The rise of smart lighting has made it easy to add dimmable, color-changing, voice controlled bulbs to any lighting fixture in your home.
But what if you want to make more of a statement with your lighting, or have a little more creative control over how it looks?
Enter the LIFX Beam, a customizable set of color-changing strip lights that can be arranged into many different patterns.
LIFX Beam price and availability
The LIFX Beam is out now, and costs $199.99 (£199.99, AU$299.99). That feels a tad expensive, given that for the same price you could pick up four color-changing Philips Hue bulbs (or LIFX's equivalent, even) that could light an entire room. But they wouldn't have the same design-led impact that the Beam has. Just don't expect this to replace a full lighting array for a room at the price, and you'll see the relative value here.
Design and features
The LIFX Beam starter kit consists of six plastic LED strips (300 x 35 x 20mm), and one corner connecting unit that allows you to add angles to your lighting array.
They all snap together with a powerful magnet at either end, with one of the included strips also magnetically connecting up to a wired power supply on one end.
Using the magnetic connections, you’re able to arrange multiple different lighting patterns, and then affix them to your walls using the provided (and strongly securing) Command Strip adhesive pads.
A word of warning – have a spirit level handy unless you’re looking to achieve some off-kilter placement, as it’s difficult to reaffix the pads once they’ve been used if you make a mistake.
Similarly, plan your pattern out in advance on the floor before committing to hanging it, while keep in mind where the nearest power supply is, as though the power cable is a generous 2.5 meters long, you may start adventurously placing these further away from a plug socket.
From there on in, it’s a fairly easy set up process. You download the LIFX app (compatible with iOS and Android, as well as Windows Phone 10 if you’re keeping the flame alive for Microsoft), follow the instructions to connect the lights up to Wi-Fi (802.11n, 2.4GHz), and you’re good to go.
An FAQ in the app talks you through a similar process for syncing the system up with a smart home controller too, like Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri and HomeKit, and Microsoft’s Cortana. For the purposes of this review, we primarily tested with an Amazon Echo and the Alexa voice assistant.
With everything set up, you’ve then options to control up to 16 million color options, light temperature (2,500k warm to 9,000k cool) and the dimming range, as well as triggering a number of effects for the lights.
The LIFX Beam looks fantastic on a wall – whether you’re going for a sci-fi neon sheen for your minimalist penthouse or a warm, fiery glow for your connected cottage, it offers plenty of options for you to play with.
The starter kit gives you enough pieces to make relatively large displays, either in a straight line, T or L shape.
LIFX’s app can be a bit fiddly (some controls are a bit too small to hit accurately), but the range of customization options and preset lighting patterns is impressive.
You can control not only individual colors from a wheel of millions, but also their saturation, brightness and warmth. Land on a particular shade that you like, and you can save it to a personal palette to return to later.
That’s before mentioning the still-magical ability to control the on and off setting from just your phone alone, anywhere in the world.
The LIFX Beam comes into its own though when you start really delving into its customization options.
Each Beam bar has ten individual color customization points – these can be set to any number of combinations of color, either as defined blocks, or blending from one shade to another.
You can literally paint each shade on with your fingers with a little representation of the Beam set in-app (though not it presents the set as a straight line – it won’t be able to figure out any T-junctions in your design).
This is expanded with 15 pre-set themes (‘Mellow’, ‘Intense’, ‘Peaceful’, etc) that each comes with an image giving you a feel for their color schemes, if you want quick access to a range of designs without delving in too deep yourself.
Then it’s on to the ‘Effects’ pane, where things get just as crazy as they are fun. You’ve got options to set the light to: flicker like a flame; a spooky setting where it flashes briefly before turning blood red; to pulse in time with music picked up by your phone’s microphone; cycle through random colors and more.
You can even set it up to do an intense strobe light effect, at a speed of your choosing, which should obviously be approached with caution if anyone around you suffers from photosensitive epilepsy.
Finally, there’s an option to set up a four-point Day & Dusk cycle, with the LIFX Beam cycling through light temperatures at four points in the day to suit your changing needs as the sun rises and sets.
Between the quality of the LED array itself and the options at your disposal, the LIFX Beam is a lot of fun.
It’s not intended as a replacement for a standard set of smart lights or regular bulbs. But as a feature to draw the eye in a room, or a centerpiece to a house party, it’s excellent.
As with all good smart lighting systems, the LIFX Beam can be made to act as part of a group, through scene and room group settings through your smart system of choice.
You can use Alexa, for instance, to turn on a ‘Living Room Lights’ group that could include the Beam as well as a set of Philips Hue bulbs. Using IFTTT (If This Then That) programming, it can even be set to react based on all manner of smart home sensor parameters, be they motion or temperature, or even things like notifications received on your phone.
However, there were multiple occasions where the Beam seemed to lose connectivity with either our network, or the Alexa system we had it paired to.
Despite initially working, over time we found that the Beam failed to be able to communicate or be discoverable by our Alexa speakers.
The LIFX Beam is a versatile and fun addition to any smart home, letting you add some artistic flair and color to whichever part of a room you place it in.
However be prepared for some temperamental voice assistant control, and a sometimes fiddly app. See past those issues and the Beam comes very much recommended.
- Best smart lighting: from Philips Hue to LIFX