Philips is the undisputed leader in smart home lighting – lights that you can control over Wi-Fi and support multiple colours. It has the largest range of bulbs and lighting options, and it’s supported by a huge number range of apps, services and developers. If you’re thinking of making your home ‘smart’ then you can’t not consider the Hue system.
The Hue Starter Kit is arguably the best way into this ecosystem. It costs £129 and comes with three Hue lightbulbs and the necessary ‘bridge’ to control them. There are rough edges to the Hue system, such as its current lack of HomeKit support and its reliance on the annoying bridge system, but it still has an edge on most rivals.
Getting started with Philips Hue is simple enough. Put your bulbs where you want them, plug in the provided bridge into your home network and then follow the steps in Philips’ app.
The only annoying thing about this system is the bridge. Each new app you use has to be paired with it, and it needs to be plugged directly into your router. We are nitpicking here as it’s a minor inconvenience rather than a fundamental problem, but if wireless audio systems like Sonos can do away with bridges then it’s reasonable to think Hue could.
It’s just as well there’s a flourishing ecosystem of third-party apps, too. The official Hue app isn’t bad per se, but it isn’t polished, either. It feels like Philips has seen the great backing it has from third-party developers and decided it doesn’t need to keep developing its own app.
The app allows you to create schedules for when lights come on, create and adapt 'scenes' and control light your lights individually or collectively. It does these basics well enough, but it often feels like Philips could go further.
For example, your main options for creating new lighting schemes is to pick colours from a colour spectrum, or use photos as inspiration. In each case, you drag and drop pins to control what colour you want to use.
But this isn't an especially precise system – it's often hard to find the right, complementary colours from a photo, for example. It would be so much better if the app picked out colours from the photo automatically, choosing complementary colours to suit the mood of the shot – the Adobe Color CC app is a great example of this in action.
This clumsy system takes a fair amount of trial and error as a result. Likewise, the method of sharing scenes with the community seems like an afterthought. You can only access these on the Hue website – not through the app – and they’re not organised in any way at all.
What redeems that rather flimsy native app is the booming Hue ecosystem. Philips has a large range of different lights, including stylish desk lamps, lighting strips and everything between. Few systems offer such a huge variety of options.
And once you get over the foibles of the app, the Hue experience is an enjoyable one. Waking up to the ‘Energise’ lighting scene helps you get up and go in the morning, and it’s nice to match your lighting to fit your mood.
Related: What is IFTTT?
But what really makes Hue is its support for IFTTT (If This Then That) – the popular ‘recipe’ service that let you link different services together. This lets you do all sorts of fun, useful and interesting things. For example, you could set your lights to be controlled by your Jawbone Up tracker – it detects when you wake and turns on the lights accordingly – or your Nest Learning Thermostat could trigger lights to turn off when it detects you’re not at home.
Those are a couple of the more exotic options, but the most helpful one I’ve employed is using geofences so that my lights turn on and off automatically as I come and go. Other options include setting your lights to react to notifications – an email, message, phone call, or anything else you can think of works well.
The one glaring omission is Hue doesn’t yet support HomeKit, so you can’t control your lights using Siri. That said, Philips has already committed to supporting it this year.
Probably, yes. Despite some rough edges, Hue has the most mature and varied ecosystem both in terms of lights, and in apps and services it supports. If you’re determined to make your home smarter, it’s hard to look past Hue.
The Starter Kit is a good value way into this system, too, although it isn’t a cheap pursuit if you decide to invest in more lights – each Hue bulb is around £50 depending on the type you buy. Some rivals are slightly cheaper, but we’d choose Hue for its versatility and wide support.
Hue’s still the best smart lighting system, despite some rough edges.