Now in its third generation, Philips Hue has innovated and dominated the smart home lighting market for the last six years, with an enviable range of white and color LED bulbs, light strips and lamps, including a new weatherproof range that finally takes the brand outdoors.
In that time, the company has steadily improved smart home compatibility and color accuracy while introducing new bulb shapes and stylish lamps designed to smarten up the whole home. Philips has had to press its innovation pedal hard – as a premium brand in the smart home category, it knows there are hundreds of discount competitors seeking to chip away at its market share.
Check our recent round-up of the Best LED Light Bulbs of 2018 as proof. Fabulous lighting solutions from the likes of LIFX, Cree, TP-Link and a horde of lesser-known brands are now available at a snip of Philips Hue’s asking price. So, is splashing out cash on the $199 Philips Hue White and Color Ambience Starter Kit a savvy investment or regrettable indulgence?
A compact and convenient entry into smart home lighting
To be fair, there are cheaper ways to get a Philips Hue system up and running, but they all come with a degree of compromise. A $70 Hue White Starter Kit includes the required Zigbee-powered Hue Bridge, which connects lights to your home network, but the two warm white light bulbs that come with the kit offer just dimming and power control.
For white and colored light, the range-topping Philips Hue White and Color Ambience Starter Kit is a convenient choice, packing four E26 bulbs with the compact Hue bridge and supporting all features. The bridge is reasonably robust, with a chunky central button used to pair up to 50 bulbs and authorize third-party system integrations. It connects to your home router via an included Ethernet cable, so you’ll need to find a spare network port and power outlet. But thankfully, the diminutive hub is easy to tuck away out of sight. Alternatively, it can be wall-mounted, although you’ll need to find your own screw and wall anchor, as none are provided in the box.
It’s worth spending some time with the Hue smartphone app to configure rooms, lighting scenes and routines.
Meanwhile, the latest-generation bulbs are mostly plastic (compared to glass in earlier generations) with a metal screw connector at one end. If this is your first glimpse of a smart bulb, you may be surprised to see how little of the bulb’ surface area is illuminated. But don’t worry, up to 800 lumens output with a color temperature range between 2,000 – 6,500K means that there’s more than enough light available for most rooms, while 16 million colors open a world of customization.
Each bulb has a rated lifetime of 25,000 hours, consuming 10W in use – certainly more power-efficient than traditional halogen bulbs – but these specifications are reasonably standard for a smart bulb. While they can be fitted to a variety of luminaires, you should note that these LED bulbs are strictly for indoor use. If you’re working on a new garden design, take a look at the new Philips Hue outdoor range, including the Philips Hue Calla pathway lamp we recently reviewed.
Simple installation lights up your home in minutes
Basic installation of Philips Hue lighting is reasonably quick, although it’s worth spending some time with the Hue smartphone app (Android and iOS supported) to configure rooms, lighting scenes and routines. More on those shortly.
Connect the Hue bridge to your router and power on, then search for the bridge using the Hue app. Once found, you can install your bulbs, nominating a room for each installation and creating a custom name for each bulb. It takes a little time, but as the number of Hue lights increases in your home, you’ll find it’s well worth the effort.
App packed with convenient customizations and smart integrations
Exploring the Hue smartphone app uncovers a strong selection of lighting controls that make it easy to personalize light settings and configure an array of convenient automations. Chunky switches allow you to toggle lights quickly, while dimming sliders allow you adjust the mood with a simple swipe.
Few competitors can match Hue’s carefully-balanced simplicity and sophistication that enlivens rooms.
Rooms with multiple Hue bulbs benefit from a small number of preset themes, with groovy names like “Tropical Twilight” and Savanna Sunset” that splash various colors around your walls. They may not be to everyone’s taste, but they do a great job of showing off Hue’s ability to create ambience. Of course, you can configure and save your own scenes, through manual adjustments or even from a chosen photograph. Selecting images from your phone and trying out new lighting scenes is a hoot.
Elsewhere, routines allow you to automate lighting around the home. You can configure settings for times you’re away from home, favorite scenes for bedtime and waking, night lights for kids’ bedrooms and more. The menu of automations continues to grow thanks to a healthy developer community with full support for IFTTT and Philips’ own Hue Labs experiments, which range from the gimmicky to the essential.
Add support for Amazon Alexa, Google Home, Nest and other “Friends of Hue,” which work well and offer real convenience, and you’ll soon discover a rich vein of value from that initial investment that’s streets ahead of budget competitors.
Color accuracy and saturation greatly improved over early generations
If you’re a seasoned Philips Hue householder, you may well wish to explore an upgrade to the latest generation of bulbs. One notable difference between early generations (LCT001 or LCT007) and later bulbs (LCT010, LCT014, LCT015, or LCT016) is their ability to accurately render green, blue and cyan colors. Older bulbs suffer from limited color saturation, rendering yellow rather than green and purple over blue. While this may not convince everyone to upgrade, when judged side-by-side, the difference is striking.
If you’re simply seeking basic smart bulbs that illuminate your home on demand or on a schedule, there are cheaper options than Philips Hue that will do a fine job. However, few competitors can match Hue’s carefully-balanced simplicity and sophistication that grants homeowners the ability to enliven rooms with color and create the perfect ambience for family occasions, house parties or simply relaxing in front of the TV or a good book. Put simply, the more time you spend with Philips Hue, the better it gets.
The Philips Hue White and Color Ambience Starter Kit is supported by a three-year warranty.Our Take
Six years from its debut, Philips Hue remains a top pick for smart home lighting. There are certainly cheaper systems around, but continued improvements in color accuracy and saturation combined with an impressive array of customization controls and third-part integrations ensures Philips Hue remains a perfect – if premium – choice.
Is there a better alternative?
The smart home lighting category has exploded with choice over the last six years, but few competitors offer Hue’s versatility. Wi-Fi controlled lighting offers simpler installation, without the need for a standalone hub. LIFX has built a comprehensive range of lighting solutions that’s well worth investigating, while TP-Link gets our nod for those on a budget. Elsewhere, C by GE and Cree offer good-value bulbs with basic features but lack the sophistication and style of Philips Hue.
How long will it last?
As a leader in home and commercial lighting, you can put your trust in Philips. The Hue range has been around for over six years and continues to improve, courtesy of firmware and application updates. Do be aware that Philips quietly introduces hardware improvements in newer generations of Hue products, so expect to upgrade your lighting over time for the best performance and features.
Should you buy it?
If you simply need a basic smart home light system, don’t waste your money on Philips Hue’s advanced performance and sophisticated features. But for smart home owners who wish to make a stylish statement with indoor (and outdoor) illumination, Philips Hue is a real delight.