The smart bulb market is growing exponentially with new models and even companies popping up left and right. Today, however, we’re taking a look at a starter kit from the company that put smart bulbs on the map. Read on as we test run the Philips Hue Lux and see if the trend starter is still a sure buy.
What Is the Philips Hue Lux?
In 2012 Philips introduced the Hue, one of the first smart bulbs on the market and certainly the best known, marketed, and supported (both then, some years later, now). The key difference between the Hue line and the Hue Lux line is that the original (and still ongoing) Hue line of bulbs, lamps, LED strips, and the like are all color variable (and can display colors as diverse as your computer or television screen can) whereas the Lux line is comprised of simple white bulbs with a 2,640K warm white color.
In exchange for ditching the color changing option you also ditch a hefty chunk of the price tag. A Hue Lux starter kit (which includes two bulbs and a wireless bridge unit that links your smart bulbs to your home network) will set you back $80 and each additional Lux bulb is $20. In contrast a Hue kit runs $170 (which includes three bulbs and a bridge) and each additional color changing bulb runs $60.
If you’re not hung up on the color changing aspect of the whole affair, you can get the bridge + six white-only Lux bulbs for the same price as the color-changing Hue starter kit. Even if you decide you would really like a little color-changing magic in your life the entire Philips smart bulb line is cross-compatible and you can add and subtract Hue and Hue Lux bulbs from your smart lighting system at any time.
In addition to saving you a bit of money at the register, the Hue Lux bulbs are also rated for a longer life (25,000 versus 15,000 hours), are a bit brighter (750 lumens versus 600 lumens), unsurprisingly that extra brightness yields a tiny increase in power use (9 watts versus 8.5 watts), and they are a bit more efficient (84% versus 71% efficient).
The Hue bulbs, Hue Lux bulbs, and Philips standard LED bulbs (sans smart features) all share the same flattened-A10 style shape that looks like a standard light bulb that has been smooshed down a little on the top.
Like the WeMo Smart LED Bulbs and many other smart bulbs on the market (like the GE Link) the Hue line uses ZigBee mesh networking to link all the bulbs to a central bridge/hub unit.
How Do You Install and Configure Them?
Installation and configuration of the Hue system is fantastically simple. The bulbs in the starter kit come pre-registered to the bridge unit so setup is incredibly streamlined without any syncing, resetting, toggling, or otherwise mucking about establishing radio contact between the bulbs, the hub, and your network.
Unbox the starter kit, screw the bulbs in and turn them on, and then simply plug in the Philips hub to an open LAN port on your home network (either directly at the router, into a switch, or into an Ethernet wall jack that leads to a switch/router), and then power on the bridge. If everything is plugged in correctly (the bulbs, the Ethernet to the router/Internet, and the power to the bridge) the three lights on the unit will glow blue.
We’ll admit that we were initially a tad sceptical of the whole Ethernet bit as one of the features we liked with the WeMo Smart LED Bulb system was that the WeMo Link hub was Wi-Fi based and the unit could be plugged in anywhere in the home. Despite our reservations about placing the light bulb bridge all the wall down by the basement stairwell (two floors below where we intended to test the light bulbs) we found zero issues with arrangement and despite all the layers of plaster, wood, and such between the bridge and the bulbs they worked just fine (and with undetectable latency at that).
Once the bulbs are installed and the bridge is powered up and online, there’s only two steps left (one of which is optional). To complete the core installation you need a smartphone app; you can grab the official iOS Hue app here or the Android Hue App here.
With the bulbs and bridge on, launch the app. When prompted, select which Hue system you have (in the case of this review and if you’re following along at home, the Hue Lux). You’ll be prompted to push the physical button in the center of the bridge unit. Immediately after pressing the button the app, the bridge, and the bulbs will be linked together and you’ll find yourself look at your list of bulbs like so.
By default the bulbs have generic names like “Lux Lamp” and “Lux Lamp 1,” you can change the names of the bulbs to more user friendly options like “Nightstand” and “Kitchen” by tapping on the menu icon in the upper left corner of the screen and navigating to Settings -> My Lights and tapping on each bulb to rename them.
The second, and optional step, is to create a My Hue account. Tap on the menu button again and navigate to “Log into my hue.” You’ll be prompted to create an account if you don’t already have one (or you can log in using your Google credentials for verification).
After the simple email/password setup, you’ll be prompted to tap the physical button on your bridge again to verify that you are the physical owner of the Hue bridge about to become linked to the My Hue account.
From this point forward you can control and modifying your Hue lighting system from both your mobile device as well as from the Hue webpage, as seen above.
How Do You Use Them?
Once you’ve completed the above installation you’re ready to start using the bulbs. Like the previously reviewed WeMo Smart LED Bulbs the Philips Hue bulbs suffer from the same problem that plagues nearly every smart lighting solution on the market: they’re super smart until the physical switch makes them dumb. If someone turns off the physical switch powering the light fixture your bulbs are installed in there is no way for the bridge to communicate with the bulb and there’s no mechanism for controlling the switch. If you want 24/7 smart bulb access you’ll need to keep the switch on for that bulb and control the on/off events via the smart app.
That warning aside (and again it applies to socketed smart bulbs across the board) the Hue Lux bulbs were a pleasure to use. The software is extremely polished and offered a completely frustration free experience.
In terms of controlling the bulbs there are a wide array of techniques you can use. You can manually turn them on and off (as well as adjust the brightness) via the app and web interface. You can also set up what are known as “Scenes.” The scenes system definitely makes more sense for the color-changing Hue model in that color changing lights allow for a much broader range in terms of scene-setting, but you can also create scenes for the Hue Lux system too.
There isn’t any color changing available, obviously, but you can still individually adjust the bulbs to the exact brightness you want to create the exact scene/mood you want.
In addition to the manual control and Scene system, you can also set alarms to brighten the lights in the morning (or dim them in the evening) as well as use your smartphone as a geo-tracking beacon that alerts the Hue system when you’re away and when you’re home to automatically turn the lights on as you approach your home and off when you’re away.
In addition to the very polished official software there are additional ways you can control your Hue system. There are numerous additional apps for both iOS and Android devices that add in additional functionality and if you don’t find the functionality you’re looking for, you can always find an IFTTT recipe (or cook up your own) that does what you need.
The Good, The Bad, and the Verdict
After installing, configuring, and playing around with the bulbs what’s our impression of them and the underlying Hue system? Let’s take a look at the good, the bad, and the verdict.
- Setup is, thanks to the pre-registered bulbs, unbelievably simple.
- Not only is the Hue app very polished but there are dozens of third-party hue apps courtesy of an open SDK.
- While the color changing Hue kit might be pricey the Hue Lux kit, reviewed here, is on par with other similar kits.
- Latency between the control app, the bridge, and the bulbs is undetectable to the eye.
- Easy to add additional bulbs (and there are numerous types and styles of Hue bulbs).
- In addition to the mobile apps there is also a web portal for remote control of your lighting system.
- Has IFTTT integration and geofencing for robust trigger-based and geographic control of your lights.
- Pairs with third party bulbs like the GE Link and Cree Connect.
- No ability to adjust the white balance (it would be nice, given the sophistication of the original Hue line if the Hue Lux at least had variability within the white range).
- Although the Hue Lux is more economical than the color-changing Hue line, smart bulbs (across the board) are still a pricey investment.
One thing that immediately stands out is how long our “Good” list is and how short our “Bad” list is. Hands down if you’re in the market for smart bulbs and you want an elegant user experience that’s easy to upgrade with addition bulbs, extend with software and IFTTT recipes, and offers completely frustration free set up, the Hue system is brilliant.
Right now there isn’t a better supported smart bulb system on the market and, given the degree of investment Philips already has in the market and the Hue line you can expect continued support and innovation.
Further, not only do you get all the benefits of the Hue system by itself you also get huge amounts of both third-party applications and the ability to add third-party bulbs. As of this review the Philips Hue Lux system is the most sensible way to get into the smart bulb market as there are no comparable smart lighting starter kits.