Review: Tabu Lumen TL800 Bluetooth smart LED bulb

Smart LED Bluetooth bulb functionally sound, limited by smartphone application (June 23rd, 2014)

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Product Manufacturer: Tabu

Price: $48.95

The Good

  • Bluetooth
    - Easy installation
    - Solid construction

The Bad

  • Application features
    - Brightness
    - Security

With more technology comes devices that we never really considered using in the home. From controlling thermostats with smartphones, to home security cameras that inform users their residence is safe, such devices are becoming commonplace. But what if a consumer is looking for something a little less invasive to get started in smart technologies? Perhaps a light bulb, like the Tabu Lumen TL800 Bluetooth LED, could prove to be a good stepping stone. But with a small selection of bulbs on the market, is it the correct purchase to make?

The Lumen is an easy-to-install solution for those looking to have some control over their light options. No special adapters or configurations of existing sockets are needed, as the Lumen uses an Edison screw at its base. The bulb itself is wrapped in aluminum on the outside, exposing only a dome 1.12 inches above the aluminum with the LEDs inside. The aluminum gives off some warmth while operating, but not so much it needs to be a concern.

Tabu's bulb keeps some of the same dimensions and styling of a traditional light bulb at 4.75 x 2.32 x 2.32 inches. A standard light bulb is slightly wider and deeper, but shorter overall at 4.0 x 2.34 x 2.34 inches. The Lumen also weighs significantly more, coming in at 0.37 pounds versus a standard light bulb at 0.07 pounds.

Even though the outside is built solid, what the Lumen LED bulb offers in terms of lumens is a little on the weak side. It offers 16 million colors, but only at 400 lumens. Tabu said the bulb is the equivalent of a 40-watt bulb (495 lumens, which would make it nearly 25 percent brighter), while operating at seven watts during operation of the single white LED. The RGB color LEDs consume only three watts.

Rather than allowing control over Wi-Fi like many other smart bulbs on the market, the Tabu's bulb uses a direct connection to a phone through Bluetooth 4.0 LE. Through the Lumen app, users will have direct control over the bulb, provided their mobile devices can communicate with it -- many Android phones and iPhones prior to the iPhone 4S are unable to issue controls to the bulb because of this.

Beyond the Bluetooth limitation, there is quite a bit of an issue with the Lumen bulb. However, it doesn't lie in its craftsmanship or quality; instead, the problem comes down to the application to control it. On its face, the Lumen app doesn't do everything that it sets out to do. It offers lighting controls, custom colors and a number of presets for a number of lighting moods. The problem is these controls are too short-sighted.

First, the app offers no way for users to set any sort of custom presets. All of lighting options are preprogrammed, without allowing any sort of editing. A "Romance Mode" uses a cycle of warm hues, while the "Relaxation Mode" uses a cycle on the other side of color wheel for cool hues. There are also party modes that churns through a series of colors in two speeds. These presets leave a little to be desired, especially considering users can manually set a color for the bulb when it is in use.

It seems like there should be a way to create a profile to alter these programmed light cycles, or at least create a new one. One of the other modes, the "Music Sync Mode," lets users select up to six colors to use to the beat of music. The mode saves these color choices, remembering them when users come back later. The music mode, while a neat feature, doesn't seem to work very well. Dynamic songs don't register, and there seems to be a noticeable lag time to it. It's awkward that it launches a separate music player and shuts off if the app is minimized.

The Lumen includes three other modes, which include one for proximity to a device, flashing a light to act as a call alert, and one to act like sunshine in the morning. The proximity mode works by turning the bulb off minutes of being out of signal range of the device. "Call Alert Mode" sets off if the device receiving an incoming call. Because of the lag time, it doesn't work too effectively if one picks up the phone quickly.

The "Wake Up Mode" uses an alarm to slowly cycle up to the brightest setting of the bulb over five or 10 minutes. The catch is that the alarm must be set 10 minutes before it goes off. Changing it to the five-minute cycle says it will start five minutes before, but it refused to do it in anything less than 10.

Even though the app is easy to use with its limited functions, there is an even greater problem with security. Multiple Lumen bulbs can be accessed with a single app, either chained together or at a single-bulb level. The problem is that the Lumen will pair with any phone that has the app open and supports Bluetooth 4.0. It has an option to reset the security code, but pressing it locks up the app. For a light bulb, this isn't a huge deal, but it can be an inconvenience in tight living quarters.

Resetting the bulb is a minor annoyance when it comes up. Users have to quit out of the app, turn off the switch or unscrew the bulb. Then, when the app is opened up again and the bulb power cycled, the Lumen bulb is added as bulb with a different name.

For someone looking to get a smart light bulb that just works without any sort of tinkering, the Tabu Lumen does the job. However, it is something that needs to be accepted for what it is. Unless the app improves, the Lumen can't compete with bulbs from other companies like Philips. Even at a reduced cost of $49 for the Lumen compared to $60 for the Philips Hue, its value that consumers need to feel fine settling for. For $11 more, consumers can pick up a much better product with a polished app.

by Jordan Anderson


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