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Are Full Color Smart Bulbs Worth It?

There’s an obvious appeal to smart bulbs—you can control them with you voice or smartphone, set timers, and do all sorts of neat things. But when it comes to full color smart bulbs, the price spike significantly. Is it worth it?

There Are Two Kinds of Color Bulbs: RGB and Color Temperature

Most bulbs—smart or not—come in a single color and have for ages. We buy warm white bulbs to make bedrooms cozy and cool white bulbs for crisp light in our work spaces, and so on. Color smart bulbs, on the other hand, let you change the color of the bulb. However, there are two kinds of variable bulbs: ones that adjust their color temperature, and ones that can change to any color using a combination of red, green, and blue light.

Color temperature bulbs, like this $30 bulb from Philips Hue, can’t change to just any color. You’re not going to get wacky green or purple lights from this. Instead, they can vary the shade of white light they emit. “Warmer” colors have more of an orange-ish hue, similar to what you’d see from an old-school style incandescent bulb. “Cooler” colors are more blue-ish, like florescent lights in an office.

Meanwhile, RGB bulbs can emit any color, including the full range of white color temperatures. You can use warm or cool presets with your bulbs, but you can also change them to more interesting colors. Want some quick Christmas lighting? Set your bulbs to red and green. Throwing an 80s party? Splash your room with some pink and purple. You get a lot more freedom with RGB bulbs, but they also tend to cost a lot more too.

Color Temperature Bulbs Can Change the Entire Mood of Your Rooms

When placed next to each other, the difference between cool (left) and warm (right) color temperatures is clear.

Here’s a little-known secret of interior design: lighting is everything. More specifically, the color temperature of your bulbs can have a huge impact on how you feel when you’re in your room. Warmer colors feel more low-energy and relaxed, whereas cooler color temperatures tend to make us feel more energized and active. There are a lot of psychological reasons behind this (and it can vary from person to person), but a simple way to understand it is that sunlight tends to result in bright, cool white light, which we associate with being active during the day. As night falls and we wind down to relax, the only light available is softer, warmer light.

You can use this knowledge to paint your rooms with a different mood throughout the day. For example, you could set your home office lights to use a cool, high-energy light when you want to get things done, or switch to a warm tone when you want to relax. You can even set your smart lights to change color temperature based on the time of day or the weather outside. This is especially helpful if you’re lighting rooms that don’t get a lot of natural light. You could make a secluded room feel like it’s getting something like sunlight during the day, and warmer light at night.

Depending on how sensitive you are to the color of your lights, this could be a worthy benefit. Philips Hue offers two standard white bulbs for $30 a pack, or its White Ambiance bulbs with adjustable color temperature for $30 per bulb. You’re paying twice as much per bulb, but it’s also like getting two bulbs (a warm and a cool one) in one. Funky colors are fun, but on a practical level, color temperature bulbs will probably give you a more useful day-to-day benefit.

Full Color Bulbs Are More Fun and Give You More Decorating Possibilities

My entertainment center is way more interesting when I can make it colorful.

The difference between warm and cool white light is noticeable, but it doesn’t make a statement in the same way that bright, vivid colors can. Philips Hue’s version of RGB color bulbs run in the neighborhood of $48 per bulb. Compared to the per-bulb price of about $15 for a standard white smart bulb, they’re not exactly an easy pill to swallow. You get a lot of options for your money, though.

You could use a lamp pointed at the wall to create a colorful splash of ambient lighting. Color LED strips can make some eye strain-easing bias lighting for your TV. Or you could even theme your rooms around the holidays. Use some orange and purples for Halloween, greens and reds for Christmas, or pink and red for Valentine’s Day.

You can also get some incredible animated effects with a full color light. This Hue Labs program can create a romantic candlelight effect using all of your lights. You can also use third-party apps to make some pretty crazy party mode effects. You can do a little bit of this with standard white or color temperature lights, but if you want to fully express your creativity, RGB is where it’s at.

So which bulb type should you go with? While every home person is going to have different needs for lighting, here’s the key takeaway to keep in mind while shopping. If you like the idea of tweaking the color temperature of your bulbs to match the time of day or give the room a different feel based on the task at hand (warm to relax, cool to focus), color temperature bulbs might be worth the premium for you.

If you want to get really creative, on the other hand, then full color bulbs may be your speed. You can drastically change how a whole room looks with just a couple of lights. You’ll pay a pretty substantial price for those bulbs, so you’ll probably want to do as much as you can with as few as possible. On the other hand, pointing a light at a wall to get some color is a lot cheaper and more flexible than painting the room or shelling out for a whole interior design overhaul, so—when framed like that—you might find the Hue White and Color starter kit to be a bargain.

Eric Ravenscraft Eric Ravenscraft
Eric Ravenscraft has nearly a decade of writing experience in the technology industry. His work has also appeared in The New York Times, PCMag, The Daily Beast, Geek and Sundry, and The Inventory. Read Full Bio »