All Sections

Philips Hue tips: 5 fun things to do with your smart lights

Philips Hue is one of our favourite smart home devices: not only is it practical and clever, it’s also fun.

You can get exactly the light you want from Hue for any time of the day or night, and make them switch on automatically when you’re almost home, or when the sun goes down. 

You can even get the perfect low lighting for watching a film while you can still see your glass of wine to avoid knocking it over.

With the addition of some new Friends of Hue bulbs, the huge range of alternative Hue apps, and the magical making-stuff-do-other-stuff recipes of If This Then That, you can bring your lights to life.

Philips Hue tips: 5 fun things to do with your smart lights
A Philips LightStrip is a great monitor decoration (Furby optional)

1. Strip Hue

The first Hue bulbs showed the technology’s potential to do more than simply automate the brightness of your domestic lights, but LightStrips and LivingColors open up new possibilities.

LivingColors are a bit of a show-off’s light, designed to sit on a table where everyone will see them, but they can be too bright to have at eye-level. 

Instead, take advantage of their compact size to place them at floor level, or on top of a cupboard, where they can deliver subtle ambient light effects.

LightStrips have a similar role, but you can cut them to size and stick them almost anywhere, so they’re ideal for under-shelf or under-table lighting, inside an alcove, or above a bed to dispose of a bedside lamp.

There are missed opportunities with the LightStrips, though, such as preset activity patterns for the LEDs that generate some motion as well as changing colours.

At £80 a pop, they’re no more expensive than a quality light fitting, and will open up a lot more opportunities for to smarten up your lighting.

Philips Hue tips: 5 fun things to do with your smart lights
Philips LivingColor can be used as a dynamic backlight for your room

2. Paint on a Hue-GU10 canvas

It’s not always easy for UK users to find lights with the chunky E27 fitting favoured by Hue, and after some nasty encounters with converters, we’d like to see an E14 version.

The GU10 version is a step forward that will please many Huesters with recessed lighting, and allow Hue into new locations like your bathroom.

At £50 each, or £180 for a starter pack of three bulbs and a Hue Bridge, they’re no more expensive than the original bulbs.

Once you’ve got Hues spreading through different rooms, you’ll need to activate them independently. 

Third party apps like Hue Pro and Quick Hue were first to make grouping practical, but the official Hue app now lets you select different bulbs for different recipes. 

Casambi lets you map your lights onto photos of your home, while Control Hue lets you create a floor plan showing which bulbs are in which rooms.

Philips Hue tips: 5 fun things to do with your smart lightsPhilips Hue tips: 5 fun things to do with your smart lights

3. Hue know it makes sense

If This Then That (link) is one of the web’s worst-kept secrets, but it’s perfect for connecting your internet of things devices to your personal terminals and your cloud services. 

The idea is simplicity itself: you take a trigger – your team scores a goal and it’s registered on an IFTTT-linked site – and an action – your Hue bulbs change colour.

The Hue channel (link) is packed with ready-made recipes, that you can just pick up or use to experiment with the IFTTT concept and create your own.

There are the practical recipes, to turn on your lights when you (or your phone) are close to home; change the colour or turn them on at sunset; turn them off when you disconnect from your WiFi network; flash when your phone rings; or link them to Belkin’s WeMo smart switches.

And there are more artistic recipes: blue lights when it’s about to rain; change the colour to match your latest Instagram upload; change colour to match the map of your road trip on Automatic (a smart driving assistant); or flash when you’ve hit 10,000 steps on Withings Pulse activity tracker.

The most unusual was changing colour when the shipping status changes for a package you’re tracking on Boxoh.

After an hour with IFTTT we were wishing every internet-connected device and service we use would set up an IFTTT channel. Having Hue there gives you great freedom to do new things without having to create a special app or wait for Philips to add a feature.

Philips Hue tips: 5 fun things to do with your smart lights
IFTTT powers the Recombu Friday beer alarm

4. No more light switches

Philips is bringing out wireless Hue light switches later this year, but do we really need them?

It’s true that unlocking your phone to access a Hue app isn’t always quick, and this is one place where iOS users lose out, but if you’re on Android both the official Hue app and many others let you place widgets on your desktop that will instantly activate your bulbs in preset groups and colours. There’s even a speech-activated app, Hue Talk.

If that’s too much effort, geofencing is built into Hue and many other apps: if your GPS detects you’re in range of your home, it will turn your lights on to a preset recipe and turn them off when you leave.

We’ve found this a little unreliable, but IFTTT can solve that by switching your Hues on and off either by a GPS prompt, or when you connect and disconnect from your home network.

You can also set timers, either in-app or through IFTTT, turning your lights on and off at specific times, which is great for that lived-in feeling when you’re away. Using the IFTTT weather channel your lights can go on and off with the sunset and sunrise, or if it’s a cloudy day.

Now what we’d really like to see is linking our lights to the motion sensors in one of the smart energy systems we’ve tested, so your lights follow you around the house.

Philips Hue tips: 5 fun things to do with your smart lightsPhilips Hue tips: 5 fun things to do with your smart lights

5. Hue Disco!

Hue Disco, MagicHue Disco, Hue Pro, Ambify and many other apps give your lights the power to react to your music, using the microphone in your phone or tablet, or monitoring your music player.

It’s fun, but it can vary in effect: the LightStrips have a faster change speed than the LivingColor lamp, with the regular Hue bulbs somewhere in-between. 

You’ll probably have to pay a couple of quid, although iOS users can install MagicHue Disco for a very simple music/sound reaction experience with no grouping or external app connection.

Ambify is one of the few pieces of software which brings Hue control to the desktop as well as an app, letting your Mac or iOS device control your Hues via iTunes and other audio sources including Spotify and YouTube. At $20 on the Mac (or $3 on iOS) it’s not cheap, but it is unlike anything else.

Apart from the obvious benefits for anyone operating a commercial venue with Hue lighting, there’s no better way to show off your smart lights than a bit of disco.

Philips Hue tips: 5 fun things to do with your smart lights
MagicHue is one of many sound-sensitive Hue apps, and it’s free