Philips Hue starter kit review - getting us to the future one item at a time

So, I'm a techy... through and through.  I love having the latest gadgets, no matter how geeky they are, just even so I can show it to someone and have them groan.  That's the sign of a good geek show off.

I've tried some of these smart home things in the past.  I had the Skylink, my Google minis (Max and hub), installed a Nest E, I even had the dreaded little CNCT smart plugs.

It was the last one that kinda soured me on some of the 'smart things' for your home.  I found it a bit hard to swallow how it really functions.  It always has to be on, but yet, we're still in the realm of 'buttons' so it should be controllable by both.

I was at a presentation recently on home automation by a local innovator and got my wheels turning on how it could work.  Then I was contacted about reviewing these Philips Hue items and I jumped on board.

I'm a novice, so I thought I'd start with the Hue starter kit.  I got this one here:  4 colour bulbs, the hub.

pictured is also the Hue Play ... review coming later

Prices tended to range with what you find online, but it tends to go for about the $200-250 range.  Which seems EXCESSIVELY expensive considering it's just lights.

But you have to consider everything about the box.  There's a smart home bridge / hub.  Okay, that's about probably $50 or so.  Then you look at even decently priced LED lights out there going for about $10-20 each.  And they don't even change colour, 'nor do they connect to each other or via app... It's still a tough pill to swallow for the price, but when you compare to what's out there, and how well it works.  I think it's reasonable.

Trick is to come up with a 'do you need/want this' scenario.  It's a reasonable price, but is it justifiable for you?  Some people have the disposable income to not blink at this price for a neato toy, some have a tougher time.  So coming up with the 'oh, I can justify it because of these reasons' is important when you're about to swipe the credit card.

Okay, so let's dive in to what it does, what it can do, so you can help make that sound decision of if it's right for you.

First let's get you set up.  Open the box and you find the 4 bulbs, a hub thingie, and then a box with the power cable and a spare bit of ethernet just in case you don't happen to have any.

They recommend you put in the bulbs first to the light sockets you'll use, then connect the bridge/hub to your router (it has to be with the cable), then load up the app.

Luckily the Velop router system I have, each of the units has an Ethernet in & out option, so I can install the hub closer to where the bulbs are, versus having to put it at the main router, as once you set the app up, you have to hit the button on the bridge/hub to make sure they're synced.  It would be a real pain to go back and forth in the house.

It's not overly large to be out of the way, but the lights do make it somewhat conspicuous.  I may have to find it a new home (or use the mounting adapter it comes with and hang it on the wall under the table out of sight).

Set up in the app was very straight forward so that just about anybody could set it up.

Once the hub is operational, you now can go in and set up lights.

They just plop in like any standard light.

But what I'm still a little unsure of is what is the proper wattage?  I mean, I grew up knowing you can't put a 60W bulb in a 100W fixture (you can do the reverse).  But with fluorescent lights and LEDs now, a 13W is the same as a 60W ... right?  What about this 8.25W LED, can it go into a 100W.  The conversion is all screwy now to figure it out.

The bulbs I have are 10W.

So can they go in a 100W fixture (used to be you could see where the rating of a fixture was... )?  I kept it easy and put the lights in like table and stand lamps that I was pretty sure were less than 100W bulbs.

Plop the bulb to place and let's go on with setting it up.  Oh, and make sure the light switch is on.

This can get a little tricky... i.e. do you want to set up a 'room' first, or the light... and then attach the light to the room.  I believe it's set up light first, then do a room and pick which lights are in that room.  It's not so bad at first, but as you add more and more the order can get a little picky (do I go to the 'room' and search to add a new light, or add a new light, then go to the room and add it).

What I did is only put in one light at a time.  I did 2 later on, and it got confusing which light was which.

Chances are once you have the lights set up they'll need an update.  This took a bit of time for me, almost an hour.

They were still usable for sure, but I just have that OCD where I need something to finish before I move on.

Okay, set up that light, picked a room.  You can give the light a name, like 'elephant', 'corner', 'stand', etc... and even pick an icon that looks like what you're using to help you find them.

Now, do that for the other bulbs.

I set up 3 in my living room, and one in my son's room.  I set up those rooms, and then you can set up 'zones'.  So, I set up the zone of 'upstairs' and that zone includes lights that I choose (just happens to be those rooms).  I later set a 'downstairs' for the GO PLAY lights ... but that's another article.

Just if you want to be able to control a bunch of lights at once, either by room or zone, that makes it easy.

Now you can play around.  In the app, go to either the room, or the individual light and adjust it for the colour or intensity.

I like how if you choose colour it shows the different icons for the different lights that you can adjust independently on the same colour wheel (or do them both if you get them to overlap they'll merge like you do with your homescreen icons).

It's fun to play with them.

There's an option for 'scenes', I haven't really dug into quite yet.  The idea is there are preset ones like 'safari' or 'concentrate'.

I'm assuming like 'presets'.  You can edit it so depending on what you want specifically for that room and light placements.

So, you play around with your room, your decor and placement of lights to figure out what is a nice scene for that room.

Essentially, then it's one click to go back to that preset.


Then there are a few more features I'd get into, but let's cover some more of the basic features before I dive into the geeky cool things.

Trust me... walk before we run.

The MOST IMPORTANT thing about having a set of smart lights is not so much that you can control them by your phone... nobody wants to have to dig into your pocket, pull out your phone, find the app, find the right setting etc... to be able to interact.  Might as well just go to the light switch at that point.

No, by far the most important feature is going to be you setting it up with your Assistant (Siri or Alexa too... but really, it's all about Google here).

Going into the app there's a button for 'explore', from there look at 'friends'.  You'll be presented with Alexa or Cortana etc.. but you want to click Google Assistant.

A couple more clicks to confirm you is you, and you're on your way to having the Google Assistant.  It's not that all confusing to work out; just some logging in and whatnot.  It was over before I could really document it.

Best of all, as long as you named your rooms right, you'll see the lights in the Google Home app alongside other items in that same room (I made a mistake on the other lights and called the 'downstairs' 'basement' so there was some changing that needed to be made).

With Assistant, you now have control over your lights with your voice.

An added bonus is that if there's a light in the same room as the mini, you can ask the mini to turn the lights on, and it does it for that room.  So, in Dean's room, he asks "Google turn on my light" and it turns on the light just in that room.  I can be in the living room and "Google, turn on the lights" and only mine go on, not Dean's.

That is fun.

With the Assistant you can say "turn on the upstairs lights", turn on the living room lights... name scenes, choose colours, etc...

I did find one odd one, that sometimes I'll ask Google to turn the living room to red, the elephant lamp turns green.

But if I control all at the same time with the app (or the Home app, or from the Nest Hub) it plays along just fine.  Just via voice controls.  Can't figure out why, or if there's any sort of 'calibration' needed.

The trick comes into the point that now it's so easy to do, I thought it was fun that I could wake up and say "Google, turn Dean's light on white at 100%" to wake him up, he could also do the same for me.  Or my wife turn the lights out on me in the living room.

Take the good with the bad.

As it currently stands that's about what you can do with it.  If you've set up a scene, you can tell it to turn on that scene name.  I was trying to get it to do things like "at 10pm turn off Dean's light", or "dim the elephant to 10% over 5 minutes".  Complex controls it doesn't quite do.  Won't even do the 'rave party'.

I have to teach it.

This is where we take it from baby steps to full on running with the wolves mode.  If you're happy at this level of play, stop here.  The rest gets a little 'recipe mode' geeky.  But it's where you make up the value.  If you're not comfortable with recipe stuff and tinkering... turn back now.  Make your valuation assessment based on everything up to now.

If you're curious... we can go deeper.  We can teach it things.

I bet Martin is there cooking up a storm in Ottawa.  

When I posted on Facebook about these, I have one cool friend, Jim, who set his up with a variety of recipes.  Blink blue for a Facebook notification, purple for Instagram, turn red when his heartrate goes above a certain number, etc...

Once we start looking into automation there's no end to what we can do.

But, before we get there, there are some other accessories you can get to augment your experience.  Light switches, sensors etc... these just add to the ability to automate what you're doing.  

If you leave the lamp on all the time, but you turn it off manually, well, you can't turn it on from the app.  Then the app has a whole slew of options of 'what to do if it's turned off, what should you do when it's manually turned on again?'.  So, to bypass that, you could just tell the family NEVER TOUCH THE MANUAL SWITCH, and get a virtual switch.  A WiFi enabled switch that you set up in the app to control the light.  So it's like a semi manual switch.

You can get sensors to watch movement and when it's tripped do something.

That involves buying more things.  You can also set up your 'home and away' so when the app knows you're no longer at home, it can have various 'routines' to enact.  

Similar to routines are the timers.

Even cooler, is if you have a thing you do fairly often, you can set up a widget on your phone to tap like a switch.  Give it the rules, if tapped, what lights do what.  

Still very cool.

But you can go deeper.  You can find a bunch of anciliary apps in the app store that will automate a few things for you, and I haven't even had the opportunite to really play there.

Within the Hue app, you have the option to look over their 'labs'.  So no extra apps, just click on the 'explore' and then see the labs.  Now, what it does is it loads up their own website within the app, so it's not as fluid a native feel within the app, but it's way better than forcing you to go to a site, make sure you're linked and then play around.

There are things like colour looping, conditional wake ups, syncing to a football match.  Some neat options.

Once your hue knows a 'routine' or a formula from the lab, it's accessible via the Google Assistant by that name.

I feel a little unable to really express the ability of how you can play with these ... it's definitely for the tinkerer and someone who really sees the opportunity.

Set up a specific timer and actions with timings and playing around you can do all sorts.  The 'okay google start simulate tv routine' and lights can change and flicker like a tv is on while you're out of town.

Again, back to 'is it worth it'.  If you've never given a thought to how you would use this.  Then don't get it.  It's going to be a chore... an expensive one.  

If you had the 'clapper' and some money to burn, this would be a neat novel thing.

However, if you're a tinkerer you probably are already seeing how you would use it to get an app like to simulate lightning or have lights follow you around the house, changing as you need.

Then this is definitely the starter kit for you.  Dip your toes in, see what else you want to do with it then dive in.  There are plenty of DIY folks out there with plenty of recipes and formulae etc... for you to make this work in the specific way you'd like.   There are a variety of different lights, light strips, outdoor lights etc... to match your scenario appropriately.

I know we really enjoy this in our house.  I'm usually the last to bed and making sure I have the lights off in the right order so I'm not stumbling around is a pain, so being able to say "hey google, turn on the stand light 10%" is so handy.

My wife only wishes that Google would recognize a hand clap to turn things on or off (I imagine there's an anciliary app to do just that.