Smart LED bulbs differ by wireless control and light color

Several new smart bulbs are scheduled to be introduced in June at Light Fair 2104 in Las Vegas. So while we wait, here’s a look at the smart bulb currently available. (See Table 1 below.)

I’m defining a smart bulb as any light bulb that can be controlled by your phone, using some form of wireless communication. Smart bulbs can be often be controlled in groups of two or more, allowing you to specify a lighting profile for a room. Control functions include on/off, dimming, and for RGB bulbs, color mixing.

(I’m also just looking at A19 bulbs at this time; if you’re looking for a smart PAR30 spotlight lamp, here’s my review of the Luxera.)

Just like in conventional incandescent-replacement LED bulbs, there’s quite a variation in bulb styles in smart bulbs.

Ilumi's smart LED bulb is RGB and can put out as many as 800 lm.

Ilumi’s smart LED bulb is RGB and can put out as many as 800 lm.

The white-only  Insteon bulb is part of a home-automation system.

The white-only Insteon bulb is part of a home-automation system.

 

LIFX's smart LED bulb is RGB and at peak power can produce 1,000 lm from 17W.

LIFX’s smart LED bulb is RGB and at peak power can produce 1,000 lm from 17W.

Robosmart's white-only smart LED bulb can produce 800 lm.

Robosmart’s white-only smart LED bulb can produce 800 lm.

Philips Hue line is the broadest and most established of smart LED bulbs. It's available in RGB, white-only, and in light strips as well as bulbs.

Philips Hue line is the broadest and most established of smart LED bulbs. It’s available in RGB, white-only, and in light strips as well as bulbs.

The TCP connect system is white-only and can produce 800 lm.

The TCP connect system is white-only and can produce 800 lm.

The two differentiators with smart bulbs are the wireless communication method and light color. Today’s smart bulbs use either Bluetooth Low-Energy (BLE) or some form of networked communications, which I’ll categorize loosely as WiFi. BLE requires no other hardware than the bulb and your BLE-capable smart phone. Its simplicity makes it easier to get the lights up and running, but limits the system’s ability to interact with the environment. BLE also limits the smart phone compatibility to newer versions: For example, an iPhone must be a 4S or later to have BLE. A WiFi-based system requires a router and/or a gateway to the router. The added expense can be daunting, but it also opens your lighting up to the Internet of Things. [More here on Internet of Things and LEDs.]

The other differentiating feature is whether the bulb is white-only or capable of colored light through its red-green-blue LEDs. White-only bulbs, like conventional LED bulbs, use phosphor-converted white LEDs, are less expensive, and can also produce a more reliable white when simple illumination is all you need. RGB lights can offer you a rainbow of colors if you’re interested in experimenting with different color temperatures or with mood lighting. However, the ability of RGB lights to consistently over time produce a particular set of colors or color temperature is currently doubtful; the three R, G, B LEDs age at different rates and their color mix will shift. If you expect a group of smart lights to produce a visually identical color temperature, RGB smart bulbs are probably not there yet. But if you just need a solitary bulb in a room or work area, or to color-wash a wall, then yes, they can do that job.

Here are the smart bulbs I have come up with so far. I think that come the beginning of June after Light Fair 2014, there will be more smart bulbs introduced, but here’s what looks available for now. Am I missing anything? Please let me know, since I’m working on an article reviewing all of them.

Table 1– Smart LED Light Bulbs

Name Manufacturer Price Comms White/RGB Lumens
Ilumi ilumi.co $90/bulb BLE RGB 800
Insteon (hub extra) insteon.com $30/bulb; hub is $130 Dual mesh;RF/powerline White 591
LiFX LiFX.co $98/bulb, no hub needed WiFi RGB-W 1,000
Robosmart Smartbotics.com $59/bulb BLE White 800
Philips Hue meethue.com $199[1] WiFi Both 600
TCP Connected starter pack TCPi.com $49[2] WiFi (6LowPan) White 800

[1] starter pack of 3 bulbs & hub

[2] starter pack of 2 bulbs & hub

Comments

  1. I just wanted to make a few corrections to your article. RoboSmart Bluetooth LED Bulbs are available in 2 intensities, 450 lumens and 850 lumens and are available for $36.99 and $39.99 at major retailers such as MicroCenter, Amazon.com and BestBuy. Robosmart bulbs also include an iBeacon so the bulb can sense when you are nearby to automatically switch on when you arrive home and off when you leave.

    Color changing lights are also less energy efficient since they require multiple LEDs to output light in each of the 3 primary colors and some include a white light LED in addition. Light is produced by combining the output from the 3 color LEDs at varying intensities resulting in reduced brightness, so don’t expect an 800 lumen color bulb to produce 800 lumens of light across the color spectrum.

  2. Thanks, Greg.

  3. And how many watts do they draw when turned off?

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