Philips Hue personal wireless lighting review

By , Nov 9, 2012

$199 for a lightbulb? Are you crazy?

Well, first of all, there are three lightbulbs included with the package, not just one.

Secondly, these aren’t your parent’s lightbulbs.

Lastly, yes, I’m a little crazy when it comes to tech.

Indeed, the Hue personal wireless lighting starter kit from Philips is expensive; we’ve established that both here and here already. But disregard the price for a minute, and check out our full video review inside to see exactly how these bulbs work…

Key features of the Philips Hue

  • They’re LED so they’re incredibly bright
  • They last for 15 years
  • They’re cool to the touch while in use
  • You can control them with your iPhone via Wi-Fi
  • You can control your lighting even when away from your home via cellular connection
  • You can make them change into a rainbow of different colors
  • You can set specific timers for them to turn on and off
  • You can match lighting from colors found in your favorite photos
  • You can control up to 50 Hue bulbs from a single connection

And really, that’s just the beginning. There are a ton of promising capabilities for the future: Think about possibilities like location based awareness, meaning that the Hue knows when you’ve arrived home and automatically adjusts the lighting. The possibilities are seemingly endless.

Now consider for a moment that a single LED bulb can go for as much as $40 at your local home improvement store, and it has none of the wireless, or color capabilities. True, that’s on the high end of the scale, but it wasn’t that long ago that prices at these levels and above were the norm, not the exception.

LED Lightbulbs at Home Depot

What you get

Inside the Philips Hue starter kit you get the following for $199.95:

  • Three 8.5W (600 Lumen) LED bulbs operating at 2.4GHz
  • A wireless bridge
  • Power cable
  • Ethernet cable

Extra bulbs can be purchased for $59.95 a piece.

The Setup

Setup was extremely simple, as there are only three steps involved. First, screw in the bulbs at the desired location just like you would any normal light bulb. Second, connect the wireless bridge to your wireless router via ethernet, and plug in the power. Lastly, download the app, and it will auto detect the bridge and configure the settings. It’s a totally mindless effort to setup the Hue. In true Apple fashion, it just works.

The App

The Hue app is necessary to complete the setup, and can be downloaded for free from the App Store. Once the automatic configuration is completed after first launch, you’l be presented with a group of scenes that can automatically adjust the intensity and color of your lighting. The scenes vary greatly from things like Sunset, to Pencils, Deep Sea, etc. There’s also an “all off” button to quickly kill all of the lighting connected to the wireless bridge.

Each scene can be easily deleted, renamed, or edited using the edit button located in the upper left-hand corner of the app. You can also add a new scene using a button in the opposite corner, and you can base these scenes off of photos — either from your camera or photo library — or base them off of a few built in photos that Philips bundled with the app.

Also included with the app is an option to create a new scene from something Philips dubs as a “Light Recipe”. These are four basic types of light for Relaxation, Concentration, Energizing, and Reading. As you might expect, all of these scenes forgo the crazy colors in favor of more traditional lighting.

The scene library contained within the app acts very much like the traditional Home screen on your iPhone. There are different pages to store all of the scenes, and each individual scene has its own icon located on the page. Tapping and holding on a scene enables wiggle mode, which allows the scene to be edited, moved, renamed, or deleted. You can also rename each page, or change the background of each individual page using a photo from your Library or Camera.

Using and editing Scenes

You can instantly enable a scene, and hence activate your lighting, by tapping on a scene icon within the scene library. The interesting thing about scenes is that lighting can be grouped, or used individually within a scene. That means that one scene could result in three different colors and three independent levels of intensity for the three lights included in the package. In theory, it’s totally possible to have one scene control 50 lights with different colors and intensity levels for each light! Needless to say, you can really concoct some far out combinations using the scene editors.

While it’s nice to be able to individually configure each light bulb for a scene, there’s also an option to group your bulbs so that they all emit the exact same type of light. This is good news for those of you who plan on using Hue for a more modest approach to lighting. There are also provisions to completely disable certain bulbs within certain scenes. It’s all highly customizable.

Editing scenes lends the ability to set alarms — times when scenes are automatically enabled and disabled. There are three types of alarm settings: Instant on/off, and 3 or 9 minute fade ins or fade outs. The fades allow you create less jarring scene transitions based on certain times of the day. In the end, it’s basically just a glorified timer.

On the fly editing

Sometimes you may not feel like messing around with scenes, and that’s okay. The Hue app contains an on the fly editing provision that allows you to control each light independently of one another. There you can adjust the intensity of the light along with its colors. The on the fly editor is accessible by swiping up on the Notification Center like panel resting at the bottom of the app.

Configuration

The panel talked about in the previous paragraph is also where you can access the Hue’s configuration settings. Once you open the editor, you’ll notice a little settings cog in the upper left-hand corner. Tapping that cog reveals settings for the wireless bridge, the ability to search for additional bridges and light bulbs, and the ability to edit the names of individual lights. Philips came up with a great way to identify lights that you wish to rename, as the light bulb selected flashes to identify itself until the new name is selected.

Areas for improvement

If there’s one place where the Hue stumbles a bit, it’s with the app. Unfortunately since is the only way to interface with the lighting system, it can be a bit frustrating at first. It’s not a horrible experience by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s certainly nowhere near as straightforward as the actual setup process is.

I noticed a few bugs within the app, like being able to adjust the dimmer while individually configuring a bulb, or when trying to snap a photo for a scene I was creating. Neither of those bugs are deal breakers, but it does make the interface feel a bit more clunky than it needs to be. Being that it’s the first iteration of the app, you should expect Philips to refine it over the next few updates.

Worth it?

Obviously, the price will be the biggest barrier to entry for most consumers. It’s really hard to justify dropping $200 on a few lightbulbs, no matter how cool or convenient they may be. Make no mistake, I love my Philips Hue, and totally don’t regret the purchase, but the price needs to go down to make this a viable long term product.

I’m also not sure how many people will actually value the ability to be able to add color to their interior rooms. It’s a nice thing to show off to friends and family, but it’s not something you’re going to want to use day in and day out.

I’m using the Hue for more traditional means, like being able to control lighting when I’m away from the house, turning on lights when I pull into the driveway, and setting timers to adjust lighting at certain periods during the day. I just don’t think the color phenomenon has enough legs to carry the Hue into mainstream success. The best part of the Hue is simply being able to control your lighting via your iPhone with just a few setup steps.

If Philips released some non-colored LED lights that were compatible with the wireless bridge for a cheaper price, then I could see the whole idea becoming more practical, cheaper, and therefore more valuable to consumers. It’s a cool system, and a hoot to show off occasionally, but unless you just have money to blow, I’d wait it out for the price to drop.

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  • DomPerignon1

    I’m buying my kit right now!

  • http://www.facebook.com/karl.kurtz.7 Karl Kurtz

    Pricey, but cool. I’m not sure if I would shell out $200, but I wouldn’t mind receiving something like this as a Christmas or birthday gift.

  • CollegiateLad

    I have to get this along with the Nest.

    • http://www.facebook.com/karl.kurtz.7 Karl Kurtz

      The Nest is pretty awesome.

      • CollegiateLad

        I know. I want something that controls my fireplace too. From my phone, I can dim the lights, set the temp, put on some music or control my Apple TV, and hopefully one day ignite my gas fireplace. Hopefully the wife will be as impressed as I am and maybe I’ll get lucky. :)

      • Obsidian71

        “Get lucky”

        Not a chance. But you’ll have cool toys to keep you occupied. ;-)

    • Jeff

      Yes, it goes perfect with the Next. Pretty soon I’ll be able to control everything in my home :)

  • http://twitter.com/djthotsa Thotsa

    Where I can buy this???

    • Jeff

      Only Apple Stores at the moment.

      • http://www.facebook.com/Griffin.Video.Productions Brett Griffin

        Any idea when it will be coming to Australia???

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000606372701 David Canfield

        yeh on the apple store but they might not like the aussi 240 volts@50hz thats alot of juce for som leds

      • Karsten

        Any idea if or when it will be available on Google Play?

  • http://twitter.com/Chindavon Chindavon

    I can see this as a studio photographer’s dream. Heck you can even market this to schools to use with their production stage for plays, concerts, etc..

  • http://www.swipecases.com/ techtock

    Not a bad investment is you figure $1 a bulb three or four times a year for 15 years. And a good investment if you consider the extra features and inflation that you will see on your existing bulbs over that period. Make sure you box them up and replace the bulbs with the cheap ones when you move!

    • Jeff

      Good point, it really isn’t a “bad” investment at all. I guess it just depends on whether or not you have $200 to blow on some of the best lightbulbs money can buy.

  • http://twitter.com/omegaPoint omegaPoint

    I can’t wait until this becomes more affordable. The creative application possibilities are pretty amazing.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=750534973 Jack Khemp

    I got it the first day it release.. And it was the last one in the apple store that close to my house.. For the Hue.. There is no word to describe it but the word awesome… It wake me up every morning.. Shining when i get home.. And i can just switch it off right on my phone.. It is worth ro get one. :)

  • SoCoMagNuM

    How is it when it comes to energy consumption? I realize the that you must leave the switch on so i presume it continues to consume energy even thought the bulb is off and its connected wireless to the receiver hub.

    • Jeff

      Honestly, I haven’t measured it. I presume it’s very minimal, though.

  • http://twitter.com/rafsko1 rafsko1

    What is the name of that desk lamp on that video? Where to get it?

    • Jeff

      It’s just your average Luxo lamp. I got mine at Target.

  • Lonesome

    Nice subject,Great review and Superb video Demo. , Keep it up Jeff….

    • Jeff

      Thank you.

  • http://twitter.com/NormGregory Norm Gregory 

    I don’t see a price under $300.

    • Jeff

      It’s $199.95 for the Starter Kit, and $59.95 per bulb. These can be obtained at the online, or brick and mortar Apple store.

  • Louiss

    Jeff, I like your

  • Jonathan

    What happens if you turn the light off at the wall? Can you still use the app to turn the light back on?

  • roderick

    well i think this one is far more cooler andbetter than the philips one..
    http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/limemouse/lifx-the-light-bulb-reinvented?ref=live

    • Karsten

      Can you control the LIFX lights via the phone (cellular connection) when you are away from home? Do you know that?

  • Dawiiz

    I hope they get hacked so they pulse with the beat of music or change color based on a live camera :)

  • whoknowswhereor

    Good review. Might have to get one to use with my ipad 3 if it doesn’t support android. PS – Your phone looks like it’s made for ants after using my note 2 for a while now. how can anyone live with such a small screen lol.

  • VictorRego
  • Broden

    Can u controll and configure many lamps at the same time? So that tey all change collor and dim at the same time? Whats the range? Possible to use outdoors?

  • Stephen

    Just got my starter pack last night. I’m with you on the app needs some work. However that doesn’t diminish the experience.. these things are really cool. I though it was pricy too.. that is till I see that the bulbs are expected to last 15 years. I justified getting these just on the power savings.. but now that combined with the fact they will last 15 years?! Its a no brainer now.. Well worth the $200.

    And with a quick tally of the lights I’ll need for the whole house. I’m ready to buy 10 more of these things. Of coarse one or two a month.. maybe 3 for my birthday. Great product and no regrets.

  • Doh!

    Did they start testing 15 years ago to determine that they will last 15 year!

  • cuulblu

    Email me when the price drops to $60 for the kit and the app is available for Android!

  • neelu sharma

    Hey I like it but are they energy efficient

  • Paul Klosterman

    Amazing. Can’t put a price on stuff like this. Endless entertainment and people don’t realize what a difference lighting makes. Just like the weather outside sets a tone for your day, a photo can be good or bad depending on lighting. Yes it’s subtle but stop and think about how different environments/lighting situations affect your mood.

  • Barzia Tehrani

    I think a $200 TV attached to the wall will have more features. I can sure use the TV as a light.

  • Barzia Tehrani

    But if the app lets me connect to the stereo system perhaps with some DJ app and beat LEDs with the music and change colors, then I may actually get them.

    Bottom line, need a better app and more applications.