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The Difference Between Philips Hue White & White Ambiance

I’ll openly admit that when I first started looking into smart lighting, I got confused by all the different terms. Should I buy WiFi or ZigBee bulbs? Do I want RGB, RGBW, RGBWW… or RGB-CCT?! Should I care? And when I finally settled on Philips Hue, I was confused as to whether I should buy “white” or “white ambiance”? This actually has an interesting (and slightly longer) answer, but the summary is…

White Ambiance bulbs allow you to switch between “daytime” light (bluey whites) and “night-time” light (yellowy whites). This helps to reflect the natural day-night cycle, but at an added cost.

A brief overview of Philips Hue

A Philips Hue starter kit (B22), and four E14 White Ambiance bulbs.
How I got started with smart lighting: a starter kit and four E14 candle bulbs.

Philips Hue are a range of smart lights, originally produced by Philips but now owned by Signify (who still use the “Philips Hue” brand name, even though Signify and Philips are different companies).

Hue are one of the premium-end of the market, meaning that their products are more expensive than many smart light producers (apart from LIFX who are similarly priced, or sometimes more expensive).

However Hue earn their status as a premium-end product by having a large product line-up with lots of smart bulbs and all-in-one light fixings, along with a good amount of integration. They are one of the only smart lighting companies to offer syncing with music and TV, meaning that your bulbs can ‘dance’ in time with what’s playing.

Philips Hue’s bulbs fall into three main categories:

  • White
  • White Ambiance
  • White And Color Ambiance

The final bulb type means that the bulb can produce 16 million different colors: from blue to bright orange, and pink to green! This is because these bulbs contain color diodes (RGB – one red, one green, and one blue) along with a white diode to produce good quality white color too (genuine white is hard to produce with just RGB diodes).

However Hue’s color bulbs cost 4-5x the price of white bulbs and 2-3x the price of ‘white ambiance’ bulbs, so many budget-conscious people ask what the difference is between the cheaper white and white ambiance alternatives…

The main difference between Philips Hue’s White and White Ambiance bulbs

Philips Hue’s white bulbs produce one color: white. Okay, that’s kind of obvious, but it’s worth saying: You can’t change the bulb color, they can only produce 2700 kelvin “warm white”. This is the sort of light you’d have in the evening time, and it looks as follows:

The overhead light in my current home office
The overhead light in my current home office.

This is great when working in the evening, or you can dim it down (all of Hue’s bulbs support dimming) and you get great ambient lighting for chilling out:

A side lamp with an Amazon Echo Dot in-front of it
A dimmed side lamp from a Hue bulb.

But what isn’t great about “warm white” is that it feels a bit… wrong during the day-time. After all, you’ll have natural daylight (4600-6500 kelvin light) coming through your windows in day-time, and then a different color from your overhead bulb.

You can see this in my kitchen below – the light from my window is natural “cool white” day light, and the light overhead is “warm white”:

My current kitchen without smart lighting
My current kitchen without smart lighting

Whilst you may not notice this too much in some rooms (I don’t really in my kitchen, to be honest), you might in other rooms. This is where Philips Hue’s White Ambiance range really shines through… sorry, cheesy pun.

Hue’s White Ambiance range allows you to change the “color temperature” of the white color, which is a fancy way of saying that you can go from bluey white to yellowy white, and everything in-between:

Screenshot from the Hue app, showing the color wheel picker for a White Ambiance Hue bulb.
The color wheel/picker for a White Ambiance bulb within the Hue app.

Instead of the color wheel you can also choose from some pre-set scenes, allowing you to easily change the color temperature and brightness:

Screenshot from the Hue app, showing the scenes organized per room.
The scenes in the Hue app are organized per room.

This makes your Hue bulb feel… smarter. I mean, I know that Hue’s white bulbs can be dimmed and turned on/off with your voice (or the app) and that’s cool – but smart lighting is also about changing color.

And white ambiance offers this in a very natural way – people are more likely to switch between bluey-white colors and yellowy-white colors in normal day-to-day use than randomly switching to bright pink!

This is actually why White Ambiance is my favorite Hue bulb type – click below to see the full range on Amazon:

Amazon shop now button

So that’s the main difference between Hue’s White and White Ambiance bulbs: one is set to warm white, whilst the other allows you to change between different white colors. But of course, this comes at a higher price…

How the price varies between Hue’s White and Ambiance bulbs

Philips Hue’s white ambiance bulbs contain extra LEDs to allow for the different light colors you can choose, but this naturally comes at an extra cost. The following compares the price of different A19 Hue bulbs on Amazon right now:

Single packTwin pack
Philips Hue White$14.88$29.97
Philips Hue White Ambiance$24.97$44.99
% price increase68% increase50% increase
A price comparison of Philips Hue’s A19 bulbs on Amazon.com

So whilst you’re better off buying a twin pack for the cost savings, the white ambiance bulbs are still at least 50% more than the pure-white ones.

Whilst Hue bulbs are regularly available in sales, the discount tends to apply equally to all their bulb types. This raises the next question:

Do you really need to pay more for Philips Hue’s White Ambiance bulbs?

The boxes for the Philips Hue B22 Starter Kit and the Philips Hue White Ambiance E14 bulbs, both of which say "ZigBee Certified product" on their side.
Two of my White and White ambiance Philips Hue boxes.

If you’ve not thought about your light bulbs too much, you’ve probably been buying “warm white” bulbs for years without realizing it. These are often more common-place in shops.

And since Philips Hue’s white bulbs are “warm white” too, do you really need to upgrade to white ambiance bulbs? Both can be dimmed (and turned on/off) just fine, after all.

Well the answer is… it’s really up to you! Read on for what I do personally, but if you think that you’d benefit from switching to bluey-whites (or pure white), white ambiance will be perfect for you.

But if you mainly want a bulb to dim and turn on/off with your voice, Hue White will work just fine.

All I’d suggest is to try a single white ambiance bulb at least once if you can. I didn’t think that I’d want to switch to the ‘bluey-whites’ color temperature much, but I often do. And for just $15 extra for a two-pack of Hue bulbs (or less in the sales), it might be worth trying our white ambiance at least once.

Then if you find that you never switch from the default color, just buy Hue White in the future and save money.

Which Hue bulbs I buy (in different situations)

I personally tend to only go with White Ambiance bulbs for the majority of my lights.

Feature lights are a good place to use full color (White and Color Ambiance) smart bulbs, but for most of my lights I just use White Ambiance.

This is because I don’t find myself needing to switch away from bluey-white or yellowy-white very often (meaning that full color, at double the price of White Ambiance) would be overkill for me.

But equally, I dislike working in the day-time under “warm white”. It just feels a bit weird to me. Hence I avoid Hue White where I can. I have two Hue White bulbs from a starter kit, but every other Hue bulb I buy is White Ambiance (or full color, in a few rare cases).

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