Philips Hue is the most well-known smart lighting brand. But when shoppers realize that Philips Hue costs two or three times the price of its competitors, they often walk away thinking that its products are overpriced. And that’s a shame—Philips Hue is prohibitively expensive, but its pricing makes sense.
The idea of smart lighting is nothing new. It’s been tossed around for decades, even before we invented the internet. But modern smart bulbs, which utilize colorful LEDs and wireless communication technology, did not exist until Philips Hue launched in 2012.
Philips Hue introduced the world to color-changing LED smart bulbs. And it made this introduction at a time when LED bulbs were still quite novel and costly. As you can imagine, the first Philips Hue bulbs were expensive, well-made, and cutting-edge; anything else would’ve failed to sell.
Smart homes have changed a lot in the last decade, but Philips Hue sticks to its tried-and-true system—premium smart lighting products that communicate over a dedicated Zigbee hub. (Philips Hue has made a few 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 it works with Google Assistant, Siri, and Alexa. Still, it makes Philips Hue products more expensive than the competition.
Most smart lighting products are poorly made, have limited color or dimming controls, and lack proper light diffusion. The result is splotchy and uneven lighting. And in most cases, it’s really not a big deal. A cheap little LED strip can add a lot to a room, even if it looks like an over-glorified Christmas light.
But if you deck your entire home with crappy smart bulbs and light strips, you won’t end up with the soft, evocative, picture-perfect that you see in advertisements. That look requires high-quality lights with proper diffusion, a wide color selection, and a high CRI (which I’ll explain in a second).
Philips Hue products tick all the boxes. They’re made of premium components and have excellent diffusion, which prevents uneven lighting. Additionally, Philips Hue goes far beyond your basic primary color selection, offering 16 million color options in most of its devices.
And impressively, all Philips Hue smart lights have a CRI of 80 or more. The CRI or “Color Rendering Index” is complicated, but in basic terms, it tells you how “accurate” any objects, people, or furniture look under a light. A bulb with a low CRI could make your green couch look grayish blue, 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 to sell high-quality smart lighting products. Competitors like LIFX and TP-Link Kasa sell fantastic color smart bulbs. And Philips Hue’s unique selection of LED strips and other non-bulb smart lights are regularly matched by Govee and Nanoleaf.
But quality isn’t the only reason to buy Philips Hue. And of course, it’s just one reason why Philips Hue products are so expensive.
Most people add smart lights to their home for a mix of novelty and convenience. You get dimming and color features, for sure, but you can also control smart lights remotely or on a schedule. Smart lights can even be pre-programmed with “scenes” or respond to the activities of other smart home devices.
Unfortunately, smart bulbs are often the most unreliable and frustrating part of a smart home. They may randomly disconnect from your router or take forever to accept a command. And if your home is full of Wi-Fi smart bulbs, you probably need a new router to accommodate all that extra traffic and congestion.
Instead of connecting every individual smart bulb to your router, Philips Hue products communicate over a “bridge.” This is a small Zigbee hub that dramatically increases smart home speed and reliability. Random disconnections, even after a power outage, are very rare with Philips Hue products. And that’s a blessing when you own a ton of smart lights.
The only problem is that this hub, the Philips Hue Bridge, adds about $40 to Hue’s starter kits. Buying into the Philips Hue system is prohibitively expensive—even the cheapest Philips Hue starter kit costs $70 and includes just two white bulbs.
Now, you can control a small collection of Philips Hue bulbs over Bluetooth. But I wouldn’t suggest going down the Bluetooth route, as it comes with major drawbacks. As far as I can tell, Bluetooth support exists for customers who accidentally buy the bulbs without a Bridge.
I should clarify that all Zigbee smart bulbs are more reliable than their Wi-Fi counterparts. But only a handful of Philips Hue’s competitors, including Sengled and Innr, continue to sell Zigbee bulbs.
If you thought Philips Hue’s bulbs were expensive, wait til you see its other smart lighting products. Philips Hue puts eye-popping price tags on its TV backlights, outdoor string lights, LED strips, and “sunrise simulation” alarm clocks.
These products are of a high quality and pack a ton of unique features. They’re also reliable, so you never need to worry about troubleshooting your smart outdoor pathway lights. And as an aside, Philips Hue is the only brand that seems to understand how smart bulb dimmers should work.
But more importantly, Philips Hue is the only brand to offer such a wide selection of smart lights. When customers buy into the Philips Hue ecosystem, they don’t need to buy stuff from other brands—a major perk that keeps a smart home from becoming too complicated.
Of course, locking down customers gives Philips Hue an excuse to sell expensive products. And while I don’t think that the company’s smart bulbs are overpriced, I’m not a fan of how it prices some of its more … unique devices. An alarm clock that slowly lights up in the morning shouldn’t cost $170, especially when you can program smart 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 on-screen content, providing a wildly immersive theatrical experience. But the TV backlight is also a pain in the neck, as we found in our review.
If a friend asked me which smart bulbs to use in their bedroom, Philips Hue wouldn’t be my first suggestion. The company’s products, and especially its starter kits, are just too expensive for a small smart home setup. No amount of features, quality, or reliability will change that fact.
But those who plan to deck their entire home with smart bulbs should consider Philips Hue. Other brands simply can’t match its reliability, and the ever-growing list of Philips Hue products means that 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 for all of its products. Buying enough smart bulbs to fill out your home is a big expense regardless of what brand you use, but hey, at least a warranty can give you some peace of mind.