Playbulb Smart Speaker and Lighting Review
Playbulb from MIPOW are a range of connected lighting products with simple Bluetooth controls. With the Playbulb devices, you’re not limited to one color or even a selection of static colors – you have the entire color spectrum at your disposal. With the Playbulb Color bulb, you can even play music.
We have a bundle of three MIPOW Playbulb products to give away to one lucky reader: The Playbulb Color Lightbulb, the Playbulb Garden Light, and the Playbulb Candle.
Let’s jump straight in.
The Playbulb Solar Garden Light is solar-powered, with energy from the sun being stored in an internal lithium-ion battery. It can be controlled by your Bluetooth-enabled device at a distance of up to 20m (66 ft).
The Playbulb Garden is water-resistant. It comes with two spikes which attach to a niche on the bottom of the light, the longer of which fits over the other and extends the depth to which is can be driven into the soil. It’s intended to stand up to all kinds of weather, though I didn’t get the chance to test that.
Of the three devices, the Garden is the brightest. It can throw light for several feet in total darkness, and it shows the light patterns the most clearly, with sharp and distinct colors. In addition to its aesthetic properties, it is portable and can be used on camping trips and outdoor vacations.
If you want a device that is only one color and significantly cheaper, the White Sun Power Smart LED lights are available on Amazon for as little as $5. They are more utilitarian than the Playbulb Garden, which makes them more useful for people who just want to illuminate things outdoors.
The Playbulb Candle’s use is slightly more limited than the Garden or Colorbulb – it’s physically smaller and illuminates far less. But it is the most soothing and aesthetically pleasing of the three.
The Candle works from 3 AA batteries and can last for days. It is portable and easy to use, making it a great conversation piece, though it can only be controlled from a distance of 10 meters. The app gives you the ability to make the Candle’s LED flame flicker in any color, though the flicker effect is softer and less noticeable than it would be with a real flame.
In case you miss either the scent of a candle, or the act of blowing one out at the end of the day, the Playbulb Candle has you covered as well. There is a scent diffuser built around the base of the “flame”, and the Candle comes with three scent chips to be placed into it. The scent chips seem quite weak; at least, I couldn’t smell a thing from the other side of the room.
There’s also a sensor built into the Candle that responds to your breath, so you can pretend to blow it out just as you would a real candle. Though to do so, you have to put your mouth very close to and almost directly over the bulb. If you have multiple Playbulb Candles, the “group blowout” feature means extinguishing a single candle will turn the rest of the group off too.
Unlike the other devices, the Candle cannot be controlled by an iPad, only from a phone. The device must also be taken apart in order to put in batteries and scent chips, which can be tricky and often feels like you’re going to break it.
If you want bigger flameless candles that can also be remote-controlled, try the Luminara Flameless Candles. Luminara Candles are made in a variety of shapes that more closely mimic wax candles, and the “flames” look and behave more realistically.
The Playbulb Color Lightbulb is the most useful of the three items in the bundle by far. It is a 15W LED lightbulb with a built-in speaker – the only device of the three that can play music too. It’s also the most expensive, at $60.
You control the color from the app, but you can also access the music tab, which will allow you to play any song you have on your mobile device from the Color Bulb itself. The bulb will pulse along with the music, making it useful for parties. The range of the light cast is very limited compared with that of an ordinary bulb, however, you can maximize the range by putting the bulb in a hanging light or similar overhead fixture where the top of the bulb faces out. It’s not so suitable for desk lamps.
The sound is also good, considering the size of the speakers. Music playing in one bulb can fill a small-to-medium-sized room easily. The quality of the sound isn’t nearly as good as the average dedicated Bluetooth speaker, though. The sound mix is similar to that of a mobile phone or laptop, rather than a bass speaker.
The bulb can also act as an alarm clock. The Timer tab on the app gives you the option to set up alarms and notices that will let your favorite tunes and colors act as your alerts. You have to cue the song up on the music tab of the app, but the alarm feature is useful.
The Playbulb music app only allows access to playlists, but once connected as a Bluetooth speaker you can of course play music through any other app, like Spotify or iTunes. If you move the bulb to another socket, you’ll need to pair again with the bulb.
Also, you cannot set a range or effect when you’re playing music. The color can be erratic depending on the kind of music you have queued up. There is no way to control what kind of colors the bulb will show for which song, and colors don’t seem to be tied to note in any way.
There are number of alternatives to the Playbulb, the most popular of which are Philips Hue, though these require purchase of a base station too. Philips Hue bulbs are compatible with a number of different apps, including one written about here which will sync your music with your Hue lights.
All of these devices are operated by an app which is available on the App Store and Google Play. The devices are Bluetooth-controlled, which means you must have Bluetooth turned on before you can operate them. The Color Bulb and Garden Light can be controlled from iPads, and all of the devices can be controlled with phones, but the app doesn’t have a horizontal layout on iPhones.
When you open the app, you click the devices screen and the devices which are turned on will appear in a list. You click on the individual device you wish to control and you will be taken to a color wheel. From there, you slide your finger to the color you like the best, and the device will change color accordingly.
You can also use effects to make the Playbulb devices pulse, flash, or go through the rainbow under the Effects menu. A candle-like flickering effect is also available, which you can control the speed and base color of the effects. Though it can be difficult to tell the difference between “Rainbow” (which makes the device flash through the rainbow) and “Rainbow F” (which makes the device fade softly from one color of the rainbow to another) at a glance.
If you want two or more Playbulb devices to be the same color, you can put them together into a Group from the Devices screen and control them from one color panel. You can give all of them the same lighting effects, such as a rainbow pulse. If you wish to change one thing from the group, it is as easy as going to the Devices menu, clicking on the individual device, and changing the color or effect.
Unfortunately, having them run from their own app means they can’t integrated into a more extensive smart home device. They aren’t compatible with the open source OpenHAB platform , and there doesn’t appear to be an open API like there is for the Philips Hue , which dampens any possibility of third party integration in future.
The devices will also “hold” their chosen effect if you turn off the phone or close the app. This frees you from having to have the app open to keep the lights on. The app can be slightly unintuitive, and some of the options have no obvious use at all – there is an option under “Preferences” for a “Group Blow Out” which seems to have no use. But it is generally easy to use and most of its functions work the way the average person would think they do.
The effective range of each of these devices is rather short, with the maximum range being about the length of the average room or apartment at most. This makes them slightly more impractical for larger homes and ultimately limits the group features.
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