Smart lighting has come a long way in the past decade. When I was a kid, we were impressed by glow sticks and dimmer switches, but Philips has moved far beyond traditional and LED lights (which it’s also an industry leader in) to provide the ultimate smart lighting kit for homes – generation 3 of the Hue White and Color Ambiance Kit.
Having gotten a starter set in the office, I also contacted startup competitor Lifx, who I first saw at CES 2016 back in January. Although I do have a Belkin WeMo Insight Switch, I don’t have any of theirs nor GE’s colored lighting kits to review yet, but I’m hoping to receive something by year end to dig in and provide the full picture.
For now, here’s a side-by-side comparison of the Philips Gen 3 hue White and Color Ambiance starter kit and the Lifx Z LED strip starter kit.
Philips Gen 3 Hue White and Color Starter Set ($199.99 on MeetHue.com)
Philips released the third generation of their hue smart lights to very little fanfare in 2016, which is probably why it was so easy for me to get a hold of them. As you can see in the featured image at the top of the page, hue uses a hub that hard-wires into your modem. This syncs bulbs and allows acts as a…well…a centralized hub to add additional bulbs. Wiring everything wasn’t an issue as the ethernet ports on our router were mostly free. to add each additional bulb or phone, it’ necessary to tap the hub, so I found myself taking much more time to change a light bulb than necessary.
As for the differences between generations two and three, I have to refer to a YouTube video of a man who has both bulbs. I don’t have a generation two bulb to test the differences, but the summary is he found the third generation has much more accurate colors.
Installing them in the living room and my bedroom, I was able to use the three bulbs included in the starter kit to turn our house into a Hotline Bling house, so of course, we cranked up Drake when my roommates got home and wanted to relive the music video.
Unfortunately, Hue wouldn’t sync with the music through its default app, so I found a 99 cent app with a 99 cent feature on the Play Store (Hue Pro), along with a few IFTTT recipes to connect Hue to music apps and sync it. Hue Pro seemed like the best option for a quick fix, so we downloaded it and got things synced up before the song was even half over. Soon it was on repeat for most of the night.
For $200, these are amazing bulbs, capable of producing thousands of shades of white alone, much less any color you can think of. Labeling rooms and bulbs was simple, and I was soon setting timers to wake up and turn off. Since it’s autumn and the daylight is getting shorter, I was adjusting things just about every day, but by mid-November, I seem to have found the right times to illuminate everything.
One issue we ran into was the need for dumb bulbs in the room still, because we don’t yet have Alexa, Google Home, and other AI assistants, so we were soon fighting with the smart bulbs. If I didn’t have my phone on me, I couldn’t turn the lights on once I shut them off through the phone. Over time, we were stepping over ourselves to live with the smartlight system. I’m definitely going to need to invest in an Echo Dot soon.
But first, here’s how Lifx’s smart lighting system compares to hue gen 3.
Lifx Z Color LED Light Strip Starter Kit ($89.99 on Lifx.com)
Now obviously I chose the LED color-changing strip for Lifx over just the bulb. This is mostly to help alleviate the tech overload I caused by introducing a slew of smarthome technology into the house at once. I was interested in trying LED solutions from other companies but haven’t heard back yet. Stay tuned as I’ll likely be able to pick some up at CES in January 2017.
To recreate the Philips hue starter set, you’d need $59.99 each for 3 bulbs, which makes it just cheaper than hue to a point. Extra hue gen 3 color bulbs cost $49.99, so after 5 bulbs, they break even. At 6 bulbs or more, hue continues widening the gap as the cheaper option.
What separates Lifx from hue is you don’t need a hub like you do for Philips, so each bulb can be synced through your phone without needing to run back to the modem. It saves a lot of time in setup, especially when you need to move bulbs around as sometimes happens in life.
The LED light strips are a lot more fun and flexible than the bulbs. You can stick them on the ceiling to change wall colors easily, and each LED can be programmed separately, so the variety of colors and creativity in lighting are greatly expanded. I found the included LED strip wasn’t long enough to cover a full wall, much less an entire room, so you’ll need to drop at least another $29.99 for an extension if you want a full wall. The starter kit is two meters (6.6 feet), and each extension adds another meter (3.3 feet). You can also get a 4-pack of extensions for $100 to save some money.
As for the app, Lifx has definitely made some improvements over the years, and music syncing is automatic on the LED strip, although it was much more difficult to convince the lights to hear the music unless it was blaring as loud as possible.
The Final Word
While the Lifx strips were fun to play with and it was nice to have music syncing functionality without dropping another $2 for third-party apps, the functionality was too broken to get excited about. By using a central hub, hue provides a much cleaner and efficient experience. Although both have IFTTT and Alexa support, hue simply functioned better and I have a feeling they’ll last longer as well.
The cost savings of going hubless with Lifx are countered once you surpass five light bulbs, which is very easy to do in even a one-bedroom home. Although Lifx is getting better with age, they still have a long way to go to catch up to where Philips hue already is.
Winner: Philips hue Gen 3
*Update 11/28/16 – I bought an Echo Dot over the weekend and taught Alexa the skills for both Lifx and Hue. It was necessary to have the Lifx and Hue apps on my phone, but using Alexa as a hub, I was able to group both Lifx and Hue bulbs to act as one and independently, depending on IFTTT recipes. I’ll post more about home automation soon as I figure everything out.*
Check out the ultimate Smart Light roundup…