Smart, but still a bit dim
The good: The Lumen LED Color Smart Bulb offers plug-and-play simplicity at a relatively reasonable price. Each bulb's 30,000-hour lifespan is double what you'll get from a Philips Hue bulb.
The bad: The Lumen app only offers basic control of the light, with none of the automation controls or IFTTT compatibility you'll get from Philips. The bulb itself is also a little dimmer than we'd like.
The bottom line: For basic needs, the Lumen LED Color Smart Bulb might make sense, but consider waiting to see if the app improves, and to see what the competition will bring to the table. For more advanced control of your lights, a Philips Hue setup is probably worth the extra cash.
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.
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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.
(Credit: 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.
(Credit: Colin West McDonald/CNET)
Once you've paired your bulb with your device, you'll be able to turn it on and off remotely, change its color, or launch one of the those aforementioned presets. These aren't nearly as numerous or customizable as what you'll get with Philips — you're limited to two color cycles (the cool-toned "Relaxation Mode" and the warm-toned "Romance Mode"), along with both a fast and slow version of "Party Mode," which strobes red, blue, and green light in succession. Ideally, you'd be able to select your own combination of colors and the speed at which they'd cycle, but the Lumen app doesn't offer this level of functionality yet.
As for good, old-fashioned, normal-colored light, the Lumen uses a dedicated white LED capable of giving off 400 lowercase lumens, making it comparable to a 40-watt incandescent bulb. This isn't quite as bright as I'd like — Philips Hue bulbs, for comparison, give off 600 lumens each. Switch from white light to colored light, and things will get slightly dimmer still. As an accent, it does a fine job, but don't rely on the Lumen to serve as your primary light source.
The Lumen is rated to last 30,000 hours — twice as long as a Philips Hue bulb.
(Credit: Ry Crist/CNET)
Lumenation claims that each bulb will last up to 30,000 hours. That's an impressive number, given that Philips Hue bulbs are only rated to last 15,000 hours, but keep in mind that Philips Hue bulbs come with a two-year warranty. It's unclear whether or not Lumen bulbs, on the other hand, come with any warranty at all. I know I'd feel a lot better about that 30,000-hour lifespan claim if they did.
At its brightest, the Lumen bulb only uses 7 watts of electricity, which comes out to a very efficient 57 lumens per watt. It'll also draw a little bit of juice to power the Bluetooth connection with your phone, but since it's a low-energy Bluetooth 4.0 connection, this should only be a marginal amount. All of this is to say that the math adds up on this bulb, which makes for some much-needed reassurance given that the Lumen doesn't come from a trusted, well-known lighting brand.
If you want to schedule your Lumen light to turn on automatically, you're stuck using Wake-Up Mode.
(Credit: Screenshot by Ry Crist/CNET)
That said, the strength of the Lumen's hardware is actually a bit bittersweet, given that the software is so much of a weakness by comparison. A smart bulb like this just begs for automation scheduling, but all the Lumen app offers is the underwhelming wake-up mode. The potential is there for conditional, if/then statement-based automation, too — something we've already seen with the happy marriage between Hue bulbs and IFTTT. But again, the Lumen app falls short, only offering an underdeveloped proximity mode and an incoming call mode that doesn't seem to work all that well.
(Credit: Colin West McDonald/CNET)
The bright side to all of this is that apps can get better, and hopefully Lumen's app will do just that and will catch up to its bulb in the process. Fortunately, along with the upcoming Android release, Lumenation is promising major app improvements, including a revamped proximity mode and even a music-syncing feature. If and when those features arrive, the $69.99 Lumen LED bulb might be a tempting way for the color-curious to dip their feet into smart-bulb waters. If you're looking to control more than two bulbs, though, you're probably better off just springing for a Philips Hue Starter Kit.
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