Philips Hue complete system review: A shining light in the smart home

In 2012 Philips launched Hue, one of the earliest examples of smart lighting, allowing for colour and brightness control from a smartphone or tablet. At the time it perhaps wasn’t realised how significant this system would become: many have followed, but few have ever matched Hue’s abilities or diversity.

A number of years on and the system has seen numerous updates and an expansion in what the system offers. What started out as an original starter kit is now a comprehensive range of light bulbs and lights for a variety of different rooms and locations that all help enhance the lighting in your home.

We’ve been using Hue since it launched, embracing the changes and growing the system as smart home has emerged. But with growing competition is Hue still worth investing in?

An overview

  • Multiple lighting options
  • 16.8 million colours can be selected on the fly
  • iOS and Android app compatible for full remote control

Hue is best known for the ability to instantly change colours, with a choice of 16 million available, and a variety of methods to choose the perfect colour for your room, including different ‘white’ temperatures.

For the most comprehensive system you’ll need a Wi-Fi router in your home to connect the Bridge – the physical brains of the system, if you like, which is a must-purchase – via an Ethernet cable.

The Bridge creates a ZigBee wireless network to which Hue bulbs can connect. Hue bulbs also create a mesh network, where each can talk to others on the network, meaning that there’s no range-based issue from the Bridge. In the future, the Hue Bridge will update to support Matter, bringing more versatility to the system.

In recent years, Philips launched a new range of bulbs that support Bluetooth, meaning you can setup and control those bulbs directly from your phone, without the need for the Bridge, although there are some limitations to that setup – i.e., you need to be in range to make any changes.

Actual control of Hue bulbs is predominately via an Android or iPhone/iPad app. However, you can use a range of switches, automation through services like IFTTT, Alexa or Google Assistant, as well as tying bulbs into things like Philips Ambilight televisions.

Starter kits gets you started

Originally, Philips Hue started with a three-bulb starter kit, costing £180 and giving you everything you needed. The system is now a lot more accessible, with a range of starter packs availalbe, often discounted through sales events like Black Friday, but there’s no shortage of options whether you’re looking for GU10 spotlights, bayonet, screw or some other bulb type.

The important thing is that if you’re starting a new setup you need to decide whether you want the Bridge or not. In theory, you can control Hue bulbs via another Zigbee controller (like some Amazon Echo devices), but skipping the Bridge means you lose a lot of the features that Hue is known for, as well as things like firmware updates.

Of course, if you opt for the Bluetooth bulbs, you don’t need the hub – but that doesn’t give you a Hue system that’s a dynamic as those using the Bridge. We’d recommmed starting with the Bridge and building from there.

There are plenty of other choices when it comes to choosing the right light bulbs for your room or house. Whether you are looking to replace a downlighter, a standard lamp, or create something moody in the corner, there is a solution for it all within the Hue family.

Hue White shines a Lux light

  • Removes the colour options
  • Originally called Lux, now called White
  • Available in many bulb types

If you don’t want Hue bulbs to offer the full colour spectrum, then Hue White provides a more affordable white-only solution. These bulbs were launched as Hue Lux. They still work with the Hue app, but will only let you adjust from warm white to cool white, rather than offering any colours.

Philips says you will want the different whites for different tasks, and that clinical trials have shown that different white light can affect us in different ways; things like improving concentration or your ability to relax. All Hue bulbs can deliver white light, but if it’s only white light that you want then Hue White is the best match.

Individual White bulbs cost from about £15, but the spotlights are more expensive, at around £30 for a single spot. These white spots are great, however, because they are more compact than the colour versions, so if you have a spotlight bar where the bulbs are exposed, they’ll look better.

Bloom, Go, LightStrips, garden lights and more

  • Standalone lamps for Hue
  • Great uplighter
  • Go offers wireless portability

Between the normal colour bulbs and the newer selection of White bulbs, you can cover most of the standard light fittings of your home and across a range of different rooms.

But there’s more besides. Whether it’s the Bloom – which is a bulbous light for up-lighting in the corner of the room – or LightStrips – which are suitable for adding colour under a worktop – the system has matured enough to offer you more than just regular bulbs for your regular light fittings.

In recent years, the Philips Hue system has experimented with various form factors that come in the guise of portable battery powered options like the Hue Go – a bedside lampshades with the bulb built-in – to even a range of waterproof outdoor lights for the garden.

Then there are the dedicated light fittings like the bathroom mirror range that features Hue bulbs built-in and various other ‘experiences’ that go beyond the traditional bulb. This is one of the attractive things about the Hue system, it’s so versatile – but there are cheaper options available in a range of styles that you can tie together using systems like Amazon Alexa, rather than running everything through Hue.

Hue Tap, Dimmer, and other switches

  • Remote light switch for Hue
  • Remote dimmer for Hue
  • Avoids the need to always use the app

While the app is the predominant way to control Philips Hue, it’s not the only way. After all, not everyone will have access to your phone. For that, there are physical switches and dimmers that can be installed too.

Tap is a wireless light switch that lets you control Hue presets without needing your phone. Handy if you’re trying to not use your phone all the time, you’re in a call, or when you have guests around who aren’t connected to the system. It doesn’t cut out the need for a smartphone, though, as you’ll still need that to assign your presets.

A similar alternative is the Hue Dimmer, which given its price tag might be a better option for app-free control. The Dimmer will allow you to change the brightness of your Hue lights, as well as turn them on or off – and it’s also a remote that you can detach from the wall and take with you wherever you need it. You just have to set it up through the app first.

Alternatively you can now get third-party physical switches that will allow you to control the Hue system – and one of the advantages of using Hue is that you’ll find that often those third-party controllers (like Alexa) will be able to do things like change the colours and brightness, which might now be the case with some smaller smart light systems.

The Philips Hue app

  • Android and iOS compatible
  • Enables control out of the home

At the core of the system is the app that controls it all, which has evolved over the years. Signing into the app will enable you to access your lights when you’re not on your home Wi-Fi network, so you can make adjustments when you’re out of the house.

The app is broken down into sections: Home, where you control your rooms or garden; Automations, which allows you to set things like wake up and sleep timers; Sync to tie your lights into other platforms such as Spotify, PC or the HDMI sync box; an Explore area for discovering more with other apps or Hue Labs; and a Settings panel for room/light/accessory setups.

Scenes can be used to create the ambiance you want, either by manually tweaking things, or selecting from some presets (like bright, dimmed or nightlight), through to choosing a scene based on pictures. Philips provides pictures so you can easily select the ambiance you want.

Automations is one of the most popular aspects of having Hue lights because you can use this to turn on the lights automatically and fade them out later in the evening. This is great as a home security measure – and there’s also a random option too.

The Explore tab is mostly about information, letting you explore the system and see what else you might be able to do.

Alexa, Google Home, Apple, IFTTT

  • Alexa, turn on my lights
  • Loads of IFTTT recipes
  • Lots of third-party apps

Rather than just rely on you using a smartphone or tablet to control the Philips Hue lighting at home, you can interact and control the experience in a number of other ways, including using your voice.

Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri are all supported, as well as IFTTT. The wide range of smart home ecosystem support is second to none and means that regardless of what system you have or change to over time, the Philips Hue system is still likely to be supported.

Alexa Routines are really simple to use, for example, letting you tie your lighting system into other smart home devices, for example turning on the lights when a motion sensor is triggered. While this doesn’t depend on anything that Philips offers (it’s all controlled through the Aelxa Hue Skill), you definitely don’t have to worry about interoperability when it comes to Hue.

The possibilities, as they say, are endless.

Original Article