Let's face it: LED light bulbs are cool. They're much more energy efficient than incandescent globes, they have better colour than fluorescents, and they start up nearly instantly. Fancy bulbs like the Philips Hue have red-green-blue LEDs, too, that can change their colour to create impressive and dynamic scenes, with Wi-Fi control. The LIFX is one of those fancy bulbs.
The LIFX bulb started its life as a Kickstarter project, dreamed up by Melbourne designer Phil Bosua. In late 2012, it hit its project goal of $100,000, then smashed through to a total pledge pool of over $1,300,000. The idea was simple: a multicolour LED light bulb that would screw into your existing light fittings, connect to your Wi-Fi network without its own complicated dongle, and could be controlled and automated from your smartphone or tablet.
Around 15 months after the completion of the Kickstarter fundraising drive — that's only 11 months after the expected delivery date, which is not bad by the usual incredibly delayed standard of Kickstarter projects — LIFX light bulbs are finally in the hands of the 9000+ backers who placed their money and their trust in the hands of a small of Australian developers.
The standard LIFX globe measures 65mm in diameter by 135mm in length, and is available in a variety of colours and bulb fittings — we chose a brace of E27 Edison screw-fitting white bulbs for our testing. Rated at 17W of power consumption, a LIFX globe can produce 1000 lumens of brightness — a pretty impressive result that puts it in the higher tier of residential LED lighting.
We ran into our first problem with the LIFX globe when we attempted to install it into the standard horizontal fitting of our test room's ceiling fan light. Designed for a more compact incandescent globe, the extra length and girth of the LIFX meant that it just didn't fit. We were able to bend the fitting to suit, but it wasn't attractive — so if you're interested in any smart LED globe, we'd suggest you check sizing beforehand.
The bulb's size is not too much larger than a regular LED globe, for what it's worth — an Ikea LEDARE bulb is more smoothly sculpted and has a more rounded top, but the two are broadly similar. Light output is definitely higher than the 14W LEDARE's 400 lumens, but the LIFX globe is far more directional — it's much closer to a spotlight than a room-filling glow.
Once you've got it properly seated in its fitting — we chose a convenient standing lamp — setting LIFX up is a pretty basic task. Navigate to go.LIFX.co to download the accompanying app for Android or iOS, boot it up, and follow the instructions. We first tried the process with a Samsung Galaxy Note 3, and the LIFX bulb was detected, but the setup procedure strangely wouldn't complete. A second attempt with iOS on an iPhone 5S was more successful — the Android app seems a little unstable at this point in time.
Once you've got it set up, though, the results are worth the effort. This is what the LIFX can do.
Click through to see the LIFX light globe in all its multicoloured glory.
The app is, for the time being, pretty basic. There's a live colour wheel for selecting any hue on the entire visual spectrum, and a slider for selecting the brightness of that hue. Any brightness level below around 70 per cent of maximum lends a beautifully rich and vibrant tone to the light; push for maximum luminance and you'll get a much whiter light as the red, green and blue LEDs run into overdrive.
Beyond simple colour picking — which can be done per individual bulb, or with your entire multi-bulb, multi-room LIFX setup — you're also able to select different colour-balanced white light. The LIFX system can be adjusted from a very yellow 2500K warm white to a very white, fluorescent-esque 9000K cool white; we generally opted for a setting around 3500K to match our TV's calibrated white balance. As with the colour settings, you can adjust the brightness of each white light over a range from 1 to 100 per cent. Everyday users will find this the most useful aspect of the LIFX — no more getting up to dim the lights from the couch, or getting up to flick the switch before bed.
At the moment, there's no easy way to automate light adjustment within the app, or to set up hands-free tasks based on location or activity — you can't set the LIFX system to turn on when your phone connects to your house's Wi-Fi as you pull into the driveway or open the door, for example. You can set up predefined scenes, with individual light globes tailored to specific tones and hues and brightnesses, and there's also a nifty music visualiser that uses your smartphone's internal microphone — both of these come in handy, but come up a bit short in outright usability.
Similarly, there's no timer-based events a la Philips Hue, so you can't set a timer to dim your lights as you fall asleep in the evening, or wake you up gradually in the morning. Communication is limited to a local network, too, which is a pity — there's no way to turn your lights on or off when you're away from home (which could come in handy if you're travelling and want to give the impression you're not).
Despite all its shortcomings at this early stage of development, the LIFX Wi-Fi LED light globe is still a very cool piece of kit. It has loads of potential, especially if the app development team takes some cues from third-party apps and implements alarm, location and timer events. Remote control over the 'net is also a must. We'll wait and see if LIFX improves — and we're certainly optimistic — but at the moment, it's mostly a cool party trick.