Philips Hue White Ambience lightbulbs include HomeKit functionality for a lower price

I’m a huge fan of Philips Hue lights, as the smart technology behind them often proves itself to be an immense convenience. Perhaps I’m better off walking across the room to flip a light switch, but I’m perfectly fine with telling Siri to do it or swiping up Control Center in iOS 10 and tapping a light in the HomeKit pane. Dimming the lights down to a warm glow in the evenings while browsing Twitter with my phone on NightShift is one scenario that, for me, makes Philips Hue an incredible experience.

The underlying issue with smart lightbulbs in general and Philips Hue in particular that has kept many people from fully adopting them is the price. Philips’ colored bulbs come in around $50 apiece, with the Starter Kit providing three bulbs and the connecting hub for $180. At first glance, those seem like fairly hefty prices for lightbulbs, of all things. However, a cheaper option is available for those who love home automation but don’t need the RGB colors of Philips Hue’s white and color ambiance bulbs, as the company is now selling a white ambience-only variant of their Hue line.

While I certainly enjoy having the option for my desk lamp to glow a deep purple or to fill my bedroom with the colors of a tropical sunset, the fundamentals of having smart lights are more about control and automation than color, at least for me. That’s why the Philips Hue white ambiance lights feel as if they’re going back to the basics, but in a good way.

The Starter Kit, priced at $130, comes with a Hue bridge, two white ambiance bulbs, and a switch – a remote of sorts for toggling the lights as well as brightening or dimming them. The bridge is the same hub that comes with the color variant of the Hue bulbs, and a single bridge will work with both types of lights. The switch, which comes with a magnetic mount that is ready to stick or screw to a wall, can be setup to connect to the Hue bridge or it can connect directly to the lightbulbs, but either way it can only control the white ambiance bulbs and not their RGB siblings. It offers on and off capabilities as well as brightness control and is a great option for changing the lights without pulling out a smartphone.

The white ambiance bulbs themselves are much the same as their colorful counterpart, being 800 lumens, 10.5 watts, and having a projected lifetime of 25,000 hours. That’s nearly three years of continuous on-time and a far, far longer lifetime per the usage of most people. It’s important to note that these bulbs not only last vastly longer than the average household lightbulb, but they also use far less electricity, two factors that help justify their $30-per-bulb cost.

Default and custom scenes still work with white ambiance bulbs, and they’re particularly nice when used in conjunction with color Hue bulbs, as the white light adjusts its tone to fit the mood while still providing more light output than a bulb that’s fully colorized purple or red.

HomeKit naturally works in the same way regardless of the color capabilities, and a voice prompt such as “Hey Siri, turn off the lights in the bedroom” works as expected. Not only can lights be controlled with one’s voice, but sliding up Control Center displays a grid of HomeKit options in the third panel. Tapping on a light turns it on or off while 3D Touching it brings up a brightness slider. Also available via this screen are six color options that are fully customizable, even from within Control Center. Naturally, an Apple Watch can also control Hue lights, taking things to a Bond, James Bond level of gadgetry.

Anytime I have the opportunity to demo my Philips Hue lights, the reactions are incredible as many people are experiencing this kind of smart home technology for the first time. The idea of voice-controlled lights were mere science fiction not that many years ago, and being able to speak to your watch and have the room light up makes it that much more unbelievable.

If you don’t need or want the added color option, or if you have a few RGB Hue bulbs already but want to grow your collection while spending a fraction of the money, you should definitely take Philips Hue’s white ambiance bulbs into consideration. With varying levels of light warmth and full HomeKit functionality, they’re perfect for adding intelligence and customizable lighting to your home without the flamboyance of color.

Coming in at $130 for the Starter Kit and $30 for individual bulbs, Philips Hue white ambiance bulbs are worth the price for many, once the longevity and energy savings of the bulbs, as well as their convenience and automation, are taken into consideration. Typical lights these are most certainly not, and I highly recommend trying them at least in a single room situation as a test drive. Every evening when the lights come on, my appreciation for Philips Hue grows, and the transition back to normal lights would be a very difficult thing for me to do.