There’s no place on Earth dark enough that you can’t reach out and be seen by someone.
No, I’m not being metaphorical. There is literally no room, night, or apartment fire escape too dark that you can’t make a video call or perhaps even launch a live stream. That’s because we now have a range of portable lighting options that can perch atop our smartphones and illuminate our faces.
The latest addition to the lighting side of video calling and streaming accessories is the Lume Cube Air VC. Launched at the recent technology free-for-all that is the CES event in Las Vegas, the Air VC is a 1.6-inch LED light that is discreet enough to hide away in your bag until needed.
The Air is a novel device, convenient for the amateur traveling video caller or live streamer, but we’re also wary. The constant advance of smartphone displays may well limit the lifespan of lighting devices such as these.
Lume Cube Air VC: The Basics
The Air VC is hardly a great leap forward in mobile technology, but it does have some nice features that help it compete against its rivals. It ships with one white and one warming silicone diffuser to create a softer-than-torchlight image, and it has a USB chargeable battery that lasts around 40 minutes at full capacity, Bluetooth connectivity, and a custom lens to improve light balance and remove hotspots and shadow.
The real hardware, though, is reserved for the LED itself. It has four brightness levels–and a strobe effect if that better suits your mood–that top out at 400 Lux at one meter. That’s more than enough light to illuminate all your features if you’re standing at arm’s length from your phone.
You can see its CES debut for yourself in the video below:
The Lume Cube Air attaches with a suction cup rather than a solid clasp, which worries us, but given that most phones have a camera built into the top bevel of the phone, we understand the necessity.
We’ve seen similar mobile lighting before, and unfortunately for the Air VC, it is neither the cheapest (at around $80), brightest, or most feature-packed option currently on the market. It is, however, one of the smallest and most robust, which is what could make it a hit with adventurous video callers and live streamers.
The Pros and Cons of the Lume Cube Air
The Air VC is for casual video callers and live streamers. While many of the larger lighting options turn your phone into a bulky device more reminiscent of a film crew accessory than a smartphone, the Lume version doesn’t compromise the convenience of your mobile–or make you feel ridiculous when you’re just trying to video conference a colleague about a project. It can be controlled with an iOS app, but it’ll mount on any smartphone as long as the suction cup is up to the task.
The lightweight design means it’s a practical solution for solo users who are interested more in the experience of their broadcasts than the visuals (you’ll obviously get much better image quality with a streaming-focused webcam and external lighting). It is small enough to keep on your person and power an impromptu call, but it certainly doesn’t have the necessary power to let you join the growing trend of filming movies on a webcam or smartphone. We imagine the Lume Cube Air will be most useful to telecommuters and casual video callers. Considering that you can find larger, more powerful models for a similar price, it should appeal most to those looking for compactness above all else.
However, the whole field of smartphone lighting may well come under threat if smartphone technology continues its rapid advance.
Smartphone Video Calling Hasn’t Finished Its Evolution
Video conferencing on smartphones is still a long way from fulfilling its potential. The convenience and connectivity of the pocket-sized devices make them a tempting bridge between work and play, but in reality, the features and displays just aren’t yet up to professional desktop standards.
We’ve seen some encouraging signs when it comes to screen size–including a potential dual-screen model from Microsoft–but as long as smartphones belong in pockets there isn’t much chance of growth. Lighting and visuals, on the other hand, continue to improve with each new iteration. Ultra-HD cameras and depth-perceiving lenses now adorn high-end smartphone models, and it won’t be long before improved lighting follows.
The problem is, again, one of space. LEDs take up a lot of room, so unless they can be made more intense without draining battery power that route is unlikely. However, Google’s Pixel 3 Night Sight software has found a potential solution. The new low-light feature relies on machine learning and long-exposure tech to brighten photos taken in dark environments that would usually need flash.
This is the kind of baby step that could eventually lead to smartphones built to be complete, self-contained video capture devices. Rather than sporting more lights to improve the quality of video calls and photos, they’ll turn smarter processors. And while the Air VC is plenty compact, it won’t be able to compete against a lighting solution built into the camera itself.