic controls over the look of your light.

How basic? Think of the currently emerging crop of smart lighting options as a high school advanced-placement class. The Lumen is your average C-student — smart enough to earn a passing grade in a competitive environment, but not special enough to really stand out from the crowd. The bulb itself looks futuristic, but only in the same way that countless other LED bulbs look futuristic. The Lumen app boasts a simple interface and easy-to-use controls, but it lacks any sort of advanced, distinctive features or creative flourishes. It screams “knockoff” just as loudly as the sad approximation of Tony the Tiger that you’ll find on a store-brand box of Frosted Flakes.

Of course, some people prefer the value of store-brand knockoffs, and to an extent, there’s value in Lumen bulbs, too. The light does what it promises, changing colors on demand, and if this is all you’re looking for from a smart bulb, then look no further. As for the rest of the Lumen’s features — the presets, the wake-up light scheduling, proximity detection, and so on — all of them felt like they were developed just enough so that Lumenation could say it had developed them. Lumenation earns its completion grade with a working product, but won’t be scoring extra credit anytime soon.

The Lumen app is simple to use, giving quick access to color, brightness, and preset controls.
Screenshots by Ry Crist/CNET

Still, wobbly metaphors aside, some people will see advantages to using Lumen bulbs as opposed to pricier, more established products. Unlike Philips Hue bulbs, which connect to the Hue Bridge over a ZigBee mesh network, Lumen bulbs speak directly with your smartphone or tablet over a low-energy Bluetooth connection. This means that setup is as simple as downloading the Lumen app, screwing in your bulb, and turning on your lamp.

Since the Lumen bulb relies on Bluetooth 4.0, it’s only compatible with recently released iOS devices (iPhone 4 and iPad 2 users are out of luck). If you have a Bluetooth 4.0-enabled Android device, you’ll be able to use Lumen bulbs just as soon as Lumenation releases the Android version of its app, which it promises will happen by the end of 2013. I won’t blame you if you hold off on ordering until it makes good on this promise.

Need some mood lighting? Lumen’s Romance Mode will gradually cycle through warm tones.
Colin West McDonald/CNET

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