Philips Hue lights (available at Best Buy for $44.99) once seemed like an Apple Store novelty for the rich. However, as smart home products have dropped in price and become more pervasive—not to mention compatible with voice assistants like Alexa and Google Assistant—Philips Hue has turned into a great starting point for building your smart home thanks to its smart home integration, connectivity options, and wide range of styles and colors.
About Philips Hue Smart Lights
Philips Hue is not just one product; it’s a vast collection of smart lights and smart lighting accessories from Philips, one of the biggest names in LED bulbs (and other electronics). The basic starter kit comes with a hub called the Hue Bridge, which you hook up to your router via Ethernet. It won’t work wirelessly without being plugged into your router because the hub and bulbs themselves don’t contain any WiFi tech—instead, they use a protocol called Zigbee.
A command you send from your phone or smart speaker goes to your WiFi router, travels over Ethernet to the Hue Bridge, then gets to the bulbs themselves over the wireless Zigbee protocol. It sounds overly complicated, but it allows for less interference on your home network and less power usage from your bulbs.
Philips Hue White and Color Ambiance Bulbs Specs
- Fitting: E26
- Form Factor: A19
- Expected lifetime: 25,000 hours
- Color: 16 million colors, including warm to cold white
- Brightness: 800 lumens at 4000K (neutral white)
- Power consumption: 9.5W max, 0.5W standby
- Wattage equivalent: 60W
- Wireless connectivity: Bluetooth and Zigbee
Philips offers everything from standard soft white bulbs to color changing bulbs, recessed can lights, light strips, standalone lamps, ceiling fixtures, and more. You can also buy various smart switches, motion sensors, and smart plugs from Philips or partner brands that integrate with the Hue system. What you buy will depend on your house, but mine is mostly full of standard A19 bulbs and recessed lights.
If you’re looking to get started with Hue, I’d recommend the Hue White Ambiance Starter Kit for the best balance of features and cost—it’s cheaper than the color starter kit, and while it doesn’t allow full color changing, it does allow you to change the color temperature, which is useful. (I like a more daylight-esque hue during the day, and a warmer light at night.)
What We Like
The app is full of automation features
While cheaper bulbs may have basic on/off and scheduling functionality, Philips is always upgrading the Hue app with new features and experimental “Labs” to make their platform more powerful. You can group lights into different rooms or zones for one-touch control, set automations based on your location (turning the lights on when you get home), adjust lights at specific times of day (dim lights at sunset), and simulate a sunset or add ambiance to an outdoor space. You can even mimic your everyday activities when you’re on vacation so it looks like you’re home. Using the HDMI Sync box, you can also sync your lights with your TV for full-room immersion.
It works with or without the cloud
In the smart home world, there’s something of a rift between users: some people want the convenience of a cloud-connected product, allowing for simple setup and remote control even when you aren’t at home. Others prefer something independent and locally-controlled, allowing for more freedom, privacy, and security.
Philips Hue offers both of those options. The standard setup is self-contained, with communication between the app and your hub—no internet or Hue account required. You can even use lights without the Hue Bridge, controlling them with a standard Zigbee hub or over Bluetooth. If you choose to add a Hue account to your setup, you can take advantage of more features (see above), and remote control when you’re away from home—but it isn’t necessary.
Wide compatibility with fixtures, apps, and accessories
Philips is the biggest name in the smart lighting space, which means it has more users, developers, and manufacturers integrating its products. That means Philips offers more types of bulbs than many other smart lighting manufacturers (standard A19, candelabra, recessed, and more), so you can easily kit out your whole house. It also means Hue has more switches and other accessories—not just from Philips, but from third parties like Lutron's Aurora switch (arguably the best way to control Hue lights from the wall).
On the software side, Philips Hue bulbs are compatible with just about every smart home platform under the sun (not the least of which is Alexa—voice control is half the reason I own smart lights in the first place). There are even third-party apps, like iConnectHue and All 4 Hue that allow for advanced programming that isn’t available in the standard Hue app.
Philips is a big brand likely to stick around
In the world of smart home, there’s always a danger that companies will discontinue support for a product, go out of business, or provide sub-par support as they pivot to new endeavors.
That danger still exists with Philips—no smart home products are truly immune from this—but it's unlikely with such a well-established brand, and Philips’ local control options mean that your lights will likely still work even if Philips cuts off its cloud service.
What we don’t like
They’re expensive compared to the competition
All of the above comes at a price—literally. Each color-changing bulb costs about $40 apiece, while the standard white bulbs cost $25. You can find respective bulbs from other brands at half that price, which makes Philips a pricey proposal compared to other options. (It’s not just the bulbs, either: accessories like the $40 Lutron Aurora switch add even more to the cost, and the larger your house, the more hundreds of dollars you can end up spending to fill all your fixtures.)
That said, you get what you pay for to an extent, and if you have the money, we think the features, wide compatibility, and likelihood of longevity are worth the extra dough.
Always-on Bluetooth is slightly annoying
Philips’ bulbs used to be Zigbee-only: you needed a Hue Bridge or other Zigbee hub in order for them to work. The latest models, however, also integrate Bluetooth for folks who want to dip their toe in the smart lighting pool without investing in a hub. Thing is, Bluetooth’s short range and occasional quirks make it a less-than-stellar experience, and even if you use a hub, each bulb will still broadcast a Bluetooth signal.
So if you fill your whole house with lights, you’ll be scrolling through dozens of Bluetooth bulbs on your phone every time you want to hook up a wireless speaker or set of earbuds—not a huge deal, but not very convenient either. I wish Hue would allow an option to turn off the Bluetooth transmission when connected to a hub, but alas, no such option exists. (Some old, Bluetooth-free bulbs are still available, but it’s clear that they’re on their way out.)
Mixing smart bulbs with standard switches can be confusing
While not specific to Philips Hue, all smart bulbs have one downside: they require a more involved setup if you want the system to be easy for tech-unsavvy friends and family. Since the lights need power to work (obviously), you need to keep your physical light switches turned on at all times. If anyone flips a switch off, you won’t be able to turn those bulbs on with your phone or voice assistant until someone flips the switch back on. When friends and family are visiting, or if you have a spouse and kids that just don’t get it, smart bulbs can create more confusion than convenience.
You can get around this problem by putting light switch covers over the physical switches and sticking Philips’ affordable Smart Dimmer Switch on the wall, which should ensure people use the smart control rather than the physical switch. Lutron’s Aurora Switch, while more expensive, is even better, since it looks like a standard dimmer and goes right over your on-wall switch.
Or you could eschew smart bulbs entirely and go with smart switches like Lutron Caseta—for a lot of households, this could be cheaper and more family-friendly, though you do lose certain features like color changing. (Color temperature control is one of my favorite parts of smart lighting, which is why I went the more expensive, complicated route of using Hue bulbs with Lutron Aurora switches.)
Should you buy it?
Yes, as long as you don’t mind paying more for the best
While Philips Hue has dropped in price over the years, it’s still one of the pricier options in the smart lighting space. But its myriad features, color changing abilities, and trusted brand make it well worth the price if you have the budget. Whether you’re a veteran of the space or you’re just getting started with a high-tech home, Philips Hue is a great way to make your house a little smarter.
If you want to upgrade to smart lighting at a friendlier price, take a look at the Yeelight Smart LED light bulb. The bulbs are under $20 and you won't need to pay extra for a hub, as they have built-in WiFi.