In this LIFX review, I share my experience with these smart LED lights and compare them to the most popular player in the smart bulb market: Philips Hue.
When I told my wife that I would review one of those new smart lights, her first response was: “I don’t want any funky colors in my house.” Rest assured, my goal was not to turn our house into a nightclub (at least not permanently), but to make smarter use of lights and to save energy in the process.
Reviewed Brands & Products
|A19 Smart LED Bulb [LIFX]||$59.99|
|BR30 Smart LED Bulb [LIFX]||$59.99|
|Mini (A19) LED Bulb [LIFX]||$44.99|
|LIFX Z LED Light Strip [LIFX]||$89.99|
|Hue 2-Pack Starter Kit [Philips]||$149.99|
Use cases for smart lights
Specifically, I wanted to address the following two use cases:
- Manage lights that we leave on overnight but turn off during the day.
- Add a very dim nightlight to our bedroom that only turns on around the time I get up in the morning (~ 5 am).
Manage existing lights
Around the house, we leave the following lights on for reasons of security and convenience.
- Outdoor wall lantern at the main entrance
- Outdoor wall lantern at the back of the house
- Table lamps in the family room that’s adjacent to the open kitchen
The outdoor lights we leave on for security reasons and to illuminate the house. I turn one of them on every night and off in the morning. The other one stays on 24/7 because it’s out of sight and I usually forget about it. The wall lantern at the main entrance has a dusk to dawn feature, but the sensor is broken. Instead of replacing the whole fixture, I will eventually just replace the candle bulbs with smart LEDs.
A table lamp in the family room is on overnight, so it illuminates that area, which includes the kitchen. That way, I don’t need to use my smartphone as a flashlight when I get up in the morning and enter the kitchen. That affects mostly me since I get up first and when I do, it’s usually still dark outside.
Often, that light would stay on during the day if we forgot to turn it off. That’s a waste of energy. Plus, we would like the light to be dimmed overnight but have a higher light output when we use it for reading, eating or watching TV.
Of course, there are old school solutions to most of these issues, like a dimmer switch and motion sensors, etc. But as a technologist, smart LED lights offer the most flexible and convenient solution for me.
LIFX (pronounced Life-X) started as a Kickstarter project in 2013. The company ended up raising over $1.3 million in public funding. Founded by Australian inventor Phil Bosua, LIFX has its headquarters in San Francisco, California.
Unlike many other smart LED vendors, the LEDs from LIFX don’t require a HUB. Instead, the light bulbs have a Wi-Fi chip built-in. That is a significant advantage because it means one piece less of equipment that needs power, a surge protector and ideally, an uninterruptible power supply (UPS).
Technically, one of the LIFX bulbs acts as a hub and connects directly to your Wi-Fi access point. The others connect to the hub bulb. I didn’t know that until I recently found out. Before that, I thought that all the lights connect directly to the Wi-Fi router.
LIFX offers various types of bulbs and a light strip. I own the light strip, and the A19 and BR30 bulbs. The latter is also available as PLUS models that support infrared light to enhance night vision for security cameras.
Also, you can order the A19 bulbs with different fittings, including:
- E26 Edison Screw (North America)
- B22 Bayonet Cap
- E27 Edison Screw
The BR30 bulb is suitable for indoor and outdoor use so that you can use it as a security light. All Generation 3 bulbs support 16 million colors and 1000 shades of warm to cool whites. They all have a maximum light output of 1100 lumens.
In comparison to other platforms, such as Philips Hue, LIFX offers only a limited selection of bulbs and lights. One type of bulb that I am personally interested in is a Candelabra lightbulb. LIFX doesn’t offer Candelabra bulbs yet, but Philipps does.
- 1100 lumens output
- iOS, Android, and Windows 10 app
- 11 watts energy consumption at full brightness
- 2500k – 9000k color spectrum
- 22.8 years average lifespan (based on 3 hours of use per day)
Support for Apple HomeKit
On September 19th, 2017, LIFX finally announced support for HomeKit, Apple’s home automation platform, enabling you to control your lights using voice commands. Support is limited to the third generation LIFX and LIFX + lights and available via a firmware upgrade.
Apple HomeKit used to require specialized hardware in each supported device. That’s why only the latest generation (Gen 3) LIFX lights work with HomeKit. You can identify Gen 3 lights with the model prefix “LH.”
A list of compatible LIFX lights is available on lifx.com and includes the following models:
- A19 and LIFX + A19
- BR30 and LIFX + BR30
- LIFX Z LED
If you own the first generation, LIFX Z LED strip you have the option to add HomeKit support by purchasing a new Z Controller Pack.
Support for other home automation platforms
LIFX also supports other home automation platforms, including:
- Apple HomeKit
- Amazon Alexa
- Google Assistant
- Samsung SmartThings
- Logitech Harmony
So if you have already invested in any of the above platforms, you are ready to roll with LIFX. More information about the available integration options is available here.
Setting up LIFX using the Smartphone App
The setup of LIFX bulbs is relatively straightforward. The first step is to download the app and create an account if you haven’t already done so.
To get started from scratch, you screw the first bulb into the socket and turn on the power. After a few seconds, the LIFX application detects the new bulb and asks you to join its Wi-Fi network. While installing two of the three bulbs I got, my iPhone reconnected to my primary WiFi network during the configuration process, and I had to reconnect to the LIFX network manually.
Other than that, the configuration wizard completed successfully after assigning a name and group name to each of the bulbs I added. I named my groups after the rooms I installed them in.
Setting up LIFX using HomeKit
The use of the LIFX app is entirely optional if you have HomeKit. I would still recommend adding the bulb to both your LIFX account as well as HomeKit because the former gives you more fine-grained control over the bulbs. For example, it’s much easier to change the color settings in the LIFX app than it is in the Home app.
Note: When installing the LED strip, be careful not to peel off the entire adhesive that is used to attach the strip to furniture. Instead, make sure to peel off only the first layer that covers the sticky part of the adhesive. I accidentally peeled off everything but could put it back without any issues.
The LIFX app
The LIFX app is feature-rich and allows you to get the most out of your lights.
To turn lights on and off, you just tap on the respective power button. If you tap on the bulb’s name, the app offers additional options, including:
- Color wheel to pick any of the 16 million available colors
- Change the shades and temperature of whites
- Enable themes to set a mood
- Enable effects such as candle flicker, color cycle, etc
When I got started with smart bulbs, I created schedules in the LIFX app to automatically turn the lights on and off at a given time.
I had created six schedules for the three rooms I wanted to control:
- Office – Morning: Turns on the light in my office at 5 am every day and set the brightness to 100%.
- Office – Night: Reduces the brightness of the light to 10% at sunset every day.
- Master Bedroom – Morning: Turns on the LED strip that I installed under our bed at 5 am every day and sets the brightness to 20% and the color to ultra-warm.
- Master Bedroom – Day: Turns off the LED strip at sunrise every day.
- Family Room – Morning: Turns off the light on the side table next to the couch at sunrise every day.
- Family Room – Evening: Turns on the light at 5 pm every day and sets the brightness to 30% and the color to ultra-warm.
These days, I do all the automation in Apple’s Home app because it’s easier and I can include other devices, beyond bulbs.
LIFX vs. Hue Bulbs
|LIFX Bulbs||Philips Hue Bulbs|
|Colors||16 million||16 million|
|Brightness Level (Max)||1100 lumens||800 lumens|
|Works without a Hub||●||✘|
The most striking difference between LIFX and Hue is the fact that the latter requires a hub to connect its lights with your Wi-Fi router. The Philips Hue Bridge might not be a big deal for most users, but I try to avoid adding gadgets that require power and an Ethernet port. The other notable difference is how bright the bulbs are. LIFX bulbs offer approximately 300 lumens more brightness than comparable Hue bulbs.
The good thing about Hue is that the individual LED bulbs are often less expensive than the ones from LIFX and Philips offers more variety and types of lights.
I don’t own Hue lights, but I heard from other users that the Hue app doesn’t allow you to create and customize scenes or a preset that span multiple rooms. For example, our “Movie Time” scene includes bulbs and other devices in various rooms of the house. Apparently, the Hue app doesn’t allow you to do that. However, if you use HomeKit, I don’t think you’d run into that issue because Home surely allows you to create room-spanning scenes.
Where to go from here
I just got started with smart light bulbs. My long-term goal is to replace every bulb in the house with a smart LED. We had already replaced all incandescent lights with “dumb” LEDs throughout the entire house, so making them smart was the logical next step.
The next room I will equip with smart LEDs is our toddler’s room. Every night, before bedtime, she is allowed to read her books for half an hour. Then she has to turn off the lamp on her nightstand. She often complies with that rule but not every day. Using a smart LED we can have the light start dimming slowly at a particular time, an indication for her that it is time to sleep. A minute or so later, the light would turn off.
I haven’t had many issues with HomeKit-enabled gadgets, but most of the problems I had were related to LIFX bulbs. As it turned out bulbs that are part of the 1717 manufacturing code were bad. Over the past few months, I had to contact LIFX a couple of times to get bad bulbs replaced. Fortunately, LIFX did that free of charge in every single case.
Based on the LIFX bulbs that I have tested over the past few months, I like what I have seen. Even more, I like the fact that I don’t need a hub to operate the lights.
But I would like to see a wider variety of bulb types from LIFX. The A19 and BR30 cover 90% of my needs, but candelabra bulbs would be a nice-to-have addition to the portfolio.
Do you use smart LEDs in your home? If so, tell me how you use them by leaving a comment below.
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