The core of my SmartHome system are the Philips Hue lights. I started with a Hue Bridge, two Hue White bulbs (which are available in multiple form factors, including A19, E26, BR30 and PAR16), a Hue Go and a Hue Lightstrip and within a week of installing those I had replaced every light in our home with Hue lighting (except two cans in the kitchen that we are waiting to have the Hue replacements installed in and a halogen reading lamp I love and won’t give up, but do have on an iHome on/off switch and Leviton dimmer switch).
I absolutely love the Hue system. In addition to the lighting products mentioned previously, our setup now includes a handful of the Hue Color Bulbs, two Hue Blooms and soon two Hue Phoenix Downlights (cans). It was just frustrating to have some of the lights controllable by the Hue controls and others not, and now using physical switches just seems archaic. I even broke down and got another Hue Bridge and two white bulbs as a “Hue White Starter Kit” for the lamps in my office at work (setting up another bridge with the phone that controls my home Hue Bridge was more difficult than I expected, I’ll discuss that challenge in a future post).
It’s the little things that really make the Hue system great, like the fact that now every light in our home is on a dimmer. I wear contacts, and every morning I used to hate turning on the bright lights in the bathroom to put them in – my eyes just aren’t ready for light that bright when I first wake up. But with Hue bulbs in the fixture over the bathroom mirror, I can turn them on at a lower level in the morning while I put my contacts in.
We prefer lamp lighting to overhead lighting in our home, so most of the lights we have used to require using a switch on the cord or the lamp itself as opposed to wall switches. Turning those on and off, especially ones in harder to reach places like behind the couch, can be a real pain. But with Hue we can do it from our phones.
Always needing your phone on hand to turn lights on and off does get a bit annoying after a while though. Do you take your phone with you every time you go from your couch to the kitchen? Me either. So it wasn’t long before I hooked up the Hue Dimmer switches for each set of lights (you can connect the on/off toggles on the switches to either selected lights or a scene, and in most cases I connected them to the two or three bulbs in a particular ceiling fixture that were previously controlled by a matching wall switch) and put in a Hue Tap switch for the whole system. All of the switches are also portable, and can be removed from their mounted pieces. The Dimmer switches attach to the mounted piece magnetically, and the Tap rotates and locks into place. The Tap charges kinetically from use (pushing the buttons) and the Dimmer switches use watch batteries.
With those switches in place we now have portable, grouped switch control of lights that we had to turn on and off with the individual lamp switches before Hue, like the lamps behind the couch and the lamps on our nightstands in the bedroom. The Tap switch is mounted just inside the front door, and I have it programmed for three different color schemes (all lights on full including colored lights to a bright yellow, a scheme with the white lights dimmer and the colors blue and a scheme with the colors orange and the whites dimmer) with the fourth button set to turn off all of the lights. It’s great being able to turn every light in the house on or off as you come in through the front door or leave by it with just one button press.
Speaking of color schemes… obviously colored lighting is another one of the awesome aspects of the Hue system. While we use the plain white bulbs in places like the bathroom, kitchen and hallway fixtures we do have color setups in the living room and bedroom.
In the living room we have a color bulb in the main lamp, a light strip behind the couch and two blooms as spots also behind the couch. In the bedroom we have color bulbs in both nightstand lamps and we also have two Hue Gos that spend a lot of time on the nightstands as well.
Playing with different color schemes is a lot of fun, and I am also enjoying an app called Splyce that manipulates the light color and on/off status to the beat of the music it is playing (I just wish it would recognize more of my downloaded music on my phone, which it seems to think isn’t downloaded and won’t play, even after I reset my phone’s library and re-downloaded it).
I have pre-set color “scenes” in the Hue app and in my HomeKit configuration for some of the basic colors that set all of the color lights to that color (red, orange, blue, purple, pink, etc.), and we also have fun setting the light colors to match our favorite sports teams when they play. The way the lightstrip and Blooms backlight the couch and the space behind it (where we have a little cabinet stand and a bookshelf tucked into an odd corner) is just awesome. I’m also planning on adding a Hue Iris to the mix to see how it compares to the Blooms (it a higher wattage light and pushes more lumens according to the technical specs, so it should be able to get much brighter and light a larger space than the Blooms), from there I’ll either get another Iris or a couple more Blooms to backlight and spotlight other areas of our home. Long-term, I also plan on adding another Lightstrip under the cabinets in the kitchen and potentially some of the extenders to the Lightstrip behind the couch.
There is also a website that you can use to control and configure your Hue lights, “My Hue,” that has downloadable/installable scenes (or color schemes) that have been submitted by other users. One of the interesting things about how Hue handles scenes is that you start building a scene by selecting a photograph, either from your library/camera roll on your phone or from Hue’s provided library. Then you drop pins for each of your colored lights onto spots on the image and the lights pick up their color from the color of the image in that spot. It can be frustrating at times, and its a bit too gimmicky for my personal taste, but I can see how it would make building a scene to match a particular vibe easy for people. The scenes you can download from My Hue are for the most part based on and represented by photographs.
The Gos are very useful as well. My wife and I each have one that is basically our own portable light. I keep mine in the bedroom but take it with me as a night light when I’m up before sunrise. I also have it linked up to SleepCycle, a sleep tracking and alarm app, so it is used as my wake-up/alarm light and SleepCycle turns it off for me at night too.
My only complaint with the Gos is that you can’t buy additional chargers. The batteries don’t last terribly long when they are used at full brightness, and I’d like to be able to keep a charger on each of our nightstands and an additional charger on the bar between the kitchen and living space where we charge our other devices. Unfortunately you can’t buy additional chargers (I even tried reaching out to Philips customer support, they took my email address but that was weeks ago and I haven’t heard anything back yet). It’s to the point where I will probably order at least one more Go just to have the extra charging cable available.
I know there are a lot of competitors to Hue on the market these days, but Hue was the first mover in this space and the collection of lighting they have available is still best in the category. In addition to the items I’ve already mentioned, the Hue Phoenix series includes a table lamp, two sizes of wall/ceiling fixtures and a pendant lamp and there is also the Hue Beyond series. The Phoenix series uses the normal white LEDs for fixtures and full lamps, while the Beyond series has the color LEDs for similar fixtures and a lamp (specifically a ceiling light fixture, a pendant and a table lamp).
The Phoenix and Beyond sets are really intriguing, but my wife and I aren’t big fans of the design and look of the fixtures (they really wouldn’t work with our home’s decor), and the price points are a bit extravagant. The most interesting one for us would be the Hue Beyond ceiling light as a replacement for a chandelier in our dining space that we never use in its current form. Its just hard to justify $650 for a fixture like that when we could probably find a regular fixture that we like the look of with our home’s decor better and put Hue color bulbs into it for half the cost.
There are also a couple of ridiculously high-end designer fixtures that integrate with the Hue system, the Hue Impulse, Hue Entity and Hue Tempest. There isn’t a lot of information about them available online, and they aren’t listed on Hue’s main Hue website (that this post has linked to throughout for product details), so I’m not sure if they are technically even available for purchase at the moment. From the information that is available they are all 3D printed as a sort of mesh/nest looking object and very, very expensive ($2,000-$4,000 each).
In a future post I will talk more about the various control apps I’ve tested for managing the Hue system, including apps for iOS (iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch), the AppleTV, OS X Desktop and even some Google Chrome extensions.