Review: Smart Home illumination with LIFX Z and LIFX Beam

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Smart home lighting products are usually the gateway drug to home automation. LIFX is one of the growing brands in this space that actually started out as a kickstarter project back in 2013. Back then the idea of making connected light bulbs was a new idea, but in the 6 years since then, lighting really has got exciting.

Now with plenty of different form factors to choose from, adding smart lighting to your home office, living room, kitchen and bedrooms etc is a fun, easy (not necessarily cheap) project you can do on a weekend.

Over past few weeks I’ve been spending time with the LIFX Z and LIFX BEAM. These two products are quite different than most, in that they offer far more than your regular light strips. Most products (from LIFX competitors) offer you to set a single colour, but LIFX offers the ability to have each LED in the strips be a different colour. This means you can get seriously creative in your lighting implementations, even creating a rainbow effect.

Now lets get into the details of what it’s like to own a LIFX Z and LIFX BEAM.

DESIGN

Bold, colourful, delightfully confident

Let’s start with the LIFX Beam.

When you unbox the product, you’ll see a series of white, semi-transparent light bars. Each of these Beam modules has a connector at each end to allow the flow of electrons from one end to the other and on to the next module. Here’s the smart part, those connectors are magnetic. This means snapping them together in test arrangements is super simple. Once you work out your plan for arrangement, you can then leverage the very handy double-sided tape on the back of each module to attach it to the wall.

I had a handy mini spirit level laying around (from the SONOS Playbar mount) which really helped align them easily. I went with a simple upside down L shape. I always planned to keep things simple, but this was easily achieved thanks to the inclusion of a 3-way corner piece (also magnetic). In more advanced configurations, you could add more corner pieces and more modules.

The bars themselves are certainly thicker in size than I imagined, much more than a regular LED light strip, but by having that frosted / semi-transparent casing a couple of cm from multi-coloured LEDs, the Beam emits a beautifully diffused gradient of colour. At night this radiates from the Beam and on to the wall around it, the effect of which is actually stunning and is definitely a conversation starter for anyone who sees it. Personally, I installed it in my home office, but as long as you can find a power outlet, the actual locations possible are amazingly diverse around your home or business.

Now for the LIFX Z LED Strip. 

The Z LED strip comes in a circular box, something different than the very familiar squares and rectangles I’m used to unboxing. This is thanks to the 2 meters of LED light strips being rolled up. As you remove it from the packaging and unfurl the strip, you find the answer to your first question, how do these 2 x 1m segments connect together and how do they get power. There’s small pins that push together, a lot more delicate than the sturdy Beam connectors.

After connecting the LED strip to the power connector, you’ll want to fire it up. Before you do, here’s a tip, make sure you have all strips connected as the Z does an initial scan to check how many are available.

In terms of the design itself, the LED strip is fairly familiar, the strip itself is coated in a protective plastic or resin. The strip is still flexible enough to bend, but you do feel like you need to be careful with it, not to break the electronics inside. There really isn’t a great technique to get it around corners, so you’re likely going select from a straight run, or get really creative to put bends in the light strip. Given the attention to detail in the Beam, it seems like a strange thing to leave out from the Z.

FEATURES

What will it do for you?

LIFX’s feature lighting products are designed to light your house in interesting ways. This brings us to the actual operation and features of the products. Other than the ability to add more modules, the product features of the Beam and Z Strip are essentially surfaced through the LIFX mobile app.

After adding your lights to the app, you’ll be able to jump between different features, each offering a different level of control based on your needs. My experience one of experimentation for the first week or so, but then I settled into a fairly comfortable setup. The great thing with lights, if you get bored, or a certain time of the year rolls around, you can change it quickly and easily, unlike something more permanent, like the paint colour of your walls.

Colours

The lights can be set as a single, global colour, which can really be practically any colour you can think of. The control over this is pretty amazing, with the colour wheel and brightness controls, combined with an immediately responding light, makes for lots of fun. You can also choose from any of the standard white and incandescent bulb colours, helpful if you’re trying to match existing lighting before the party starts.

Scenes

Pretty quickly you’ll want to move beyond solid colours, if you wanted that, you could have bought a competitor’s product, but where LIFX stand out, is their ability to have multiple colours along a gradient on both the Beam and Z Strip. To achieve this is simple.

Simple jump into the Themes tab in the mobile app, and you’ll be presented with an array of options, shown as circles in a grid. These Themes are presented named Moods to help you select a colourset – Love, Peaceful, Relaxing, Energizing, Tranquil, Powerful, Cheerful to name a few. My personal favourite is Exciting which is a rainbow effect and tapping multiple times randomises the colours and distribution. Naturally, you can create your own themes and even share them with LIFX friends.

Effects

Moving on to effects, this enables you lights to feel more alive, using light animation over time to really get people talking. These include Animate Theme, Colour Cycle, Flicker, Move, Music Visualizer, Pastels, Random, Spooky and Strobe. A couple of points here.. the music visualiser works from the microphone in your phone, not from any mic on the device. The strobe light is fun, but 3 seconds later you’ll be over it. Probably the most practical are the Flickr flame effect, grate for those cold nights in, or the Spooky effect come Halloween.

Integrations

One of my favourite parts of IoT products is their ability to integrate with things made by other manufacturers. LIFX does a great job on integrations which include IFTTT (an absolute must), as well as support for voice services like Apple HomeKit, Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and even Microsoft’s Cortana. Integrations also stretch to SmartThings, Nest and Logitech’s Harmony products. Want to get more creative? Then you can use the fantastic Yonomi home automation app to control LIFX.

Light Grouping for rooms 

When you add LIFX lights, you nominate which room they are located in, making control easy as your collection grows. Naturally, after you add multiple LIFX products, you’ll want to control them all together. With Groups, it’s possible to do just that and that feature is really handy in the event you want to set your whole home (or office) to the same colour.

Routines

The last icon in the app tray is ‘Day and Dusk’. This enables you to configure the lights on a routine, doing different things based on the time of day. This is a really neat feature if you like waking up to light rather than alarms.

ISSUES

Room for improvement

Not everything is perfect in this amazing ambient lighting future. The mobile app, while having many, many updates over the years, still has a number of bugs. For the most part connectivity to the lights works great, but there have been a couple of times where you’re controlling the light and the app loses connection to the light.

Really my only other complaint is that getting the Z LED Strips around corners is a serious challenge. While the length at which you need to take a corner along the 1m strips will differ person to person, the need to is fairly common. Sure there’s the run along the back of the straight office desk that works great, but if you want to line the 3 sided U-shape of the knee space under a kitchen island, good luck.

PRICE & AVAILABILITY

How much and when can you get one ?

The 2m LIFX Z LED Strip are both available now from the following outlets:

Additional 1m extension strips are available for A$31.99, but they are also available in 4m and 6m offerings. These prices make the LIFX Z LED Strip a great gateway into the connected smart lighting world. Once you dip your toes in, you may want to progress to the Beam or even Tile.

The LIFX Beam Starter Kit is also available at a little higher price from the following stores:

 

 

OVERALL

Final thoughts

These products from LIFX can seriously change the appearance of your home or office when the sun goes down. They’re insanely bright, lots of fun to play around with and basically a must for your #Battlestation photos on Instagram.

The biggest differentiator and product feature that may make you buy LIFX over Hue, is that unique ability to run gradients, something I rate really highly. This adds so much more visual appeal to Z Strips and Beam.

The price tag of the Z represents great value for money, especially with the end of financial year sales right now. I’d recommend you start with a 2m starter kit, install it on the back of your computer desk, or the back of your lowline unit in the living room, or under the cabinets in your kitchen. This is really the key point with this lighting, thanks to the double-sided tape, it’s not a permanent mount, you can really change it with just some new 3M tape. The biggest challenge you have is hiding that power cable.

When you step up to the Beam, it’s a more serious investment, but it’s such a conversation starter, you’ll happily put it on display. This is the opposite of ambient lighting, where you hide the LEDs and just see the light glow. With the Beam it’s on display, while also emitting light against the wall around it. While the cubes are larger than I thought, they aren’t much deeper than a picture frame and being white do blend in when not in use.

Controlling these lights is great from the mobile app, but if you actually want to integrate them into your family’s home, it’s best to leverage the voice assistant integration. When leaving the home, it’s easy to say “Alexa, turn the Office lights off”, or if you want, “Hey Google, change the office lights to red”.

All things considered, these two products are a great option for smart home lighting and I’d definitely recommend you try them for yourself.

9.2
Review: LIFX Z light strip and LIFX Beam
The Good
  • Multiple colours at the same time
  • Bright
  • Great app features
  • Integrations
The Bad
  • Z needs corner solution
  • Mobile app needs work
  • Design
    9.5
  • Features
    9.3
  • Value
    8.8
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GeneralReviews

Creator of techAU, Jason has spent the dozen+ years covering technology in Australia and around the world. Bringing a background in multimedia and passion for technology to the job, Cartwright delivers detailed product reviews, event coverage and industry news on a daily basis.
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