What do Smart Light Bulbs Do? And do you really need one?

techtalk30

Our homes are getting smarter every year; dishwashers can now figure out what’s wrong, and assist in getting it fixed. Refrigerators can tell you when you’re low on butter or creamer.  Now light bulbs are getting smart too!

LED light bulbs (most of today’s ‘smart’ bulbs are LED) are becoming more common because they’re extraordinarily energy efficient; many bulbs can last 30,000 or even 40,000 hours. That’s up to 23 years! That’s good because while smart light bulbs and LEDs will cost you more in the short term, in the long term they’ll mean fewer replacements are needed, and you’ll have a smaller energy bill too.

Smart light bulbs are becoming more popular, because adding connectivity allows you to do things like turn them off or on whenever you want, whether you’re home, or while away. You can even use geo-locating to have light bulbs switch on when you arrive home, or at work, and shut off when you leave. Smart bulbs can be set to slowly come on at your bedside, giving you a gentle wake-up, or slowly softening to black to help you drift off to sleep. Those are just the practical uses; many of these ‘smart’ bulbs also come with fun options too, like colour, which can give the room a nice ambiance for entertaining, or relaxing. Smart bulbs can also give you the option of supplying brighter task or work lighting when you need it, or mimicking a candlelit table when you don’t! Plus, there are holiday applications. I used my LIFX test bulbs to create a bright orange glow in the window on Halloween to give my jack o’lantern some extra kick. At Christmas, I coupled two bulbs together by the Christmas tree in red and green. And at Valentine’s it will make a nice soft warm peachy glow for a romantic dinner. Smart bulbs have a multitude of uses!

On this week’s CTV Morning Live Tech Talk segment (Watch it here), we looked at three types of Smart light bulbs:

drift

Drift and Sense bulbs by Saffron $29/BULB – DRIFT-LIGHT.COM

I’ve been testing these lights recently. The Drift bulb doesn’t have any wifi ability, but it is smart. A simple click of the switch, and it operates like a regular bulb. Two clicks of the switch on your lamp or wall and the Drift bulb will flash back at you, indicating it’s set. In this mode it will slowly fade out over 37 minutes, the period of time of the average sunset. What this does is tune your body to the fact that it’s night time and sleep is near. I found it quite soothing, and felt after a few days of use that it did give me a feeling of being ready to sleep by the time the bulb went out. The company says these bulbs will increase your body’s natural production of melatonin, the sleep hormone, helping you get into a restful state naturally.

If you give the Drift bulb three clicks, it will fade out over the same time frame, but keep a bit of light as a night light, making it great for kids’ rooms.

The Sense bulbs by Saffron are slightly different.  They are able to detect ambient light, and will turn on when it gets dark, meaning you can leave your porch light or interior switch on, but not waste energy all day long with the bulb burning away in daylight.

These bulbs are plastic cased, making them nearly break-proof

lifx2

LIFX Smart Bulbs   $99/BULB – LIFX.CO

These bulbs are some of my favourites; they’re easy to use, programmable, and give you a great array of colour options, from warm white, to cool blues, and specialty colours all over the spectrum.

The bulbs connect to your home’s wifi network, and then are manipulated using an app. There’s no hub to fuss with; all the hardware is in the bulb. Now, for that reason, the bulbs are large and may not fit in some fixtures, but in my in-home testing, they fit easily in a living room lamp, and in an overhead fixture in the dining room.

You simply screw in the bulbs, and turn them on. Using the app, connect to wifi and set up the bulbs. Then, the app becomes a remote control for your lights; allowing you to control one at a time, or multiple bulbs all at once. You can dim or brighten the bulbs, or change colour options. Basic white light can be warmed or cooled, depending on the type or colour of light you prefer; my personal preference is for warm white-ish pink light in the house. I find it soothing. If you lose wifi, the bulbs still work, reverting to the last setting you used. That’s one other think I liked about the LIFX bulbs; when you switch them off, and then on again, they’ll still be set to the colour you last used, whereas some other bulbs (Philips Hue, below), resets itself each time you shut it off. You can select an infinite number of colours, both strong and subtle, and the app allows you to dim them too. You can also use the app to build your own favourite colour combinations, and it remembers them for you. And if for some reason the bulbs are reset, they’ll still function as regular white-light LED bulbs.

Take note that these bulbs are not for outdoor use.

One other point worth mentioning; I had some difficulty getting one of the bulbs to connect to my home’s wifi. I got great customer service help from a patient person at LIFX, who was able to walk me through some troubleshooting, and help me update the bulb’s firmware online. I can always forgive a glitch if the customer service help that’s available is rock solid.

Philips Hue Bulbs     $99/STARTER KIT – MEETHUE.COM

Philips Hue are another wifi enabled bulb, but these differ in that they require a hub, or what Philips calls its “bridge”, to function. The bridge must be physically connected to your home’s router via an included Ethernet cable, which I found to be an annoying extra step (and something else taking up space on my desk). That said, the use of the bridge appears to allow Philips to make their smart bulbs smaller than the LIFX version.

The Hue kit was easy enough to set up; once the bridge is plugged in, you use the app to set up the system, and then to control your bulbs. I liked the simplicity of the Philips app, which has 2 pages of shortcuts to give you lighting profiles like candle light, ‘underwater’ and ‘hammock’ to name just a few. The Hue, too, will allow you to use an infinite number of colours, in both warm and cool light. Philips also has an online portal which will allow you to access your bulbs from any computer, anywhere. Want to make it look like you’re home? Switch the lights on or off or program them as you wish. No need for those outdated timer boxes.

I’ve been absolutely loving having smart bulbs in my home, primarily because I use them to create relaxing atmospheres, to make the room seem warmer on cold nights, or to create a flattering candlelit glow. Most of them are easy to set up, and even easier to use. I recommend getting your feet wet with one bulb first to see how you like it.

techtalk 10

Better Device Charging Options! Throw away that 3-foot cord!

We use our smartphones so much today, it’s almost impossible to have a battery that can keep up.  So when the juice is gone, what do you do?  What are some better options for keeping your devices charged and at the ready?  Check out my recommendations:

Trunk Charging cable: ilovehandles.com

trunk

A small, compact charger that bends to accomodate nearly any USB plug, the Trunk is small enough to fit in your pocket, but handy in a very big way!

USB Outlets: leviton.com

leviton

It’s frustrating when all the plugs in your home are taken up charging your devices.  A smart alternative is to have USB plugs installed.  These from Leviton, available at many home improvement stores, have the regulation dual AC plug, plus 2 USB slots, allowing you to charge up to 4 devices, and also come in other configurations!

Space Bar Charging Station, Pivot Power Bar and Converge charging dock: Quirky.com

pivot

Quirky.com has to be one of my favourite websites right now.  The company works with inventors to bring their tech ideas to life  – and to the market.  Some of the smartest ideas are their Space Bar, which is a monitor stand that also doubles as a USB power centre, and the Pivot power bar, which curls like a snake to allow you to actually use every slot in the power bar.

Screen Shot 2014-12-05 at 5.36.24 PM

The Converge charging station (above) is also smart, allowing you to keep cords organized, and in line while charging devices as they stand.  The dock also has enough power for both small and high-speed items, and you can fit several phones, or phones and tablets with ease.

Cord Taco, Mod Case & iPhone “Sleeping bag” : thisisground.com

cord taco

A simple invention, but one that’s really handy is the hilariously named Cord taco from This Is Ground.  The leather circles snap around bundled cords, keeping them tangle free!  The adorable and soft iPhone sleeping bag keeps your device safe, while allowing a bit of space in the back for your charging cord (like the Trunk above!).  And the luxe leather  Mod case has slots and compartments for cords, headphones and cables, plus room for a large smartphone, or notebook.

Cobra Car Starter & Device charger: cobra.com

jumpack original

One of my favourite gadgets this year, the Cobra JumPack will not only charge any and all your devices via its USB port, it will also boost your car on a cold day!! I can’t tell you how handy this is.  I’ve tried it and it works so well, I’m getting these for all my friends. Read my full review of it here.

Energi Charging backpack: tylt.com

tylt

A genius option for the traveler, the Energi backpack comes with power pack and cables to keep all you tech charged, while it rests safely in your backpack.  Just keep the included power pack juiced for when you run low, and use the handy cord openings to feed cables through the inside to everything stays secure.

Powerocks Charger/Flashlight: POWEROCKS.CA

power

This handy little gadget is a flashlight that doubles as a battery pack.  Compact and lightweight, it’s got enough juice to fully charge your phone and then some.

Got a gadget you just can’t live without? Let me know in comments below!