Following Philips’ Hue system and the now-defunct BlueBulb’s Bluetooth Bulb, Tabu has introduced Lumen TL800 ($70), its own version of an iPhone-connected lightbulb. Designed to fit into any standard light outlet, it glows warm white or your choice of a claimed 16 million different colors, all controlled from your Bluetooth 4.0 device. Reliance on Bluetooth is arguably a big advantage over Hue, which requires a Wi-Fi base station, though Tabu’s app isn’t as advanced as Phillips’ Hue app.
Not surprisingly, the Lumen TL800 light bulb looks like a modified version of a standard bulb. Instead of an all-glass body, there’s a significant portion between the screw cap and white dome that’s housed in metal. Of course people don’t typically buy light bulbs based on how they look, but this one is well-designed for something that’s going to be hidden beneath a lampshade. It’s also heavier than a traditional bulb.
If you screw the bulb into a socket and turn it on without the app running, it works just fine, glowing somewhat more yellow than white. Once you launch the free app, you’re presented with a much greater degree of color control. The first thing we noticed is that the bulb automatically connects: there’s no syncing required, so you simply turn the app on, and as long as your Bluetooth connection is enabled, it’ll pair.
From there, you have the ability to control the bulb’s output, which can be either shades of warm white, or colors. For the former, you’re presented with a a 180° slider that adjusts the brightness, and buttons that automatically jump to 90%, 70%, 50%, and 30% presets. Even turned all the way down with a slider, the bulb doesn’t go off, it only dims; a power button can toggle it on and off. Switch over to RGB mode and you get a color picker that allows you to easily choose the shade you want, with a slider controlling the brightness. There are a number of different modes as well, including flashing, alternating colors, and the ability to change hues when your phone rings. A music mode crashed the app every time we tried to test it, however.
Additionally, the app allows you to bridge multiple Lumens, and control them individually or as a group. One problem we noticed is that the bulb automatically turned back to white any time you resume the app, whether you switch away from it or just turn the phone back on after it’s fallen asleep. There’s also nowhere near as much third-party app support for Lumen TL800 as with Hue, which has recently seen light control functionality integrated into a handful of apps by companies other than Philips. Last but not least, Lumen puts out 400 lumens, or the equivalent of a 40W traditional bulb. This is less than Hue at 600 lumens, so it’s somewhat dim.
While the ability to control a light source from an iPhone is always going to be pretty cool, Tabu’s implementation is somewhat lacking. Most of this comes from the app, which can likely be fixed, but the brightness of the bulb is a limiting hardware factor—it’s too dim for a $70 lightbulb, so unless you really only want one or two bulbs and strongly prefer Bluetooth 4 to Wi-Fi as a connectivity option, there’s no reason to buy Lumen TL800 bulbs rather than Philips’ Hue bulbs. We’ve already seen a lot of competitors working their way into the market, and there are sure to be more in the coming months; we’d suggest waiting a little while to see how things shake out.
Company and Price
Model: Lumen TL800
Compatible: iPad (3rd/4th-Gen), iPad Air, iPad mini, iPhone 4S/5/5c/5s, iPod touch 5G