Part of the appeal of having smart lights is being able to turn them on or off with the power of your voice. Or to schedule them so that you don't have to even bother. That stuff is useful, yes, but the really fun stuff happens when you add colour.
It just so happens that Lifx has some of the best colour options in the smart lighting game, largely because of its companion app, which includes a set of themes and effects that you can use to create some wonderful (and some useless) moods.
Read this: The best smart lightbulbs
I've been living with Lifx for a couple weeks now. Has it improved my life? Can I go back to boring, regular lights? Let's find out.
Living la vida colour
In day-to-day life, there tend to be little things we like to do. You know, like a routine that you establish to maximise comfort. Some of us like to watch some fun TV before bed; others like to read.
We need to mellow out from the stresses of work and get into a relaxed space. Because lighting is such a huge part of an environment, and because your environment can either help you or hurt you when you're trying to chill, I decided the first thing I needed to do was figure out how to use the Lifx Beam to mellow out when I got home.
But before I could live in the wonderful world of Lifx's colours, I had to install the Beam. The process is a little different than installing simple bulbs. First, you've got to map out how your Beam is going to be configured. There are six beams and one connecting piece that lets you make shapes like a "T" or "L".
Once you've done that, it's a matter of using the adhesive pads on the back of each beam to place them on the wall. Pressing firmly for a bout 30 seconds is enough to get them to stick. Each end of the beams is magnetised, and you just have to line them up in a way that makes them literally snap together. Once you're done connecting all of them, just plug 'em into the wall via the disconnecting power cord. I then used the Beam's HomeKit code to get it all started by scanning it into the Home app. Voila. I was king of the lighting.
Once that was done, I started out by trying the mellow theme in the app, pairing it with the "Animate Theme" effect. This cycles through the colours of a theme at about 50% brightness. However, I quickly found out that the effect was way too bright for me, giving me headaches, and was cycling through the colours a little too often.
My room felt like an oasis far away from stress, and it was easy to want to just lounge in the pale blue light and not do anything
Luckily, you can customise the theme. So I reduced the brightness to about 25% and increased the seconds between colour changes to about six seconds, up from three seconds. This ended up creating a much calmer, relaxing version of the effect that helped a little more. It almost felt like the lights were massaging me into submission.
This was especially helpful during those Ramadan nights. When you have to go all day without food and water, only to overeat when the sun sets, and then have to head to the mosque every night for an hour of prayer, you're constantly on edge. That's without factoring in the lack of quality sleep (it's hard to get more than five hours of straight sleep).
My room felt like an oasis far away from stress, and it was easy to want to just lounge in the pale blue light and not do anything. This mood really made it pleasant while catching up on emails or news of the day ‚Äď two subjects that are usually far from enjoyable.
However, it felt out of place when doing other things, like talking with my fianc√© on the phone, watching TV, listening to music or enjoying the World Cup.
The entertainment blues
One of the best parts about being at a club or a movie theatre is that the environment is build for that experience. Lighting syncs up with music, and the cinema has just enough glow to give you the perfect movie-watching experience.
Some people think turning off all the lights is the best way to experience a movie at home, but that's not true. You need some ambient lighting to help make the picture feel like it's fully enveloping you. So I decided to test this out while watching Captain America: The Winter Soldier paired with the Powerful theme, which cycles through red and orange colours. Seemed fitting?
It totally crashed and burned when I tried it with Hans Zimmer
It certainly made some scenes, like ones with a lot of explosions, feel more immersive. But it felt very out of place in quieter scenes, like when Captain America is visiting his old girlfriend in a sombre moment.
I found myself wishing the app had a built-in way to sync lights up to my movies and TV, which is something Philips recently launched with Hue (though you need a separate app for your Mac or PC for that).
However, the app does have a music visualiser! This uses your phone's microphone to analyze the song you're listening to, and will sync the colours and changes to the music and its beat. This feature swung wildly from working really well to working really badly.
On songs like Maroon 5's Girls Like You, or Taylor Swift's Delicate or Calvin Harris' One Kiss, it worked pretty damn well. My space instantly felt like a place I could just dance in, and even watching the music videos for those songs took on an extra bit of fun ‚Äď so much so that I wished it worked the same way for movies.
It totally crashed and burned when I tried it with Hans Zimmer's Time though, and it's difficult to tell why. The visualiser came across as confused when it tried to parse out that song, taking long periods of not doing anything and them ramping up to quick and random flashes that did nothing but freak me out. It's not that it's a slower song either, as I tried Josh Groban's You Raise Me Up and that worked fine. It may have something to do with it not being a song that's as well known or as popular as the others, which are chart-topping hits.
Where I found the mood lighting shone the best (and brightest) was when it came to watching sports. The companion app has a sports theme, which pulses green and yellow. It's absolutely perfect for watching the World Cup, where a good amount of the picture on your TV is taken by the green of the pitch. You're left with a true amount of ambience that makes the picture feel like it's spilling from the TV's bezels. The best part is that this lighting even worked in the daytime, when there's already enough light around.
Romancing the hues
There is no great general piece of mood lighting that suits all situations. They're incredibly specific, and when you're in the wrong one for a scenario you just know. I kept getting antsy and playing around.
The first time I figured this out was when I was speaking to my fianc√© on the phone. I had that relaxing light on, but it kind of just made me want to zone out ‚Äď not a great idea when you're on the phone with someone important to you.
How about a nice romantic theme, you ask? There isn't really one, but one alternative was the candle flicker theme, which is supposed to imitate a candle. I mean, sure? I definitely noticed it, and I saw what it was trying to do, but I can't say it had the desired effect.
I ended up settling on a nice dark purple light at about 8% brightness. Purple is a really royal, romantic colour and at that brightness it provided just enough light. The only bad bit? My fianc√© was on the other end of a phone call, and not experiencing it with me. Still, I enjoyed it.
All of the lights
There are some things I don't think I need mood lighting for right now. I'm now fine with watching movies and TV shows without the lighting on, as it does nothing but distract me with jarring lighting combinations.
I'd much rather do without the romantic lighting until my fianc√© is in the same physical space that I am. I'm touch and go on whether I need a rave party in my room every time I listen to a song. And I'm not sure it's even worth keeping my Lifx app open and my microphone going so I can enjoy fast, popular songs a little bit more.
However, I am totally going to watch the World Cup with sports lighting on. I'd much rather watch the World Cup with that lighting on my room's smaller TV than head to the bigger TV in the living, which has no augmenting light effects. Keeping some dim, relaxing blue lighting on in the hour after returning from work is a definite keep as well ‚Äď maybe it'll help me catch a bit more sleep.