Philips Hue Smart Light Bulb

Hanging a pair of shelves, I became intimately acquainted with my building’s stratigraphy. Its stubborn concrete, moldering plaster and decades of amassed paint made scrap of my tools and snuffed out my DIY zeal. I accepted acned white walls as a concession to urban living. 

Then I saw my apartment in a new light. 

For the past week, a trio of lightbulbs has transformed those blank walls into a verdant canvas. Hue, by Philips, reflects a new generation of “smart” lightbulbs. Hue talks to your smartphone and uses the same tech found in your big-screen TV to produce swathes of color at a fraction of the energy. Each bulb produces 16 million colors (I counted them all), connects to your home network via integrated Wi-Fi and still manages to sip just nine watts of power, one-fifth a traditional incandescent. With a 15,000-hour life span, these darlings will outlast me.

The starter kit comes with three bulbs and a bridge. After you connect the hockey puck–sized bridge to your wireless router, you can install a Jetsons-era Hue, a svelte, conical bulb. Thankfully, Hue doesn’t require other high tech: Install it into an existing light fixture, and leave the power on. 

You control smart bulbs via Philips’s clever Android or iPhone app. Thanks to a bounty of preset light profiles, called Scenes, getting started is easy. Granted, some scenes are better than others. Whereas Relax thaws the most austere walls, Concentrate carries all the charm of a dentist’s office. Presets can be customized on the fly: dragging a slider warms or chills rooms. You can even use a photo to find that one-in-16-million hue; if you can’t choose, you can assign each bulb a different, complementing color.

I’m enamored with the alarm setting, which wakes me via a gradual sunrise, and I use timers to dim the lights in the living room. My favorite feature, Geofencing, uses my phone’s location to automatically turn on and off lights when I enter and leave home. 

Because the underlying software is open source, the Philips app is one of dozens. I’ve jettisoned it for Goldee, a free alternative whose dynamic light scenes transform walls into fading sunsets, churning volcanoes and ebbing night skies. If you entertain, Ambify’s apps for Mac and iOS synchronize light to music. There are even themed packages, such as Hue Halloween, whose light and sound effects simulate creaking doors, howling wind and crackling fireplaces. 

Like so many things, cleverness carries a cost. The starter kit will set you back $200. Once you begin you’ll want another bulb for the kitchen, bathroom and den.

It supports 50 bulbs, but accessories aren’t cheap—starting at $30. However, you will bank long-term energy savings. You’ll also boast the most vibrant and versatile lighting on the block. And for urban dwellers long past their DIY days, the opportunity to revitalize tired walls without lifting a paintbrush may just be worth it.