So one of the primary reason I started this blog is because I wanted to talk about home automation. I think it’s an interesting industry that’s finally finding its footing. Only now are a wide selection of smart home products available in user friendly packages. That wide selection can be slightly intimidating though, there are a lot of companies fighting for their share of the market.
LIFX (how you pronounce that is beyond me. Life-x or Liff-x, who knows?) seems to be an emerging player in the smart light market, currently dominated by Philips with their Hue Lighting System. LIFX bulbs and lights seem to offer a key advantage over the hue lights however, they don’t require a central hub. Each LIFX Bulb or fixture has an integrated smart hub. This decreases desk/shelf clutter and makes for a better value proposition. Philips sells it’s Hue lights sans hub. So if you want to use the Hue system you better budget an additional 100 dollars or so for a hub. I’m not even sure if one hub will do a whole house, or only a single room.
This isn’t something that only Philips is guilty of, annoyingly. I’ve found that many smart home products have sold separately hubs that always seem to double the cost of any project. LIFX has taken a different approach which I truly appreciate, one device, one package, no accessories required. As it should be.
Alright so lets talk about their Smart LED Strip Lights already. LED strip lights are EVERYWHERE these days. You can get them super cheap from many different retailers. I’ve seen LED strip lights as cheap as 5 dollars. So why did I pay nearly $100 for only 3 meters of what is basically a commodity product at this point?
These lights pack a lot of features into a tight package and have a slick software interface, not some cheap IR remote control like most LED strip lights. These lights are WiFi enabled, meaning they connect to your home WiFi network and allow you to use a Google Home, Amazon’s Alexa, Apple Homekit or a number of other smart home hubs to control them. This means they can be turned on and off with your voice, your phone, or as part of a pre-programmed schedule. I’m a Google Home user, so that’s primarily how I interfaced with the lights, though occasionally I used the phone app too.
These lights are BRIGHT. In fact I rarely use them at full brightness. The packaging indicated 2100 lumens per 3 meters of strip lights and I have no reason to doubt that claim. The box claims 25 watts, which is comparable to 135 watts of traditional lighting.
The lights seem to be able to reproduce any colour you could imagine. Colour selection works along two dimensions, first you select your colour and then you select saturation. I’m not sure exactly how many colour combinations these lights can product, but I do know it’s more than I could ever count.
If you aren’t into the bright flashy colours and turning your house into a night club you can also adjust the colour temperature of the lights. I prefer cooler tones earlier in the day and warmer tones in the afternoon and evening. These lights can make that happen. Gone are the days of single fixed colour cool white LED lights.
There are 24 individually addressable light clusters too. This opens you to a world of patterns and animations in your lights. That’s not really my thing, but in some applications it doesn’t look completely tacky.
The physical quality of these lights is much higher than your basic LED strip lights too. The first thing you’ll notice is the thick gel coating over all of the LEDS. This helps keep the strips rigid and easy to apply. It also helps to prevent bending the strips too tightly and kinky a connection.
The kit I bought is 3 meters long but is actually comprised of three 1 meter long sections that connect together. Unlike cheap LED strip lights you don’t need to cut excess length off, you can just unplug it and save it for later. If you need more length LIFX also sells 1 meter extensions. Each 1 meter strip is adhesive backed, and while the adhesive is good, it isn’t great. I’ve found a few places where after a couple of days it was already starting to peel away. You might still want to invest in some high quality 3M double sided tape when it comes time to install these lights.
Other than the actual strip lights there isn’t much else in the package. There’s a small power brick, which appears to be a proprietary universal design. Everyone gets the same power brick and each market gets its own regional adapter to fit the power plugs in that market. I’ve never seen anything like this before, probably a cost saving measure, but it’s still kind of cool. Here, check it out.
About 12 inches down the line from the power brick is this small box which I assume houses the WiFi adapter and allows the lights to interface wirelessly with your home network. Luckily it weighs next to nothing and comes with double sided sticky pads pre-attached so you can tuck it out of sight easily. The WiFi adapter also has the only physical control anywhere on the lights. A single button that can be used to turn on and off the lights as well as reset them.
Still not enough to justify the $100 dollar price tag for you? Ya I don’t blame you. What really pushed me over the edge was the smart home features. I was really blown away at the level of control I had when I connected these lights to my Google Home. Obviously I could turn them on and off, but that’s child’s play. I could adjust the brightness, by specifying specific percentages, or simply asking for them to be “dimmer”. I could request a colour and a brightness in the same command with zero issues. I could even describe colours (e.g. “warm white”) and the Google Assistant would adjust the lights to my whims. I was really surprised at just how granular I could get. This isn’t just a surface level implementation of voice control, you have pretty much full access to all the features of these lights with just your voice, that’s impressive.
Setup of these lights was a breeze. There’s about 6′ of wire between the power brick and the start of the LED strips, which means you’ll need to have an outlet fairly close to wherever you plan on installing these lights. After that it’s just peel and stick.
I ran into two issues with these lights that I feel are important enough to note. First, these lights won’t connect to a 5ghz WiFi network, they only support 2.4ghz networks. That isn’t clearly listed in the app, on the box, or the instructions so I had to spend a few minutes trouble shooting these lights out of the box. Luckily I have a tri-band WiFi router that generates both a 2.4ghz network and 5ghz network simultaneously. My phone and Google Home are both connected to the 5ghz network and have no problems talking to lights on the 2.4ghz network. If for some reason you have a router that only does 5ghz WiFi you won’t be able to use these lights without replacing your router. This really should be better documented by LIFX.
The second issue is pretty minor. Out of these box the colour calibration of these lights was WAY off. The warm whites had a crazy green tint which was really ugly looking. Luckily as soon as I connected to WiFi the lights automatically updated their firmware which seemed to fix the problem. Almost a non-issue, but if you’re planning to run these lights without the WiFi functionality (why?!) then you risk your colour being out of calibration.
Overall I’m very impressed with LIFX. For a brand that I had never heard of before they offer a very compelling product. I’m definitely going to be looking into a number of their other products in the future. If you can stomach the price it’s an easy recommendation. If you think voice controls are dumb (you aren’t completely wrong either) your money might be better spent on some cheap generic strip lights. If you’re like me though and love interconnected gizmos then I say go for it!