The most flexible and powerful lighting system, Philips Hue is the smart replacement your home has been waiting for.
- High quality white, temperature changing and colour lightbulbs
- Outstanding ecosystem of apps
- Large range of add-on lights
- IFTTT recipe support
- Plastic remote controls
- Can't save colours or temperatures easily
- Review Price: £49.00
- Warm white, temperature changing and RGB bulbs
- IFTTT, HomeKit, Amazon Echo and Google Home support
- Android and iOS apps
- Bayonet, screw and GU10 fittings
What is the Philips Hue?
If there’s one name that synonymous with smart lighting, it has to be Philips Hue. With its colour-changing bulbs and app control, Hue was the first product to really show what could be done with smart lighting. As times have changed, so has Hue. The system now supports Apple HomeKit, Amazon Alexa, Google Home, SmartThings, and it has its own range of switches and motion sensors, too.
The result is that the Philips Hue system is now extremely powerful and flexible. It doesn’t suffer from the same limitations as its competition either, namely the lack of control options: if you have a guest, do you really want to tell them that there’s no light switch and they have to use an app or their voice? All of these additions make it an excellent time to revisit our review, with updated information, including the most recent addition, Philips Hue Zones, which let you control groups of lights, either in the same room or across different rooms, say turning on all lights upstairs. It’s an addition that makes Hue easier to control.
Philips Hue – Design and build
As with a lot of smart lighting systems, Philips Hue has built the dimming capability and intelligence into its range of bulbs. While this makes the bulbs a little heavier than dumb LED models, you can still fit Hue bulbs into regular light fittings. This means no wiring and the lights are ready to be used at any time, provided you remember to leave the physical light switch turned on. Be careful, as Hue is not compatible with dimmers, so you’ll need to switch these out for standard on/off light switches.
Philips has the best choice of lights out of any system, with GU10, E27, E14 and bayonet fittings available. There are three colour options for each, too. Cheapest are the White bulbs (from around £15), which are warm white models and are dimmable only.
The next step up are the White Ambiance bulbs (from around £25), which can have their colour temperature changed from 2200 to 4000K (warm to cold). I love these bulbs, using them at my desk to provide bright light during the day to help me concentrate, and a warmer more relaxing light at night.
Finally, top of the range is the White and Colour Ambience (from around £50). These bulbs can do everything the other ones can, but also gives you a choice of 16m colours.
It doesn’t end there, with Philips also selling the flexible and expandable LED Lightstrip Plus. You can stick this around your furniture, giving you a choice of 16m colours. I’ve got one around my desk, with the strip giving off a delicate glow that helps me work; and it looks pretty cool, too. There are also a range of lamps to choose from, too, which simply plug into a mains socket, although you can use the new Philips Hue Smart Plug to control a dumb lamp.
Most Hue light bulbs don’t look very nice, but there’s a new range of Filament bulbs, which are designed to look like an old fashioned bulb. They look fantastic when turned off, and are specifically designed for installation where you have fancy light fittings where the bulb is a key part of the look.
When turned on, you’d be hard pushed to tell the difference between these and a real vintage bulb. All of the bulbs are a warm white (2100K) and offer dimming only capability, which makes them less flexible than the Hue Colour bulbs. Ultimately, it will come down to the choice: do you want fancy lights or do you want good-looking bulbs? There are three Filament bulbs to choose from in different shapes, available in E27 and B22 fittings.
Until recently, all Hue bulbs were Zigbee only. Making that system work requires a Philips Hue Bridge and at least one bulb. For this reason, you may be better off buying a starter kit. These start from £59 for a set complete with a Bridge and two White lights, but you’ll pay more if you want the temperature or colour changing bulbs or a kit that comes with a light switch. Make sure you buy the newer square Bridge, as this is the most recent model that’s compatible with HomeKit; the older circular Bridge is not.
However, recent bulbs are now Bluetooth compatible, too. This lets you control up to 10 bulbs directly from your phone using the Hue Bluetooth app, or to connect the bulbs directly to a Google Assistant smart speaker or Amazon Echo. You don’t quite get the full range of features and you can’t use any of the accessories in Bluetooth mode, so I recommend buying a Bridge.
Philips has done a top job with the Hue system. All of the light bulbs are rigidly constructed and have that real feeling of quality that I’d expect from a high-end lighting system.
Philips Hue – Features, App and control
With a new system, the first step is to set up the Hue Bridge, which just plugs into your home network via an Ethernet cable. Once connected, just fire up the Hue app (Android or iOS) and follow the on-screen instructions to detect your Bridge. Once connected, you can add your bulbs, again by following the simple instructions. Added lights can be ordered into rooms, which also act as groups: you can turn all lights on or off in one location quickly, for example.
At this point, you can start to control Hue using the app alone. Philips has worked hard to boost its app, making it faster and easier to use than when the system launched. Now on version 3.0, the app has been tweaked and updated, making it easier to use. At its simplest, the app lets you turn lights on or off, or use the slider to set the dim level. It’s an incredibly responsive system, with the lights changing settings near-instantly.
So far, so good, but for each light, you can also dive in and change more advanced settings, including using the colour picker to change colour or temperature. By default, the Hue app groups all lights in a room, so you can change them all to the same colour or temperature. But, you can tap a group and drag individual lights out, controlling them individually or creating sub-groups. That way, it’s easy to get your lights working the way you want them. For example, you may want to control your lightstrips separately.
Philips has made it easier to save settings as a Scene, letting you recall your favourites when you want. Philips has some handy defaults, including Concentrate (replicating bright daylight) and Relax (a warm glow), which both adjust colour temperature. There are also some funky colour options, such as Savanna Sunset, primarily designed for the colour bulbs. You can create your own Scenes by saving the existing light settings, or by selecting a picture and getting Hue to analyse the colours used.
Hue can also run your lights for you automatically. It’s great to see that the Hue app is finally location aware, so the app can automatically turn off your selected lights when you go out and turn on lights when you come home. Smartly, the home action can be set to only trigger after sunset; who wants their lights to turn on at lunchtime? Sadly, the location feature supports only one user at the moment.
You can also set up routines to trigger automatically at certain times during the day, such as creating a gentle wake-up routine that slowly brings up the lights. And, there’s an option to create Apple Watch Widgets, giving you quick access to lighting scenes direct from your wrist.
It’s still a little disappointing that the Hue app doesn’t have any motion scenes, with colours shifting and changing on demand, or reacting to sound by using your smartphone’s microphone. These are features that can be added through third-party apps, but Philips is a little behind the pace set by the competition, such as LIFX.
Hue Zones are a new feature that work in the same way as Rooms, although you can add a sub-section of bulbs from one room or add bulbs from across different rooms. There are two reasons why you might want to do this. First, if you have a room with a lot of bulbs, Zones lets you segment them into areas. For example, I have Hue bulbs in my kitchen, with spots above the cooking area, lamps above the sink and a light strip above the dining area. Using Zones, I can now control the cooking-area lights individually, say turning on Concentrate to cook, while the dining area stays with a more muted colour scheme. Secondly, you can control lights across different rooms. For example, if you create a downstairs zone, you can control all of your lights together.
Creation of Zones is easy in the app via the Settings option. Each Zone can be given an icon, then you just select the lights that you want in it. Zones then appear at the bottom of your Home, and work in exactly the same way as Rooms, complete with colour, temperature and brightness control, and full control over Scenes.
It’s a feature that’s been a long time coming. While Hue has made it easy to control Rooms, controlling areas meant either adding additional rooms or controling bulbs individually, which was fiddly. This update properly addresses the issues. Note that Amazon Alexa nor the Google Assistant pick up the new Zones. Alexa lets you create a custom group of lights to get around this problem, and bulbs can be members of multiple Groups. Currently, Google Assistant only lets a device be in a single room, although you could create a Google Home Routine to do something similar.
The only minor annoyance is that you can’t yet make a Switch control a Zone.
Philips Hue – Switches and motion sensor
As good as the automation and smartphone app are, the truth is that it’s inconvenient to have to reach for your phone everytime you want to turn on a light. This is a big issue with many smart lightbulbs, so it’s good to see that Philips has responded with a set of switches and the new motion sensor.
The Tap Switch is an intelligent device and is powered by the kinetic energy of pressing any of its four buttons (three small buttons, plus the entire face). It can be wall mounted, although you can remove the switch from its housing and use it as a remote. Via the Hue app, you can set which scene each button should trigger (I recommend setting one button to turn everything off). Each button can be made to operate up to three rooms at once.
As neat as the Tap Switch is, it doesn’t give fine control over a room’s lights, which is why I prefer the battery-powered dimmer switch. This can be wall mounted, although it has magnets to attach to a metal surface, too. Cleverly, the control pulls out (it’s connected via magnets, too), so you can use it as a remote control.
Operating on up to three rooms at once, the Dimmer gives you on, off, dim and brighten controls. It’s a much more convenient way of operating a room and replicates the actions that we’re all used to with dumb light switches. Via the Hue app, the On button can be programmed to change scene on each tap, with five separate options.
Both switches make Hue easier to use, but what I’d really like is a switch that replaces an existing light switch, so you just have a room with a single switch in it. A few more design options would be good, too; as nice as the switches look they don’t blend in with all decors.
It’s great to see the Motion sensor, which has a built-in light sensor. During daylight hours (as set in the app) the sensor can turn on lights in a room and set a scene, provided it’s dark enough; at night, the motion sensor can trigger a different scene. And, when no motion is detected for the period you set (the default is 15 minutes), lights can be turned off automatically.
It’s a hugely flexible system. Put a motion sensor in the hallway, for example, and you can have the lights come on brightly until bedtime; when everyone’s gone to bed, you can have the lights come on with a gentle light, so someone going to the toilet doesn’t wake everyone up. Be aware that the motion sensor overrides any action you perform manually or with another switch.
New to the system is the Philips Hue Smart Button, which gives you a single push button to control your lights. It’s got a new feature, too: Time-based light. There are five time periods programmed into the app, each set to match the colour temperature of the day. For example, if you use the Smart Button to turn on the light in morning you get a bright, energising light; turn the light on at night and you get a warmer light. You can also set up the Button to cycle through up to five scenes.
Control is very clever. Press the button once and it turns your lights on; press it again within a couple of seconds and you can cycle through scenes. If you don’t touch the Button for a while, a single press turns the lights off. And, you can press-and-hold to dim the lights: the first time takes the lights down, but let go and press again and your lights brighten. The Smart Button is a great addition to the line-up giving a simple way of controlling your lights with a very small controller.
Philips Hue – Alexa, HomeKit and Google Home
Given Hue’s popularity, it’s no surprise that it’s supported by all of the major voice assistants. Alexa (via the Amazon Echo), Apple HomeKit and Google Home support all work in roughly the same way. Via any of the systems, you can use your voice to turn a light or room on or off, and set the dim level. But, there are some slightly annoying differences.
With Alexa, you can activate any scenes you have programmed, but you can’t tell it to change light colour. Google Home doesn’t support scenes but does let you change light colour individually. Apple HomeKit lets you change light colour and activate scenes, but only those that you create inside the Home app. Cleverly, you can use the switches inside the Home app, too, say turning on your Hue lights with the Dimmer and also turning on a HomeKit compatible smart plug. You can even forgo the Hue control and use the controls for HomeKit only. The only downside at the moment is that the Smart Button isn’t fully HomeKit compatible: it offers just one click, so you could turn lights on, for example, but not be able to turn them off.
Works with Nest support was really useful, turning on lights automatically if the Nest Protect picked up smoke. However, Google has since retired this program and the replacement is not yet available.
Philips Hue – Smartthings, IFTTT and other apps
Hue integrates with Smartthings, giving you full control via the app. It’s neat, as it means that you can also automate your Hue lights with all the other smart home kit that you have. Smartthings only detects Hue lights, and can’t pick up the switches or motion detector. The workaround is to trigger Smartthings devices to operate when they detect a Hue light is turning on or off. For example, if the Motion sensor turns on a lamp, Smartthings can then turn on a main light that’s using a different system.
A well supported IFTTT channel rounds things off. There are no triggers, only actions: your lights can respond to events, but not start one. Even so, IFTTT support makes the lights even more flexible. For example, if your Nest cam picks up movement, you can turn on your Hue lights automatically to make it look as though you’re home. There are tonnes of other uses, too, such as making your lights blink when your Alexa timer hits zero.
Finally, third-party apps can tie into the Hue ecosystem, such as Hue Disco, which syncs your lights to the music playing. This is far from essential, but what other smart lighting system is designed for fun as much as for practicality?
Should I buy the Philips Hue?
There’s no doubt, Philips Hue has the widest range of smart bulbs, the greatest third-party support and the widest range of controllers. Every bulb produces high-quality light and is quick to respond. While Hue is a little more expensive than some of its smart bulb competition, it’s money well spent. You can check out the alternatives in our best smart lighting round-up, but if you don’t want to mess around with the wiring in your home, this is the smart lighting system to buy.