Go back five years and you would have probably laughed if someone told you smartphone or smartwatch-controlled lighting in your home, such as the Osram Lightify, would be a thing one day. Well it is a thing now, and a big thing at that.
Philips Hue launched back in 2012, marking the path for smart lighting systems and it has evolved significantly over the last three years - but it has also gained some serious heat from competing systems such as the Lightify.
Osram has been around for over 100 years so is a well-known brand to many. The Lightify range brings Osram into the digital era and cleverly undercuts Philips Hue in terms of price, while offering many of the same features. Is it a good enough alternative to have Hue shaking in its sockets?
Osram Lightify review: Design
A light bulb is a light bulb; there isn't a huge amount to say about one in terms of design. Within the Lightify range there are several types of bulbs available, with more on the way, so by the end of 2015 there will be numerous options and fittings. Garden spots, surface lights, strip lighting and spot lights, along with a white bulb and a coloured bulb, all of which are connected and controlled via the dedicated app.
The CLA 60 RGBW is the standard screw-fit bulb that has been lighting up our life. However, whereas Philips Hue bulbs have a flat top, this Lightify bulb is rounded. This particular smart bulb is capable of delivering 16 million different RGB colours, including the colour temperature of white light. It is a little heavier than you might expect but it isn't as if you need to hold it.
In terms of the numbers, the CLA 60 RGBW produces the equivalent of 60W (for a 10W output) and delivers 810 lumens, which means around 80 lumens per Watt. The brightness is good, which is great as we wouldn't want to trade decent lighting for not having to move off the sofa in order to switch it on or off.
Osram claims the bulb will last 20,000 hours, which it says would equal 20 years if used for 2.7 hours a day. That's 10 years longer that Philips' claims for Hue but whether this will be the case in reality remains to be seen... we don't have a time machine to find out.
Osram Lightify review: Setup
The Osram Lightify starter kit comes with the CLA 60 RGBW bulb and a Gateway, the latter a cube that plugs into a plug socket to communicate with the bulb. It's reasonably small so it doesn't attract too much attention from its socket position.
The instructions are simple for completing the Lightify setup, although it took us a few extra minutes compared to Philips Hue. There is a QR Code on the back of the Gateway, as well as a model-specific Wi-Fi password, which you'll need to scribble down before plugging in as it's awkward to get to once plugged in.
The app requires you to scan the QR Code to begin setup, after which you'll need to enter the activation code sent to the email provided when you register for a Lightify account. Following this, the instructions include connecting Lightify to your home network, screwing in the bulb that will connect to the Gateway, turning the light switch off and on again and pairing each bulb by clicking on their virtual equivalents when they appear in the available devices section.
One of the best things about Lightify is that the Gateway doesn't need direct access to your router, meaning you don't have to sacrifice one of the Ethernet ports, as you do with Philips Hue and some other systems. It's also quick to pair devices, and we even moved the bulb from one lamp to another and there was no need to re-pair it.
Osram Lightify review: Features
Lightify offers many of the same features as Philips Hue, including the ability to pick any of 16 million colours, choose the temperature of white light (even using the coloured bulb), and remotely control each bulb from the app.
There is a colour picker which enables you to select any colour within a picture via the app so you can replicate it within the room your bulbs are in. Take a picture of a sunset, for example, or you could match your lights to your wallpaper or serviettes for a dinner party. It's up to you. You can also set your creations as a scene and then put them on a schedule - so you could set your lights to turn on with a sunset theme every morning at 7am.
We did find that the colour picker wasn't always entirely accurate when it came to selecting from a picture however. The colour selected and shown in the app represented the image it was picked from, but the colour delivered by the bulb itself didn't match as accurately. For example, we got a pink beige instead of green grass and pink instead of a brown wall. It likes pink it seems. This was only the case for the colours picked from an image however, as the normal colour picker from the standard wheel selector was great.
Scenes can be favourited so you can find them easily when want to use them again, and there are a few predefined scenes too: relax; active; and plant mode. As you would expect, relax mode turns the lights into colours that are said to help the body relax, while active is meant to keep you more alert, and plant mode is to help create the right conditions for houseplants.
Of course you can turn the lights on and off, group them together and dim them all from within the app, as well as add timers to make it look as if someone is home when you're out. The scheduling feature is great and works flawlessly: we had our bulb in our office scheduled to turn on at 9am and off again at 5.30pm, which it did happily every day.
Something worth mentioning is that it takes around half a second for the bulb to respond to a command from the app, whether that be a colour change or power. The same applies when the physical wall switch is used to turn the power on. It isn't a massive problem, but no lag would be better.
For control over the Lightify bulb using the app, it's also worth noting that you'll need the main switch to remain always on. This isn't an issue if you have kitted out the entire room with Lightify bulbs, but if you haven't then you'll still need to get up and reach for the switch. On the plus side, however, you can turn the Lightify bulb off and the non-Lightify bulb will remain on, which comes in handy at times.
Osram Lightify review: App
The Lightly app is simple, easy to navigate, but not quite as sophisticated and feature-rich as the Philips Hue app. In its defence, though, Hue has got three years more experience.
There are four sections at the bottom of the Lightify app comprising Home, Devices, Features and Settings. There are also three sections at the top of the app: a cloud symbol, the Lightify symbol and a plus sign. The Lightify symbol will quickly turn the bulbs connected to the Gateway off (you can have a total of 50 connected to one Gateway), while the plus sign allows you to add a new group and name it, such as Office.
Within the Home section there is a main dashboard of all the groups and scenes created. A coloured dot sits next group and scene on the far left, which is what launches a separate tab with the other functions, including colour and dimming features. A large circle with two smaller circles within and a power button is what greets you in this section of the app. Each of the circles represents a function, with the outer ring focusing on colour, the second in from that handling brightness and the inner circle used to control colour temperature.
There are dots on each circle which will open up their respective options, allowing you to slide your finger around in order to choose your desired setting. Once you have got everything as you want it, you can designate the settings as a scene by pressing the icon in top right hand corner, or you can set it as a favourite by hitting the heart to the right of the circles.
To see favourites, you simply press the heart at the bottom beneath the circles, while the preset scenes we mentioned earlier are found by hitting the icon between the light control icon at the bottom and the favourites icon. To the right of the favourites icon is a camera symbol that allows you to select a colour from an image or take an image as reference.
Head into the Devices tab and you get a list of the bulbs connected, where you can turn each one on and off individually. The Features tab is where scheduling takes place, including daily breakdown, scene selections and groups selection.
The Settings tab is just where you'll find account information and time zones, as well as system updates. It's worth checking these every now and then as Lightify is Zigbee compatible so any Zigbee updates will be found in this section, for example.
Osram Lightify is a decent system and at £10 cheaper per bulb than the Philips Hue's equivalents, you could save yourself a chunk of cash if you plan on kitting out your entire home (or even garden).
However, while Lightify is feature rich, some functions such as IFTTT (If This Then That) integration and more are yet to arrive. We also find the app isn't as pretty as Philips Hue and there are a few areas that could do with being made simpler, such as access to changing the colours, response time, and the errors when colour-matching from a picture. Aside from those minor complaints Lightify does what you would expect a smart lighting system to do.
Lightify is Philips Hue's biggest competitor in terms of price and features, but it has some way to go before it's lights out for Hue. Still, it's a great start from Osram that will only improve over time.