LIFX

LIFX LED smart bulb
The LIFX (pronounced Life-X) is a multi-coloured LED smart bulb that you control with your Smartphone and other devices. Our order via the website was for Batch 3 (shipping Q1 2014) and ours was delivered on 4th March 2014).

LIFX Original Kickstarter and Batch Two Pre Order Announcement:

LIFX 2013 Update:

We ordered ours from the LIFX website and with shipping it cost $103.20 (approximately £63). That's a lot of money for a light bulb but, this isn't just a light bulb as you will see.

After a long delay (~15 minutes) my lightbulb rebooted and then appeared to update the firmware again! Because it takes so long, you have to be really careful that family members don't switch it off whilst the update is being down.

Key Features

  • The LIFX bulb is for indoor use only. An external version is planned for the future though.
  • WiFi router must be standard 802.11 b, g or n compliant. At least one bulb must be in suitable range to the WiFi router. WPA2 security is recommended.
  • Each light is ultimately as secure as the security of your home network.
  • Every LIFX 'master' bulb has a Wi-Fi chip onboard and can talk wirelessly to your router, iOS and Android devices. The 'master' and 'slave' bulbs communicate via a low-powered 802.15.4 mesh network.
  • There is no 'starter kit' or 'hub' required.

LIFX LED smart bulb
Specification:

RGB-W, better whites, brighter colours. The bulb is rated at 17W power usage (when fully on). The bulb has a quoted lifetime of 25,000 hours and 12,500 on/off switching operations. The bulb is 65mm in diameter and 135mm tall. The bulb has a beam angle of 130°.

The LIFX bulb is available in two different fittings, Edison Screw (E26/E27) and Bayonet (B22). Both bulbs output 1000 lumens, which is very close to a 75W incandescent light bulb. LIFX also sell a GU10 down-light with 500-600 lumens.

bulb adapter
We have bought a bayonet fitting bulb but is can easily be converted for use in an ES fitting by using a suitable adapter. This does make the bulb slightly taller though.

Wi-Fi And Mesh Networks

The Wi-Fi module chosen works with 802.11 b/g/n routers on the 2.4GHz band. Originally LIFX planned to have 2 different types of bulbs (called Master and Slave bulbs) but this got confusing and they now make all bulbs exactly the same (including Wi-Fi and mesh chips in every bulb). Every bulb has the ability to act as the 'gateway' bulb or the 'node' bulb. The bulbs automatically recognise each other and dynamically nominate the best gateway at any particular point it time.

Hardware Reset

On the back of the LIFX bulb is a hardware reset switch. Flicking the hardware reset switch will return the bulb back to its factory state.

  • Switch off power to the light socket and remove the bulb.
  • Move the switch to the opposite position it is currently on. Once the switch is moved to the opposing position the bulb is reset and it does not need to be returned to its original position.
  • Put the bulb back in and turn power on to the socket. If this has been done correctly you should see the bulb go through the red, green, blue, white sequence.

In The Box

LIFX packaging
The bulb comes supplied in a recycled cardboard box. Ours arrived from the manufacturing plant in China and we have heard of some UK customers having to pay import duties.

The bulb is heavier than it looks, weighing 298g. The light diffuser looks like glass but is in fact made of plastic.

Also included in the box is a small 'quick setup' guide in several languages.

Installation & Setup

LIFX app download
Installation is remarkably easy and very quick. The first thing to do is to download the app by opening a web browser and opening the URL: http://go.lifx.co

LIFX app setup
On starting the app, you are presented with an option to set up the bulb. At this point you need to plug it in. It should come on (bright white) when plugged in.

LIFX app setup
The LIFX bulb creates its own local Wi-Fi access point, to which your phone must be connected before you can proceed.

LIFX app setup
You then connect the LIFX bulb to your home Wi-Fi network. We then immediately got an SMS message from our Home Control System (HCS) as it detected an unknown device on our home network.

LIFX App

LIFX app home screen
Once connected you are presented with the home screen. There are 3 main modes of operation: Colours, whites and effects. The central slider controls bulb brightness.

The app gives you 100% control of lumens, colour temperature and range.

Android and iOS

Top Tip: If you hit the 'Give Feedback' option under 'Settings', it generates and email to send to LIFX and adds a file attachment call diagnostics.txt. If you then send this file to yourself, it provides a load of useful infomration about your set and in my case, the information I needed to resolve some issues.

In Use

For the LIFX bulb to work it obviously needs to be powered via a socket or switched lighting circuit. This somewhat limits the applications but it works well when used in a lamp plugged in to a wall socket. It isn't going to work quite as simply when used in a ceiling rose as someone who didn't know better may switch it off at the wall switch.

With the power switched off using a wall switch, the bulb remembers the colour used and when switched back on will revert to that colour.

Occasionally, the app would fail to find the light bulb on our home network and revert back to the set up screen. Restarting the app would allow it to be rediscovered though. The same experience occurs when the bulb has been physically switched off. If the lamp is then switched back on the app does seem to auto-discover the bulb after a short delay.

If the lamp is switched off using the app and then via the wall switch, the light will revert to the previous colour/brightness used before the app switch off. When the app is then restarted later, there is a momentary flicker in light output.

Using the colour wheel to select the preferred colour has the fairly obvious impact of reducing the light brightness. Setting it to pure green, pure blue or pure red for example results in a brightness level of around 25% (only one of the 4 LEDs is on). For similar reasons, when the bulb is set to a colour and then reduced to very low brightness (<5%), it will actually change colour slightly as it is not possible to maintain the colour ratios as you get down to the limits of the control resolution.

Effects

The released version of the app supports the concept of music visualisation.

Dimmer Switches

The packaging states that the bulb will work with a standard dimmer switch and this is supported on the LIFX FAQ, which states: We are working on a clever little feature into the software that will enable you to use your traditional dimmer to dim the LIFX bulbs. However, the best bet is to dim from the app itself as it gives you 100% control of lumens, color temperature and range.

Remote Access

Since the LIFX master light bulb appears on your local network (LAN) as a normal IP device, then the same techniques used to provide remote access to other services on your LAN would work for LIFX. There is no 'out of home' control capability provided by default but we don't see this as a big issue in the smart home.

LIFX will soon be rolling out LIFX Cloud which will allow you to send a message from an Internet enabled device back to your lights.

Power Usage

For this bulb to work as intended, it needs a permanent power supply. When connected and in the off state it consumes ~3W of power but this was measured using a plug-in power meter that is not very accurate. LIFX claim the bulb uses 1.8W in standby. This is quite a lot. Many LED light bulbs consume this amount of power when on, so the LIFX bulb isn't particularly energy efficient as you are effectively leaving a bulb on all the time. If you had many of these bulbs installed, then the combined standby power usge would be quite significant. Other lighting control technologies such as Z-Wave consume much smaller (negligible) amounts of power.

When used as a pure, bright white light the bulb consumes 7W at 25%, 9W at 50%, 12W at 75% and 15W at 100% brightness. When set to 100% warm white it also consumed ~15W. When set to red, green or blue it consumed 9W. When set to intermediate colours such as yellow or purple, it consumed 12W of power.

API

Without a published and supported API, the LIFX bulb can make no real claims to be 'smart'. For now it is simply a colour changing Wi-Fi connected bulb that has remote control capability. Unfortunately LIFX Labs have been very slow in making an API available and most people are relying on 3rd party 'hacks' based on packet sniffing.

3rd Party Information

Use these links with caution. The LIFX bulb has a processor and software. It can be crashed by sending it the wrong commands. More worrying is that it appears that you can also permanently damage the bulb.

  • lifx.js - a websocket demonstration

Summary

Architecturally, we have a problem with the concept of smart light bulbs. It doesn't really make sense to integrate the control capability with the actual bulb. A single controller may need to be used to control many bulbs, thus being much more cost efficient. The lifetime of both technologies is also not comparable. A modern, high-quality LED bulb will last many more years than the control technology used to switch it on or off, to dim it or change its colour. Technologies like Wi-Fi have evolved numerous times in the last few years to the latest 802.11ac standards. A lot of the arguments used in our article on why we won't be buying a Nest Protect are relevant to 'smart' bulbs.

There is a lot ot be said for standardising on the wiring, control, fittings and style of bulbs used in your home. It brings economies of scale and ensure few sparesd are required. For this reason we mainly use 12V MR16 bulbs in our current home.

Wi-Fi is far from the best technology for home automation in our view and and this very much includes control of lighting. Our experiences so far show that all the usual issues that come with Wi-Fi are affecting this bulb as well.

An app is also not the best way to control lighting. To time taken to turn on a light using a Smartphone app is just too long. There are numerous places for latency in the whole process too, especially each time the app starts up. It is a very cumbersome way to control lighting.

This bulb is not particularly energy efficient despite using LEDs. In 'standby' mode it consumes ~3W of power, which is about as much as a normal LED light bulb.

So why did we buy one? Primarily because the LIFX is a quality piece of hardware and the specification is very good. We were interested in reviewing it and better understanding its place in the smart home. It's real power will be unleashed when we have had a chance to use the API to integrate it fully into our smart home and control it via our Home Control System (HCS) though.

Beyond the initial gimmick factor of colour-changing light bulbs, there are some useful applications in the smart home. They are rarely considered essential items though and are more of a 'quality of life' enhancement. When each bulb costs around £63 each (including delivery), they are not likely to be the bulbs you will use to light up the whole of your home! There is a lot to be said for setting the mood by using different colour lighting and in creating an atmosphere to suit a mood or specific application. Some tasks are more easily achieved by using whiter or more natural lighting. There are also applications in the entertainment space as Philips have proved with their Ambilight system.

We plan to use our first LIFX bulb in our lounge as part of the convenience and security lighting but, we also plan to use it as for ambient notifications.

Despite our stated concerns, we quite like the LIFX bulb but it isn't the future of smart home lighting in our view. Time will tell if the API is going to make it smart and not just a remote control light bulb. We are also not totally convinced about the warranty that comes with this bulb. LIFX are a little bit vague on the subject but, claim a 2-year warranty will follow later.

Until LIFX release the API to make this a truly smart light bulb, we simply cannot recommend it. Even then, there are better technologies available to provide similar functionality, such as Z-Wave. The bulb itself is stylish and high quality though and a key part of any smart home lighting system is the overall packaging and associated aesthetics.

Updates

February 2016 - Amazon Echo

We are now controlling LIFX bulbs via our amazon Echo.

27/09/2014 - Firmware Update 1.5

There is something just wrong about updating the firmware on a lightbulb. Even more so, when it takes hours! I visited the LIFX website and saw there was a firmware update available.

You have to download and install a Windows application to update the firmware:

You have to download and install a Windows application to update the firmware:

07/02/2015 - Firmware Update 2.0

Rather annoyingly, you have to download a new installer (.msi file in Windows) to update your bulbs to V2.0 of the firmware. This release adds new features including secure remote access over the internet and IFTTT integration. It also provides improved performance and reliability for on-boarding and lighting control and claims to have paved the way for dramatically faster future firmware updates. This last bit makes it worth upgrading alone! It simply takes a silly amount of time to perform firmware updates at the moment :-(

Further Reading

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