Review: Philips Hue Personal Wireless Lighting Starter Pack

in General Discussion edited February 2014
Philips's Hue Light Bulb combines energy-efficiency, wide-spectrum LED lighting and remote control capabilities via iOS app into a neat little package, but is it worth the high price of entry?


The Philips Hue Wireless Light Bulb promises full control of its functions over Wi-Fi, including per-light brightness and color settings, remote operation and geofencing capabilities. In addition, Philips includes a powerful GUI-driven app to custom tune lighting in nearly any environment.

So far, the product has been popular with early adopters, but its high price tag has kept it out of reach for many would-be users. In this in-depth review, we discuss whether the color-changing Hue represents a real value on the dollar, or is merely an expensive one-trick pony.


Hue bulbs are heavy. Carrying three separate LED modules rated at a combined 600 lumens, the base is mostly heat sink. At the bottom is an A19 socket, otherwise known as a regular light bulb socket, attached to an aluminum stem. Up top is a translucent glass dome, under which sits the three-LED array.


Each tuned LED has the ability to output different colors, which allows Hue to mix shades to more accurately reproduce what Philips claims is a full spectrum of light. In tandem with other bulbs, users can create an almost endless variety of color combinations.

When the bulbs have been operating for any amount of time they become hot to the touch. You can really feel the heat sink working as the upper glass portion remains moderately cool, a good thing for enclosed lamps or those with cloth shades. We wouldn't say Hue is hotter than a conventional incandescent, however. In fact, its metal construction affords a more efficient mode of heat transfer compared to an all-glass bulb.

Inside, Hue boasts a communications module for talking to the ZigBee LightLink wireless standard bridge, which comes with the Hue Starter Pack. This means the bridge and bulbs can be used in conjunction with other LightLink-compatible products, like remote switches, timers and other manufacturers' lights.

Philips estimates Hue will last 15,000 hours while drawing up to 8.5 watts at full blast. By contrast, an equivalent incandescent pulls 40 watts and is usually rated with a 1,000-hour lifespan, while compact fluorescents, or CFLs, are rated at 10,000 hours.


Philips produces its own LEDs and says the Hue bulb is rigorously tested to ensure low color deviation. The company ensures color consistency to be less than 5 SDCM, or standard deviations of color matching. SDCM is a photometric measurement that defines differences in color. In short, fluctuation in color over Hue's lifetime and between individual bulbs is very low, but may still perceptible to users with acute vision.


On the hardware side, setup consists of plugging the ZigBee bridge into a power outlet and wireless router, then screwing in the Hue bulbs. From there, almost everything else is done in-app.


Because the bulbs don't have a physical "on/off" switch, they are powered on by default. When first screwed in, the light is set to a warm tone that mimics light thrown by an incandescent bulb.

Once everything is set up and powered on, the app will direct you to press the sync button on the bridge. Once the bridge is discovered by the iOS device, any activated bulbs should automatically be located and identified in the app. Users can change the name of their lights at this time, or can do so at a later date via the settings menu. By default, the app designates the bulbs "Hue Lamp 1," "Hue Lamp 2," and so on.


The app also has a feature to add additional bulbs, with the bridge supporting up to 50 lamps for the well-heeled home automation fan.

We didn't encounter any hiccups with Hue's setup procedure, though we did experience the occasional bridge disconnection when first testing the product. Another issue would force us to rediscover the bridge and bulbs whenever the units were accidentally powered down or the ethernet cable was removed. The problem has since been solved, however, allowing hassle-free connectivity even after experiencing a cable or power outage.

In use

The possibilities with remote lighting are already exciting, but add in the option to change colors and Hue starts to look rather enticing. Covering the most important functions first, Hue is a capable everyday lighting system. To be clear, this is not only "mood lighting" or a decorative appliance, but is a viable light made to perform as would any conventional lamp.


In our main testing environment, also known as my home, we use CFL bulbs in all available sockets. For example, in the living room, we have 55W, 5000K full-spectrum CFLs putting out a considerable amount of light, so we are used to having a bright space.

With the starter kit, Philips provides three bulbs and one bridge, which is just about enough power to comfortably light a medium size room. We think the starter kit can handle anything from a small living area to a bedroom, but anything larger would require extra bulbs.

The app has a number of light presets, including shades of white from warm to extremely cool. Among the preset whites are temperatures designed to go with specific activities. Warmer shades include "Reading" and the almost-red "Relax," while cooler options are named "Concentration" and "Energize."

For our purposes, "Concentration" was used the most, though we did experiment with warmer shades and found their descriptions to be pretty accurate. As an example, "Relax" is actually a relaxing color we would use to wind down at the end of the day.

Philips is big on light research and how it translates to health and wellness. The company has brought a few light therapy product to market, and while Hue is not sold solely on that application alone, the lights do have baked-in features that are said to help modify moods.

Scenes and Light Recipes

If you're not keen on the white shades Philips provides, they can be changed in-app. In fact, Hue can reproduce so many shades of white that the color has its own palette to choose from, extending from an almost golden color to a harsh pale blue.

Since bulbs can be controlled separately, users can tune an environment to suit their tastes, then save the result as a custom setting, or what Philips calls "scenes" and "light recipes."


Aside from the white light presets, the app comes loaded with over ten Hue settings meant to recreate "scenes," like "Deep Sea," "Greece" and "Ski." Each scene comes with a picture and the app tries to match dominating colors to recreate the image on a bigger scale.

For example, in "Deep Sea," one bulb is set to blue, while the other two are positioned in the same spot on the red jellyfish. Users can also edit the scene by pressing the pencil icon next to the scene's brightness slider.


In editing mode, both a white shade palette and the selected image are shown. Users can change a bulb's color in real time by dragging an eyedropper icon over the photo until they land on a pleasing shade. Color changes are stepless, making transitions smooth and actually fun to play with.

The app also allows users to import pictures from the Photos app or the Hue online community. We tried recreating various scenes to mixed results. As can be expected, more dynamic and colorful photos play out better than drab snapshots. A good example is a beach scene with a bright blue sky, white sand and maybe some green trees.

Hue can reproduce primary colors effectively, but has a bit of trouble with secondary and tertiary shades. Color matching with pictures is quite good, however, especially when using a bright sunlit photo.

Remote control

One of Hue's main features is remotely controlling lamps. Users are actually forced to use the app as turning lights on and off with a switch will reset them to the default setup color.

Philips offers a number of control options besides the dedicated app. Most notable is a geofencing mode officially introduced in May that turns selected lights on or off when a paired iOS device enters or exits a predefined area, usually their home. When Hue first introduced the feature, it was nearly unusable. Geofences were unreliable and turning on the feature sucked our iPhone's battery dry by constantly updating location data.

An update to the app fixed the battery life issue and tweaked the mode to allow for more customization. The latest version lets users not only geofence, but activate time filters as well. Previously, when geofencing was turned on, lights would go on and off whenever we entered and exited our house, even in the daytime. With time filters, users can opt to turn lights on only after daylight hours.


Lamps can also be set to an alarm timer, which turns lights on or off at a predetermined time. The setting also allows for more granular control in choosing which days the alarm is active. Finally, a timer can be selected to cycle through scenes at given intervals.

Users are able to save geofencing, alarm and timer settings as scenes, up to a total of 90.

The Hue app also has hooks in If This Then That (IFTTT), which offers a few more remote control possibilities. We tried IFTTT's SMS service and created the recipe "If 'Send Text' Then 'Turn Off Hue.'" It worked so well we use it in conjunction with Siri to turn off house lights hands-free. IFTTT also has recipes to change Hue's color when a new picture is added to Photos, dim the lights and cycle through scenes, among others.

That's another great feature. With wireless data, we can control the lights at home, or at least the ones with Hue installed. Philips makes users sign into a special Web portal to take advantage of the away-from-home functionality, but signing up is worth it as the app is able to relay the current state of each Hue bulb and conduct other system management actions.


Putting the app-driven automation together during a recent trip, we used the alarm to turn the lights on and off at night at random times to fend off intruders, and would confirm that all lights were off the next day via the Hue Web portal.

The portal also serves as another place from which to control and monitor your Hue bulbs, making them accessible from any internet-connected device.


Our time with Hue was not all positive, however. We found that the app can only support one bridge and, therefore, one set of lights at a time, which is a problem for users who have a set of bulbs in the office and at home. According to Philips, there isn't much demand for multi-bridge support, so there are no plans to integrate the function anytime soon.

Confusingly, the company's website says that users with two or more starter kits can connect the bridges to their router and control each one with separate apps. As there is no way to easily duplicate apps in iOS, we can only assume the company is suggesting we use different devices for each bridge; hardly an optimal solution.


Hue may not be the light bulb reinvented, but the system is just as bright as standard incandescent and CFL models, more efficient than both and comes with built-in remote control and color changing capabilities.


When Hue first launched, the software was not developed to the point where it could take full advantage of the hardware. With the latest revision, Philips has shown great progress in not only implementing noteworthy new features like geofencing, but also extending support to third-party developers.

We think this last point is crucial to the success of Hue. By opening up the platform to outside parties, Philips is inviting unique ideas and input to their project. With a large, involved community, Hue's hardware can go further and mature at a much faster pace.

For those looking for a polished remote control light with great app support, tons of automated functions and the option to set "mood lighting," we can recommend Hue as the best product currently on the market. Others who want a simple setup, don't care about light recipes and don't need to remotely control or automate their system would be better suited with another product.


The Philips Hue Starter Kit sells for $200 on Amazon and comes with three bulbs plus wireless bridge. Individual bulbs can be purchased for $60.

Score: 4 out of 5



  • Efficient LED technology
  • Color changing "scenes" and "light recipes" are actually useful
  • Extensive remote control capabilities


  • Expensive if you're looking for a simple remote control light
  • Washed-out tertiary colors
  • Bridge compatibility issues


  • Reply 1 of 27
    solipsismxsolipsismx Posts: 19,566member
    Maybe once 3rd-party solutions start rolling in I could see a consumer use for this but as of right now it's just an expensive gadget. I could see it tied to a doorbell and/or phone so the deaf could get lights throughout a home that change colors without a costly and ultimately clunky solution I've seen in the past, but outside of that I find it hard to see real consumer usage that would make this worthwhile.
  • Reply 2 of 27
    drblankdrblank Posts: 3,383member
    What do you mean by "bridge compatibility issues". That's kind of vague.
  • Reply 3 of 27
    poochpooch Posts: 768member
    good lord. the lighting in the four colored appleinsider photos is horrible. you're not doing the advertiser any favors by publishing them.
  • Reply 4 of 27

    not a fan of hue, i have zero desire to have something plugged into the wall all the time.  that is why this company is so appealing,

    a wifi bulb without plugging anything in, a led controllable bulb that is no more hassle than installing a bulb, unlike hue.

  • Reply 5 of 27
    jkichlinejkichline Posts: 1,350member

    While it's nice to not have to use a bridge, these bulbs are also 50% more expensive.  The nice thing with the bridge is that it provides one point of access for the smartphone to communicate with to control all the bulbs in your home (Hue supports up to 50 on a bridge).  It also lets you control Hue remotely.  For instance, I can turn on lights in my house anywhere in the world.  The bridge also handles things like schedules.  I know all of this because I'm working on an app for Hue and possibly other bulbs in the future.


    LIFX is pretty cool looking, it's just much more expensive than the bridge model just to save plugging something in once.

  • Reply 6 of 27
    paxmanpaxman Posts: 4,666member
    To me this akin to a dishwasher with 12 (or more) pre-programmed wash cycles. It makes sense in the store but in reality you only ever use one. Much to do about very little. Mood lighting? Light a candle.
  • Reply 7 of 27
    jkichlinejkichline Posts: 1,350member

    You can also set different colors for lights and also run complete light shows from your iPhone using the Ambify app.  Much more than a candle.

  • Reply 8 of 27

    I've been putting Hue bulbs throughout my house. I'm really happy with them so far. They are expensive, but to me, they are worth it. There are some good 3rd party apps out there now for Hue. My favorite so far is the Goldee App. The Goldee App has 10 dynamic themes, with 100's more on the way. I've been on several trips recently, so it's nice being able to turn the lights on at night when I'm away. I just bought a set of the new Hue Downlights and those are really nice. 

  • Reply 9 of 27

    Originally Posted by revenant View Post


    not a fan of hue, i have zero desire to have something plugged into the wall all the time.  that is why this company is so appealing,

    a wifi bulb without plugging anything in, a led controllable bulb that is no more hassle than installing a bulb, unlike hue.

    It's not a hassle using Hue at all. Just plug in the bridge to your router, screw in the bulb, and you're done. It's pretty simple. 

  • Reply 10 of 27
    revenant wrote: »
    not a fan of hue, i have zero desire to have something plugged into the wall all the time.  that is why this company is so appealing,
    a wifi bulb without plugging anything in, a led controllable bulb that is no more hassle than installing a bulb, unlike hue.

    Wow they came up with wireless power too? Amazing.
  • Reply 11 of 27
    hill60hill60 Posts: 6,992member
    Originally Posted by Boltsfan17 View Post


     I just bought a set of the new Hue Downlights and those are really nice. 


    That's what I need, in my home theatre room I currently have 6 240 volt 1 watt LED downlights, atm all I can do is 4 on, 2 on or 6 on, it would be nice to dim or change colours as they are bright white.


    There's a router there too, maybe Santa will bring some for Xmas.

  • Reply 12 of 27
    You can get comparable (in some ways better) functionality for a fraction of the price:

    I've had these installed at my place for over a year. They were easy to setup and have worked flawlessly. The remotes are super inexpensive so you can have one in each room. And having a dedicated remote beats having to unlock your phone and find an app every time you want to change the lighting.

    Personally I think the colored bulbs are a silly gimmick which most people will get bored with after the first day. You pay a price for this multi-color feature in terms of the brightness of the bulb, especially when you just want normal white lighting. The LimitlessLED white bulbs have 820 lumens of brightness, compared to Phillips' 600 lumens.

    Shipping is expensive because they come from New Zealand, but given the lower price points, in the end you will get a whole lot more bang for your buck.

    [IMG ALT=""][/IMG] [IMG ALT=""][/IMG]
  • Reply 13 of 27

    Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post

    Maybe once 3rd-party solutions start rolling in I could see a consumer use for this but as of right now it's just an expensive gadget. I could see it tied to a doorbell and/or phone so the deaf could get lights throughout a home that change colors without a costly and ultimately clunky solution I've seen in the past, but outside of that I find it hard to see real consumer usage that would make this worthwhile.

    There are actually a ton of third-party apps that collectively do hundreds of specific use cases. If your doorbell supports IFTTT (If This Then That) you could easily set up the use case you describe for the hearing-impaired.

  • Reply 14 of 27

    I agree. The Philips Bridge may sound clunky, but you plug it in and forget about it. Sounds much better than wondering what happens if someone turns off the light switch for the bulb that happens to be my LIFX "master" bulb. I'm excited for 2014 to see all the new hardware hit the market and duke it out. LIFX is (supposedly / awkwardly) shipping "any day now" but no word on a 3rd party SDK. Another company called ilumi is putting the wraps on their product for a launch in 2014, and that'll use Bluetooth. Lightbow should support them all, though right now it only controls those that have a developer kit (Philips, or Belkin WeMo)

  • Reply 15 of 27
    Far far far too expensive%u2014I just counted the bulbs in my small house (currently using LEDs and LED spots that cost about $5 to $8 each now). The result is 20 upstairs and 13 downstairs. 33 x 60 = almost $2000 for lightbulbs%u2014dream on Philips.
  • Reply 16 of 27
    So they just give you bafflegab about "warmer" and "cooler" (used backwards, to add insult to injury) and meaningless terms about "moods"? Why can't any of these people (or TV and computer manufacturers) let you set the color temperature directly? Say 3300 ?K if you want incandescent-like lighting, or 6500 ?K for sunlight-like, or if you want to pretend you live on Rigel XII, like Apple seems to, set it at 12000 ?K.

    IMO what needs to be prevented, at all costs, is allowing settings for the three colors that you can't draw a blackbody curve through. This totally unnatural lighting will drive you nuts eventually, I'm convinced.
  • Reply 17 of 27
    Basic problem: Missing compatible wall switch.

    I like this gadget, but in short time you will find, that switch on/off only using iPhone is no so much practical.

    You can switch on by doing "Off/On". it start in default mode.

    But if you you wint to switch (and still keep possibility manage it remotely), you can do it only by apps. You can switch off it, of course, but at this moment you lost remote control.

    Theroreticaly you can use any Zigbee switch, but if you try to google it...
  • Reply 18 of 27
    jkichlinejkichline Posts: 1,350member

    You can use any wall or light switch as a standard bulb.  When you turn it on, it uses a default warm white light and fades on.  You can also turn it off that way.  You don't even need to use a remote at all unless you want to do fancier things.

  • Reply 19 of 27
    hmurchisonhmurchison Posts: 12,341member

    Next up for me is a BR30 bulb and more of the A19 bulbs.  


    I love my hue system but i'm certainly looking for a revamped iOS app that 

    doesn't forget my remote settings and uses space more efficiently. 


    Rumor is the next Hue bulb is the MR16 and I've got four in my living room just waiting to 

    get HUE'd up. 

  • Reply 20 of 27
    I have a couple problems with Hue. First off the range of the bridge is limited. In my den, which is only about 25 feet away from where I've placed the bridge, the bulb I tried to install there isn't recognized by the system.
    Secondly it has caused a bunch of trouble with my iTunes. In order to rent a movie I have to turn off the power to the bridge and even remove the Ethernet cable from my AirPort Extreme. If I don't do this all I get is a "Can't connect to iTunes right now" message. I even tried moving the bridge as far away from my AirPort Extreme and it didn't help at all.
    Also the user interface for the app is pretty puss poor. Took me two days to find the geofencing option.
Sign In or Register to comment.