Review: Philips Hue White Ambiance kit delivers bang for the buck in HomeKit lighting

Posted:
in iPhone edited June 2016
Philips' latest entry into the Hue smartbulb line should strike a good balance between cost and features for most people, even if there are some rough edges the company could stand to polish.




Anyone familiar with the company's existing lights will know the basics. To recap: using the Hue mobile app, Web portal, and Siri/HomeKit support, users can create complex remote-controlled lighting setups, with automation to boot.

You can set all your lights to turn off when your iPhone leaves the house for instance, or have the living room lamps fade in at sunset, shutting off after you've gone to bed. "Scenes" can be triggered to switch between different color and brightness settings, and even more elaborate options are possible through IFTTT integration.

The White Ambiance bulbs strike an interesting middleground between Philips' cheaper pure-white options and its more expensive full-color models. While you won't be bathing your living room in purple or red anytime soon, the White Ambiance collection offers various color temperatures within the "white" spectrum, ranging from a warm orange to a cold bluish-white.







The benefit is that you can still adjust your lights to different moods or times of day without having to fork out for showier color options. In fact the updated Hue app includes "Wake up" and "Go to sleep" routines, plus a "Nightlight" scene, all formulated with the White Ambiance line in mind.

In testing the White Ambiance starter kit -- which comes with two bulbs, a bridge hub, and a dimmer/scene switch -- we found the warmer tones to be a welcome relief from most basic LED bulbs, which can be too cool for our liking, especially at night when you're trying to fall asleep. In many situations, warm lighting feels inherently more natural.




There is a catch though, in that full brightness -- 800 lumens -- is available only alongside a relatively neutral 4,000K color temperature, which isn't the default setting. Output dims considerably as you go warmer, down to 400 lumens by the time you hit 2,220K. Even 800 lumens may be too dim for pickier people, so buyers may find themselves wanting to use extra lighting to compensate -- whether Hue-compatible or otherwise.

An example of low output at one of the warmest temperatures.
An example of low output at one of the warmest temperatures.


The new Hue app is relatively well-designed, letting users set up lights, rooms, scenes, routines, and iOS widgets without much trouble, as well as manage bridges and switches (a bridge is required for the bulbs to work). Lights can be controlled over cellular connections through the app, whereas Siri will only work outside of Wi-Fi range if you have an Apple TV.




There are some odd limitations in the software, though. If you rename your bulbs for example, you have to go into the Settings menu to manually re-sync them with Siri. Siri also won't automatically recognize every preloaded scene -- you have to choose the ones you want it to acknowledge.

In fact, Siri functions are a mixed bag in general, whether or not that's Philips' fault. While you can say things like "turn on the Living Room lights" or "dim the Living Room lights to 50 percent," you can't say "turn on the Living Room lights to 50 percent" -- you have to turn them on before you can tweak brightness. You can also forget about any commands involving scheduling.

Getting back to the app itself, Philips sometimes obfuscates how to do things, or needlessly restricts actions. It may not be immediately clear how to adjust brightness for example, and unless you use scenes or routines, the only way to control color temperature is on a per-bulb basis by tapping icons you may not recognize as interactive. Even with routines, you can't set lights to automatically shift to a specific color temperature, only the ones in scenes and presets. In many cases, there doesn't appear to be any way to create routines for individual bulbs without making them separate rooms.




Conclusions



Nevertheless, automation is arguably the main reason to buy into Hue. If you set up the right routines, you may barely have any need for Siri, the app, or a switch. There's still something fantastic about lights coming on precisely when you need them and shutting off when you don't -- something that boosts security and power efficiency at the same time.

Any kind of smartbulb is a luxury, so most people probably won't need much more than Philips' $80 White starter kit, which gives you the essentials at cheaper prices. If you really want to, you can add different bulb types later on.

The White Ambiance kit is mainly a solid starting point if you're certain you'll want at least two bulbs with warmer lighting. Arguably it makes much more sense than going straight for the $175 White and Color kit -- unless you're hellbent on unorthodox lighting, or the other Color-exclusive features, music and movie sync.

Score: 4 out of 5



Pros:
  • Extensive automation and remote control
  • Warmer tones superior to regular LED bulbs
  • HomeKit support
  • Less expensive than top-end Hue lights


Cons:
  • Some awkward limits in Hue app & Siri
  • Warmer tones reduce brightness


Where to buy:



The Hue White Ambiance starter kit costs $129.95 from Philips, but potentially less from retailers like Amazon, which is charging $129 flat. Individual Ambiance bulbs are $29.95 and $29.99 from those vendors, respectively.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 21
    irelandireland Posts: 17,223member
    I find hubs offensive. $129 for two light bulbs?
    jackansi
  • Reply 2 of 21
    ireland said:
    I find hubs offensive. $129 for two light bulbs?
    Just because you find it offensive doesn't mean it doesn't exist. 

    That's $129 for a Hub and 2 bulbs.
    radiospacelatifbplollivernetmage
  • Reply 3 of 21
    Anyone know how to, with the app, turn a light on at anything other than 100%?

    i.e. On at 20-30% not having to turn it on at 100% and then adjusting the brightness. 
  • Reply 4 of 21
    ireland said:
    I find hubs offensive. $129 for two light bulbs?
    ireland said:
    I find hubs offensive. $129 for two light bulbs?
    Just because you find it offensive doesn't mean it doesn't exist. 

    That's $129 for a Hub and 2 bulbs.


    You get the dimmer switch in this kit too, whereas the colour kits include an extra bulb but no switch. 
    edited June 2016 latifbp
  • Reply 5 of 21
    radiospaceradiospace Posts: 180member
    Anyone know how to, with the app, turn a light on at anything other than 100%?

    i.e. On at 20-30% not having to turn it on at 100% and then adjusting the brightness. 
    I have the full color kit and you can save presets which includes hue and brightness of all lamps in the system. I presume that this $129 set works the same way.
    douglas bailey
  • Reply 6 of 21
    radiospaceradiospace Posts: 180member
    I bought the more expensive full-color version of few months ago. My quick review: works nicely with my iPad. As the article alludes to with this version, once you start applying color to the light you lose brightness, and the more adventurous your color choices the dimmer the room is going to seem. So, for practical purposes, I tend to use whiter shades of light. (Which might be one argument for going with this less expensive system). Big downsides: the app on my Android phone does not work at all. Whenever I have installed a new version of the Android app the phone works for one session, then if I leave the house and come back the phone disconnects from the bridge (the hub) and can never find it again. When they released an update this repeated itself precisely. I have tried uninstalling and reinstalling various versions until I was blue in the face. Let's just leave it at: doesn't work with Android. (Not a major concern on this site, I realize). Also I downloaded two or three apps from the App store for my iMac that are supposed to control the Hue system. None of them worked, either. (One could never find the bridge; one found the bridge and then dumped to desktop and literally won't launch again even months later after the event; and so on). In conclusion, very much a work in progress. I would only recommend for iOS use amongst moderately tech savvy people.
    edited June 2016
  • Reply 7 of 21
    nasseraenasserae Posts: 3,152member
    ireland said:
    I find hubs offensive. $129 for two light bulbs?
    You can have a hub or you can have tens of small devices taking over your wireless network. Most routers limit the number of wireless devices you can connect to them (Apple AE is limited to 50).
  • Reply 8 of 21
    I love that lamp with the growing vines!
    ireland
  • Reply 9 of 21
    Anyone know how to, with the app, turn a light on at anything other than 100%?

    i.e. On at 20-30% not having to turn it on at 100% and then adjusting the brightness. 
    My Lutron living room lights are (obviously) not hue, but if I say "Siri set the living room list to X%" they turn on at that amount. That might work with hue. 
    douglas bailey
  • Reply 10 of 21
    monstrositymonstrosity Posts: 2,174member
    I love my color Hue's, I bought 3 for fun (and was going to fit Edison bulbs instead) but I can now see myself fitting the whole house with them.
  • Reply 11 of 21
    elijahgelijahg Posts: 592member
    Seems like a gimmick to me, does anyone really ever bother changing the white point of their bulbs? How would that ever be necessary except in an art studio? Just way too expensive what what it is.
    jackansi
  • Reply 12 of 21
    slurpyslurpy Posts: 5,008member
    I don't understand this whole hub business. Wasn't the Apple TV 4 supposed to act as a hub for homekit devices? How come this isn't happening? Why do I need to plug in yet another shitty box for every single homekit product I buy?
    elijahgbonoboblolliverjackansi
  • Reply 13 of 21
    Do they still have the problem about NOT remembering their last setting when you turn off the light? They said this was a "safety feature" however if you search the web you will see 100s of complaints - this is a major deal breaker.

     ;(
  • Reply 14 of 21
    elijahgelijahg Posts: 592member
    slurpy said:
    I don't understand this whole hub business. Wasn't the Apple TV 4 supposed to act as a hub for homekit devices? How come this isn't happening? Why do I need to plug in yet another shitty box for every single homekit product I buy?
    It's because the bulbs themselves don't have wifi. It's probably also to do with the expensive electronics required to interface with Homekit, plus compatibility with non-WPS routers. If the ATV was a hub and they used Bluetooth instead, the range would be poor. Powerline networking would be best for these IMO. In any case, Apple's mandated encryption requires a lot of computing power, also pushing up the expense and making these Homekit devices need an expensive and complex full blown 32-bit CPU. 

    It's all very well Apple making it 1000% secure, but if competitors make cheaper devices available with less security, people will go for those as there's no perceived advantage over Apple's expensive Homekit ones. Is 256 bit encryption really needed for a lightbulb?
    monstrosity
  • Reply 15 of 21
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 6,091member
    elijahg said:
    Seems like a gimmick to me, does anyone really ever bother changing the white point of their bulbs? How would that ever be necessary except in an art studio? Just way too expensive what what it is.

    Some consider the entire concept of industrial design to be a gimmick. A smartphone is a smartphone, a lightbulb is a light bulb and attention to detail and design is a useless gimmick. It doesn’t matter what things look like, just the specs please. That’s why we have Android, Samsung and Microsoft in this world. So yes, there are people who consider things like the white point, ambience, color and feel. Just not you maybe.
    lollivernetmage
  • Reply 16 of 21
    monstrositymonstrosity Posts: 2,174member
    In 10 minutXactoblade said:
    Do they still have the problem about NOT remembering their last setting when you turn off the light? They said this was a "safety feature" however if you search the web you will see 100s of complaints - this is a major deal breaker.

     ;(
    Unfortunately so. It's the only thing that irritates me about it. 
  • Reply 17 of 21
    elijahgelijahg Posts: 592member
    lkrupp said:
    elijahg said:
    Seems like a gimmick to me, does anyone really ever bother changing the white point of their bulbs? How would that ever be necessary except in an art studio? Just way too expensive what what it is.

    Some consider the entire concept of industrial design to be a gimmick. A smartphone is a smartphone, a lightbulb is a light bulb and attention to detail and design is a useless gimmick. It doesn’t matter what things look like, just the specs please. That’s why we have Android, Samsung and Microsoft in this world. So yes, there are people who consider things like the white point, ambience, color and feel. Just not you maybe.
    There's a bit of a difference between the industrial design of something and being able to adjust the colour temperature of a bulb. Attention to detail can improve the use of something, it's a necessity so it may as well be done well; the definition of gimmick is not necessary, but Industrial design is necessary. But spending $89 just so you can change the white balance of your lights? That's a the definition of gimmick.
    jackansi
  • Reply 18 of 21
    commoduscommodus Posts: 270member
    elijahg said:
    lkrupp said:

    Some consider the entire concept of industrial design to be a gimmick. A smartphone is a smartphone, a lightbulb is a light bulb and attention to detail and design is a useless gimmick. It doesn’t matter what things look like, just the specs please. That’s why we have Android, Samsung and Microsoft in this world. So yes, there are people who consider things like the white point, ambience, color and feel. Just not you maybe.
    There's a bit of a difference between the industrial design of something and being able to adjust the colour temperature of a bulb. Attention to detail can improve the use of something, it's a necessity so it may as well be done well; the definition of gimmick is not necessary, but Industrial design is necessary. But spending $89 just so you can change the white balance of your lights? That's a the definition of gimmick.
    It's overkill to some degree, but if you've ever been annoyed by overly harsh lights at night (or overly warm lights in the morning), it's nice.  I'd say you get the most value out of the full-fledged colour kit, since you can get that much more creative.
  • Reply 19 of 21
    dewmedewme Posts: 1,404member
    I love that lamp with the growing vines!
    Looks like the cat likes it too.  :)
  • Reply 20 of 21
    mr4jsmr4js Posts: 54member
    More cheap junk by Philips. Many better LED products available.

    http://www.bbc.com/news/business-29046449

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