April 25, 2024


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Orbnext review: Orbnext offers color-coded smart-home ambience

“Your world at a glance” — that’s what Colorado-based Advanced Lumonics is offering with Orbnext, a Wi-Fi enabled, color-changing desktop novelty. With 10 multicolor Cree LEDs housed within frosted glass and its own channel on IFTTT, Orbnext can change colors to notify you of things like important emails, new followers on Twitter or anything else you can think up.

The rub, of course, is that Orbnext costs a hefty $129. In Australia, that comes out to around AU$185 once you factor in international shipping — in the UK, you’ll need to drop a cool £100. That certainly isn’t inexpensive, especially when you consider color-changing LED competitors like Philips Hue , Tabu Lumen and Lifx that each cost a lot less per light. Cool factor aside, Orbnext is still very much a novelty item, and unless it has you dazzled, I think you can safely resist the urge to splurge.


Megan Wollerton/CNET

As I’m sure you’ve noticed by this point, the cube-shaped Orbnext isn’t an orb at all. The name is a callback to the Ambient Orb , a color-changing sphere from 2004 that offered basic ambient notifications before notifications were really a thing. The Ambient Orb was attractive and futuristic — perhaps to a fault. As CNET’s Brian Cooley said at the time, “All we know is that we like this thing.”

Advanced Lumonics is likely hoping that in today’s smartphone-centric age — and with IFTTT doing the heavy lifting — a color-coded, design-oriented, ambient light notification gadget makes a little more sense. To an extent, I think that it does. As a geeky sort of splurge, I can see the appeal.

That appeal cuts two ways. First, there’s the surprising practicality of the thing. With Orbnext and IFTTT, you’ll be able to program color changes for whatever you deem important. Maybe you want it turn bright red if the boss emails you, or green whenever your fitness tracker detects that you’ve hit a daily goal. For a subtle, unobtrusive notification mechanism that lets you keep your phone in your pocket for once, you could really do a lot worse.

The other angle comes down to design: Orbnext is pretty to look at. With frosted glass and colorful minimalism, it’s an attractive little desktop decoration capable of casting a futuristic sheen over just about any workstation.

Still, the minimalist design isn’t perfect. While the frosted glass certainly gives Orbnext the feel of a high-end gadget, it also looks a little bit like plastic. One or two additional design flourishes might have helped to reinforce the high-end aesthetic.

The Orbnext app is simple, but a bit sparse.
Screenshots by Ry Crist/CNET

For basic control over Orbnext, you’ll use the “blink.n.play” app from Advanced Lumonics. That name comes from the pairing process — to connect your Orbnext, you’ll hold it over your phone while the app blinks a rapid light pattern coded with your Wi-Fi info. That’s the same trick that Quirky uses to connect products like the Porkfolio , the Pivot Power Genius , and the Aros Smart Air Conditioner , which isn’t too surprising, given that those products use the same ElectricIMP motherboard as Orbnext.

The blink.n.play app definitely errs on the sparse side, with very basic, limited controls for Orbnext. You can set Orbnext to change color as the stock market rises and falls, or as the temperature changes. There’s also a Lamp mode where you can quickly choose from one of 12 colored presets, along with a full color palette for more in-depth color selection.

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