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.
But let’s get to the Hue tap from Philips, 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.
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 Belkin 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.
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 Wink, the Staples 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.