Philips take their innovative LED lighting range to a new level with a range of bulbs that are controlled by your home wifi system. This review related to the Philips Hue Personal Wireless Starter pack which contains a base station and three GU10 (in hold money replacements for halogen 50 watt light bulbs) bulbs.
The system is easy to set up as long as you have an intuitive sense for electronics as there are no instructions until you access the online instructions reading a barcode on your tablet or phone or type it in to your computer! Connect the hub to your router, and note that this needs to be a physically wired connection using an ethernet cable (supplied). A wireless connection to the Hue hub is not possible. The hub also needs to be powered using the supplied mains adapter. The hub should then light up in blue indicating it is connected to your network. Not surprisingly the bulbs should be installed in a GU10 compatible light fittings. The light switch(es) should then be turned on, and for the system to work left permanently on. You then need to download an app to control the bulbs. Android and iOS apps are available from Philips free and are suitable for both tablets and phones. Once the app is downloaded, and active you then need to pair the app with the hub by pressing the single button on the centre of the hub. Note that you need to be connected to the same wifi network using your phone or tablet when pairing. Then you can control the lights. The apps come with instructions to guide you through these latter steps.
The system allows you to:
1. Turn bulbs on or off individually using an Android or iOS app, or using a Philips website once you've registered.
2. By registering on the Philips website you can turn lights on or off using either the app or the website from away from home.
3. The Hue system is similar in functionality to the LivingColors Philips lights in that you can set each bulb colour to millions of different colours.
4. Bulbs can be grouped together to change colours simultaneously or set to a colour of your choice individually. The hub will control up to 50 bulbs and these can be set into separate groups based, for example, on the rooms they're situated in.
5. Using the remote settings you can set the lights to come on at specific times, and where the app is GPS enabled, the lights can be set to turn on when you get near to your home.
6. The apps come with a range of colour pallets which allow you to set a 'scene' using your bulbs - 'Greece', 'Sunset' and 'Ski' are some of several options. You can also download other colour scenes from the web created by others.
7. Value added independent apps are available which allow you to do more with the bulbs. You can get them to flash on or off, do more complex time settings and more. It's possible to link the bulbs to particular events. An urgent diary appointment can mean the bulbs turn themselves on in the morning in deep red for instances.
So all this is very clever. To achieve some of the more complex uses of the bulbs you're going to have to be prepared to fiddle at length but it will pass the time f you like this sort of thing.
In terms of major advantages, as the bulbs are LED are can replace existing halogen bulbs they save a lot of energy. There are clear home security benefits, and the colour choices and mood lighting options are endless.
Major downsides are:
The price of additional bulbs, currently around £50, so significantly more than normal LED bulbs.
Perhaps more importantly the bulbs are no where near as bright as 50w equivalent halogen LED replacements. They are around 35w equivalents so are unlikely to be sufficiently bright enough to replace lights in your kitchen.
The bulbs are also larger in terms of length than halogen bulbs so will stick out of any ceiling mounted flush halogen installations. In fact in my kitchen they are also simply too wide to fit correctly into the ceiling mounts.
Currently you need a phone or tablet to operate the lights, Philips do not yet sell a light switch. This is coming in the summer apparently. The hub itself cannot turn the lights on or off.
The standard light switch for your Philips-fitted bulbs needs to be left on to work. Without being powered the bulbs can't receive a wireless signal telling them to turn colour or turn on or off. This is the equivalent of a standby mode which uses very little power.
The range of bulbs is currently limited to GU10 fittings and 'standard' sized screw fitting light bulbs. Because Philips is based in the Netherlands and all or Europe use screw light fittings apart from Britain and Ireland, bayonet fitting bulbs are not currently available. You'll need an adapter to use bulbs in bayonet mounts which whilst cheap will add bulk to the already bulky lights. I should note though that Philips also sell Philips Friends of hue Personal Wireless Lighting Lightstrips Extension Kit (1 x LED Lightstrip Mood Light)
and Philips Friends of hue Personal Wireless Lighting Bloom Extension Kit (1 x Bloom LED Mood Light)
offering further light variants.
Finally, Philips really need to include some proper instructions. Although I got the system up and running in about 10 minutes some will be completely stumped. Scanning a bar code to get to a website is going to be a step too far for many. Nice concept though!
Despite the rather long list of downsides I really like these bulbs but they are generally for early adopters with a bit of cash at the moment. To be a real success the bulbs need to be brighter, smaller, cheaper, and available for more types of light fittings. All that said I've ordered some additional bulbs already. No doubt in two or three years they will cost £5. I'm fairly sure that this is the future of smart lighting which will work well for most people once the rough edges are dealt with.
So four stars, and definitely five if you like technology!