Another week, another “smart” bulb to review. This is the last one of my “smart” bulb reviews - not because I’m out of brands to review, but because I’m out of patience with this particularly tacky, data-collecty bit of consumer tech. Ugly light, ugly data collection, ugly apps… what’s to like?
Sorry, getting ahead of myself a bit. This week, I’m looking at the EcoSmart RGB Smart Bulb, as likely found at your local Home Depot.
The EcoSmart Smart Bulb
In a depressing turn of events, your local home improvement store bulb section probably has an ever-growing section of “Smart Bulbs” in it - and no incandescents to be found. This is one of the newer brands floating around, and as HubSpace is heavily tied to Home Depot, it’s probably related to them, somehow.
This is your bog standard smart bulb, WiFi, Bluetooth, A19 form factor, 800 lumens, and can be integrated with all the various room mic brands people stick in their house for nonsensical reasons.
The back has the usual warnings, and I’ll point to the upper right corner as a case of “Wait, really, now?” This is one of the many LED bulbs not rated for use in “totally enclosed fixtures,” or in “recessed fixtures.” What this means is that unless it’s a bare bulb in a lamp, it’s likely to overheat and fail long before rated lifespan - because most home light fixtures are either enclosed or recessed. I’m unclear as to if this includes “downward facing bulbs with a glass shroud, open at the bottom” - that’s an area of future research. The short of it is, it’s cheap, and it needs very good cooling to avoid early death. But, at least, you can use it in an upright table lamp! Does anyone still use those? My nice “table lamp” burns kerosene (it’s a rather beautiful Aladdin mantle type, and I really should review it soon).
In the lower right, you can see that the expected life is 22.8 years. What consumer tech from 2000 do you still have in operation? Do you honestly expect the servers this thing uses to be still going in 23 years, or an app required to interface with it to still be updated by then? I don’t. So that lifespan number is meaningless, and can be better assumed as “Until it overheats and fails, someone gets bored with running the servers, or someone gets bored updating the app.” I’ll bet you that’s not 23 years, because those are costs, and “selling a new bulb” is profit.
It uses Hubspace, which I’ll cover shortly. However, I’ll suggest that the instructions here are, unsurprisingly, somewhere between “misleading” and “wrong.” The bulb has a QR code on it that the app expects you to scan to pair with the bulb, and if you install the bulb, you’ll likely have a hard time scanning that code. Install app, scan bulb, install bulb. Or, better, do none of the above.
Why is it that none of the “smart home” apps have tablet native versions on iOS? I’ve poked with three different ones on an iPad (because I don’t trust these things on my phone…), and they all do the whole “iPhone app in the center of the tablet” thing. A tablet would make sense for home automation, wouldn’t it? Of course, it wouldn’t get you nearly as much usable data to sell, because it might just lurk around the house. All of these need location data, for wifi network data - which is reasonable at the surface, but do you trust them to just use it for that? I can’t say I do…
Getting started means “Sign into your account with your email address.” There’s no way around it. You have to create an account, with your email address, to use this app. Gross. Most of the other apps suggest it, but let you run without it with local data only. Well, fine, create an account with a custom email to let me know if they’ve sold it (at least, without stripping the label - that’s pretty well known for gmail, but it’s no guarantee for custom domains, and while I’d hope companies aren’t checking the MX records for who hosts mail, it wouldn’t surprise me if they do that to be able to better sell email addresses).
Ah, yes. Mystery Meat Password Fields. You know what I hate? Places that demand a password, and won’t tell you it doesn’t meet their standards until after you’ve tried to submit it. You can guess, of course, that this is one of these things. No, a short little password isn’t acceptable. Of course, they don’t use Apple ID or [whatever that thing is] either as an option, so make yourself a good password. On your phone. Sigh…
Hey, let’s see what’s in the “How We Abuse Your Data” policy! I object to the term “privacy” policy anymore, since that’s nothing to do with what they are. It’s the usual. Handwave at everything, such that whatever you do you can argue it’s been disclosed. Lots of marketing communication and advertising use of everything. Why do you care about my social media handle, again?
Next page… location data. Well, conveniently, the app asks your permission for it later on. Again, just generic “Anything we want to do we can probably justify” wording, so vague as to be useless. “Inferences, preferences, interests, and other characteristics” is a pretty good catchall name for “anything else we didn’t think to list,” isn’t it?
Going down further, “We do not share personal information… with third parties for their own use without your authorization” is one of those “suspiciously specific denial” sorts of wordings, isn’t it? In any case, I’m pretty sure that whatever you do with this app and bulb can be nicely shared with Home Depot and whoever else they “partner with” without much in the way of obstacles here. I may call to access my personal information and see what happens…
With a suitable account password, it’s time for the Permissions Grab. In their defense, the camera is used for the QR code on the device, and it seems that the app and bulb talk over Bluetooth briefly for getting things connected to the local wireless network.
With that all out of the way and out of mind, you can actually start using the bulb. The first interface is the usual “Tune the color temperature” interface, and it does go down to 2200K - though that’s a rather ugly mode, as I’ll show later.
The RGB interface is gives you the same sort of things one normally sees - brightness, and some color presets. If you want to access the actual color wheel, you’ll need to notice the scroll bar on the right and scroll down - discoverability is rather poor here, and it took me a while to find how to select custom colors.
The color wheel allows you to set custom colors, though the center is hollowed out - you can only select colors in the “donut” around the edge, with the center showing the selected color. This prevents you from picking anything that’s too close to white - and, also annoyingly, it doesn’t update the bulb until you lift your finger off. So it’s quite hard to set anything by dragging your finger around and waiting for the bulb to be the color you want. There’s no hex values I could find either, so it’s hard to tell if the blue is actually off in the evening. Not my favorite interface, by far.
Finally, as is required to make a 7 year old desire the bulb (actually, mine would rather have the bulb with the built in Bluetooth speaker, even though she’s got nothing to send Bluetooth music with), the various “color changing party presets.” Does anyone actually use these? The last thing I want for Christmas is my lights cycling around between red and green. Maybe these are useful for undergrad parties or something. I’ve no idea. If you have smart bulbs, do you find any of these demo modes useful?
Finally, they have some “mood” modes, and I’ll talk about the “Moonlight” preset later. It’s just as horridly blue as you might expect.
Yes, you can operate them from a different wireless network with Bluetooth disabled - so all your traffic is through a third party server. Of course. You really don’t trust that to last a few decades, do you?
I’ve been pretty hard on the app here, and maybe it’s just doing what it needs to operate the bulb, but it’s still entirely absurd that I have to talk to third party servers, free to do whatever they want with my information, to use a light bulb. Come on. This is just stupid.
White Operating Modes
Starting out at the 2200K setting, full bright, it… doesn’t go very bright, and the spectrometer shows why. This isn’t using the white emitter. It’s using the RGB emitters! That’s very clearly the green and red emitters handling the load, though it is quite low in the blue. The color rendering index for this sort of spectrum is below atrocious, though. It’s not a very good light.
I’ll quietly remind people that a dimmed incandescent looks like this - so, while the blue is quite low, the rest of the spectrum is just “looking red to the eye,” while not in the slightest actually illuminating things evenly. The green probably does make this an efficient operating mode in terms of “lumens per watt,” though.
Anyway. Dimmed, it’s running more on the white emitter (the “double hump blue” is characteristic of the blue pumped LEDs) with some color temperature shifts from the green and probably red. Odd. It’s still a rather bizarre spectrum, and I expect the CRI numbers would show it to be quite poor.
Going up to the 2500K setting at full brightness, there’s more of the white emitter mixed in, but it’s still a weird, peaky spectrum, with a lot of the green and red emitters mixed in. Dimmed, it looks roughly the same with a bit less of the red peak over there - none of the same “Totally different!” thing the 2200K mode does.
Heading up to 3000K, one sees a lot more of the normal curves, though this is still very heavy in the greens compared to other bulbs.
Only up around 4000K does it start to resemble a normal “white LED spectrum” - lots of blue, and then a more filled in curve for the rest of the spectrum. It’s still really peaky in the green, though. This is good for efficiency, bad for color rendering, so buyer beware. From here on up, there’s really no major differences in the spectrum between the bright and dim settings.
The 5000K point is, as one would expect, “Yet More Blue.” That’s about all that goes on here - more of the blue leaning emitters in the mix.
And at the 6500K point, hey, more blue. The dip between blue and the rest of the spectrum starts to fill in here. It’s still peaking in the greens, though, without much in the way of red at all. My guess would be that even if the CRI is improving here, the R9 performance (saturated red) is awful. Humans like their reds, so at best, this is going to be one of those “Yeah, it’s bright…” sort of lights that just doesn’t look good.
Moving over into the RGB modes, you can, at least, get the light to run red, green, and blue emitters discretely. There’s no hex values to achieve it with, but the presets do what they seem like they should.
Starting with red, there’s a fairly narrow peak up around 624nm. The actual peak may be somewhat higher, as my meter is falling off the sensitivity up there, but it’s a good spot for red.
Green peaks around 517nm, and it’s a fairly wide band off the emitter.
Blue peaks at 468nm, squarely in the “Keeping humans convinced it’s daytime” range. You’re definitely best off not using this emitter at night.
Now, how do you tell if you’re using the blue emitter? Well, you can’t. Some of the other smart bulbs will kindly tell you the color you’ve selected in RGB hex values, and they seem to “do what they say” - if the blue value is #00, then there’s no blue emitter in the output. Here, guess.
How much blue is in the pink?
Tons. You really wouldn’t want to be using this at night.
But, if you move to something like a pale pumpkin orange…
There’s no blue to be found in it. I assume if you learn what works, you can program night colors with low blue, but this app doesn’t make it easy. Yes, there’s still some “blue light” percentage showing, because the blue sensitivity curve extends up somewhat into the greens - you can see the curve rising from about 475nm, and as there’s a huge gap in the spectrum, there’s not enough light in the yellows to compensate. The art of the math…
How about that “Moonlight” preset? That’s just code for “An exceedingly blue white light.” You definitely don’t want to use this mode at night - unless your goal is to avoid sleep!
Why do people think these things are the future, exactly? I’ve reviewed a few different “smart bulbs” now, and I’ve come away from them feeling dirty. They’re tacky plastic, they’ve got tacky apps, and the light quality on them is nothing to write home about (at best - at worst, it’s best described as “ugly”). If you’re 7 and want to play with various light colors in your room for a few hours, get one, play with it, and return it when you’re done, but as far as I’m concerned, there’s no good reason to have this sort of crap anywhere in your house.
I came into this bulb analysis assuming that, while smart bulbs were an awful idea for a variety of reasons, they were at least tolerable light bulbs - and I’m leaving thinking that they’ve simply got no business anywhere. Their behavior is, at a minimum, non-intuitive if you care about spectrum and blue. But I’m just not convinced they solve any problems anyone actually has - at least, as an end user of a light bulb. If your problem is the lack of detailed data on what people are doing in their home, they solve a lot. And that, right there, is reason enough not to use them.
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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.sevarg.net/2023/04/08/ecosmart-smart-bulb-review/