Smarthome First Steps with Hue and Alexa Dot

This post was most recently updated on February 4th, 2017

Note: this post contains affiliate links.

This Fall I attended a blogging event and was given a Hue Smart Light Starter Kit. This is my first time being introduced to Philips smart lighting products. I thought they sounded cool but I’ve never tried them or know anyone who has them so I wasn’t sure what to think. Once I got Hue lights (which took longer to fine tune than to set up than I anticipated)  I was smitten!

Here is the kit we got:

Philips lighting products

The Hue starter kit includes:

  • the bridge (which is the internet connection)
  • 2 smart lightbulbs
  • switch that has on/off plus and lets you dim or brighten the lights

Why I was so interested in Philips Hue lights…

  • No wires required – you can operate the lights with the light switch that sticks to almost any surface or through the Hue app.
  • Light colors or hues make it easier to wake up, go to sleep or set the colors how you want them. Regular lights are one color.
  • You can operate Hue when you’re away from home, using the app.
  • It’s easy to set timers so lights go on and off automatically.

We Love Hue Lights – With Some Reservation

At first I loved the Hue lights. They are easy to set up. You plug in the bridge, connect it to your modem, and then download the app. After that, you just need to screw in the smart light bulbs anywhere you want to be smart. Then you connect them via the app and set up your lights.

Before Hue, we had timers on our lights. The problem is they’re a pain to set up or change. You have to do it manually. My husband freaks out if you unplug something and he has to reset the lights. We use lights for security – so even when we’re not home they will go on and off. Our 5 year old daughter is afraid of the dark so we use them while she is sleeping. It’s also for relaxation.

Stephen hates the lights in our room being too bright when we’re going to sleep, so we like being able to dim or customize our lights depending on the time of day.

We want our downstairs lights to turn on right as it gets dark and turn off right before we go to bed. For my bedroom lamp I want it to dim at night and then gradually get brighter (like the sun) in the morning. It needs to be able to change according to the day of the week because we sleep longer on weekends than on weekdays.

Voice Control Your Philips Lights with Echo Dot

Later, I bought an Amazon Echo Dot (you don’t need the more expensive Echo unless you need a fancier multi directional speaker), so I could make the lights voice activated. I HIGHLY recommend that you get a dot. Ours is white and we keep it in the kitchen.

It’s great to say, “Alexa, turn on the living room light.” Or, “Alexa, turn off the living room light.” It just happens. You don’t have to get out of the chair, but you do need to be within hearing distance of Echo. It’s ideal for someone who is in a wheelchair or bedridden. Of course there are times when you can’t speak, like the middle of the night (when you might wake someone up). In that case you need to use the app or switch. You can dim your lights by saying “Alexa, dim lights” or “Alexa lights at maximum brightness”.

You can use your Apple Watch or Siri on your iPhone. Of course that’s better suited for one person. If you have a couple or family who wants to control the lights, I say stick with the Echo (or both).

This video shows you how it works:

For Christmas this year, I got a great surprise! Stephen bought me 3 more Hue lightbulbs! I guess it was quite an adventure to try to find them anywhere – he got the last few there were in the store.

Get Hue Lighting Apps But Not the One From Philips

Phase 2 is where the honeymoon ended and some of my frustration with Hue began. The Hue app was constantly losing connection with the lights. It doesn’t work well. After the first week it was useless. Our timers weren’t working because it couldn’t maintain a connection with the internet. Our daughter woke up crying in the middle of the night because it was pitch dark. It tried and tried to reset it but couldn’t. At this point I was wondering if I made a mistake buying these lights!

As I mentioned, I bought an Echo Dot so I didn’t have to depend on the app – so it will work even when the app doesn’t. However, it can be a pain to tell each light to turn on (5 commands if I wanted to turn on every smart light) or to turn them back off! Plus, I want to be able to dim my lights through the app, not just with the dimmer switch.

The problems I had almost made me return the lights. I was so frustrated! I read everywhere and no luck getting the app to reconnect. I thought of starting over but that would be a big pain.

Then Stephen wanted the app on his phone and instead of downloading the Philips Hue app, he downloaded one called OnSwitch. He has an iPhone and I have a Droid and it works great on both. Problem solved!

Even with a great app, there is a learning curve. Every app does something different, but not one does everything I need (yet). Here’s a list of apps you can check out. Hue Pro (this link goes to the Android app, here it is for iPhone) is supposed to have support for dimming lights soon. This app called iconnecthue also comes highly recommended.

Lesson learned: do not use the Philips Hue app that comes from the company.

UPDATE: they updated the Hue app, we downloaded it, and haven’t had any connection problems since.

Tip: Rename your Lights

The default names for your lights that come with the system are not intuitive because they’re not specific. You need to be able to easily remember the names so you can speak them (for Echo) and to easily tell your lights apart. So you should rename your lights. We have 5 Philips lights right now. The system can support up to 50.

We named our lights:

  • bedroom lamp
  • dining room lamp
  • living room lamp
  • bedside lamp
  • upstairs lamp

Tip: Use Apps for Special Lighting Effects

I want to be able to use colored or different types of lights, including for the holidays. I’d like to have a pulsing or disco type light. There are reading lights, wake up lighting, sleep lighting and all sorts of selections so your light can be super bright like a florescent or dim like an antique light. And I don’t want to have 4 different apps to get these. Also, I don’t want to pay extra for them – I might for Halloween though! Right now you just have to keep downloading apps to get the light effects that you want. That is frustrating – but at least it’s possible. For now I’m going to download what I need and delete it after the holiday.

What’s Next: Hue Light Strips and Motion Detectors

My next step is to get even more Philips Hue lights. I really want some in our kitchen. I’ve always loved under cabinet lights but I didn’t want to go through the trouble of getting an electrician and dealing with the wiring part. So I never did it. Luckily, Philips lights have light strips! I imagine there’s an app to make them blink or dim too, but I just love the look of having them on at night or to provide extra light when I’m cooking.

After watching this video I know that I want the lightstrip PLUS. It’s much brighter than the older one. Use this link to get the correct one. This video shows you how a side-by-side comparison. You will have to buy extensions and measure your space to see exactly what you need to buy for your space.

To further feed the addiction, we’ll need motion detectors for our hallways – where the stairs are. That way we can go upstairs or down and not have to flip a switch. Another place they’d be handy? Bathrooms.

I’d like to get outdoor lights for the porch and garage but it looks like only the porch light is a good idea. According to “howtogeek.com”: “One reason why Philips doesn’t recommend using Hue bulbs outdoors is because of the heat during the summer. … Just as long as the bulb is mounted in a moderately sheltered light fixture that protects it from rain, snow, hail, and other elements, then it’s completely fine to use a Philips Hue bulb outdoors.”

Can Philips Hue be Used Outdoors?

I’d like to get outdoor lights for the porch and garage but it looks like only the porch light is a good idea. According to “howtogeek.com”: “One reason why Philips doesn’t recommend using Hue bulbs outdoors is because of the heat during the summer. … Just as long as the bulb is mounted in a moderately sheltered light fixture that protects it from rain, snow, hail, and other elements, then it’s completely fine to use a Philips Hue bulb outdoors.”

How Long Do Philips Hue Bulbs Last?

I wondered about the energy savings because Philips lights require that you use electricity and the internet to run them. However, they are LED lights. According to PC Magazine: “Philips rates the lifespan of each bulb at up to 15,000 hours, and despite the Wi-Fi connectivity, claims that each bulb uses 80 percent less power than a traditional incandescent bulb.”

I am using IFTT to set up the lights how I want them. So upstairs they go on at 8pm and turn off at sunrise. You can create a rule and what lights it applies to. I think this is the simplest way to handle scheduling although I have it the same every day. I’m sure I could set up a new rule for every day of the week but that is a big pain.

Here’s a screenshot of what I’m using:

iftt-hue

Do you have a Philips Hue light? I’d love to hear what you think so far! It’s an investment but it’s one I’m willing to make. My next step? Getting Google Home or a smarthome system.



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