Solar garden lights are a dime a dozen these days, but if you’re looking to kick it up a notch, the Playbulb version adds a ton of fun features.
Whether you just want to light up the path to your door, or you want to add lighting accents to your yard, standard solar garden lights are cheap and simple to use. Available at every hardware store and home improvement centre, these basic solar lights are incredibly affordable and don’t require any setup or maintenance. Just push the base of one into the ground in a sunny location, and you’ve got an easy method of adding after-dark visibility to your home.
However, if the plain old white solar lights just aren’t doing it for you, there’s a new “intelligent” option that couples solar charging with colour-changing LEDs and the accompanying app can be used to control not just the colours, but to also add a range of lighting effects to your yard. The MiPOW Playbulb garden light was launched last year after a successful Kickstarter campaign and is just one of the company’s intelligent lighting offerings.
I got to spend some time recently trying out a review unit of the MiPow Playbulb solar garden light, and after using it for a bit, I can honestly say that while this device has its weak points (don’t they all?), it is a fun and functional lighting accessory that could bring new life to your outdoor (or indoor) spaces. Here’s a look at some of the features.
The MiPOW Playbulb garden light is quite a bit larger than the average solar light, measuring 5.58″ x 1.77″ x 1.77″ (14.2 x 4.5 x 4.5 cm) not counting the mounting stake, which adds a few inches to the height, but it also has quite a few more features than just lighting up when it gets dark. Like all solar garden lights, a solar cell on top of the device charges an internal battery during the day, which in the case of the Playbulb is a 650 mAh Li-ion battery said to be capable of producing up to 20 hours of lighting on a full charge, and a built-in light sensor automatically turns the device on and off, but that’s where the similarity between this device and other solar garden lights ends.
The Playbulb garden light, which only has a single button on it (off/on), is an app-controlled device (iOS and Android) that runs on the Playbulb X platform, allowing virtually unlimited colour options and the ability to set up groups of Playbulb devices that can work in concert with each other. It is (obviously) designed to be an outdoors accessory, and is water- and dust-resistant, but the mounting stake (“Monopod”) can be easily removed so that the device can be used indoors as accent or mood lighting, although it still requires sunlight to charge the battery, so it’s not a perfect fit for inside lighting.
The app for controlling the Playbulb products is simple to use, and relies on Bluetooth to connect to the devices, which the company says can be done at up to 20 meters away, after which the app can be used to instantly change the output of the garden light to any of “millions of colors and shades” or to group additional lights together to control them together. The interface, which allows you to just tap on a color wheel to select the hue you’d like, isn’t perfect by any means, as I found myself wishing I could type in an HTML or hex color code to get the exact color I wanted, but unless you’re trying to get the garden light color to exactly match your party outfit, I don’t think it’s an issue.
Along with being able to choose from about a bazillion colours, and to control the brightness of the device, the app also has five effects that can add a little fun and funkiness to your next garden party. The Flashing effect does exactly what it says, which is to flash the light on and off in any colour you choose, at the speed that you choose. The Pulse effect does a similar thing, although it’s more of a softer and slower option (much more my style than the on/off Flashing effect). Two Rainbow effects allow for the light to continuously cycle through a rainbow of colors, and although the main Rainbow effect was a bit too abrupt of a color change for me, the Rainbow Fading effect makes for a slow and mellower cycling of colors (both of these have a speed control for faster or slower changes). The Candle effect is an attempt to replicate the flickering nature of candlelight, either as a white light or any of the many colours possible from the device.
A Timer feature allows users to set a Wake or Sleep schedule for a specific time, along with the duration and desired colour of lighting, and two custom Timer settings allow for users to set up additional schedules for the device, which means that four different scheduling schemes are possible with the Playbulb. Other than just playing around with these features, I didn’t see any real use in my life for the scheduling aspect of the device, but I imagine that it could be useful to other users. The device can also be password protected, just in case you’ve got drive-by garden light hackers in your area who are looking for vulnerable lighting devices to change the settings on.
The weakest point of the device that I could see is that the Playbulb garden light is only chargeable via the solar cell, which is not necessarily a bad thing if it’s only meant to be used outside, but which seems to be a drawback if you want to use the device inside for long periods. There is no external power input on the device, so you can’t just plug it in to charge it, but with an estimated 8-10 hour charge time, and a 20-hour lighting capacity, it may not be an issue for most users.
Two additional weak points are worth mentioning, the first of which is its plastic construction (which is, unfortunately, the case with many new products). I don’t know for sure, but I imagine all it would take to crack the housing on this is a single misstep or a child running through the yard, and living as I do in the high desert, I know that plastic devices that sit outside all the time have a short lifespan before they become brittle and broken. Your mileage may vary. The other weak point, which is common to a lot of devices these days, is the sealed nature of the product’s casing, which means that replacing the battery isn’t really an option. Granted, some Li-ion batteries have a long life, but as you may have also experienced, some of them aren’t so long-lived, and if you can’t replace the battery, the device essentially becomes a brick. I haven’t had the Playbulb garden light long enough to comment on the quality of the battery, other than it appears to have the capacity and charging specs stated on the box.