Smart bulbs are getting better, brighter, quicker and easier to install and use. Having just moved into our new house, the first thing I did was rip out the “energy saving” bulbs (you know, the ones that take 15 minutes to “warm up” to mediocre brightness levels) and replace them with smart bulbs. I contemplated getting some more LIFX bulbs, or some more TP-Link bulbs – both of which I’ve used previously, but in the end I decided to jump on to the Philips Hue band-wagon to see what all the hype is about.
- New Gen. 3 “Richer Colours” bulbs, outputting better green and blue colours
- Both E27 and B22 fittings
- 16 million colours
- Up to 800 lumens (60W incandescent equivalent)
- –160° ± 20° beam angle
- Uses only 10W of power
- Hue Bridge 2.0 included
- LED Bulb with an A+ EU Energy Efficiency rating
- Each bulb will last up to 25,000 hours (good indicator for how long this is based on your own use case: http://www.integral-led.com/support/how-long-will-led-lamp-last)
- Massive third-party app/product compatibility:
Setting up the Philips Hue Starter Kit is an incredibly straightforward affair. For me, it was as simple as screw the bulbs into their respective light fittings and turn each light on. Then, all I had to do was plug the Hue Bridge 2.0 into a power outlet, plug the Ethernet cable into the Hue Bridge 2.0 and then plug the other end of the network cable router.
One thing worth mentioning is that you’ll want to place the Hue Bridge in as central a location as possible if your bulbs/accessories are spread throughout your house. Initially, I plugged my Hue Bridge into my primary router, which resulted in the bulbs furthest from the Hub being non-responsive more often than them being responsive!
Next step is to download the Philips Hue app (iOS/Android) and start setting everything up properly! Upon launching the app on your chosen smart device, you’ll find that the app has started automatically searching for your Hue Bridge. Once found, it’s just a case of following the on-screen instructions for finishing off the setup of the Hue Bridge and connecting each of your bulbs
Hue smartphone app
The primary functionality of the Philips Hue app is relatively straightforward to access and use. You get your obvious and easy to use sliders on the “Home” screen for each of your rooms, along with the standard On/Off toggle for each room. The icon for each room acts as a link to the colour palette, where you can select one of 16 million colours and multiple shades/temperatures of white. There are even “predefined” recipes to set useful shades, temperatures and brightnesses of whites.
Tapping on a “Room” takes you in to view all of the bulbs associated with the room, allowing you fine-tuned control over each bulb as opposed to operating them as a group. You get the same controls as at the top level “Room” view – brightness sliders, On/Off toggles and the ability to tap into the colour palette.
From within the Hue app, you have the ability to set “Routines”, which – in incredibly simple terms – allows you to set timers associated with your bulbs. The default routines include:
- Home & Away – Have your bulbs turn on or off dependent on whether your arriving or leaving home
- Wake up – Turn your bulbs on gradually over a set amount of time, simulating a sunrise
- Go to sleep – Wake up in reverse, have your bulbs fade out over a set amount of time
- Other routines – Have your bulbs turn on or off at specific or “Random” times
- Timers – Set a timer and an action for your bulb once the timer completes
The “Explore” screen is where you can find out how to expand the functionality of your bulbs. You’ll find links to “Friends of Hue”, which is essentially a list of the big, well-known names that Hue can integrate with. This includes Alexa, HomeKit, Nest, IFTTT and much more. There’s also an area where Philips advertise the apps that also further extend functionality and work well with the Hue product range. You can even dig in to the beta functionality, by “Testing” new HueLabs formulas.
Personally, I think the Hue app could do with a bit of a redesign and modernisation. If you look at apps from the Hue’s closest competitors, such as LIFX and TP-Link (to name just a couple), these apps have really clean designs and are incredibly simple to use. When looking at the Hue app next to both of the aforementioned apps, the Hue app to me feels dated, cluttered and certain functionality feels buried away.
I purchased this starter kit around 6 weeks ago now and I still have other brands of smart bulbs setup around the house which act as a bit of a comparison point for me. Unfortunately, I never purchased the Gen. 2 Hue bulbs, therefore I can’t comment on the validity of the “Richer Colours” claim, however this blog post by Eric Murrell over at At home in the Future does a pretty good job of showing how much more vibrant the greens and blues output by the Gen. 3 “Richer Colours” bulbs are. Blues and greens are pretty vibrant whenever I scroll through the colour palette and none of the colours seem overly washed out.
On to my personal experience: The first thing I noticed is that the Hue colour bulbs are NOWHERE near as bright as the smart bulbs I’ve used before. When I first turned them on, I had to triple check that I’d set the bulbs to full brightness. My LIFX Colour 1000 (which is now a good few years old!) is SIGNIFICANTLY brighter than the Hue bulbs no matter what colour you set the bulb to. Something to bear in mind is that the Hue bulbs don’t output a constant 800lm of brightness. As you vary the colour or even white temperature, the lumens level will fluctuate. This is something that Philips point out on the Hue product page:
800 lm @ 4000K 570 lm @ 3000K 342 lm @ 2000K 550 lm @ 6500K 80 lm/W luminous efficacy @4000K >80 CRI from 2000–4000K
Hue Richer Colours Starter Kit product page
However, the Hue bulbs do do one thing that the LIFX bulbs don’t, which makes them really stand out to me, and that’s integrate with Apple’s HomeKit. Call me lazy, but if my bulbs are connected to my Wi-Fi – I want to be able to control them without having to touch anything! As long as I’m on my home Wi-Fi network (more on this in a moment), I can demand Siri turn my lights on or off, dim or brighten a room, or even set a specific bulb to a specific brightness and colour.
The “voice control” gimmick hasn’t worn off yet either – it still to this day impresses me that I can tell my phone to lower the lights in a room and it happens in less than a second. I do find though, that I now simply stick to “Hey Siri, Turn the dining room light on”, “Hey Siri, Turn the living room light off” or “Hey Siri, Set the bedroom light to 25%”. I find myself using the colour functionality less and less – mainly because (per my LIFX Colour 1000 review), my wife isn’t a big fan of all things RGB!
The only time I tend to use the Hue app nowadays is when I want to set a specific colour/white temperature, or when Siri tells me that my bulbs aren’t responding or that I’m not on the same Wi-Fi network as the bulbs.
Issues I’ve had
Something I touched on briefly is having to be on the same Wi-Fi network to use Siri functionality. Now, I fully appreciate that this doesn’t relate directly to the Hue bulbs, however it’s a gripe I have with general HomeKit functionality. I personally don’t own an Apple TV, or have an iPad that’s always at home fully charged and logged in to my iCloud account, therefore I can’t use Siri to control anything I’ve integrated with HomeKit on my iPhone. This is one of those annoying Apple ecosystem restrictions that is just plain annoying! With iOS 11 coming, I know there will be some changes around HomeKit functionality, however this issue still stands up to this point.
If I’m at home and sat on my sofa, but for whatever reason my phone isn’t connected to my Wi-Fi and I ask Siri to drop the lights – I’m greeted by a rather lengthy and unhelpful response of “bulbname is not responding. Make sure you’re on the same Wi-Fi or have HomeKit remote access setup.“. At this point, I then have to reach for my phone and connect to Wi-Fi (I know, first world problems) before demanding Siri try turning my lights off again (in a much more aggressive manner).
If you’re integrating with something like Google’s Home or Amazon’s Alexa, this won’t be an issue for you!
Hue Bridge location
Another issue I briefly mentioned relates to the placement of your Hue Bridge. Initially, I connected my Hue Bridge directly to my primary router where the fibre comes into my house. This termination point is right next to my front door, which is on the lowest level of my house. Each floor in my house is made of solid concrete and Wi-Fi signals seem to struggle to operate throughout the entire house without the need for extra access points. Whilst the Hue Bridge was installed here, the furthest bulbs from the Bridge would repeatedly become unresponsive and uncontrollable.
Therefore, my solution was to install the Hue Bridge alongside/into the most central Access Point in my house. Since doing this, I’ve had no issues with bulbs being unresponsive.
With all the hype around the Hue bulbs, I was expecting a lot. I was expecting these bulbs to completely wow me! Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case so far. Currently, I still have the 3 bulbs installed that came with the starter kit, alongside my existing LIFX and TP-Link bulbs. The major stand-out functionality that makes these bulbs worthwhile to me is the HomeKit integration.
Don’t get me wrong, the Hue bulbs are overall pretty good – there’s definitely some impressive functionality and if you’re looking for extensive functionality, integrations and potential, the Hue bulbs may be the perfect option for you. But “pretty good” to me doesn’t quite justify the £150/$200 price tag associated with each additional bulb.
I found that colours feel slightly washed out when compared to my LIFX Colour 1000 bulbs and brightness levels are definitely nowhere near as impressive as LIFX’s offering.
That being said, something I would like to do is extend the range of products I have installed to include the Hue LED strips and mood lights such as the Hue Go as it seems the vaster the collection, the more integrated into your life the products become and the more you get out of them. The Hue product family is SIGNIFICANTLY larger than anything else in the market and this may be the decider for you. Philips now offer lamps, mood lights, LED strips, accessories and a plethora of bulb form-factors to suit any requirement you may have.
At the same time, forking out a further £50/$50 per bulb is a fair investment/gamble in my opinion, for something that is now potentially not quite as good as it’s closest competitor, especially when you consider that the aforementioned competitors bulbs can now be purchased at prices under £40/$50 and rely solely on Wi-Fi and not a dedicated bridge.
Personally, I think I’ll wait for the “Gen. 4” bulbs before expanding my Hue smart lighting, with the hope that colour reproduction and brightness will have improved.
Philips Hue: http://www2.meethue.com/
Richer Colours Starter Kit product page: http://www2.meethue.com/en-gb/p/hue-white-and-color-ambiance-starter-kit-b22/8718696593059