Philips Hue review

5 out of 5
£180

For

Wireless, works with your current lights, powered by your smartphone, works remotely, SDK, up to 50 lights on one system

Against

Expensive, smartphone required

Light is a very powerful thing, whether it is turning on your lights to see what you are doing or simply dimming them to create a more romantic or relaxed setting, there is plenty to play with.

In steps Philips Hue, a wireless lighting system that lets you control up to 50 light bulbs via a smartphone app, but is it the light fantastic?

The bulbs

The Philips Hue starter pack consists of three light bulbs, a wireless control base and a smartphone or tablet app. All this costs £180, which is expensive, but stick with us here. 

The bulbs themselves are the core element to the experience and on the surface look like standard LED light bulbs. They give off the equivalent of a 50W standard incandescent bulb, at full brightness, come with a screw fitting, and promise to light up your house for the next 10 years. While Philips does not currently offer a bayonet option, you can pick up a screw to bayonet fitting adapter at your local hardware store and they cost a couple of quid a piece.

For the sake of our review we fitted the three lights to three lamps we had in our living room (all with bayonet fittings). The size of the room will dictate on how many lights you need, however Philips recommends that to "create a scene" you should use three bulbs to a room. At £180 for a set of three, and £50 per bulb thereafter we can see why.

Once you've got your wireless bulbs screwed in, you'll need to connect the wireless hub (the size of a hard boiled sweet tin) to your internet router and then download the app.

The wireless hub works in a similar way to the Sonos music system, creating a mesh network around your house that piggy-backs on to your standard wireless connection. The bulbs connect to each other and back to the hub. Adding another bulb means it connects to the nearest bulb rather than having to stretch all the way back to the base hub.

The app itself is available for iPhone, iPad, and Android smartphones, and connecting your phone to the system is very easy. In total our setup time was around three minutes.

Lighting the scene

Once you're up and running, all that's left to do is to start setting the scene. The Philips Hue app is fairly basic, but it doesn't need to be complicated.

At the core of the app are four key settings; "relax", "reading",  "concentration" and "energise". These starter settings are based on a number of studies about how we work, and relax, according to the light we are subjected to. Philips has developed these four settings as a base from which to start, and you can modify and tweak to your own tastes.

Turn on the lights and the bulb will come on regardless of settings on the app, although you will need an app to change or adapt the settings. There is no other way to control it.

The real fun starts when you look at changing the lights to one of 16 million colours available via the built-in colour chart, or a variety of photos included to get your imagination flowing.

If scenes like "sunset" (three types of orange) or "deep sea" (two red, one blue) don't get you the right look straightaway, you can take things a step further and start creating the ultimate colour palette yourself simply by either moving around a marker on the picture in question, or by shaking your phone for a more random approach.

Once you are done with the set scenes already captured for you, and you have played with all the colour options you can think of, you can start having fun with your own pictures, either imported via your photo library, or taken with the camera on your phone or tablet.

Want your lights to match your favourite jumper? What about the wallpaper? No problem. While the lighting system struggles with dark colours - for obvious reasons, browns and blacks won't work - everything else shines out, be it the orange of a pumpkin, the hue of your skin, or the colour of the apple in The Son of Man by Rene Magritte. It really is that versatile.

But it's not just about turning your room into a Smarties tube of colours. The LED lights create numerous variations of white too, and that's just as important beyond what can, at times, look like a gimmick. In fact in the two weeks we've been using it, white has been the main colour we've used. Only when we've punched on some tunes to relax in the evening has the lighting got a bit more fruity. 

Taking it further

Log in to the Philips Hue website and you get even more features, mainly any "light recipes" you create that are available on all your devices - handy if it's not just you wanting to be in control of the light - as well as being able to remote control the system even if you aren't at home via your phone, tablet, or the website.

You can also set the light bulbs to act as an alarm clock with a timer feature, and set them to fade off quietly rather than instantly plunge you into darkness - you can do that as well at the press of button. It's incredibly clever.

The future

Philips admits the app it provides is just the start, and that the app is rather basic. To solve this problem the whole system is based on the ZigBee protocol which, while meaning nothing to most people, means that it will play nice with most home automation systems available.

Philips has also released a software developer kit that means developers can take advantage of the wireless control of the lighting system in the same way that Philips TVs already do with Ambilight. Imagine loading up Angry Birds and the lights around you change colour as you progress through the game to get you into the mood, or a music album that comes with its own set lighting. Amazing.

Verdict

On the surface, the idea of paying £180 for three light bulbs is probably something that most people will baulk at, but you shouldn't.

You should see this as the future. A future that once you get past the "let's make the room pink" moment, will actually become incredibly useful, whether it is creating soft lighting for entertaining, or merely something bright enough to let you see what you are doing.

As mobile company Orange used to say: "The future's bright, the future's Orange." And in this case, it really can be, but it can also be blue, or red, or pink, or purple, or...