Philips Hue White Ambiance Starter Kit review: Philips Hue covers the white-light spectrum with White Ambiance LEDs

Fortunately, there's a workaround: Hue's scenes. Tell Siri to run one of those scenes, and she'll fire it off without incident, even if it includes color temperature changes. This includes those native Hue scenes, like the "Concentrate" mode I mentioned before. Still, that means you have to have a scene ready before the mood strikes to ask Siri to change up your lighting, which obviously isn't ideal.

I asked Philips about this, and a company spokesperson told me that it's something they're working with Apple to fix. On the Apple front, the company declined to comment.

Compare the Hue White Ambiance LED with Philips' own 60W equivalent LED, which puts out 821 lumens: the Hue bulb is definitely dimmer.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Not the brightest bulbs

As for the hardware itself, the Hue White Ambiance LEDs are 10W bulbs that list the light output at 800 lumens -- roughly what you'd expect from an ordinary 60W bulb.

But scroll down to the specs on the Philips Hue website. You'll see that the brightness level varies by color temperature, and that you only get to 800 lumens at a setting of 4,000 K. At 2,700 K -- the setting the bulb defaults to every time you switch it on -- the lumen count is listed at 570.

It was even lower than that when I tested the bulbs out using our spectrometer and integrating sphere setup. At 2,700 K, the bulbs came in at just 451 lumens, putting them right in line with a 40W incandescent, not a 60W one.

At the warmest setting (roughly 2,200 K), the brightness dipped all the way to 290 -- definitely dim, but forgivable since you're basically emulating candle-light at that point. At the other end of the spectrum, the bulb clocked in at 403 lumens at its hottest color temperature setting (roughly 5,600 K).

The Hue White Ambiance LEDs put out less light than other color-tunable smart LEDs.

Ry Crist/CNET

With the default color temperature and both extremes sorted out, I set out to see if I could find that 4,000 K setting and the 800 lumens that are supposed to come with it. After several minutes spent scouring the spectrum in the Hue app, the brightest setting I could find manually came in at 616 lumens.

These are pretty bad results across the board -- so much so that I made sure to repeat the tests with each of the two bulbs in my starter kit. I then went back and retested some old bulbs to make sure my equipment was calibrated correctly. It was. Bottom line: the Hue Ambiance LEDs aren't as bright as they probably ought to be given the numbers on the box.

The growing family of Philips Hue


Philips Hue Wireless Dimming Kit Philips Hue White Starter Kit Philips Hue White Ambiance Starter Kit Philips Hue White and Color Ambiance Starter Kit
Starter kit cost $40 $80 $130 $200
Bulbs per kit 1 2 2 3
Individual bulb cost $15 $15 $30 $60
Variable color temperature No (fixed at 2,700 K) No (fixed at 2,700 K) Yes Yes
RGB color-selection No No No Yes
Starter kit includes Apple HomeKit-compatible Philips Hue Bridge No Yes Yes Yes
Starter kit includes Philips Hue Dimmer Switch Yes No Yes No

Tough being a middle child

The Philips Hue White Ambiance Starter Kit is yet another avenue into the larger Hue ecosystem, and that's probably the point. Philips wants that Hue Bridge in as many homes as possible, and putting out a variety of different starter kits with different feature sets and price points seems like the right strategy.

Still, the White Ambiance kits might be in a tricky spot. If you just want the cheapest kit that comes with a Hue Bridge, then your best bet is to skip the color-tuning ambiance and go with the $80 Hue White kit. And, if you want to splurge on something a little more feature rich, then the full-color, $200 kit that comes with a third bulb is probably worth your while.

And, of course, Hue isn't alone in the category -- not with color-changing bulbs, and not with color tunable ones, either. In fact, it faces some fairly strong competition from the likes of Lifx and Stack, both of which offer comparably-priced color tunable bulbs that outperformed the Hue White Ambiance LEDs in my tests. Neither one will work with HomeKit, but each one has a lot to offer in its own right, and deserves a look before buying in with Hue.