Is 'Smart Lighting' Right for You and Your Home? (Connected by TCP Review)
Controlling the lights in your home using a smartphone or tablet sounds like a novel idea, but is it really worth the investment to get "connected?" CIO.com's Al Sacco answers that question and more in this hands-on review of the Connected by TCP home smart lighting system.
Mon, February 10, 2014
CIO — When I received an offer a couple of weeks ago to check out the Connected by TCP "home smart lighting system" -- which lets you remotely dim, control and schedule the lights around your home to turn on and off using a smartphone or tablet -- my interest was immediately piqued. I also quickly asked myself if I really want, or need, smartphone-controlled lighting and wondered whether I'd use the system when the novelty wore off. "Connected home" gadgets took center stage at the 2014 CES in January, but many of those devices seemed more gimmicky than genuinely valuable.
So I was admittedly skeptical of TCP's system.
I've been using Connected by TCP for about a week now, and I can honestly say I'm already a big fan of the concept, as well as TCP's implementation. It's not perfect, and it takes some getting used to, but I can see these "smart light bulbs" becoming the default bulb in my home. Here's a quick breakdown of what I like about Connected by TCP, and what I don't, as well as some details to help determine if this home smart lighting system is for you.
Connected by TCP: Lights On, Thumbs Up
It could not be easier to set up the Connected by TCP system, and you don't have to be particularly tech savvy to get it up and running. I used the 11-watt LED 3-bulb kit with the TCP gateway and remote control. The kit contains all the components you need, but you can buy each part separately, or purchase a few or as many bulbs as you want. The company also sells 10-w and 23-w bulbs.
Setting the system up is easy. Plug in all of your connected bulbs, turn on the power for each to illuminate them, connect the TCP gateway to your Wi-Fi router's Ethernet port (you need a Wi-Fi router), connect the gateway to a power source, launch the Android or iOS app and follow the on-screen setup instructions. (Unfortunately, the TCP Lighting app is only available for iOS and Android, but it should work with any iOS or Android device, according to the manufacturer.)
I used the iOS app on my iPhone to create three rooms in my home, each of which can have multiple smart light bulbs that can be controlled separately. When I launched the Android app on my Nexus 7 tablet, it immediately detected the settings I'd already saved so I didn't need to repeat any setup steps. (You can also use a Web interface to control your lights.)
Using the mobile app, you can turn your lights on and off, as well as choose from a number of dimmer settings, from anywhere in your home when connected to your Wi-Fi network. If you're out of range of Wi-Fi or you're away from home, you just log in to your TCP account via the app and use the remote access feature to control your lights. The process, using Wi-Fi and remote cellular connections, was seamless every time I tried it.
I found the dimmer feature to be particularly useful. I live in an old building that doesn't have any dimming light switches. Thanks to the Connected by TCP bulbs, I now have dimmable lights in three rooms, all of which can be controlled remotely using a mobile app or the remote control that came with the system. There are 10 "levels" to choose from when dimming, so you can choose how much or how little light you want.
The Smart Control feature is also valuable. The customizable Smart Controls let you set certain times you want your lights to turn on and turn off each day, as well as the "dim level" for each setting. For example, you can set your bedroom lights to turn on at 6 a.m. each day, to wake you with light instead of a blaring alarm clock, and then shut off on their own at 7 a.m., when you're on your way to work. Or, as a security measure when travelling, you can set your living room lights to turn on at 5 p.m. each day and turn off at midnight.
The Smart Control feature works exactly as advertised, and it's very easy to set up and use, just like the rest of the Connected by TCP system. Simplicity is Connected by TCP's real strength -- which is important, because such a system could easily intimidate less tech- savvy users.
Finally, I appreciate how environmentally friendly the Connected by TCP LED bulbs are. When used effectively, the system can reduce the amount of time you leave unused lights on around your home. Each 11-w bulb is rated for 25,000 hours of life and has an estimated energy cost of $1.32 a year, according to the manufacturer.
I'm clearly impressed with Connected by TCP, but there are a few "quirks" worth mentioning.