It’s not Me, It’s Hue (The Hue Review, Part 2)

[Update! As of early January 2014, I have added a follow up review here]

[Update! If you just want to buy the best Hue controller app for iOS, get iConnectHue and don’t look back. I wouldn’t use my Hue system without it.]

In part 1 I revealed the Secrets They Won’t Tell Hue and some of the things that I like about Hue. Here I show my personal unboxing journey, some applications I’m using, and my stunning conclusion.

My Huenique Story

I purchased a starter kit and screwed the bulbs into my two bedside lamps and into the living room. This proved immediately that the native app’s inability to deal with multiple rooms in any simple manner was…absent. I have a Sonos system, too, with 4 rooms configured with multiple speakers per room. This had predisposed me to expect a certain base quality of bulb management that was curiously absent in Hue.

Within a few hours I received the ‘you should upgrade your firmware’ message while in the Hue app. I dutifully updated the Bridge firmware. Afterwards, I saw a new connectivity info tag next to my bulbs. This dreaded warning exclamation point told me the bulbs were not reachable by the Bridge. This means I couldn’t connect or control to them. I could switch them all ‘off’, of course, which is the only command it seemed to be able to send to bulbs regardless of whether they were ‘connected’ or not. Because it’s not possible to disable the lamps remotely unless they are ‘connected’, this was a case of Lying Lightbulbs.

Unable to have the lights work, I performed a factory reset of the Bridge, and proceeded to discover I could not re-add any of the 3 starter kit bulbs. I browsed the internet repeatedly only to discover the aforementioned LampStealer, which is treated by Philips as some sort of official unofficial solution. It even has its own page. This really is unacceptable but whatever.

LampStealer played ‘Can’t Touch This’ several times as I unsuccessfully tried to add my bulbs back to the Bridge.

I packed everything back into its original packaging (thankfully I don’t throw packaging out for a year or so) and prepared to ask for a replacement at the Apple store.

In the morning I thought I’d reconnect the Bridge and bulbs just in case. I thought perhaps the bulbs, having been powered off overnight, might have relinquished their IP addresses, or something. There’s precious little information available to you about the bulbs, you see.

The bulbs were detected fine and everything started working again.

I went out for the day and bought a fourth bulb. This bulb had the latest firmware, unlike my starter bulbs.

Yes. I know. Hue screwed me around yet I threw another $70 AUD at a fourth bulb? Really?

Yes, really. It’s that cool. When it works.

I came home and added the fourth bulb to the Bridge without any problems. All my lights, including the new bulb, continued to respond only intermittently, because I DON’T KNOW WHY.

All advice online related to connectivity warnings said I should make sure there was enough wireless coverage between the bulbs. My house is not big enough for this to be a problem.

I performed another factory reset. Now I couldn’t find ANY of the light bulbs. After a while I could find two of the starter kit bulbs. I waited. I gave up and repackaged the gear for return to the shop.

I went online to Philips Hue support and filled out a long online form describing my problem. A day later I received a message that my request had been received and I’d be contacted in the next 48 hours.

I returned the Starter Kit (not the fourth bulb) and picked up a replacement. The Apple staff were very kind about it, letting me know they did 2 week return policies. I’m pretty sure Australian law gives me a much longer reasonable period, but not to worry.

All lamps worked immediately (as with the first starter kit). I could not add the fourth bulb. I left it powered off for two hours, and again could not add the bulb.

I used LampStealer, which couldn’t find my Bridge, even though it was on the same network with the same WiFi and had internet access.

I moved my Bridge into the living room, directly plugged into my router instead of via (an admittedly low bandwidth) ethernet-over-power connection. Now LampStealer could find my Bridge. I placed the fourth bulb next to my Bridge and used LampStealer to successfully link it to my Bridge (if you’ve been reading, you would have realised as I finally did, that my fourth bulb still ‘owned’ the previous Bridge!).

I used the Bridge to discover the fourth bulb and add it. EVERYTHING WORKED AGAIN.

The Hue app prompted me to update the Bridge’s firmware.

I laughed, clicked ‘no’, and started writing this article.

This entire process, initial purchase to writing this article, took about 5 days of scouring the internet. I assure you this was not any fun at all.

However, now that I have a functioning, four bulb Hue system, I am super super happy. It really is great.

Just this morning (Nov 27) I received an email from Philips support with a link to my case. I guess I can open it up and start to engage support now. Since I solved my problems on my own, I’m going to ask them all about what will fuck up when I do a firmware update.

Hue Talkin’ To Me?

(Note: If none of the following section makes sense to you, Option 2 may not be for you.)

I don’t know how much of the failure rate after the update was related to the very poor network connectivity between my Bridge and my local network (I had this and a few other devices connected to my network via rather lousy ethernet-over-power).

I checked my local wireless network (you can do this in your WiFi router admin screen) to confirm that each of the now working bulbs is allocated an IP on the wireless network. That does mean that the Bridge was only connected to the bulbs through a poor network connection, but it doesn’t explain why it worked before I did the update. Perhaps the new firmware required more frequent status requests or connections to the bulbs. Who fucking knows, really! This shit is managed with beta-quality software.

The thing is…my Sonos has a Bridge, and although the Sonos Bridge is connected to my network via the same poor connection (and via that to the internet), it communicates with the 6 wirelessly connected Sonos speakers just fine, and tells them where to get the music I’m playing, and keeps them all synched nicely. So it’s conceivable that the poor connection my Bridge had to my wireless network could have caused the problems of my bulbs being unreachable. However…

It seems highly improbable that the Hue Bridge needs more bandwidth to four lightbulbs than my FUCKING MUSIC SYSTEM DOES TO SIX SEPARATE SPEAKERS.

FUCK.

Applications

These are for iOS only, as I have an iPhone and iPad. Sadly, as with most application choices, I expect a subset of subpar applications to be available for Android OS, and none (perhaps one) for Windows Phone. Amusingly, Windows Phone is probably best suited to a Hue app, with its tile-based UI. Hell, I might even write one myself when I’m free.

Please note that this section comes with a language warning, because Hue software is fucking awful.

Also note that there are only three paid apps in here. After I realised how generally bad Hue software controllers were, I was cautious throwing my money at them.

Yes, yes, the full Hue starter kit and extra bulb cost $320, what’s your point?

LANGUAGE WARNING

SWEAR WORDS LIKE ‘FUCK’ AND ‘FUCKING’ AND ‘UNFUCKINGBELIEVABLE’ LIE AHEAD!

Hue App (Free)

Hue App

Scene editing screen

This is the basic app for Hue. It allows you to build ‘scenes’ which will include a set of lights. The scenes are either based on an image (your own or from a supplied list) and the lights in that scene are assigned a specific colour. Scenes can be triggered by schedule or through geofencing, which is pretty cool but I haven’t really been able to test.

Editing a scene will enable that scene, which is a ridiculous thing considering that you may want to edit your ‘Bedroom – Relaxing’ scene while someone is SLEEPING, which, by selecting it to edit, will actually switch all its lights on. Un-fucking-believable.

Fade in and out timers are cool though, as well as geofencing. I’ve not tried to interact via IFTTT yet, mostly because IFTTT triggers run on a 15 minute cycle, which isn’t really that useful to me in terms of lighting.

Hue Party (Free)

Hue Party AppThis is a great little app that allows you to grab a few of your Hue bulbs and set them to strobe, or flicker like candles, or gently cycle. It’s free, so a decent addition to your controller collection, but it can’t save rooms or do anything like that. Like most Hue apps, more than 4 or 5 bulbs would make this absolutely unmanageable.

Again like most Hue apps, because the Bridge is so fundamentally fucking stupid, it needs to run in the background of your iPhone or iPad so that it can continue to control your bulb animations.

Yeah, this is how dumb the Hue Bridge is: light animations aren’t sent to the Bridge and executed/managed by the Bridge; no, they are executed by the application on your fucking phone. I don’t even.

Quick Hue ($1)

Quick HueI only just started using this and it’s pretty cool, but clunky and unintuitive. Normally these adjectives wouldn’t fit into a single sentence, but of course we are talking Hue software here, which is universally shite. The app looks like an iOS 7 app, but behaves like an iOS 6 app. This is most noticeable when you elect to rearrange the lights but they won’t move in rearrange mode, because there is a difficult to see iOS 6 style ‘rearrange’ target icon that appears list items which look like iOS 7 list items.

Eventually you will be able to figure out how to group bulbs into ‘sections’ for control. Quick Hue does allow brightness changes and switching lights on and off, which is great. Colour changes are a little clunkier, but acceptable.

Quick Hue also shows you in the App icon how many lights are on, using the iOS App badges indicator. It only shows you how many lights it thinks are on, though. It doesn’t update in the background, so if you change the light settings with a different Hue controller the badges actually lie to you until you open up the app again. Yay!

Although it’s not very pretty, and feels like a beta product, Quick Hue is probably the best app to get your Hue experience started, and it’s the cheapest of the paid apps here.

Note: click on the ‘cell rearrange’ icon (up and down arrows) and just move the lights into their respective ‘sections’, like a list item rearrange. This took me far too long to work out. You can also, gloriously, collapse each of the sections so you don’t have to look at every bulb in your system. This is the only basic lighting app I’ve used that makes a large number of bulbs manageable.

Switches ($3)

Switches AppA very simple iOS 7 style application that also lets you set proper groups of lights. The interface is fairly unintuitive, though, until you realise that some groups (ie. the individual lightbulbs) can’t be deleted from the home screen.

Notice a trend? Once you have more than 5 bulbs or so this becomes fucking impossible to manage, too. You may have 4 rooms, but 20 bulbs… Your Switches app will now have 24 icons on the home page, 4 of which you want to use. Fucking infuriating.

There is a limited selection of colours, instead of the full gamut available to regular bulbs, and each brightness setting needs its own colour setting. Again, this will fill up your screen very rapidly and is a pain in the butt.

Yes, we have his and hers bedside lamps, wanna make something of it?

One cool feature of Switches is that it allows you to set a room toggle as a link icon on your iOS home screens. This helps you to switch on (or off) a room to a single colour and intensity. Meanwhile, it opens the app on the last screen you were viewing, instead of the room you just toggled. It’s frankly maddening, but it works, sort of.

It’s shocking that an application which is so limited is nonetheless one of the better home/room light management apps for the Hue.

Goldee (Free)

Goldee AppA huge drawback to this app is that it requires a remote account and doesn’t seem to work without an internet connection (I’m too lazy to check right now). It does, however, have the best room creation I’ve encountered (which isn’t hard people, for Christ’s sake, it’s a subset of bulbs grouped into groups and controlled as a group). This group setting seems to be in the Goldee app and not on the Bridge (remember this is the DUMBEST FUCKING SMART BRIDGE that exists).

Goldee allows you to allocate an animated ‘scene’ to one of your rooms, and all the lights in that room cycle through colours for that scene. You can’t create your own scenes, although the app does say it will offers hundreds more (presumably through an in-app purchase scheme).

Another massive drawback to Goldee is that it can’t operate while it isn’t the current ‘open’ application on your iPhone. That’s ok if you aren’t using your phone, but otherwise it’s kind of horrible. The app does warn you with a notification that it needs to be front and centre to maintain the animation. While it is ‘off’, the animation freezes the colours at the last moment.

Sounds like a disaster? Nope, Goldee is pretty good. I use it to transform a room into a relaxing moving scene. My favourite is Green Forest.

It’s only barely usable, but it looks like they are in active development.

Hue Scintillator ($3)

Hue Scintillator App

Effect editing screen

Like the Hue Party app, this application stays in the background while it executes its light recipes. It’s probably the coolest application though, for non-daily atmospheric use. You can create bulb groups (effectively rooms) and then your own fairly complex effects, including timed effects. I’ve not played a lot with it yet but it looks nice and works well. I like a decent candle effect, and Scintillator does take microphone input and use it to inject a bit of randomness into the colour effects.

There is a really cool setting to sync your Hue lights to the Day/Night cycle of a Minecraft game. That’s a bit niche but super cool, so I’ll be giving that a shot at some stage.

You could get a little disco party going, with a slight light delay. This is a bit like Hue Ambify, which I haven’t used but my wife said was, ‘Ok’.

‘Ok’ is pretty much the upper range for most Hue apps, so you might want to check it out.

In Conclusion

As I’ve said a few times through this: Hue is awesome hardware. Hue has terrible software and terrible support. If you intend to purchase Hue and don’t have an interest in fiddling with settings, follow Option 1 and don’t expand your set of bulbs until this beta product has been upgraded a few more times (I give it another 12 months or so). Else, choose Option 2.

It’s hard to explain why I would recommend Hue at all given my experiences. Nonetheless, I am really glad I have it, now that it’s working. Just last night I set a timer to start fading out the living room lights over 9 mins. It was really, really cool.

Obviously if you don’t think that’s remotely cool, then this expensive gadget set is not for Hue…

Other Resources

If Hue Can’t Get Enough

I wrote a thorough list of basic requirements for a functional Hue system, Bridge and Controller. It’s sort of a list to myself, but any developer interested in having a requirement checklist is more than welcome to use it. That list is here.

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18 thoughts on “It’s not Me, It’s Hue (The Hue Review, Part 2)

  1. Thanks for the salty and clever review of Hue. I just indulged a Sonos programmer myself(also rather pissed as to why software dev has come to a screeching halt) enquiring why they have a creative week.

    http://www.malcolmcrum.com/wp/control-your-phillips-hue-lights-with-sonos/139/

    ‘I’m Henry’

    Not quite sure as to when companies will realize open source is the best bet to the quickest innovation.

    I just ordered a starter pack + 2 bulbs. I’m Dutch, can’t blame me.

    Thanks for the insightful review. I think hardware & software should, ‘coining a cliche’ “Stick to what they know”.

    Oh yeah. Amazon

    Thanks

    • Awesome! I’m Dutch too, so I think een beetje porren can’t hurt 😉

      I’m very happy with my Hue now but only because I found iConnectHue as an app. The native Hue app is fucking terrible…

      I have a Sonos as well, very interested to see how I can get it making some music lights for me 🙂

      >

  2. I’d like to recommend the app LightBow. I have 40 hue bulbs. (And three Wemo Switches and a Lifx) (yeah crazy, I know) I love the grouping and ease of use of that app and the ability to control multiple types of networked lights and switches. You should check it out! I never touch the hue app again.

  3. Great capture of the Hue system. I’ve been wanting to post something like this since my first experience with Hue when I purchased the starter kit back last year. I’m one of those suckers for new technology, so outfitted a few rooms with the lights. As you describe, the Hue software is absolutely horrible and still more of a beta even with a year under it’s belt. I currently have 3 lights that have lost connectivity and never found their way back to the bridge with their original naming convention in the software. The solution was to search for new lights and add them again. The only problem with that is the old light information is still in the inventory, even though it shows as it will not connect and I can not delete them from the list. Very bad housekeeping. I guess I could reset everything but then that’s a huge undertaking setting everything up again after months of tweaking.
    I love the fact I can set timers and scenes and hope Phillips hires some software developers who can put it all in to proper prospective. Until then, what could be a great product is nothing less than mediocre at this point.

    • Thanks for your detailed comment! I now have 6 bulbs and am very happy with the connectivity and responsiveness. I never use the native app. They actually managed to make it worse by splitting light colour and light brightness settings…

      I couldn’t imagine not having Hue in my house anymore, but it was the iConnectHue app that made the difference for me at the time.

  4. Thanks for this! Awesome! I wish I read this earlier before I made the purchase of the starter kit, before I made the purchase of the 4th bulb, and lastly, before I even clicked to update the firmware. I’m glad I wasn’t alone!!! lol.

  5. Alright so my partner and I built a new house and replaced every bulb with Hue… I know absolutely crazy and for the record; not my idea…. Anyway we have had nothing but problems with it and we stayed this journey June 23, 2015. Things I have noticed, don’t have the app on more than one device. Let someone else fuck with it until they are about to blow their brains out with your hunting rifle and take over. Give up and read some articles on the Internet. Never spend $3800+ on fucking light bulbs. All in all yea it is kind of cool and really frustrating probably not worth it if mentally unstable individuals are considering buying. Will test your marriage and sanity regularly and will never do what you want it to do and that’s work flawlessly. Man that would be so neat, Phillips if your reading this I am considering creating a company that stills your ideas and makes it better and I will name it Apple. Apple of you are reading this what the fuck are you doing this and look at all the money you could be making… JOBS WOULD NOT ALLOW THIS SHIT TO HAPPEN!!!!

  6. Haha lol your funny Tom, that review made me laugh, even though my whole house is hued up, I have never had any of the issues you described, I’ve always updated the firmware, purchased two kits as they were on special so I got 6 bulbs for cheap & gave the other bridge to my son & even the bulbs from the 2nd kit connected, admittedly I had to search by bulb serial number but they worked & so did the bulbs my son bought for the bridge I gave him, iConnectHue is a good app, I have loads of them, yet again I’ve never had an issue with gen 1 of the Philips app, the scenes, the geofencing, all updates worked great & still do. Anyway was a fun read I enjoyed your frustration, seems like you took it good for a few other customers too 🙂

    • Haha 🙂 Ah yeah the frustration was nuts. I now have about…8 Hues, incl the light strip and one of the Friends of Hue mood lights…? I love them absolutely and am no longer having any problems, but my first days with them were intensely frustrating.

      I’m hanging out for the HomeKit compatible bridge but not sure it’s available in Australia yet…?

      • Ahha maybe that’s why I never had any issues, I have always had the square HomeKit bridge, never the round one, I hear Philips are doing some kind of exchange for upgrading to the v 2 bridge, it must be available in your neck of the woods by now, I’m in the UK & it’s been here about a year now, check to see if you can upgrade for a discount. I can’t wait to read your review of you talking to Siri 🙂

      • Yeah this review is a good 2+ years of hardware iterations ago… Hue has matured a lot (that’s my excuse for the crying anyway). I will have a look around. No reason I couldn’t import one I reckon.

      • Too true you could import one although I’ve seen nothing to declare you’ll probably never get it 😂

      • Apologies in advance but I am having a laughing fit imagining the scenario at Australian Customs…
        Hey Bruce…
        Ah yeah
        Look mate I found this square thing and it’s got a button on it..
        Ahh mate that’s not good aye!
        .na mate, definite quarantine, not seen one of these before, ya think it’s some kinda fruit.
        Could be mate. Ya tasted it yet?
        Well I did have a bit of a lick taste like plastic…
        Mate it’s a square banana, could introduce micro spores into our Eco system.
        Ya not wrong Bruce. 😂

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