While smart speakers tend to suck up most the attention, smart lights are the bread and butter of the smart home. And because of their visual nature, they tend to make for a great demonstration of what your home can do.
You can issue a voice command and watch the lights go out, or move a slider and see them change colour. It feels like magic, and it feels like living in the future. However, the world of smart home lights is currently dominated by two brands.
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On one side you've got Philips Hue, the original name in smart lights, and on the other got Lifx, the little crowdfund darling that could, slowly raising its profile and becoming a worthy competitor to the crown.
But which one is better and, more importantly, better for you? We'll explore how they compare below.
Philips Hue vs Lifx: Getting started
The biggest distinction between Hue and Lifx is in the setup. The two take completely different approaches here. The Philips Hue, for instance, requires a bridge, while the Lifx doesn't.
You'll have to pony up for a starter kit with a bridge and at least one Hue lightbulb if you take the Philips route. You connect that bridge to your router, which then connects to your lightbulbs. The reason for this is that the Hue system works on a combination of Wi-Fi and Zigbee.
The bridge will cost you $60 by itself, should you not want to go the starter kit route (maybe you want to take it one bulb at a time). However, you don't technically need the bridge to use the bulbs. If you have the Philips Dimmer Switch, that'll work, dimming your lights gradually for up to 10 bulbs, but that's not the smart home lighting system you signed up for.
Lifx, on the other hand, doesn't use a bridge. Each Lifx bulb connects individually via Wi-Fi. This will save you some money, as you won't have to buy a bridge and can just concentrate on acquiring smart bulbs, but it's also a bit of a nuisance. For instance, if you're looking to create a HomeKit setup you're going to have to add each lightbulb individually to the Apple Home app.
Philips Hue vs Lifx: The lights and accessories
Let's get down to it: the lights. This is the reason you're here, right? There are several ways you can approach your smart lighting, and for the most part these two companies offer different solutions.
Lifx is primarily about bulbs. You can get the smaller, more affordable Lifx Mini bulbs, which start at $24.99 and go up to about $79.99 for fancy bulbs with "night vision".
You're not going to need a bridge, obviously, and that makes Lifx's starter packs a little less enticing. That's because you're not really getting any savings from them. They're the same price whether you buy them separately or together.
More recently, Lifx has started to expand out into fixed lighting solutions. It offers both the Beam and Tile, which are colourful lighting fixtures that you put up on the wall. Think of them as Lifx's response to Nanoleaf's products. There are also LED strips should you want to get your Christmas decoration game on.
In terms of brightness, Lifx wins with a max of 1,000 lumens against Hue with 800 lumens, however Hue offers more variety. Philips' starter kits offer a mixed variety of bulbs and accessories, and there are up to 11 variations in the UK and six in the US. They start at about $69.99 and go up to $199.99.
Read next: How to make Lifx smart bulbs work your way
Where Philips really succeeds is past the bulbs. Like Lifx, it offers LED strips, but Philips offers way more fixed lighting and lamp options. There are movable lighting fixtures like the Go and Bloom portable lights; there are lamps like the Table and Beyond; and then there are the really intensive ones, the ones that you'll need to install into your walls and ceiling.
Those are the dedicated fixtures that not only offer some smarts, but allow you to have a little more flexibility with your smart lighting. You don't just have to put some bulbs into your existing setup, if you want something a little more sleek and a little more designed, you can have that too. Those will definitely set you back a couple hundred, however.
As for accessories, because Lifx doesn't have a hub, it doesn't have the breadth of accessories that Hue can offer. See, accessories running on Wi-Fi use up a ton of power, while accessories running on Zigbee use less power and are easier to make and use. Lifx is compatible with some accessories, like the Logitech Pop and Flic smart buttons. Hue gets the benefit of using dimmer switches, tap switches and motion sensors to turn the lights on and off.
Philips Hue vs Lifx: The app and special features
How much effort can be put into controlling your colourful smart lights? A lot, actually. Philips Hue and Lifx both have nice companion apps that let you set the colour temperature, group bulbs into rooms and sets and choose from preset lighting colours.
However, each of them also has a unique feature that makes them stand out. For Lifx, that feature is Effects, which provides nice, well, effects. Things like turning your lights into a simulation of fire. Or Music Visualizer will use your phone's microphone to sync the lights with any tunes you're currently blasting out.
Philips Hue, on the other hand, has its newly debuted Philips Hue Sync. This syncs your lights to the games, movies and music you're watching and listening to in real time. Music is easy: it'll listen to the song and choose colours that fit, kind of like Lifx's Music Visualizer.
For games and music, you'll need to install an app on your Mac and PC. The app will grab screens of the content you're watching, feed it through an algorithm and spit out light scripts that'll sync your lights to the images on the screen in real time.
Philips Hue vs Lifx: Smart home compatibility
When it comes to compatibility, it's a wash. Both Lifx and Philips Hue work with Google Assistant, Alexa, and Apple HomeKit. Though ‚Äď once again ‚Äď with HomeKit you'll need to set up each bulb independently in the Home app as there's no Hub around.
Both systems also support IFTTT and Works with Nest, so you can sync them up to a whole bunch of applets and scripts to get working in a number of different ways. Want your lights to flash red if there's carbon monoxide in your home? Go ahead. Want to set off a light show based on the home team's colours when they win? Have at it.
You won't be hurting for compatibility in either direction, and that includes other smart home standards like Samsung SmartThings. You will get a little bit more flexibility with Hue, just because it also works with Zigbee rather than Wi-Fi, but most people probably won't notice.
Philips Hue vs Lifx: Which one is for you?
You know the players, now you have to choose a winner. That's going to depend on two questions. One, are you interested in adding a bridge? If you're not, and you'd rather piecemeal your smart lighting system together one bulb at a time, then Lifx may be the better option here ‚Äď this also makes it the slightly more affordable option.
The other question is what you want to do with your lights. If you're looking to go full-on into smart lighting fixtures, Philips Hue is going to offer far more variety and is the better option. If you would like to keep your current fixtures, and just want to replace the bulbs, then this question does not apply and you just need to figure out if a bridge is for you.
Whichever option you choose, you'll have a powerful and versatile smart lighting solution for your home. Isn't that what we all want in the end?