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Ilumi LED Smart Bulbs review: The brains are in the bulb

Kevin Hunt | March 16, 2016
Onboard Bluetooth LE radios mean these bulbs don't need a hub to operate, but it also means they can't connect to a broader connected-home system.

With the Bluetooth speaker as a role model and chronic entrepreneur Mark Cuban as a “Shark Tank” sugar daddy, iLumi is the smart bulb that asks: Why Wi-Fi? Why not Bluetooth?

ILumi, with the range of its second-generation smart bulbs extended to 150 feet after a Bluetooth 4.0 upgrade, now behaves inside the home a little more like Philips’ Hue, Belkin’s WeMo and other Wi-Fi-connected bulbs.

At least for simple on-off commands generated from a nearby smartphone. But try to turn a light on or off while away from home and iLumi’s second-generation bulbs, available in A19 ($59.99) and BR30 ($69.99) sizes, become more like my local cable company’s customer service: unreachable. Beyond Bluetooth range, the associated iOS and Android apps are useless.

It’s a tough climb for iLumi, because depending on Bluetooth also has excluded it from the burgeoning parallel connected-home universe populated by SmartThings, Apple’s HomeKit, and other Wi-Fi-compatible technology.

So why Bluetooth? Ilumi Solutions says it likes the simplicity. It gives consumers a bulb, Bluetooth and an app, with no baffling bridge-to-router hub needed. Hallelujah! But hear this, hub-and-router-phobes: WeMo’s plug-in Link acts as a Wi-Fi hub, but it doesn’t connect to a router and sets up almost as easily as an iLumi system. And a Hue starter kit, with two E26 bulbs and hub, costs $79.95, or only about $20 more than a single iLumi A19.

The iLumi Solutions backstory, however, is a charmer: The company was founded in 2011 at the University of Texas-Dallas by MBA classmates Corey Egan and Swapnil Bora, followed by Indiegogo-Kickstarter crowdfunding and a “Shark Tank” star moment that ended with Cuban’s $350,000 stake worth 25 percent of the company.

The MBA buds built their bulbs around Bluetooth and a proprietary technology called HyperLux which, they say, maximizes lumens-per-watt in multicolor LED bulbs.

Without always-on Wi-Fi, iLumi bulbs rely on built-in flash memory and a real-time clock with battery backup, so that settings won’t vaporize in a power outage. They’re built like a bulbous brickhouse. Make sure your fixture can handle the heft. I’d take the A19, a stout 4.5 inches tall and 7.2 ounces, in a steel-cage match any day against my little first-generation Hue A19. At a HyperLux-powered 800 lumens, equivalent to a 60-watt incandescent, it’s brighter than my 600-lumen Hue and matches Hue’s current A19.

The BR30, with more diffuse dispersion for recessed lighting fixtures, is rated at 1100-plus lumens, an 85-watt equivalent. Both bulbs are LED-efficient. Using a watt meter, I measured the A19 at 9.8 watts and the BR30 at 14.4 watts at their brightest white.

Each bulb produces white light from 2000- to 5000K—an upcoming app update will include a tunable whites menu—and a deep, rich color palette. Their color rendering index (CRI), a scale that tops out at 100 in measuring a light source’s accuracy, floats between 82 and 94 depending on the brightness of white. Color saturation is a highlight: Within the Groups screen, you’ll find a six-choice color palette and, for custom colors, a color wheel with an inner dial that adjusts saturation.

 

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