Smart light bulbs are booming this year, or at least a lot of companies are trying to sell them. Because plain-old white light just isn’t good enough anymore, color-changing lights are the latest trend.
Philips was the first to launch a color-changing smartphone-controlled LED bulb—the Hue, which sells in a set of three with a wireless hub for $200. The latest bulb in this category is the Lumen by Tabu. The primary difference between the Philips and the Tabu is that the Tabu bulb connects to your smartphone via Bluetooth so it doesn’t require a separate hub or Wi-Fi network. Because of that you can start with just one bulb and add from that.
Read our hands-on review of the Philips Hue LED
The Tabu Lumen bulb, is a two-part product. The main part is the bulb itself, which fits a standard light bulb fixture. It’s about the size of a regular bulb, but underneath the globe is a series of colored LEDs that can produce a warm white light as well as an array of colors. It puts out about 400 lumens, which is the equivalent of a 40 Watt incandescent bulb. It’s said to last about 30,000 hours. The second part of the system is the app. Without the app, it’s just an expensive LED bulb. The app, free from the Apple App Store, lets you control the bulb in a variety of ways.
For the app to work, you need to first make sure Bluetooth is turned on in your phone’s settings. If you normally prefer to turn off Bluetooth when you’re not using it (to save battery life), then you’ll have to add an extra step to controlling your light. The main control of the bulb is of course to simply turn it on and off.
The fun of a bulb like this is not just the ability to turn it on and off with an app, but the ability to mess with colors. When in RGB mode you can adjust the color of the light by moving your finger around a color dial. You can also adjust the brightness.
Beyond basic color controls, the app includes several pre-programmed color settings designed for specific moods or scenes. There are two different party modes, which basically just cycle the bulb through red, blue and green. The first party mode is very fast while the second slows it down considerably. There’s a wake mode which is supposed to mimic the colors of a slowly rising sun—this is the one you’d want to program for a wake up time, which is something else you can do.
Romance and relax modes set the light for, well, romancing and relaxing.
There’s also a music mode which syncs the pulsing of the colors to the music played through your phone. This would probably be more useful if you had your phone docked since you can’t have your phone connected to more than one Bluetooth device at a time. Unless you want to use your headphones or listen through the phone’s speakers (which, oddly, my kids do all the time), this feature isn’t as useful as it sounds.
The part I like the best is the proximity feature. You can set the bulb to automatically turn off when you (and your phone) leave the room and turn back on when you enter. It does this by sensing the Bluetooth connection to the phone, so if you’re phone isn’t with you, the light won’t automatically turn back on. Still, this is a pretty genius feature.
Overall the light works well and has some fun and practical applications. There’s not nearly as much customization built in as you get with the Philips Hue, and at $69 each, it’s expensive, but there’s no need for a central hub or internet connection (which also means you can’t remotely control it). The Lumen would be a lot easier to recommend if it was brighter. 400 lumen brightness is a little dim for a lot of lamps, especially when you consider that the LEDs all face upward (as they do in most LED bulbs) so in a traditional lamp, most of the light goes toward the ceiling, not the table the lamp is sitting on. If you’re using it for mood or ambiance, then that’s probably not an issue.
Lumen TL800 Smart LED Blub
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Grant Clauser has been covering home electronics for more than 10 years with editorial roles in several consumer and trade magazines. He's done ISF-level damage to hundreds of reviewed products and has had training from THX, the Home Acoustics Alliance, Control4 and Sencore. His latest book is Necessary Myths
. Follow him on Twitter @geclauser.