The right smart lights will not only make your house smarter, but also more homely.
If there is one place I want technology to make the most difference, it’s in the home and after many years of just talk, the devices are finally starting to become available here.
If you wish to turn your house into a smart home, start with the lights – it takes little effort but makes a big difference, and anyone can do it as there is no need for DIY.
You are in luck as the Philips Hue smart wireless lighting, first introduced in 2012, finally made it to Malaysia late last year.
That’s a five year wait but there is virtue in patience – since then Philips has upgraded the Hue system and it’s (almost) light years ahead of its predecessors.
Light it up
With the Hue system you can set the lights to turn on when you arrive home and turn off when you leave. Or better yet, set it to switch on and off at specific times so that it looks like someone is home even when you are out, hopefully a deterrent for a would-be thief, as smart home stuff don’t come cheap.
I have set it to turn on at sunset everyday and turn off at 2am, in case I doze off while watching a late night show. But if sleep doesn’t come easy, you can make the lights dim gradually before they turn off.
Interestingly, there is even a wake up feature to help you get out of bed more naturally instead of relying on an alarm.
This will turn on the lights in your bedroom at say, 8am, and they get gradually brighter to mimic a sunrise. I frankly don’t like this feature as I hate waking up to a bright room, as it stings the eyes ... or maybe I just hate waking up.
Colour your life
My main attraction to smart lights is because they can change colour and Philips claims the Hue bulbs can produce 16 million colours.
I can only tell a few apart – yellow, orange, red, violet, purple, blue, cyan and green. Everything else is a variation of these colours, or just dimmer or brighter.
While you may not want to make your house look psychedelic the way I do, the colours can help set the right mood or even change the hue of a wall to match your decor.
You can also save the bulb settings as a Scene so you can switch between them easily.
One of the more interesting tech developments that makes smart homes more exciting are AI assistants which let you to command the devices in your house with just your voice – imagine having your very own Jarvis.
Hue works with AI such as Google Assistant for Android devices, Apple’s Siri for iPhones and other iOS devices, and Amazon’s Alexa.
So if you want to switch on all the lights in your hall, you just have to press and hold your Home button on your Android phone to invoke Google Assistant or do the same on the iPhone to call up Siri, and just say, “turn on the hall lights”, and voila! your wish will be granted.
You can also use voice command to make the lights dimmer or brighter, or change the colours of the bulb.
While both work fine, Siri is superior – she seems to not only understand me better but she also communicates with the lights faster, probably because one of the new features of the Bridge is support for Apple’s Homekit so integration is tighter.
You can also wish her Good Night and she will switch off all your lights (or only the ones you select).
It’s even cooler if you have a smartwatch – either Andriod Wear or Apple Watch – because you can issue commands from the watch. If you are using the Samsung Gear S3, you can get a third-party app for controlling the lights. While it lacks voice command, it’s really easy to make the lights brighter or change colour by turning the Gear S3’s bezel.
What would make things really interesting is when Google finally decides to officially offer its Google Home here and Apple’s delayed Homepod becomes available sometime early this year.
If you get either of these devices, you would be able to just speak to them instead of reaching for your watch or smartphone.
Amazon’s Alexa, which is not officially available here, is the weakest of the lot. She really has trouble understanding me and she also only understands a limited set of commands.
Cross the Bridge
Hue, unlike the other wireless smart lighting systems, requires a Bridge to work. The Bridge is a small, square device that hooks up to your router via an Ethernet cable for Internet access and keeps all the bulbs in line.
It may not sound as elegant as some of its rivals which offer bulbs with built-in WiFi so they don’t require a Bridge, but using a Bridge has its advantages – Philips’ bulbs are a tad smaller which is important as you don’t want the bulb to stick out of the enclosure.
They also use Zigbee to communicate which requires less energy than WiFi and even Bluetooth.
The Starter Kit comes with a Bridge and three bulbs. Once you have hooked up the Bridge, just replace your regular bulbs with the Hue bulbs and power them on.
Now download the Philips Hue app from either Google Play or Apple App Store and launch it, and you’ll be guided to set up the lights and rooms like Hall, Kitchen and Balcony so you can control the bulbs in groups.
Go to the Google Assistant settings to link it to Philips Hue to use voice command or if you are using an iPhone, install the Apple Home app so Siri becomes aware of the lighting system.
The biggest hurdle in getting the Philips Hue is the price – unlike the other brands, you can’t just get a bulb but must also buy the Bridge.
So if you are just experimenting, you are better off going with another brand – if you are in for the long run, however, get the Starter Kit because you get the Bridge and Bulb for RM899.
It’s value for money as each bulb costs RM279 – yes, it’s not cheap but I have been using the Hue bulbs (gen one) for almost three years and all of them still work.
Also, there is a lot of other stuff that you can link to the Bridge like a lightstrip but Philips has yet to bring in the fancier ones like the Bloom lights or motion sensors.
Apparently they are expected to be released here in stages, so here’s to a better, brighter day with smart lights.
Pros: Works wonderfully with Google Assistant and Siri for voice commands; vibrant and warm colours; bulbs last a long time; uses low-energy Zigbee wireless protocol.
Cons: Pricey; most accessories not here yet.
Wireless smart lighting system
E27 Edison Screw
2000K to 6500K, 16 million colours
10-watt standby power: 0.2-watt (maximum)
806lm @ 4000K
RM899 for Starter Kit with Bridge and three bulbs; RM279 for each bulb