Smart home tech began for me with Wi-Fi controlled lighting, and there are a few companies that really shifted my own expectations of what I could do within my home with just a little bit of IoT tech. When the Google Home Mini entered my home over 18 months ago, I didn’t ever anticipate that I’d be spending upwards of $45 on a smart bulb but here we are with a thorough LIFX Mini review and it makes it a key addition to our Google Home Essentials series.
There are plenty of good, low-cost smart lighting options on the market. I know, because I’ve purchased some of the best value bulbs already. Until I got my hands on an array of LIFX options, I was exclusively a Xiaomi Yeelight fan.
Wanting color changing capabilities means that you can fall down an Amazon rabbit hole looking for cheap, reputable options but Xiaomi do make plenty of quality options at almost stupidly low prices. It felt like a no brainer.
Failures, connectivity issues and the way the Yeelight application wouldn’t allow me to remove a broken bulb from my Yeelight online home view meant frustration and some infuriation at the cheaper alternatives. That said, when they worked I still really love the Xiaomi Yeelight bulbs. They’re great if you’re in the same position I was and want a cheap option.
Much like the cheaper Chinese option, the Aussie-made LIFX don’t require a hub to connect to your Wi-Fi and therefore become a much more attractive option for anyone wanting to add some smart home lighting upgrades around the house.
Phillips make what are seemingly the closest smart bulbs in terms of quality and cost to LIFX, but Phillips Hue options require a Hub to manage all lights. I get that doesn’t bother some people, it does frustrate me though, hence the hub-less decision.
The Phillips Hue conundrum continues when you consider the pricing. Starting at around $125 for two bulbs with the Hub. I am glad that I went down the standalone route rather than the Zigbee-style connection route as the hub introduces one more piece of potentially flakey tech to randomly cause me headaches and issues – although I do appreciate that adding new bulbs via a hub is much quicker than having to link every bulb one-by-one.
Design & Hardware
A light bulb — even a smart one — doesn’t necessarily need to look good when hidden within a lampshade. The light it emits should do all of the talking. The LIFX Mini color bulb alternatively does have an attractive and sleek aesthetic. It also differs quite a bit from the standard LIFX bulbs by having a rounded shape that decreases the overall size.
That smaller footprint does mean it isn’t quite as bright, the bigger A60 is capable of outputting 1100 lumens whilst the Mini is only capable of 800 Lumens. Personally, I think the smaller size and footprint are worth the decrease in overall potential brightness.
Some people might not be fans of the flat base LED style of the original LIFX bulbs, so having a more traditional style is always nice in my opinion as it fits more with many desk lamps and general light fittings.
There are three models to choose from,, starting with the cheapest and most basic, the Mini White. It starts at $25 and is a 9W 2700K warm white bulb with an 800 Lumen output. The Mini Day & Dusk starts at $30 and is a 9W bulb with a color temperature range of between 1500K and 4000K. Now the model I recommend is the Mini Color which starts at $43, is a 9W bulb, has a color temperature range from 2500K to 9000K alongside 16 million colors.
I feel I must mention the packaging of the LIFX Mini — and by extension the entire LIFX bulb lineup — the unboxing experience was excellent. A simple cardboard tube which nearly protects the plastic bulb with barely any waste or excess packaging. To me, the unboxing experience is superb.
Installation & Set-up
Now, this is where I must admit, I did have a few issues here and there. To set up each LIFX bulb, you simply need to screw it in the light socket. The problem for me arose when I connected the bulb to Wi-Fi, which isn’t a difficult process.
Where I had problems was with my Wi-Fi dropping out on my router when I moved between rooms. After some tweaking and a few hours on the phone to my internet provider, I had my Wi-Fi working, meaning, I could connect my LIFX Mini Color properly. You’re probably thinking why did I mention that at all? Well, initially, my Mini Color bulb needed a firmware update, which it wasn’t able to do without a connection, therefore the light wouldn’t actually work.
I’m still not sure if this was just an isolated case or something that happens to all LIFX users but I felt the need to mention it. Just ensure you have a solid Wi-Fi connection and I am sure you’ll be fine.
You do need to download the LIFX standalone application to get started, beyond that though all you need is your Wi-FI passcode — no hub needed. That to me is the biggest bonus. But back to the app, and it really is clean and intuitive which I found was lacking with the Yeelight for instance.
You do have to create an account, which is quick and easy. Once you get connected to your local network it’s simply a case of waiting a few minutes and the LIFX app takes care of the rest. Any updates will download once you’ve named the light and added to your home group and room.
Control & Integration
This is where, in my opinion, LIFX simply wipes the floor with the opposition. Your sheer number of options is almost daunting at first. You can adjust a setting for just about anything luminance-related. As I said, at first the LIFX app can seem really daunting but once you get your head around it, it gives you so much scope for everyday control.
If you just want simple flick on and off control, then the home screen will have you feeling comfortable straight away. All of your grouped lights show here and actually have accented color that matches that of your light — should you have the color bulbs. Entering the light or light group opens up the deep control system that is available with LIFX.
I love the color wheel approach that greets you when opening a group or singular light bulb. It’s instantly easy to grasp after using, just dragging the wheel adjust the color, whilst the higher you drag into any color section will adjust the intensity.
You can also tweak the brightness via another flick, it all feels slick and well thought out when compared to using a standard color-picker or using hex code — although that does result in much more fine tuning if you prefer that method.
Connecting with Google Assistant does give you the expected array of voice controls but it does lack a little bit of finesse compared to the LIFX application. Using a third-party option such as IFTTT opens up a wealth of further options and integrations.
It’s this combination and the simple controls offered by linking to your Google Home devices that make LIFX bulbs such a joy to use and further experiment with.
Brightness & Performance
The peak brightness of 800 Lumens means that the LIFX Mini Color bulb is capable of replacing a 60W traditional bulb with only a 9W power draw. Although I would say that comparing to a standard bulb is a little difficult as there is literally no flexibility for lighting control in the same way.
I’ve often left the light in a nice ambient color mode to complement the room lighting mood. Often preferring rich blues and purples in an evening. I am not a huge fan of white light — unless it’s natural light cascading in via a window. That said, the warmer tones in the white spectrum are superb and especially so when using the Day & Dusk mode.
That Day & Dusk mode is great in practice as it slowly adjusts to mimic daylight lighting conditions based upon your global location. You can set specific times and light luminance levels to suit your own preference too if you’d prefer. It’s only available in the white color though, so no bright blue to wake and orange to go to sleep.
LIFX has an array of modes, themes or effects to choose from. These range from simple slow color changing to strobe lighting and even includes candlelight flicker simulation. One mode I found interesting was the music visualizer. It works by accessing your smartphone microphone and changes the light color based upon the beats you’re listening to. I actually found it pretty neat in practice and would be awesome for house parties — although I can’t say I host many parties for it to be all that useful…
Initially, you could be forgiven for being put-off by the entry price of the LIFX Mini, but as a premium bulb and one that offers so much integration with all of the main voice assistants — primarily Google Assistant — all without needing a hub or control center and that fantastic application, the price does start to make much more sense.
That lack of reliance on a hub is most definitely the most marketable point for many looking for high-quality Wi-Fi and Google Assistant controllable lighting. Not having or needing a central control hub is just a much neater method for the most part. Yes, it does pose its own problems, but having one less thing to go wrong is one of the core selling points of the LIFX bulb range.
After some time using other systems, I am glad I decided to try these slightly more expensive smart bulbs and I am pleased to say they do genuinely match the price tag. For anyone on a tighter budget, get the Xiaomi Yeelights. The latest version is very good, the colors are great but the overall controls are pretty basic for around $20.
I feel like I’ve had to put my preconceptions to one side since using the LIFX Mini. I think the pricing clouded my opinion of what ‘value’ really is. That sounds negative, but it doesn’t mean to be, I merely meant that I didn’t value having premium smart bulbs when there are ‘acceptable’ or ‘just good enough’ options on the market.
The colors, the routines and the just the overall experience has been top notch from the moment I opened that simple-but-superb packaging.
I’m not going to tell you what to spend your hard earned dollars on, that said, I can wholeheartedly say that these smart bulbs are the perfect Google Home companion and definitely worth the price of admission. So much so that they are our Google Home Essential smart bulbs and the very first inductee.
Get the LIFX Mini – White
Get the LIFX Mini – Day & Dusk
Get the LIFX Mini – Color
On a tight budget? Get the Xiaomi Yeelight
We’d love to hear your thoughts on what is the best smart lighting option, consider this the first episode in our Smart Home Essentials series. Let us know what you’d like to see and share your own recommendations and we will do our utmost to make it happen in the near future.