At a suggested retail price of $69.99, the Lumen definitely doesn't come cheap, although it does cost $20 less than what you'll pay if you preorder a bulb from Lifx or iLumi. As for Philips, a single Hue bulb will cost you $59.99, but if you want to use it, you'll need a Hue Bridge, which Philips only sells as part of the $199.95 Hue Starter Pack. Granted, with three smart bulbs in the box, the Hue Starter Kit offers a better price per bulb than any of the current competitors. For one or two bulbs, though, Lumen bulbs look like they might be a smart, affordable alternative -- just so long as you aren't expecting anything more than the most basic controls over the look of your light.
How basic? Think of the currently emerging crop of smart lighting options as a high school advanced-placement class. The Lumen is your average C-student -- smart enough to earn a passing grade in a competitive environment, but not special enough to really stand out from the crowd. The bulb itself looks futuristic, but only in the same way that countless other LED bulbs look futuristic. The Lumen app boasts a simple interface and easy-to-use controls, but it lacks any sort of advanced, distinctive features or creative flourishes. It screams "knockoff" just as loudly as the sad approximation of Tony the Tiger that you'll find on a store-brand box of Frosted Flakes.
Of course, some people prefer the value of store-brand knockoffs, and to an extent, there's value in Lumen bulbs, too. The light does what it promises, changing colors on demand, and if this is all you're looking for from a smart bulb, then look no further. As for the rest of the Lumen's features -- the presets, the wake-up light scheduling, proximity detection, and so on -- all of them felt like they were developed just enough so that Lumenation could say it had developed them. Lumenation earns its completion grade with a working product, but won't be scoring extra credit anytime soon.
Still, wobbly metaphors aside, some people will see advantages to using Lumen bulbs as opposed to pricier, more established products. Unlike Philips Hue bulbs, which connect to the Hue Bridge over a ZigBee mesh network, Lumen bulbs speak directly with your smartphone or tablet over a low-energy Bluetooth connection. This means that setup is as simple as downloading the Lumen app, screwing in your bulb, and turning on your lamp.
Since the Lumen bulb relies on Bluetooth 4.0, it's only compatible with recently released iOS devices (iPhone 4 and iPad 2 users are out of luck). If you have a Bluetooth 4.0-enabled Android device, you'll be able to use Lumen bulbs just as soon as Lumenation releases the Android version of its app, which it promises will happen by the end of 2013. I won't blame you if you hold off on ordering until it makes good on this promise.
Once you've paired your bulb with your device, you'll be able to turn it on and off remotely, change its color, or launch one of the those aforementioned presets. These aren't nearly as numerous or customizable as what you'll get with Philips -- you're limited to two color cycles (the cool-toned "Relaxation Mode" and the warm-toned "Romance Mode"), along with both a fast and slow version of "Party Mode," which strobes red, blue, and green light in succession. Ideally, you'd be able to select your own combination of colors and the speed at which they'd cycle, but the Lumen app doesn't offer this level of functionality yet.