Philips Hue has pulled off the unlikely feat of being one of the oldest and also one of the best smart home gadgets.
How? Well, the secret is (shock, horror) regularly updating its software and hardware to make the two an ever more powerful, illuminating combo.
Its vast collection of lamps, lightstrips and bulbs (which cover all the major bulb sockets) are now backed up by a polished official app, an army of third party apps, and spoonfuls of extra trickery courtesy of IFTTT recipes and Chrome extensions. This is the kind of depth that gives it the edge over Ikea’s simpler, more affordable Trådfri range.
But how useful can a bunch of lights actually be? Sure, Hue lights are pure luxury, but we’ll be damned if telling your lights to switch into ‘movie mode’ or flash when an Uber arrives isn’t one of the most satisfying gadget experiences around.
Ready to get cracking? We’re starting with the very basics for beginners, but if you’re itching to spark a fake thunderstorm in your flat or a start a Hue disco, then skip straight to the intermediate and advanced sections below.
1) Make a scene
Philips Hue ‘scenes’ are basically presets for its colour bulbs. The app has some built-in options for everything from ‘read’ to ‘arctic aurora’, but you can get properly nerdy by creating your own.
Tap on one of your rooms, press ‘scenes’, then tap the ‘+’ icon in the bottom right corner. Choose ‘picture scene’ and you’ll get the option of choosing a photo from your camera roll. Fancy recreating the mood from your wedding party? Tap the photo and adjust the strength of the colour with the bar at the bottom.
If you’ve tweaked one of the existing presets and want to save that as a new scene, just press the ‘+’ button and choose ‘current light settings’. Ah, ‘super relax’ mode, that’s better…
2) Scrap the schedules
Yes, you can set ‘routines’ for your lights to turn on and off at certain times on different days, but geolocation is better if post-work drinks mean you often keep an irregular schedule.
To get your lights in tune with your exact movements, go to ‘Routines’, then ‘Home & Away’, then press the ‘Location aware’ switch. From here you can decide which lights go on when you’re coming home or leaving, and if they should only come on after sunset.
The downside? If you’re in a family, the geolocation will work when any paired device leaves the house, potentially leaving housemates in darkness. To get around this, you can use an IFTTT recipe like these Life360 ones, use another hub like Smartthings, or just stick with schedules.
3) Sweet dreams, rise and shine
You don’t want your Hue bedroom lights to blast you awake in the morning on full beam. Luckily, you can time them to slowly wake you up, and also gently lull you to sleep at night too.
Head to ‘Routines’ and either ‘Wake up’ or ‘Go to sleep’. Press the ‘+’ button to create a schedule for them to slowly ‘fade in’ or ‘fade out’ (making sure to leave out the weekend, if it’s your work plan) and press save.
Because you can choose the room too, you could also create an extra schedule for your lounge to subtly hint that it’s time to go to bed. Even though you’d probably just sit stubbornly in the darkness for one more crack at Splatoon 2.
4) Talk to your lights
Disaster! You’ve just sat down on the sofa after a long day and forgot to hit the light switch on the way in. Luckily, you live in an age of voice-controlled lights, thanks to Hue’s close relationships with Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant.
Naturally, this strangely satisfying trick works best when you have a hub like an Echo Dot or Google Home. To connect your Hue lights to the former, enable the Hue skill in the Alexa app, then go to discover devices. The app will then import your scenes, letting you sing out phrases like “Alexa, turn on relax in the bedroom”.
For Google Home, go the main menu in the top left corner in the Home app, followed by ‘Home control’, then press ‘+’ to add devices. Once added, you can then give each light a nickname to avoid wake phrases like “Hey Google, turn on Hue ambience lamp 1”.
Setting up Siri is (naturally) a bit more involved. If you didn’t pair with Siri when setting up your Hue bridge, go to the app’s ‘settings’ menu, then ‘Homekit & Siri”, followed by “Lights”. Like Alexa, you can then ask Siri to turn the lights on or off, dim them or set them to a colour like red or Halloween.
5) Get super-Ambilight
Got a Philips TV with Ambilight? Boost your telly-watching atmosphere by getting your Hue lights to change in sync with its colourful tune.
There is a small amount of faff involved, but it’s worth it. Once you’ve downloaded the free Ambilight+Hue app (see links below), you’ll need to manually enter your TV’s IP address from its ‘network settings’ menu.
From there, it’s just a case of choosing which lights you want to link, and basking in the glory of your personal Odeon.
– How to make a Hue Thunderstorm
– Get the party started with Hue Disco
– Give your monitor the gift of Ambilight
– The best Hue IFTTT recipes
Or jump to:
Bright ideas (intermediate)
Got your geolocation and voice control all set up? It’s time to learn some blue belt Hue moves…
6) Make it rain (and thunder)
There’s something oddly relaxing about hearing the distant rumbles and flashes of a storm while you’re tucked up in bed. That’s why we’re fans of this – the best of Hue’s thunderstorm simulators.
Thunderstorm for Hue gives you god-like control over your smart light storm, as your Hue bulbs gently flicker and flash in time with the convincing sound effects. You can choose which bulbs to include, set a sleep timer for the storm to conveniently pass, and even add background sounds like crickets and cacadas.
Pipe the sound through some Bluetooth speakers, and it’d also create a suitably unnerving atmosphere for your halloween party.
7) Get the party started
We don’t host many parties. But when we do, we like our colour Hue bulbs to flash in time with Carly Rae Jepson’s “Call me maybe”.
That’s the dreamland promised by Hue Disco, which picks up the music through your phone’s microphone and turns that into some colourful, customisable strobe effects.
Sure, that means it’s not always perfectly in sync with the music’s drops, but that won’t matter once your guests have gone through a few bowls of your legendary ‘party punch’.
8) Help your monitor see the Ambilight
If your computer’s feeling a bit left out of the Ambilight party, Screenbloom can pair it with your Hue bulbs and lightstrips to recreate a similar effect to Philips’ glowing TVs.
It works by grabbing the average colour of your computer screen, then sending it to your Hue lights, which are best positioned behind your monitor so that they can subtly bounce off the wall behind.
It’s not quite as dynamic as Ambilight, but is responsive enough to make your Doom session extra-terrifying.
IFTTT your spirits (intermediate)
Get your Hue lights and fave web services all singing off the same gadget hymn sheet…
9) Your Uber has landed
If you’ve summoned an Uber to your flat, then chances are good that you’re in a mad rush to get ready to go out somewhere – and so you may lose track of time, and may not even notice the app telling you to get outside for your waiting driver.
No worries. IFTTT is built to creatively link connected services, and in this case, a simple applet will automatically blink your Hue lights once the Uber driver has arrived outside your home. That little visual notification might catch your eye, saving your driver the potential hassle of slamming on the horn.
10) Rise and shine
You can set your Hue lights to turn on or off at certain times, but if you don’t always wake up at the same time, then you might be rudely awakened some mornings by your supposedly "smart" bulbs.
If you have a Fitbit that you wear to bed, you can skip the hard schedule. Instead, just link your Fitbit account to your Hue bulbs via this IFTTT applet, and the bulbs will turn on once the rope of consciousness has drawn you out of the abyss of sleep. And that’s a handy way to save on energy, too.
11) Get ready for kick off
While a lot of IFTTT applets bridge the gap between services with useful, important results, others are pure fun – and something like this falls right between the two extremes.
With this applet, you can make your bulbs flash a certain colour any time your favourite team begins a match, either giving you the signal to turn on the TV or simply riling up your assembled viewing party in the process.
You can customise the colour and pick from various leagues, as well, including the Premier League and La Liga. Come on, er, Malaga!
12) Make a real entrance
Even if you live alone, coming home after a hard day of work shouldn’t be a dreary event. Punch up your return with this brilliant IFTTT applet, which promises a grand entrance every time you enter your flat.
This location-aware recipe lets you pinpoint your home’s location on a map, and then every time you enter the location (via the IFTTT mobile app), your Hue lights will cycle through an array of colors. It’s like you’re coming home to a surprise party, even if your only real plans are to crash on the couch and watch Netflix.
13) Don’t burn the sausages
Here’s another way in which your Hue bulbs can give you a heads-up for another service. If you have an Amazon Echo in your home, you may grow accustomed to using Alexa to set timers – but if you’re not within earshot or you’re listening to music, you might miss the alert.
IFTTT can help add another layer to Alexa’s alarm. With this applet, you can set it so that your Hue bulbs blink when the timer is complete. If you can’t hear what Alexa is trying to tell you, at least you might be able to see it. It could be the difference between perfect sausages and some charred cylinders.
– Baffle burglars with presence mimicking
– See the seasons with dynamic Hue scenes
– Get super-nerdy with HueDynamic
– Customise your Hue wall switches
– Bankrupt yourself with the best Hue accessories
Beta bonuses (advanced)
Thirsty for more tricks? Go the the ‘Explore’ tab in the Hue app, then ‘Huelabs’ for some enlightening beta extras…
14) Baffle the burglars
Ever used a mechanical plug timer to ensure that your flat’s lights turn on when you’re not around? Well, HueLabs’ Presence Mimicking recipe is the modern equivalent of that, routinely engaging lights so that it looks from the outside like you’re home… when you’re not.
You can custom-set which lights turn on when, and they’ll still turn on at your usual times for coming home, getting ready for bed, and falling asleep. But there’s also a randomness modifier so that the timing isn’t exactly the same each time.
15) See the seasons
Philips Hue’s scenes are all very nice, but what if you could string together a playlist of dynamic, changing scenes? That’s where the Living Scenes recipe can help, by automatically alternating through an array of lighting scenes at the interval that you set.
You can get a similar effect from third party apps like iConnectHue (see below), but this is a good free taster of the effect. The gradual colour shifts mean the results are never too startling (or garish) too.
16) Don’t get overcooked
Setting timers can be pretty critical when you’re cooking a homemade meal, but those clanging alarms can really ruin the ambiance. Or alternately, if you’re listening to music or watching TV while the main dish bakes, you might not hear the alarm.
In any case, if you want to shake up your normal routine, you can set a visual trigger instead of an aural one using the HueLabs "Cooking timer" recipe. It lets you set quick alarms within the Hue app and then get a flashing light when your meal is all ready.
The supercontrollers (advanced)
Brace yourself, we’re going in deep with these hardcore Hue apps…
17) HueDynamic (£5.39)
Looking for some properly granular control over your Hue setup? This third party app for Windows 10 and Xbox One is your new mission control.
HueDynamic has perks for days, including dynamic, pulsing scenes that you can mix and match, the option of using Cortana voice commands control your lights, and the ability to use a device’s camera to follow what you’re watching on TV and have your Hue lights match the dominant colour.
In other words, it offers most of the tricks from third party Hue apps and HueLabs recipes in one place.
18) iConnectHue (£4.99)
While it’s possible to customise your physical Hue dimmer switch in the official app (just go to ‘Settings’, then ‘Accessory setup’), this app lets you go a bit deeper.
For example, you can assign a ‘press and hold’ of one of the Dimmer’s buttons to switch your lights into Netflix-watching mode. With four options per button, there’s a total of fourteen options for the buttons. Good luck thinking of enough scenarios to fill those.
With the app also capable of customising Philips’ new motion sensor and doing advanced tricks that you’d usually need IFTTT for, it’s a worthy investment for iOS-based Hue masters.
19) iLightshow (£free)
Looking to sync your lights with Spotify? This app for iOS and Mac will help you set up an impromptu party during your ‘working from home’ break.
Just tap play on any song of your choice from the streaming service, and iLightShow will use its sonic smarts to work out a routine using different colours, as well as flash lengths and intensities. It’s not perfect, but it is a quick and easy way to get the effect without any manual tweaking or tuning at all.
Now add these…
Oh boy, this is going to be an expensive new hobby…
20) Flic buttons (from £30)
Philips’ Dimmer and Tap switches are great for simple Hue control, but what if you want some smaller smart buttons that’ll make you look really clever when the in-laws visit? That’s where Flic comes in.
Like Logitech’s Pops (which work nicely with the Harmony Hub, but are bigger and pricier than the Flics), you just stick these bottle cap-sized Bluetooth buttons wherever you like, then use the app to assign functions for a tap, double tap and long press.
These can be simple controls like a ‘reading’ mode for your bedroom lights or your kid’s favourite Hue scene. Or, thanks to IFTTT and Stringify compatibility, you can make them trigger complex tricks, like simultaneously controlling your mix of Hue and Lifx bulbs.
With a Wi-Fi hub and glow in the dark buttons in Flic’s pipeline, it could be the start of your smart button addiction.
21) Philips Hue Motion Sensor (£35)
Tired of fumbling around for the bathroom light switch in the middle of the night? This new member of Philips’ family of Hue accessories could save you from a few stubbed toes.
The sensor can sense movement from up to five metres away, and will automatically turn your lights off after a set period.
You can also set it to only work at certain times like the evenings, so it doesn’t cost you a bomb when your cat decides it quite likes wandering past your new toy.
22) Logitech Harmony Hub (£100)
If you’re looking to get your TV and Hue lights working in unison, then Logitech’s Hub might just be the nerdy bridge you need.
Aside from letting you control your home entertainment rig with just your smartphone, the Hub lets you create ‘activities’ that invite other bits of smart home kit to the party.
You could, for example, set up a ‘gaming’ activity that turns on your TV, boots up your console and dims the lights. With support for the likes of Alexa and IFTTT too, the geeky possibilities are endless.