The last time I spent much time thinking about LED bulbs was some seven years ago, when a kitchen remodel turned out more operating room than cozy family gathering place. What went wrong? The architect determined that the contractor had purchased the wrong temperature of LEDs; a problem easily fixed.
Since then, I occasionally noticed some advances in LED light bulbs at CES and gadget shows—like dimmable LEDs (now common) and smart bulbs that connect to home Wi-Fi networks for remote control. But nothing that made LEDs shine.
So the last thing I expected when checking out the more than 40 new products at Pepcom’s holiday launch event was to get excited about a couple of LED bulbs. One of these gadgets acts as a Bluetooth speaker that automatically networks with nearby speaker-bulbs to create a surround-sound effect, the other has an adjustable color temperature and a unique user interface. My third gadget pick, a water-powered shower speaker, doesn’t light up, but is about as unobtrusive as a household light bulb.
Here are the details. (Note that this was a virtual event, so the demos and discussions, while held live, were remote; I haven’t actually held any of these gadgets in my hands, much less tested them in the real world.)
The Bluetooth speaker in one of these LED+ bulbs can work alone, or as part of a surround-sound network of as many as 10 bulbs. Company representatives indicated that the gadgets come in a variety of standard bulb sizes to fit lamps, floodlights, or recessed lighting, starting at about US$30. Each bulb comes with a remote control, though in a multi-speaker network only one bulb needs to be paired with the remote; it then acts as a parent and controls the other bulbs in its vicinity.
Image: Feit Electric
These LED bulbs vary color temperature from about 2700K to 6500K, depending on the particular version. As I learned with my kitchen remodel mistake, color temperature matters a lot; it can make the difference between a space feeling like an office or operating room instead of a cozy den. I was particularly impressed by the simple interface that doesn’t require an app or a remote—flicking the light switch on and off cycles through the color options; circuitry in the bulb recognizes the short sequence of power interruptions. And Feit’s representatives made the pitch that in today’s stay-at-home Covid times, the ability to change the feel of a room matters even more than usual, not a bad selling point. Prices, again, vary by type of bulb, but generally start at about US $10, a premium of a couple of dollars over a standard LED bulb.
Another clever placement of a Bluetooth speaker in an ordinary household object, the cool factor of Ampere’s shower speaker isn’t that it’s waterproof, it’s that screws into the shower head to run on hydropower from the shower flow. I was already slightly familiar with the potential of shower power—I have an outside shower that’s lit by LEDs built into the shower head and powered by the water flow. Unlike that gadget, however, Ampere’s device includes a battery that can store power for listening while the shower is off. Company representatives indicated that the gadget produces about 120 milliampere per hour with standard water flow, slightly less or more depending on water pressure, and will retail for around $70. (It is currently taking preorders via Kickstarter.)
Tekla S. Perry is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Based in Palo Alto, Calif., she's been covering the people, companies, and technology that make Silicon Valley a special place for more than 30 years. An IEEE member, she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Michigan State University.