Philips Hue is the best known smart lighting brand. But when buyers realize that Philips Hue costs two or three times the price of its competitors, they often walk away thinking its products are overpriced. And it’s a shame: Philips Hue is prohibitively expensive, but its price makes sense.
First, what is Philips Hue?
The idea of smart lighting is nothing new. It’s been around for decades, even before we invented the Internet. But modern smart light bulbs, which use colorful LEDs and wireless communication technology, didn’t exist until Philips Hue launched in 2012.
Philips Hue introduced the world to color-changing LED smart light bulbs. And he made this introduction at a time when LED bulbs were still quite new and expensive. As you can imagine, the first Philips Hue bulbs were expensive, well-made, and state-of-the-art; anything else would have failed to sell.
Smart homes have changed a lot in the last decade, but Philips Hue is sticking to its tried-and-true system: premium smart lighting products that communicate through a dedicated Zigbee hub. (Philips Hue has made some concessions – it now offers Bluetooth controls for those who don’t buy a hub, for example. But these concessions are small.)
This system has several benefits and works with Google Assistant, Siri and Alexa. Still, it makes Philips Hue products more expensive than the competition.
Premium components, premium prices
Most smart lighting products are poorly made, have limited dimming or color controls, and lack proper light diffusion. The result is uneven and blotchy lighting. And in most cases, it really isn’t a big deal. A cheap little LED strip can add a lot to a room, even if it seems like an overly glorified Christmas light.
But if you deck your entire home with shoddy lighting strips and smart bulbs, you won’t end up with the bland, evocative, picture-perfect image you see in the ads. That look requires high-quality lights with the right spread, a wide selection of colors, and a high CRI (which I’ll explain in a second).
Philips Hue products tick all the boxes. They are made with top quality components and have excellent diffusion, which prevents uneven lighting. In addition, Philips Hue goes far beyond the basic selection of primary colors, offering 16 million color options on most of its devices.
And impressively, all Philips Hue smart lights have a CRI of 80 or more. CRI or “Color Rendering Index” is complicated, but in basic terms, it tells you how “accurate” objects, people, or furniture look under a light. A light bulb with a low CRI could make your green sofa look blue-gray, for example. (Lumens also influence how “accurate” colors look in a room, but Philips Hue lights get nice and bright.)
Now, Philips Hue isn’t the only brand selling high-quality smart lighting products. Competitors like LIFX and TP-Link Kasa sell fantastic colored smart bulbs. And Philips Hue’s unique selection of LED strips and other bulb-free smart lights are regularly paired with Govee and Nanoleaf.
But quality isn’t the only reason to buy Philips Hue. And of course it’s just one of the reasons why Philips Hue products are so expensive.
Reliable smart lighting for the whole home
Most people add smart lights to their home for a combination of novelty and convenience. Sure, you get dimming and color features, but you can also control smart lights remotely or on a schedule. Smart lights can even be pre-programmed with “scenes” or respond to activities from other smart home devices.
Unfortunately, smart light bulbs are often the most unreliable and frustrating part of a smart home. They may randomly disconnect from your router or take Always to accept a command. And if your home is full of Wi-Fi smart light bulbs, you probably need a new router to accommodate all that extra traffic and congestion.
Instead of connecting each individual smart bulb to your router, Philips Hue products communicate through a ‘bridge’. This is a small Zigbee hub that dramatically increases the speed and reliability of the smart home. Random disconnections, even after a power outage, are very rare with Philips Hue products. And that’s a blessing when you have a bunch of smart lights.
The only problem is that this hub, the Philips Hue Bridge, adds about $40 to Hue starter kits. Owning the Philips Hue system is prohibitively expensive – even the cheapest Philips Hue starter kit is $70 and includes just two white light bulbs
Now you they can control a small collection of Philips Hue bulbs via Bluetooth. But I wouldn’t suggest going the Bluetooth route as it has major drawbacks. As far as I can tell, there is Bluetooth support for customers who accidentally buy the bulbs without the Bridge.
I must clarify that exhibit Zigbee smart bulbs are more reliable than their Wi-Fi counterparts. But only a handful of Philips Hue competitors, including Sengled and Innr, continue to sell Zigbee bulbs.
Exclusive products complete the Philips Hue brand
If you thought Philips Hue bulbs were expensive, wait until you see their other smart lighting products. Philips Hue puts mind-boggling price tags on its TV backlights, outdoor string lights, LED strips, and “simulation sunrise” alarm clocks.
These products are of high quality and contain a lot of unique features. They’re also reliable, so you never have to worry about troubleshooting smart outdoor path lights. And aside, Philips Hue is the only brand that seems to understand how smart light bulb dimmers should work.
But more importantly, Philips Hue is the only brand to offer such a wide selection of smart lights. When customers shop in the Philips Hue ecosystem, they don’t need to buy things from other brands, a great advantage that prevents a smart home from becoming too complicated.
Of course, blocking customers gives Philips Hue an excuse to sell expensive products. And while I don’t think the company’s smart bulbs are too expensive, I’m not a fan of how it rates some of its more… unique devices. An alarm clock that comes on slowly in the morning shouldn’t cost $170, especially when you can program smart light bulbs to do the same thing.
Philips Hue also tends to drop the ball when it gets too ambitious. The company’s TV backlight is a great example: it matches color and brightness to the content on the screen, providing a fully immersive cinematic experience. But the TV backlight is also a headache, as we discovered in our review.
Should I buy Philips Hue Lighting?
If a friend asked me which smart light bulbs to use in their bedroom, Philips Hue wouldn’t be my first suggestion. The company’s products, and especially its starter kits, are too expensive for a small smart home setup. No amount of features, quality, or reliability will change that fact.
But those who plan to decorate their entire home with smart light bulbs should consider Philips Hue. Other brands just can’t match its reliability, and the ever-growing list of Philips Hue products means you can start a new smart lighting project without bringing new brands or apps into the mix.
I should also mention that Philips Hue offers a two-year warranty on all of its products. Buying enough smart bulbs to fill your home is a big expense no matter what brand you use, but hey, at least a warranty can give you some peace of mind.