Where once Philips Hue had the smart lighting scene to itself, Kickstarter is now swarming with new takes on smartphone-controlled lighting.
While LEDs have got a lot cheaper over the past couple of years, another catalyst for this has been the arrival of Bluetooth Smart.
One of its many features is that a phone or tablet can now communicate with several Bluetooth devices at the same time, so you can control lights while beaming sound to a Bluetooth speaker. Which brings us to the Mipow Playbulb.
The Playbulb is both a Bluetooth speaker and remote-controllable LED light in one handy device. Now, these are two things we like a lot, so how do they go together in a £60 package?
But first, a word about Bluetooth and smart homes. You see, I’m not sure it’s the best choice.
Strictly speaking, a Bluetooth speaker would be something for our siblings on Recombu’s mobile site, but because it’s wired into a lightbulb it comes under our smart home umbrella.
Now Bluetooth’s an easy choice because it’s ubiquitous and easy to set up, but it has some drawbacks for smart homes. Most obviously, you have to be near it to use it.
That’s OK for a speaker, but is it right for a lightbulb, which you might well want to adjust when you’re away from home, to deter burglars or just brighten the house for your imminent return.
Bluetooth Smart is most useful for low power devices like wearable tech, but there’s no shortage of power in a lightbulb, and WiFi is just as ubiquitous, with the advantage that you can connect remotely to WiFi devices through your broadband router.
Mipow Playbulb: light
The light’s pretty straightforward – a cluster of LEDs drawing up to 3W and tuned to the standard ‘warm white’ setting at around 2700K.
At maximum power it produces the equivalent of a 25W halogen bulb, or about 300 lumens, but it’s very focussed at the head of the lamp because of the speaker behind it.
It’s bright enough, but in an overhead light fitting, the Playbulb doesn’t cast much light around the room.
We found it most useful in a spotlight, maybe as a reading lamp over a chair, a desk lamp or a beside light.
The app lets you change the brightness with a rotary dial, and you can set a default brightness for when it discovers the Playbulb and turns it on, as well as individually naming them if you have more than one Playbulb.
Mipow Playbulb: speaker
The 3W speaker is definitely in the £20-or-less Bluetooth portable range, with the sound bounced out of a triple-rowed grille behind the lightbulb.
It’s a tinny experience, and another good reason to put it in a spotlight where the bell-shape collects the bass and mid-range into something more listenable.
The app’s built-in music player isn’t much cop, but one bonus of Bluetooth is that you can use your favourite music player or streaming services like Spotify.
Mipow Playbulb: app
The app’s got some nice features: as well as controlling brightness and a basic audio player, there are four special timer functions: Wake Up, Eco Saver, Night Time and Sleep.
Wake Up and Sleep are the opposite, turning the lights on and off either abruptly or gradually at a set time, and doing the same with music. Eco Saver turns your lights off after a fixed time, either gradually or instantly.
Night Time is a nice feature that turns your lights on at a set time every day and sets a fixed music volume, perfect for discouraging intruders. There’s one flaw – you’ll have to be there for it to play music from your phone.
It would be nice if you could group Playbulbs to change lighting and play music together, or at least programme them in a batch.
Mipow Playbulb: Recombu’s verdict
We’re in gifting territory here. This isn’t smart home tech so much as smart room tech: something for a child or student’s bedroom, or a study light for a dad who doesn’t mind his music sounding a bit crap.
Bluetooth limits it to local control, but at least sticking the speaker in a lightbulb reduces the clutter of a speaker and the inevitable power brick. On the other hand, it’s not portable.
The concept’s elegant but the execution’s lacking and as we said before, if you want smart light-speaker combos, there are some really exciting ideas looking for your money on Kickstarter, so why not chuck them £60 instead?