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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.

The bulbs change colors instantly, though they do not work with dimmer switches—they flickered madly when I tried. ILumi Solutions says an upcoming accessory will resolve that. (Philips offers a Hue dimmer switch.)

Ilumi supports up to 50 bulbs, a staggering total that amounts to $2999.50 for a maxed-out—and presumably massive—home bathed in Bluetooth-connected A19 lighting. Yet the company delivers on its simplicity promise, with a pairing-by-color system oblivious to your modem, router and Wi-Fi status.

Complaints? The app lacks a universal on-off switch. Confusion: Why use a camera icon to create a scene?

When I paired four lights, each showed as a circular icon in the iOS app that matched the color of the newly paired bulb. Then I created groups and dragged the bulbs into the desired destination (as in “Den” or “TV Room”). Each bulb, only on initial installation/pairing, cycles through its red-green-blue color arsenal, as if it’s stretching after a golden slumber.

Use the grouped bulbs to create scenes, then schedule those scenes for certain days or times with iLumi’s “Experiences.” The app comes loaded with several stock Experience options, among them a “Disco” music sync, a “Circadian” mode designed to mimic the sun’s daily cycle and a smartphone-sensing “Torch” mode.

The iLumi music-syncs the way I dance, painfully out of step. (Typical music sync.) When the Circadian mode turned one bulb green, it scared this earthling—though, true, the sun’s mix of colors includes short-wavelength green that’s scattered in the Earth’s atmosphere. “Torch” is the most promising, and potentially most useful, Experience. After a distance-sensitivity adjustment in the app, it turned a light on when I (with iPhone) entered a room and off maybe two minutes later. In this respect, iLumi is very similar to Zuli Smart Plugs.

It did not work reliably, unfortunately. That became a theme with scheduled modes. Ilumi is halfway home with Bluetooth: I separated four bulbs as far away as possible in my smallish cape and none lost touch with the app. I could also sync the bulbs to produce the same, or even different, colors. But once grouped in a Scene and scheduled to turn on via “Experiences” each night, at least one bulb always seemed reluctant, either refusing to turn on or off.

It should work better, though any smart-bulb or smart-home device I’ve tried—Hue, WeMo, or iDevices—sometimes refuses to follow a schedule. I’m happy with a 90 percent-plus response rate. Ilumi’s schedules succeed maybe 45 percent of the time; not bad if you’re shooting NBA three-pointers, but unacceptable for a smart bulb.

I would be less concerned if these were first-generation bulbs. An app update will soon explain the camera icon—it’s part of a suggestive-lighting feature that uses a snapshot of a room to produce a complementary colors scheme—and add other features. Of greater long-range significance, the company is also hoping to make its bulbs work with If This Then That (IFTT) recipes, Nest smart-home products, Apple Watch and Android Wear, and the Amazon Echo speaker.

 

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