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Review: Insteon remote-control LED light bulb

July 10, 2012 |  8:28 am

Insteonbulb-iphone[1]
The dream of a fully technology integrated and automated home can make a tech geek downright giddy: coffee machines that grind coffee and brew at a set hour, power sockets with built-in USB outlets, steaks cooked medium rare thanks to a Bluetooth thermometer. For every person who thinks a thermostat that learns personal temperature preferences is excessive, there's a tech geek who calls that cool.

Take the new LED bulb by Insteon. Released a couple of weeks ago, this bulb can be turned on, off or dimmed by remote control (included with bulb) or by iOS and Android apps. It's the next step in automating your home lighting: No special lamp attachments needed, no dimmer plates to attach to your wall.  The bulb and remote communicate via radio frequency.

We tested the device and found installation to be simple. Hold down a button on the remote until it beeps, screw in the lightbulb, then wait for a confirmation double-beep from the remote and bulb. The setup worked the first time we tried. At $29.99, the Insteon bulb presents an easy, albeit limited, alternative to much more expensive home automation systems.

Insteon bulbThe remote can be programmed to turn on any number of Insteon bulbs within a 50-foot range. Each bulb is assigned to one of four buttons on the remote, so, for example, one button could turn on all the lights in the entry and living room, and other buttons could manage lighting in the kitchen, master bedroom and kid's room.

In our tests, the bulb performed best in a table lamp and in recessed lighting -- places where directed light is useful. In a torchiere floor lamp, the range of light was limited.

The brightness of the 8-watt LED bulb is said to be comparable to a 60-watt incandescent. The drawback, however, is the dimming function. Without the tactile nature of a manual dimmer dial, we found it is difficult to manipulate the lighting levels. On/off, no problem. But reaching certain sweet spots -- 50% or 75% brightness, for example -- was an issue. The bulb quickly skipped to 100% on or 100% off.

But if you're hooked on the concept, the Insteon bulb could be your gateway drug to more sophisticated home automation. The $129.99 Insteon Central Controller -- a sort of power hub that plugs into a wall outlet -- lets you skip the remote and instead manipulate Insteon bulbs via your smartphone.

Want to go even further with your home automation? Insteon also sells ApplianceLinc,  which allows you to program and manage appliances, TVs, sprinklers and more via computer or smartphone. 

Insteon said its bulb will lasts for 50,000 hours. Have it on for eight hours a day, and that's a life span of about 17 years.

The product is proof that automated lighting is moving beyond custom homes to a broader market of consumers looking for off-the-shelf solutions. The caveat here is that one bulb isn't really enough to enjoy the benefits of an automated system. Our advice? Go for a full room or a whole house, or don’t bother.

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-- Dianne de Guzman

Photos: Insteon

 

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