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I spent $320 on Philips’ Hue tap and 4 connected light bulbs. Was it worth it?

With the introduction of the Hue tap wall switch a few weeks ago, I have now been able to replace the lights in my living room that came with my house using Philips’ connected Hue gear. All told, the Hue bulbs ran me $200 for a starter kit containing 3 bulbs and a hub. I paid $60 for an additional bulb and another $60 for the Hue tap switch to control the lights. So the question any sane person would ask: Was switching from my incandescent can lights and traditional wall switch in the living room worth it?

If you want colored LED bulbs that can tie into a variety of smart home services to do everything from blink a certain color when someone calls you or sync to an established lighting track to make your viewing of Sharknado a bit more immersive, then yes, it’s worth it. If you are a bit less fancy and want a connected lighting system that will turn on and off in response to preset patterns or formulas, then there are cheaper options that will perform as well. But as the services that add value to the smart home expand, I think most rooms should probably have at least one light bulb that can change color and every light bulb should be connected.

The Hue tap in its usual home.
The Hue tap in its usual home.

But let’s get to the Hue tap from [company]Philips[/company], which is the catalyst for this review. I have had Hue lights installed in my living room since about October 2013 and found them fun for playing with from a color-changing standpoint. I loved having so many scenes to work with but I hated having to open an app to turn them on or off. So nine times out of 10 they behaved like normal lights that I turned on and off from the switch, meaning that 90 percent of the time my connected lights were “broken.”

When I wanted to turn them on from my phone, I’d first have to get up and walk to the switch to turn it on. I even joked with friends that I needed a smart light switch so I could turn the lights on using the app too. So in March, when Philips said it was going to make the tap — a self-charging wall plate that offered four different buttons for the Hue — I was stoked.

The hockey-puck-sized device is fun to click (you can hear it on this podcast where I discuss the experience with Kevin Tofel) and has four buttons you can set. You do have to press pretty hard to click the buttons in, which is annoying when it is taped to the wall, but fine when it is used more like a remote. Adding the tap to your system is a matter of a few clicks; opening the app, selecting add a device and then pressing the tap. The fun is in setting up the buttons. The default for the big button is off and at first I had it turning off all of my Hue lights, which mean the bulb on my bedside table also turned off.

A wall of connected switches!
A wall of connected switches!

This could be useful if you want a master switch that turns off all the lights in the house or an Away version that controls a light or two in each room. You could pop that by your door and hit the switch when you leave. And because the tap is powered by every click you make, there’s no wiring or battery to worry about. Since Philips just released a $30 white-light connected LED (no colors) we are getting closer to a more economical way to connect each bulb. Plus, note that when Philips announced the white LED it has initially said it would cost $40, so clearly prices are coming down for these bulbs.

However, if you aren’t into using color yet, and don’t care to turn individual bulbs on and off, you could instead spend $50 on a [company]Belkin[/company] WeMo wall switch. You can install it yourself or pay $150 or so for an electrician to come out and install the connected switches. Then you get on/off capabilities and scheduling, as well as being able to tie all the lights on that switch to an event such as a door opening or motion sensor.

From top clockwise. The Hue tap, the Lutron Pico remote in a wall plate and a normal switch.
From top clockwise. The Hue tap, the Lutron Pico remote in a wall plate and a normal switch.

There are other connected light bulbs out there, but as I learned, having a connected switch is really important. Another option is replacing your switch with a Lutron switch that lets you dim existing bulbs and also ties to a remote. Some hubs such as the [company]Wink[/company], the [company]Staples[/company] Connect Hub and Lutron’s own hub all support that radio. I use a Lutron wall plate and remote that cost $65. As a bonus, if you use the Staples Connect hub, you can control your Hue lights with the Lutron remote, which is smaller and sleeker than the tap.

So my take away is a connected switch is probably more useful and cheaper in the near term than connected light bulbs. But if you want to spend big, buying a connected switch and connected bulbs is the way to go for individual control and some cool services as you get more advanced in the connected home. For me, $320 is a lot of money, and I won’t put the setup in every room in the house, but I think I will move my colorful Hue light bulb into my daughter’s room and buy a tap for it (we’ve used different colors to indicate different messages and it’s a nice alarm clock).

I also think I’ll put a tap and two white Hue bulbs in our bedside tables for controlling the lights at night and setting an alarm. That means I’ll be spending about $200 more.

Updated: This story was corrected on Aug. 19 to reflect that the WeMo switch only allows on/off, not dimming.

9 Responses to “I spent $320 on Philips’ Hue tap and 4 connected light bulbs. Was it worth it?”

  1. This is definitely good news! Having lighting that you can change to meet your needs or blink as the phone rings is fun/responsive lightIng. It gets better. USAI Lighting makes a greT product called ColorSelect for the real lighting enthusiast. It allows you to choose your color to match daylight color (Kelvin temperatures) outside as the day shifts over time to warm or cool. This is great for windowless offices/homes to create a home filled with light that can otherwise only be found outside. The cool to warm ranges from 6000 To 2200 Kelvin. The higher the number the cooler the light. Light color shifts are also a big part of science right know. Light is being used medically to assist with Alzheimer’s patients memory care, teenagers mood shifts. Stabilizing or entraining sleep/wake cycles (circadian rhythms) much needed to maintain health and avoid serious health issues. Light and especially colored light is just about to take on a whole new purpose!

  2. Stacey, I don’t believe the Belkin WeMo has dimming capabilities, just plain On / Off. And while it has scheduling capabilities, it’s worth noting that their developer relations team is basically nonexistent and that scheduling isn’t available to third apps. This is in contrast to Philips, which lets third party apps like mine access many (but not all) functions of the hardware. I think this explains why after about a year, there are tons of cool 3rd party apps for Philips hue, yet at the moment I believe Lightbow is the only 3rd party iOS app that controls WeMo at all, let alone ties the two systems together.

  3. Ram Kanda

    You’re right about the tap. It does look very cheap for something that’s very expensive. Should be flatter and it shouldn’t be so cheap looking. On a somewhat related note, why is nothing straight or aligned on your wall?

    • LOL. Because the tap lives on the table by my couch, I stuck it to the wall for the purposes of the photo. It also lived there earlier for a day or two as part of my review. The Lutron wall switch is about to move upstairs so isn’t normally affixed there either. I do align things properly when they are more permanent :)