Internet of Things connected Philips Hue bulbs review

After we wrote a post about the Lifx, Internet of Things connected LED lights a few weeks back, we reached out to Philips to see if we could get a Philips Hue kit to try out for comparison. Philips obliged and sent us a kit which contains 3 LED lights, and a Hue bridge.

Philips Hue bridge

Philips Hue bridge

As a bit of background, the way the Philips Hue system works is that you receive a device called a bridge with your bulbs which you need connect into your internet router. This device talks to the Philips Hue bulbs over the ZigBee protocol, and also is capable of connecting to the Internet via your router. Thus your Philips Hue bulbs are capable of being controlled not just from inside your home, but also from outside the home using the free Philips Hue smartphone app (available for both Android and iOS).

The smartphone app has a lot of extra functionality built-in. The app enables users:

  • to change the colour of the light coming from the bulbs (across the full spectrum of visible light), as well as the intensity
  • to use pre-built recipes which come with the app for different light intensities and colours. These recipes are editable, and owners can create their own recipes and share them with the Hue community
  • set-up Geofencing, so it’s possible to have the lights automatically go off when you leave home, and come on when you approach home
  • create alarms such that the lights simulate a sunrise early in the morning, or a sunset late at night. The sunrise functionality can be especially useful if you find it hard to awake on dark winter mornings
  • to control lights remotely – this is useful if you don’t use the geofencing functionality and you want to check if you turned the lights off after you go out, or if you don’t want to enter a dark home
Philips Hue Bridge Power consumption

Philips Hue Bridge Power consumption

The bulbs, as can be seen in the video give out good light (600 Lumen at full intensity) over a large range of colours, and using very little electricity. Typical consumption, at full intensity, and a colour temperature of around 3000K, is 5W. However, the bulbs also draw a constant 0.4W when they are turned off by the app (as opposed to being turned off at the physical switch). This is so they can maintain their Zigbee connection to the bridge, in order to be able to come respond to the smartphone app (alarms, remote on/off requests, geofencing, etc.). And the bridge itself consumes a constant 1.6W, so the three bulbs, plus the bridge, have a baseline consumption of 2.8W.

When you compare the 2.8W to 60W from a conventional incandescent bulb, it doesn’t appear to be a huge draw, but over 24 hours it does add up (it is the equivalent of leaving a 60W bulb on for a little over an hour and seven minutes per day).

To avoid burning the constant 2.8W you can of course turn the bulbs off at the wall (or the switch). Then they are no longer in ‘listening mode’ and consume 0W, instead of the constant 0.4W. In this scenario, the electricity draw is reduced to just the 1.6W from the bridge. Over 24 hours this is equivalent to leaving a 60W bulb on for just over 38 minutes. The advantage of this approach is lower electricity consumption, the disadvantage is that the Hue bulbs are no longer connected to the Internet of Things.

This constant nibbling of power by the Hue devices is by no means unique to Philips. By definition any devices constantly connected to the Internet are also constantly consuming power – which raises interesting questions around the costs and benefits of Internet of Things connected devices.


9 things you need to know about Lifx’s Internet of Things connected LED light

Philips 12W CFL bulb

Back in September 2012 I saw a Kickstarter campaign entitled LIFX: The Light Bulb Reinvented. The campaign promised to deliver

a WiFi enabled, multi-color, energy efficient LED light bulb that you control with your iPhone or Android

This sounded great. Energy efficient, LED bulbs which could change colour to match/create moods, and which you could control from your Smartphone? Where do I sign up? Well, I signed up on the Kickstarter page, obviously.

This morning, the Lifx bulbs I bought were delivered, so I decided to put them to the test.

The photo at the top of this post is of a lamp in my home powered by a 12W Philips CFL bulb. I swapped out the CFL for the Lifx LED bulb and I was immediately impressed with how quickly it lit up and how bright it is.

Here’s a comparison of the same lamp with first the CFL bulb, and then the Lifx LED bulb:

Both lamps side by side

The photos were taken with identical camera settings* but look different due to the different brightness of the lights, and the different colour of their light. The lamp on the left is being lit by the Philips 12W CFL bulb, while the lamp on the right is being lit by the Lifx 17W LED wifi connected bulb.

A few comments in favour of the LED light –

  1. While it may look like the CFL bulb is brighter, in fact, that’s because most of its light is aimed downwards, while the LED bulb’s light is beamed upwards away from the table. In fact, the LED bulb is considerably brighter
  2. While not obvious from these photos, the LED bulb lights up instantaneously, whereas the CFL takes a good minute to come to full brightness
  3. The CFL is one colour, but the LED is whatever colour you set it to and
  4. The LED can be controlled from its Smartphone app over wifi
    On the other hand –

    Side by side comparison of CFL and Lifx LED bulbs

  6. The LED bulb is much bigger and heavier than the CFL bulb (this may, or may not be an issue for you)
  7. The LED bulb generates a LOT of heat
  8. The LED bulb, when turned off by the app, still consumes 2.7W of electricity (maintaining wifi so it can be turned on again presumably). To avoid this, it needs to be physically turned off at the switch.
  9. The LED bulb is expensive ($89 in the Lifx store) and
  10. Unfortunately the Lifx bulb is not remotely accessible – you need to be connected to wifi to turn it on or off, so if you’re out and realise you’ve forgotten to turn your lights off, there’s no way to turn them off from your smartphone (unless the very cool Revolv app starts to support Lifx bulbs).
    And one more bonus thing you need to know (added after I was alerted to this by Andy Piper and I confirmed it as an issue with my Lifx bulbs)

  12. If you switch the Lifx bulb off at the wall, the bulb forgets its previous setting i.e. if you like a warm yellow light, and set it to that colour, as soon as you turn it off at the wall, it reverts to its default bright white on turning on again.

Bottom line – the Lifx bulb is a nice little bulb and a great job by its developers for a v1.0 of their first product. Having said that, its main competitor seems to be the Philips Hue series of wifi connectable, colour variable, smartphone controllable bulbs, and they’re for sale on for $59.97 which is far cheaper than the Lifx at $89. Also, Revolv support the Hue series of bulbs, so it is likely they are remotely controllable. Given that, unless Lifx addresses particularly the cost issue, I’d have to advise anyone interested in Internet of Things connected lighting to look at the Philips solution instead. If I get my hands on the Philips bulbs, I’ll review them here subsequently.

One final note, the Philips CFL bulb rated at 12W was actually drawing 13.5W, while the Lifx bulb rated at 17W was drawing between 17W and 18W.

*Both photos were taken with the camera on full manual mode with shutter speed at 50, ISO at 200, aperture at 4.5, and white balance set for fluorescent light (4000k approx).