Last week, I was in my pajamas and about to brush my teeth when my doorbell rang. It was only 8:00 p.m., but I had a really bad cold and had already turned off all the lights, since I was headed to bed. Unfortunately, I was busted by my BeOn bulbs, which I’d trained to turn on at the sound of my doorbell.
I stood in my bathroom, silently mouthing curse words as the visitor started to knock. After a minute, the light faded off, and the visitor left. The bulbs’ ability to turn on when their microphones pick up the sound of your doorbell is one of BeOn’s security features; but of course, it doesn’t have a way to differentiate between a burglar and a benign visitor who thinks — or knows — that you’re ignoring them.
As far as smart light bulbs go, though, the BeOn is pretty unique, even if it doesn’t change color or sync with apps to put on a show. For now, it’s primarily aimed at safety and security.
The hollowed-out bulb fits a tubular yellow module that houses a battery, microphone, and Bluetooth radio. When you slide in the module, the bulb lights up even when it’s nowhere near a lamp, thanks to the battery. So if your power goes out, you should still get four hours’ worth of light out of them. The microphone listens for the doorbell or smoke alarm and will light up in either case.
Installing the bulbs is easy. After downloading the iOS app, I inserted the modules and screwed in the bulbs like any other bulbs. I turned on the lamps, and the app found them. Then I used the doorbell feature, and after ringing it a few times, the bulbs were soon responding to the cue. After trying the bulbs for about a week, they started to learn my habits. The one in my bedroom “knew” that I typically turn it on around 11:30 p.m. (see, I don’t always go to bed at 8!), and when I tried out the “security mode,” it mimicked this behavior. The idea is that if I were out of town, I could set the mode, and someone lurking outside my house would think I was home, sticking to my usual routine.
While the app is fairly navigable, there were some features that left something to be desired. First, you have to pull out your phone and open the app to turn on the light. There’s a “Welcome Home” mode that flicks them on (even if they’re not turned on, thanks to the battery) for three minutes from the home screen. However, to keep them on, you need to go a page deeper. There’s no way to set up a schedule, either. While the fact that it “learns” your behavior is meant to remove the need for this, it would still be nice to be able to set some parameters if I wanted.
The bulbs cost $75 each, and you can get a three-bulb starter pack for $199. Much more expensive than an LED lantern, but the power outage feature is still attractive. The removable module format could hint that BeOn has more tricks up its sleeve, so it will be interesting to see what may happen later in the form of a swappable module packed with new features.
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