Starting out with Philips Hue Lights & Google Home

One of the best new features of Google Home is the ability to use it to control your smart home devices, like smart Philips Hue lighting.

For those who are still learning about this new device, Google Home is a smart speaker and digital assistant that can also be used to control a variety of gadgets in your home by simply asking. Google Home is controlled merely by saying, “OK Google,” followed by a command. Continue reading “Starting out with Philips Hue Lights & Google Home”

How to talk to Philips Hue & Google Home

We’ve been looking at just how easy it can be to run smart gadgets in your house using Google Home. Philips Hue lights are one of the compatible systems that work with Google Home allowing you to ‘talk’ to your smart Hue lights. Here’s exactly how to talk to your Google Home and Philips Hue bulbs. Continue reading “How to talk to Philips Hue & Google Home”

How to Reset Your WeMo, LIFX, Philips, Osram/Lightify Light Bulbs

I ran into a wee problem with one of my WeMo LED smart light bulbs.  It was easily cleared up with a reset, but it took me some surfing to find out how to do it.

That got me thinking, you might someday need to know how to do this yourself, and possibly for other bulbs.  So here’s a few smart light bulbs and how to reset them, with instructions from each manufacturer’s website. Continue reading “How to Reset Your WeMo, LIFX, Philips, Osram/Lightify Light Bulbs”

New Philips Hue lights & accessories review & how-to

img_6004As the days grow shorter, it’s a perfect opportunity to take a look around your home and assess whether your lighting can use an upgrade.

Philips has recently announced several new products and accessories in its smart lighting kit lineup called Hue.

I recently had a chance to test out some samples of these new lights and accessories. Regular readers, or viewers of the monthly CTV Tech Talk know I really like smart lighting for its versatility, colour changing abilities, ease-of-use, and low energy consumption. So anytime I have an opportunity to test new product, or see upgrades that have been made, I love to educate readers and viewers about what’s new, what they can expect, and if these gadgets work as they should in the home environment.

What’s new with Philips Hue

The new additions to the Philips Hue kit I tested included a motion sensor, LED adhesive strip lighting, and new more saturated coloured light bulbs. We’ll look at each piece of the kit, what makes it unique, different, or new and improved, and how well it works.

I should note right off the bat, that all of the accessories and lights in the Philips Hue kit require the use of the Philips Bridge to connect all the devices together, and  to connect your smart phone via your Wi-Fi network. A great way to join the smart lighting club is to purchase a starter kit, which comes with three bulbs and a bridge.

You will also need to the Philips Hue app, or other third-party app to control your lights and get the most from them (More on those below). With the Philips app you’ll be able to set timers and alarms, control colour changing, set scenes or moods, and group certain lights together to turn on or off in sync.

Philips Hue – Reviewing Lightstrip Plusimg_5897

Philips Hue Lightstrip plus is a flexible length of LED lighting. It will display both white or coloured light in just about any situation you could imagine. The light strip plus is completely bendable, so it can wrap around anything from a mirror frame, to a window, a headboard, or even your television.

For you feature geeks out there, the light strip plus emits 1600 lumens at 4200 Kelvin and uses AC power. Extensions to the kit are available but are sold separately.

I set up this light in a couple of ways. Though the light strip plus comes with an adhesive backing, I rigged up a temporary set up so I could move the lights from location to location in my home. I tested them under the kitchen cabinets, then underneath a sideboard in the dining room (there’s a photo at the top of the page). My final test was to wrap the light strip around our 50 inch TV in the media room.

The light strip is very versatile and easy to use with the Hue app. Though the app is not as intelligent or interesting as it could be, it works just great, allows you to use all the basic functions, and is very responsive. Several third-party apps add more fun and functionality to the Philips Hue kit, but the basic app works just fine.

I very much enjoyed having more available task lighting that I could place exactly where I needed it. I also really love the look of using it underneath a piece of furniture to create less harsh lighting in the room, and more of a soft ambient glow.

Try ambient lighting in your media room

I’ve done some reading which suggests ambient light around or behind your TV can help combat eye strain. I decided to try to add the Philips Hue Lightstrip plus to the edge of my 50″media room TV. Though the set up was only temporary and didn’t look very attractive, it’s easy to get the idea of how this would look in a permanent installation.

I played with several different settings of colour and brightness during a movie. The subtle back late was a nice change of pace from the normal stark blackness of my media room.img_5988

While there are special apps that claim to be able to adjust the colour of your lights to the program or movie you are watching, the Phillips Hue app itself does not do this. So while you can adjust the general ambient colour or brightness, you can’t customize the experience; not without paying for an extra app. This is something I’d like to try down the road, but for this review, that’s kind of secondary.

Bottom line; this light strip works well, has good strong colour saturation, is very versatile, and if you rig up temporary adhesive (like a 3M command strip) you can move it as you need to.

Philips Hue Motion Sensor 

img_5896The addition of a motion sensor was a big deal for Philips. The small 2-inch square motion detector is light and compact with an adhesive back. If you don’t want to install it permanently, you can tuck it nearly anywhere, from a counter, dresser, even on top of a painting or frame; wherever you need it to detect motion. The motion sensor is powered by two AA batteries, meaning it’s completely wire-free, and with regular use those batteries should keep the sensor powered for  two to three years.

It won’t blind you at midnight

The motion sensor adds a lot more versatility and new functions to the Hue lighting lineup. More than just turning the lights on and off, this device gives you many new options. For example, using the Hue app you can set the lights to come on at different strengths or colours depending on the time of day or night;  you can set a night light function, so if someone in the house wakes up in the middle of the night, and goes to the bathroom, the Philips Hue lights will turn on, but only dimly to light the way.

Motion detected instantly

The sensors have a great range, and can see about 100° in all directions. Indeed, I have the sensor in my dining room, with a direct line to a hallway about 18 feet away, and when I walk past, it’s still able to see me.  The lights fade on in less than a second; there’s really no lag from detected motion to lights-up.  I was actually quite impressed with the responsiveness.

New version Philips Hue bulbsimg_5997

While the Philips Hue kit is very easy to set up and use, if I had to find fault with one aspect of it up to now, it’s been that the light bulbs aren’t super colourful and aren’t as richly saturated as some other bulbs I’ve tried. (Namely Lifx and Osram WeMo).

That’s all changed now with the re-issue of new bulbs from the company. They look identical but it’s the guts inside that now produce deeper richer colours. I did notice that they do appear noticeably stronger and more saturated, allowing you to use them to decorate with light for holidays like Christmas, Halloween and Easter, or to just enjoy relaxing or invigorating colour scenes at home.

Philips has also added some new bulbs to the Hue line; the GU10, popular in Canada (for halogen fixtures) and the BR30 spot light.

I have lights… why do I need SMART lights?

It’s a fair question; why upgrade to (often more expensive) smart lights when you can get illumination the old fashioned  way? To answer that question, I present, “5 COOL things you can do with Philips Hue lights.”

  1.  Get your lights to flash when the doorbell rings. You’ll need a video or connected doorbell for this one, and the free IFTTT app. (What’s IFTTT? Read my explainer here) Using IFTTT, you create an ‘applet’ (formerly called a recipe) that tells your lights to flash when your doorbell, like the Ring Video Doorbell is pushed. In simplest terms, you allow IFTTT access to your doorbell and your Hue hub, and the app gets them to talk to eachother, even though they don’t normally work together.
  2. Get lights to change colour according to the weather. This is a feature I love.  Use IFTTT again to get your local weather info to send alerts to your light bulbs.  Have them come on bright orange when it’s going to be a scorcher, or turn blue for a snow day. Click here for my how-to.
  3. Turn on lights inside when motion is detected outside. Another applet function from our friends at IFTTT; use a dedicated connected motion detector, or camera like the on on the Ring doorbell, and then have it communicate with your lights. When it detects motion at your door, day or night, that action triggers the lights to turn on to make it seem as though someone is awake or at home. The applet can be found here.
  4. Sync a light show to music. If you have a connected speaker like Sonos, you can get it talking to your Hue lights. Get it to create you a light show that complements your music.
  5. Use a Hue go lamp to wake you with warm light:  Not new, but also worth mentioning as part of the Philips Hue kit is the Hue Go lamp  which I’ve written about previously; it’s actually the light I use to subtly wake me up at my 3am alarm time. Using the Philips Hue app, I have it set to slowly fade on about 15 minutes before my alarm goes off, to a soft sunrise pink-orange. By the time my alarm rings, the room is bathed in soft light for a gentle wakeup.

What would you do in your home with new smart lights and accessories? Let me know in comments below. The new Hue motion sensors sell for $39.95 (CDN or USD). The Light strip is $89, and the starter kit of bulbs is $179-$199. Check out the whole line here.What

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Philips Hue lights get wireless motion detection

Philips Hue Motion Sensor - Box ShotRegular readers know how much I love smart lights.  They give so much versatility to your home’s ambiance and colour.  The Philips Hue line is a popular kit that allows you to easily get started with adding smart LED lighting, timers, colours and more to your house.  Today, Philips has announced more smart functions are coming to its system, with the addition of a motion sensor for the Hue line.

Philips Hue line includes the Hue bulb starter kit, which can be placed into any regular light bulb socket, allowing lights to be controlled via a smartphone or tablet (or the wall switch). There’s also the Hue Go lamp  which I’ve written about previously; it’s actually the light I use to subtly wake me up at my 3am alarm time.

Philips Hue preview; hands-free motion detection

The new Philips Hue motion sensors were demonstrated for me in a private, advance Skype call.  Philips Hue Motion Sensor - Hallway & BedroomThe sensors work quickly, triggering the lights to come on in half a second in the live demonstrations I was shown. You can walk into a room, and instantly, any Philips connected lights will come on and allow you to see, without ever touching a switch, or digging for your smartphone.

“The Philips Hue motion sensor not only provides hands-free control but also helps deliver peace of mind. You can be guided safely throughout your home at night with lighting,” said Sridhar Kumaraswamy, Business Leader, Home Systems, Philips Lighting. “Plus, you no longer have to remind the kids to turn off the lights when leaving a room. The reliable detection the motion sensor provides when you exit supports this and also helps you be more energy efficient.”

Sensors know if it’s 2am; light adjusts accordingly

Philips Hue Motion Sensor - Use Case

Cleverly, these motion detectors also have a daylight sensor, which will adjust the level of light so that if you get up at 2am for a crying baby or to pee, the lights will only come on at a low level so you’re not getting blinded. Now that’s putting thought into your design.

Philips Hue motion sensors are battery powered; no cords!

The detectors are individually battery powered so you can stick them anywhere; wall mount them, leave them on a table, or tuck them on a shelf, or the top of the frame of a painting; you’ve got versatility.  With two AA batteries, Philips tells me in our call that the sensors will last about two to three years with ‘average use’ of a few times per day. The sensors are also said to have a great range, and can see about 100° in all directions. Hue Motion Sensor - AppI’m hopeful I’ll be able to test these out for myself later in the fall when the sensors become available.

Of course, what colour the lights come on, when, and how is all infinitely customizeable via the Hue app.

Philips enhances colour saturation in Hue line, adds new bulbs

Philips has also re-engineered its Hue line lights to have richer colours than before.  Where it was sometimes hard to achieve rich, true saturation, in the newest generation of lights, Philips tells me it’s now been able to achieve far better colour.    I hope to be able to compare the new colours (using the old bulbs/lights) in tests later this year.

Philips has also added new bulbs to the line; the GU10, popular in Canada (hallogen fixtures) and the BR30 spot light.

The new Hue motion sensors sell for $39.95 (CDN or USD) and will become available in October 2016.

 

Philips Hue Go Portable Smart Lamp Review

img_9001Regular readers will know I get way too happy about smart lighting. I particularly love coloured lights as I feel like you can totally change the look, feel and even decor of a room with colour, minus the paint brush!

So I was thrilled to get a test model of the new Philips Hue Go lamp. This lightweight package contains a large soup-bowl sized (and shaped) lamp with a bowl shaped base and flat front.

Portable colour and lightimg_8515

The lamp connects with a nice long AC cord for power but it also works off the cord, as the rechargeable lamp is also fully portable and lasts up to six hours on a charge. For the newbies you don’t even need the app to start playing with it; a small button on the bottom of the bowl allows you to cycle through a variety of light colours and effects while a small wedge keeps the lamp steady on its rounded bottom.

Get connected!

Getting the lamp set up on Wi-Fi was very easy. You just download the free app then “add new device”.  Once you do that the app will search for devices on the network and it automatically finds the Go lamp. Once it pairs you’re in business.

Different Powersimg_8457

The Hue Go lamp is a good size that can be easily hidden behind a price of furniture where you could keep it out of sight for various light effects, or you can leave it out on display. It’s very clean and unassuming looking, and the entire light fixture lights up, meaning it’s a beautiful lightning showpiece as well as a bright light source.

The Go lamp has the ability to transform; it will push out enough light to make it task worthy or you can dim it for a more subtle background effect.

Using the app you can adjust colour, brightness and intensity all at a touch.

Since it’s LED powered it doesn’t heat up at all, making it also great to use as a filler spotlight for, say, the bottom of your Christmas  tree (green!). I had fun using it in different situations, like as a lovely icy winter tablescape, on a side table for a red Christmas glow, and even turned up orange-red hot as a substitute for lighting the fireplace. The Hue Go light really goes anywhere.

Soothing wake-up light

img_8995A feature I just discovered on the lamp is the wake-up mode.  This setting will gradually increase the light intensity to give you the feeling you’re waking to gentle, natural daylight, which is much nicer than waking up to an alarm clock shouting at you.

Get the Bridge

You’ll need the compatible Philips bridge to get the light connected to Wi-Fi. As I noted above it will still work without it but the options are limited.

In short, I LOVE this light. It’s fun, easy to use and works perfectly. Get a Philips Hue Go lamp for $100 from BestBuy.ca

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What the Heck is IFTTT, and What Can it Do for ME?

ifttt logoMost of us have heard of “smart” home technology, and most of us know that means many new appliances and products from dishwashers to light bulbs will have some degree of automation.  While home automation is really handy, it’s limited by the software each manufacturer supplies with it.  Maybe you don’t want your lights to just turn off and on, you want them to come on at a low level of brightness to gently wake the kids instead.  Take it one step further; you want the lights to come on gently, and as they do, you want to coffee maker to turn on and start brewing your coffee, maybe even have the radio come on softly too. That’s where IFTTT technology comes in; it lets YOU decide exactly how your connected appliances, accessories and devices work by creating simple and easy to use shortcuts.

IFTTT Channels

What is IFTTT?

The acronym stands for “IF This Then That”.  Simply put it translates to, “IF I do This (your choice of activity), Then That (your selected result) happens automatically. IFTTT (pronounced to rhyme with ‘gift’) is actually a website where you go, create a free user account, and start automating your life.  Still not sure what it can do?  Let’s look at some examples, including what apps, products, and services work with IFTTT by clicking  HERE to read the full article on Future Shop’s Tech Blog!

Smart Home gadgets you NEED now

wemo houseThere’s so much we can do to get our homes running smarter.  There’s any number of products that will do things for you automatically, or examples where once inaccessible technology can now be yours at home. Everything from automating your lights, to remotely locking your doors, checking the weather on demand, or even testing your food for impurities… it’s all possible now inside your own home.

techtalksmart
Tech Talk on CTV News

 

I recently had a chance to run tests in my home of several “smart” gadgets, and we showed them off on CTV Morning Live (watch HERE).  Here’s a bit about each one, and some testing notes.

Wink Hub and Pheripherals

wink hubThe Wink hub is kind of like a nerve centre of home automation.  The hub connects to your home’s wifi, and drives the Wink app on your phone.  The app then allows you to control any number of add-on devices.  I did have some initial trouble getting the hub working, but Wink/Quirky was quick to replace what was likely a defective unit and I was up and running again quickly.  Once the hub and app were in sync, I was quickly able to set up GE Link light bulbs, which allo you to use your phone to turn the lights on and off and to dim them.  I tested the soft while light bulbs, which was great, but it would be even better if the LED bulbs had colour options like LIFX or Philips hue bulbs I’ve reviewed previously.  That said, you can actually run Philips hue bulbs on the wink hub, but you do still need the Philips hub or starter kit, so it’s kind of redundant.ge link bulb

I also tested the Quirky Pivot Power bar along with the Wink hub.  It’s a wifi-enabled power bar that allows you to turn some of the outlets on or off remotely.  The Pivot also curls and pivots (hence the name!) and allows you to plug in large size plugs or transformers with ease.

The Wink system has been easy to use and program, and one of the only downsides is the large size of the hub.  I also know some reviewers have had trouble with getting the system set up initially, as I did, but the Wink/Quirky customer service folks handled things very well.

WeMo Hub and Pheripherals by Belkin

wemo-img-overview-3By comparison to Wink, the WeMo hub is tiny; it fits in my palm.  This was by far the easiest set up I’ve had lately; the hub conected instantly and without trouble.  I set up WeMo light bulbs first and they too connected instantly.  I did have some confusion setting up the add-ons like the WeMo Insight switch, but I figured out after a few minutes that the WeMo app actually has 2 screens that look like the set-up screen.  I was using the wrong one.  Once I figured that out, and got into the right one, the plugs connected easily. Once everything is connected, you can use the WeMo app to set timers for lights, or your heater, fan, you name it.  I wake for work well before the sun is up, so being able to set the lights to slowly come on, or the fan to warm the room before I get out of bed is a treat. The WeMo system is available at Best Buy, Amazon.ca and Future Shop.

ILL_WeMo_Family_v3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lapka personal environment monitor

What’s a Personal environment monitor?  The Lapka kit contains 4 sensors which measure  radiation, electromagnetic fields, humidity and how organic your produce is.lapka It connects to your iPhone and the Lapka app and displays its readings on your phone.  I tested my home for radiation and electromagnetic  fields, and it came up fine.  I also used it to test some fruits in my pantry for the presence of nitrates (from fertilizer).  My biggest beef with the Lapka is that there’s not a lot of information either in the package or online about what you’re testing for, or why.  I felt like I needed an advanced degree to know what I was doing with the PEM.

Roolen Breath Smart Humidifier

I really love this product, both because it looks like the most futuristic humidifier you’ll ever see, and because it was easy to use, and ABSOLUTELY QUIET.  I have a humidifier at home and it’s so noisy we need to keep it on the other side of the house from the bedroom.  The Roolen is silent.  It emits a cool mist that humidifies your home and in “automatic” or smart mode, it will automatically shut off when your home hits optimal humidity. Simple, easy and smart.  A full tank will also last almost 18-24 hours, so it only needs filling once per day. You can get one in Canada on Amazon.ca

roolen breath
Roolen Breath Smart Humidifier

 

Netatmo Weather Station

netatmoThe Netatmo weather station is a neat idea for weather geeks.  One of its brushed aluminum cylinders sits unobtrusively in the home, the other goes outside, and you access their info via an app on your phone.  It measures temperature, of course, but also humidity, and noise levels indoors.  it’s also equipped to send weather alerts to your phone, but I found they didn’t work in Canada.  A neat idea for a gift if someone you know loves weather.  Add-ons include alternate temperature sensors and a rain gauge. You can read my full review of the Netatmo on Future Shop’s Tech Blog or get one on their website.

 

 

 

Review: LIFX Smart Light Bulbs

Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 8.51.24 AMOur homes are getting smarter; whether it’s a dishwasher that can self-diagnose problems, or small appliances that turn themselves off, or washing machines that can sense how full the machine is or how dirty the clothes are, or thermostats that learn our habits and adjust themselves accordingly, every year we’re gaining the ability to do more.  Once a novelty, smart light bulbs are popping up everywhere.

I tested a pair by LIFX, a US company that got its start on Kickstarter.   LIFX is a wifi enabled, multi-color, energy efficient LED light bulb that you can control with your smartphone. But why would you need to use your smartphone for a light bulb?  Well, wifi connectivity allow you to use your phone as a remote control, dimming or brightening light from where you sit, or even adjusting colour and hue.Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 8.20.42 AM
The bulbs arrive with just a tiny basic instruction booklet in a nice heavyweight box. All you need to do is download their free app and click on it to begin the set up process.   While they required minimal set up (just screw them in and turn them on) I did have some difficulty initially getting them started out of the box, since neither would connect to the app.  I hit google and the company’s website for solutions and found each bulb has a tiny reset button on it. I simply flipped the switch, and the bulbs connected almost instantly.  Once they were installed, the fun began.
Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 8.20.33 AMThe lights have a wide array of colors and brightnesses. For the basic ‘white’ light most of us use every day, there’s a host of variations;  on your smart phone there’s a dial which allows you to control whether you want a cool bluish light, or a warmer pinkish yellow light. In the house, in rooms like the bedroom and living room, I prefer a warm soft glow. Cold light to me, i.e. blue reminds me too much of the harsh fluorescent lights of the workplace, so I avoid it wherever possible. On each of the variations of the white setting, you also have the ability to brighten or dim the bulb from your smart phone. It’s very easy to control, and the color wheel setup in the app makes it easy to see what you’re getting or what else is available to change it to.
Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 8.20.21 AMI wasn’t certain I’d be using the colored bulbs settings, after all, who needs a red light bulb in their lamp? As it turns out, I did find several great uses for the various colors. On Halloween night, I dialed up a bright orange light in one of our lamps and set it in the front window. It was an instant signal to trick or treating children to come to our house for a candy bounty. Similarly, at Christmas time, I could definitely see using red or green settings in a lamp to create a festive atmosphere.

A sample of colours I used during my in-home tests.
A sample of colours I used during my in-home tests.

Now that Halloween is over, I find myself setting up a lavender color or warm orange or yellow, just to warm up the house as winter weather sets in. In the summer, I could see a cool blue or green giving off a nice refreshing vibe, on a hot summer night. I also really like the fact that there’s not just your standard red-orange-yellow-green-blue-purple range of colours; there is every shade and tone in between so you can find a colour that perfectly suits you and your moods.  So as far as colours go, I actually did find I used them frequently, which is not what I was expecting.

 

LIFX bulbs also work with a product I love and recently reviewed, the Nest thermostat. As soon as your Nest switches itself into Away mode, LIFX can make it look as if someone’s home by automatically turning on and off your lights throughout the house.  A feature LIFX says it’s adding with an app update is the ability to set timers for the bulb that will allow you to dim yourself to sleep, or wake up to a gently brightening light in the morning.

While these are likely not bulbs that will replace each and every light bulb in your home, in a few key fixtures such as lamps, or dining room lighting, they are perfect to give you variety and atmosphere. In the bedroom, or children’s rooms, they will also provide a nice ambiance, or a little more fun for kids.

LIFX says their bulbs are designed to last 40,000 hours, which if used at 4 hours per day is 27 years.  That’s a good thing, because the bulbs are not cheap.  Whereas traditional bulbs, or even compact fluorescents can be had  for  a dollar apiece or less, the LIFX cost $99 from the company’s web store.

I’ll be demonstrating these on an upcoming Tech Talk TV segment on CTV.  Watch for updates!