This long strip can illuminate a big space, but is it worth not having smarthome control?
The Bottom Line
If your goal is to provide a simple mood light capability to your home, you can't go wrong with the IlluminEssence. If you're looking for a way to expand the capabilities of your connected smarthome, this is not the product for you.
Where To Get It
PLuGHiTz Live Unboxed
For its price, this IlluminEssence kit is a better than average Value. At a retail price of under $30, the extended length RGB LED light strip, plus the RF remote you get in the kit is on par or better than even an off-branded Chinese counterpart. However, this kit is not for everyone. The lack of smarthome or smartphone Usability limits the appeal for those who are decking out their home or office with the latest and greatest smarthome products. Before making this purchase, consider what your intended use will be.
There are two primary components to the IlluminEssence Large Space kit: the LED strip and the remote control. Each component has its own unique Design.
The design of the LED strip is pretty traditional. There's a wheel with a tape: one side has 3M adhesive, while the other has a series of flat tracked LEDs. The power and control lines are run along the length of the tape. This design allows the owner to adjust the length of the strip to their needs simply by cutting it at one of the junctions, which appears every inch or so. At one end is a connector to attach to power using a wall wart (power block).
The remote is designed to be small, without sacrificing usability. The back of the remote is rounded and fairly ergonomic, fitting into the palm of the hand quite comfortably. Unfortunately, the buttons down the center, the speed controls, are placed in such a way that it is easy to trigger the wrong feature. If you try to operate the remote with a single hand, you are likely to change the brightness of the lights or the mode by accident. This is because you are reaching across capacitive buttons to interact with another capacitive button.
It is important to note that this is NOT an actual smarthome product. As such, its Connectivity is incredibly limited. To control both the LED strip, you must use the included remote control. Out of the box, the remote is pre-programmed to control the strip but can be expanded or altered if you purchase other products in the IlluminEssence product line. The controls run on RF and not infrared, however, meaning that you do not have to be in line-of-sight, making the setup for more versatile.
This does mean that you will not be able to control the light with a digital assistant, like Cortana, Alexa, or Google Assistant. You will also not be able to control it with your smartphone. The only exception to these rules is that the light defaults to ON and clear white when power is applied. That means that you could use a smarthome product to control an outlet to turn the light on and off. You still will not be able to trigger a particular color or pattern without the remote.
The Range of the remote control is a little better than expected. In a three bedroom apartment, the remote is able to control lights almost from one corner to the other. Moving slightly closer, the remote begins to have full control over that corner light. In this same space, it is not unusual for Bluetooth speakers and headphones to fail on this same corner-to-corner test, and the signal strength of Bluetooth is theoretically significantly stronger and more resilient than the frequencies used by the IlluminEssence remotes.
The capabilities of the IlluminEssence remote control are surprisingly fine-grained. At the top is the obvious power on/off buttons. Below that is a color wheel, which allows you to choose an exact color to match your mood or environment. You can also reset the color to white by pressing the "power on" button again. In the center of the wheel is an indicator that shows when a command has been sent to the devices.
There are some adjustment buttons in addition to the static light features. On the left side under the color wheel is brightness control. Defaulting at 100%, you can adjust it all the way down to 10% of full brightness. In addition to resetting to white, the "power on" button will also reset the brightness to full. On the right is a mode control. It features five mood settings and three holiday settings. The moods are Club 1 and Club 2, which are both variations on strobe lights in different colors, with Club 2 being faster than Club 1. Then you have Lounge, Beach, and Sunset, all of which are gradual color changes. Lastly are Christmas, Independence, and Halloween, which are also gradual color changes, with the colors of their holidays. The center buttons control the speed of the modes, allowing you to slow down or speed up any of the programs.
As the Controls are fairly straight forward, the Learning Curve is not terribly steep. In fact, most customers will have little to no trouble understanding how to use the products directly out of the box. There are only two features of the IlluminEssence lineup that will not be easily discoverable. The first is the function of the center indicator. The confusion is around the fact that it looks like a button, and pressing it does sometimes cause the light to change color, usually to green or orange. After using the light for several months, we still sometimes forget that this isn't a reset button.
The second aspect of the lineup that will cause some trouble is adding new products to the remote. It requires putting the remote into a receiving mode and applying power to the new light (bulb or strip).
The Build Quality of the IlluminEssence light, like all products that bear the Monster name, is very high quality. The strip has no unexpected sharp edges or molding imperfections. The only part of the product line that does have production issues is the remote control. The seams between molded pieces are sharp and do not seal smoothly. In addition, the sensitivity of the buttons is inconsistent. Sometimes it takes a lot of pressure to activate a button, while in other cases, the color might change just by holding the remote.
The IlluminEssence products do exactly what they are advertised to do, and they do it well. In fact, they do a little more than was expected, with the ability to add additional products onto an existing remote control. The expandability of the remotes and the ability for a single light to be controllable from more than one remote make the product line incredibly versatile.
In our experience, we encountered only two problems. The first is that, while the remotes are supposed to be pre-programmed for the lights in their corresponding box, some of our viewers have reported having to reprogram out of the box. It is important to note, however, that all of our remotes were correctly programmed. The second issue is the occasional skipping of commands. In expanding the capabilities of one of the remotes, we have seen that sometimes one or more of the lights will not respond to commands. This has been especially prevalent with this product. Whether that is because of the product or because of the order it was programmed is unknown.
Size & Weight
In reality, the only part of the IlluminEssence system whose Size & Weight really matters is the remote control. The remote is very small; smaller even than most accessory remotes, such as a DVD player or surround sound system. However, the size makes sense for what it is. With the batteries in the remote, it is a little heavier than an average small remote control. The weight, however, is not unbearable or even unacceptable.
Unfortunately, the only Compatibility that the IlluminEssence products have is with one another. The system runs on its own closed ecosystem, meaning that it is not part of any smarthome system. While you can turn the light on or off using an external source, like a smarthome outlet, you can only control the colors, brightness, and modes from the system's own remote controls. It is possible that, over time, a hub control might be created, or a company like Harmony might work out the signal structure. For now, however, it is a closed ecosystem.
The standard Setup of a single mood lighting package is incredibly easy. In fact, there is absolutely no setup involved. All you have to do is plug in the light, in this case, the LED strip, and you are done. The remote control included in the box is pre-programmed to work with the lights that are part of the package. This means that you have no work to do to make everything work together.
If you are combining packages, however, things get a little more difficult, but not by much. Two individual kits can work in the same building without any issue. However, if you want to add a light from one kit to another remote, you'll need to pair them. Simply put the remote control into pairing mode and apply power to the light you want to add. Adding the light to a new remote does not remove it from its existing remote, meaning that you could have different remotes for different rooms or even different remotes for different purposes.
Based on what the kit is supposed to do, the product is pretty useful. The strip powers on to white when power is applied. This means that plugged directly into a wall outlet can make them controllable from a wall switch as well as the remote. When added to a smarthome wall outlet, they can even be powered on and off by voice or phone.
However, their lack of third-party control really limits its overall reach. With no ability to control the color of the light from your phone or a smarthome hub, it means that it cannot be used as part of an existing scene for a room, and cannot be included in any kind of responsive system. Ideally, some sort of additional hub that acts as a remote control, but can be controlled via Wi-Fi, would make these lights a more well-rounded solution.