LED lighting is hot right now. Actually, it’s more cool than hot because LED bulbs are way, way cooler than their incandescent counterparts, remaining cool to the touch after hours of use. Those of you who have unscrewed an incandescent lightbulb and burned your fingers in the process can appreciate that. Not to mention that LEDs are more energy efficient. According to energy.gov, they use at least 75% less energy, and last 25 times longer, than incandescent lighting. That means not only do you save lots of money and energy, but you may not need to change your LED bulbs for 15 to 30 years. Sure, they are more expensive than cheap incandescents, but you’ll obviously end up saving money in the long run. LED’s popularity is only going to continue to grow as incandescent bulbs are phased out this year.
Philips Hue was the first mainstream wirelessly controlled smart bulb on the market and has experienced huge success. In fact, it is one of the most popular ‘smart home’ products around. After this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, it is clear that Philips is up for some competition from the likes of Belkin and TCP, who premiered connected bulbs. What is great about the Hue, however, is that you can endlessly change the bulb’s color. When I got my review kit, the Philips Hue quickly became the biggest hit in our household in years–meaning that every person, from my five year old to my husband, loves it. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Setting Up the Hue
After you unleash the bulbs from their slick packaging, the Hue is really easy to set up, with only three steps.
1) Screw in the light bulb to the fixtures you desire. My little kids get one. My daughter Maisy another, and my bedroom, the third. Easy.
2) Plug in the Bridge via the included Ethernet cable to your wireless router.
3) Download the Hue app for your smartphone and press the button on the Bridge to pair your smartphone.
Once you’ve done this, you can take a quick tour of everything Hue can do on the app. I skipped all that and was just fine on my own.
Next, I took a few minutes to figure out which bulbs were which. You can relabel them for convenience, Kid’s Room, Living Room, etc. Then I played with a few of the pre-designed Scenes, such as Feet Up, a relaxing orange-yellow hue; Blue Rain, a more energizing light blue-green; and some of the task-oriented lighting Scenes, including Concentrate and Read. Very useful.
Next, I uploaded a few of my own photos and set lighting scenes based on the color in the photos. I took pictures of my daughter and made the room the color of her dress. I used a picture of my son from Halloween to make the room pumpkin orange. My little kids took over and played with it for an hour. They are only five and six, a testament to how easy it is to operate. You can also move individual lights around on a spectrum to pick any color you want or change brightness levels.
My husband didn’t know I had changed the bulb in the bedroom. As he watched the Anaheim Ducks game, I moved the “Bedroom” light randomly through the spectrum from the other room. He was confused to say the least. I took a picture of the Duck’s jersey on the TV, then set the light to the appropriate shade of orange. He was delighted. When it came time for bed, the kids picked a color for their nightlight, and I dimmed the bulb all the way down to nearly off for a cozy glow. Other cool features are the ability to set alarms so that your lights come on at a certain time (like sunset). If you create an account (go to “Log into my Hue”), you can even control your lights from afar.
Aside from these standard functions, there are all sorts of apps that you can use with Hue, some are made by third parties and designed to make operation of Hue easier, without all the bells and whistles. I chose the “Hue Disco” app (not affiliated with Philips) because I thought maybe I could get my Hue lights to change along with the beat of my music. When I hit the strobe key, the light started pulsating like a fever dream and it took me minutes to figure out how to turn off the Strobe feature. That’s neither here nor there, but suffice it to say that you should approach third-party apps with caution.
If you can’t find your smartphone, don’t worry; you can still control your lights the traditional way. In fact, if you turn off your light switch and the bulb is set to a color, when you turn it back on you’ll see a natural white light.
The only criticisms I have of the Hue are that the blue LED indicator on the Bridge is very bright, which is no bueno if the Bridge is in your bedroom, like mine. I also find that of all the colors, it’s rather difficult to get a dark green, thwarting my plans for a true Christmas-themed bedroom. Minor concerns to say the least.
I didn’t get a chance to try out any of the Friends of Hue products, which are ancillary lighting devices that connect to the Hue Bridge. The LightStrips Friends of Hue strip lighting ($89.95), for example, comes in 6.5-foot rolls and can be installed on any surface. Download the Ambilight + Hue app to match what’s on your TV screen to the Hue lights in the room. Pretty cool for a home theater, which is where I plan to install my strip lighting when my wallet recovers from its holiday hangover.
If you want a little more lighting variety than standard bulbs offer, you can now get GU10 (spotlight) and BR30 (ceiling light) bulbs. Philips also updated Hue with geofencing so that when you get within a certain radius of your Bridge, your lights will automatically turn on. Finally, through Philips partnership with IFTTT, you can create ‘Recipes’ that allow you to do way cool and possibly unnecessary stuff, like have your lights change color when it’s raining outside or blink when Downton Abbey is on.
The Philips Hue Personal Wireless Lighting Starter Pack comes with the Bridge and three bulbs for $200. You can add individual bulbs to the Bridge one-by-one for $59.95 each. Like I said, LED bulbs are more expensive, but Philips Hue bulbs will last for 15,000 hours. That’s at least eight years if you use the bulb for five hours a day.
Whether you are coloring your bulbs or leaving them white, the Philips Hue is definitely a big hit around the house and well-worth the price of entry. If you have the extra dough, I highly recommend you pick up a set. Not only is it loads of fun for the whole family, it’s completely practical.