MIPOW PLAYBULB: Not the Brightest Bulb in the Box

The MIPOW PLAYBULB could be brilliant, but stumbles in the execution

Review by Cathleen O'Grady | 07 Oct 2014
  • MIPOW PLAYBULB Neglects Its Strengths

The MIPOW PLAYBULB is, to its credit, an original concept: a Bluetooth-controlled lightbulb. Why would you want a Bluetooth-controlled lightbulb, you ask? Well, no longer will you have to rise from the sofa to dim the lighting to a suitably romantic level. The problem with the PLAYBULB is that it takes a surprisingly useful concept, pushes it into gimmick territory, and neglects the directions that could make it actually brilliant.

The PLAYBULB is gigantic, so its home will need to be chosen carefully – not all light fittings and lamps will house it comfortably. It’s easy to get going, with just an app store download and a Bluetooth connection to get to the intuitive controls. The light dimming feature is great: it’s a pleasant warm white light, and the Bluetooth signal is strong enough to control it even from some distance. Despite the minor ugliness of the discrete units of lighting levels (rather than a continuous blend), changing the brightness of the lamp across the room without having to budge does feel like the future. What a time to be alive.

But then … it’s also a speaker, which is a mistake, at least with this execution. It plays from the phone’s music collection, which in theory could be great, if the speakers weren’t unbearably tinny. The shape of the lamp cover also affects the acoustics, which is likely to be a consistent problem given that most lightbulbs don’t hang without a cover. And from across a mid-sized to large room, the Bluetooth signal isn’t strong enough to prevent stuttery playback.

The most useful functions are the Night/Sleep/Wake Up modes, which dim or increase the sound and light over time. The potential is huge: set up some nature noises at night to block out the weird noises from the neighbours, and have the light dim gradually while you drift off; set an alarm to wake you up to happy music and gradually brightening light. Idyllic, no? But wait. The bulb makes a loud noise when the Bluetooth connection drops, so your blissful journey into oblivion might be rudely interrupted by a heart attack-inducing bleep. There’s also no built-in functionality to turn off the alarm easily, which results in some early morning fumbling and cursing. You could use another app for the alarm and use the PLAYBULB just for automated early-morning light, but there are sunrise clocks designed especially for that purpose, with better light quality and the ability to choose the period of time over which the brightness increases or decreases.

Overall, it seems as though the creators were distracted with adding useless gimmicks, like the ability to shake your phone to change the lighting (why would you do this when you have a perfectly good dimmer switch in the app?) and, as a result, neglected the areas of greatest potential. Luckily, many of the issues could be fixed on the software side, so it’s possible that with an app update, the PLAYBULB will rise to genuine usefulness. Until then, buy yourself a better-quality Bluetooth speaker and perhaps a sunrise clock. Integration is great, but not with this much loss of quality.

UK suggested retail price of £59 http://www.playbulb.com/en