Philips Lighting is no longer the only company making light bulb starter kits; both Sengled and Ikea (yes, the furniture company) sell kits that include bulbs and a hub to connect the bulbs to your home network. But, after testing three starter kits, it's clear that the Philips Hue White Starter Kit ($69) is still one step ahead, which is why it's the best starter kit on our best smart lights page.
Philips Hue stater kit setup
Like the Sengled and Ikea, Philips' bulbs can't connect directly to your home network; they must first connect to the included bridge; all three require you to plug their bridge into your router using the included Ethernet cable. I would have hoped by now that Wi-Fi would also be an option.
Philips' hub is a small white box that's larger than Sengled's hub; both are about the size of a hockey puck. IKEA's hub is much larger — about the size of a smoke detector — but that's because it's designed to hide excess cords. Regardless, their sizes aren't a huge deal, as you're likely to stuff these all away somewhere. Three status lights on the top of the Philips hub indicate if it's powered on, connected to your router and to the internet.
After plugging in everything (including the lights), you then pair everything together through the Philips Hue app. The hub, located on the first floor of my house, had a little trouble locating a bulb in my attic. Fortunately, Hue's app lets you enter the serial number of the bulb; after doing so, the hub was able to find the light.
Philips now ships a starter kit (for $99) with four bulbs; both the Sengled and Ikea kits come with only two bulbs. That's handy, especially if you want to outfit an entire room (or two) without having to purchase additional bulbs separately.
Each bulb that comes with the starter kit emits a warm light (2700K) at 840 lumens. By comparison, Sengled's bulbs (also 2700K) are a slightly dimmer 800 lumens, though I didn't notice a difference when testing them. Ikea's bulbs are a brighter 900 lumens, and can be tuned; that is, you can change the color temperature from warm (2200K) to warm white (2700K) to cool white (4000K). (Philips also makes a color-tunable starter kit, the Philips Hue White Ambiance Kit, for $99.)
Philips Hue App
By virtue of it being one of the first smart-LED makers to market, Philips has had some time to refine its app, and it shows.
The Home screen of the app gives you a top-level view of the rooms in your house, and if Philips' lights are on or off in those rooms. You can either turn all the lights on or off in a given room, or diving deeper, control individual lights.
A Routines section lets you schedule times for lights to turn on or off in selected rooms. I especially like that there's an "only after sunset" option, which is helpful in summer months where it still might be too bright outside to warrant turning on your lights. A vacation mode will also turn your lights on and off randomly, to make it seem like you're actually home.
I also liked that there's a geofencing feature, which can automatically trigger either the Coming Home or Leaving Home routine based on your phone's location. Unfortunately, there's no way to specify how close you have to be for the lights to turn on or off; fortunately, you can fine-tune this if you use an IFTTT applet.
One of the fun aspects of Philips Hue's app, especially if you have colored bulbs, is the ability to use and create Scenes, which are presets that adjust all the lights to a particular color or brightness.
An Explore section of the app has, among other things, an "Apps We Like" section, which links to other apps that can control Philips Hue lights. For example, the Hue TV app ($2.99) uses your phone's camera to take a picture of your TV, and then adjusts the lights to correspond to the colors of the show you're watching.
A Hue Labs section even lets you beta test different features Philips is thinking of releasing, and let the company know what you think of it.
Philips Hue Starter Kit smart home compatibility
Of all the light brands, Philips has the most extensive compatibility with other smart-home systems. It's one of the best Google Home compatible devices, best Apple HomeKit products and best Alexa compatible devices. It works with Nest, Samsung SmartThings, IFTTT, Comcast Xfinity Home and Logitech.
Philips sells all manner of smart LEDs, from lightstrips to whole fixtures, all of which can be controlled and linked in the Philips Hue app. You can read all about them in our guide to Philips Hue lights.
The Hue White Starter Kit with four bulbs costs $99; You can purchase additional Hue White A19 bulbs in packs of three for $39.99; that works out to about $13 per bulb, which is more expensive than Sengled's $9.99 per bulb. However, Philips is rolling out a 4-pack of bulbs for $49.99.
Philips has not rested on its lead, continuing to develop not only its smart lights but the app and ecosystem supporting it. At $69 for the two-light starter kit (and $99 for the four-pack), it's $20 more than Sengled's kit, but what you're getting in return is a much greater feature set, plus the ability to connect a much wider range of lights.
In the near future, Philips will face a new challenge from smart light bulbs that can connect directly to your home Wi-Fi network, and do not need a hub. But until then, it remains the best option for smart lights.