We review the new HomeKit-compatible Hue Bridge from Philips and see what it’s like to turn the lights down with Siri.
As its name implies, the Hue Bridge is the device that lets your phone communicate with Philips’s smart light bulbs.
The second generation of the Bridge doesn’t really do anything that the older one didn’t in that regard. The key difference this time round is the Hue Bridge is fully compatible with Apple’s HomeKit program and iOS 9. Here’s how we got on.
Philips Hue Bridge 2.0 and Apple HomeKit: What’s the big deal?
Quick refresher; HomeKit is designed to let you control multiple smart home appliances using iOS features like Siri and TouchID. Like IFTTT (If This Then That), it’ll let you unify products from competing platforms and control them at the same time.
Manufacturers who are on board with HomeKit include smart thermostat manufacturers Honeywell and Netatmo and lock makers Kwikset, so conceivably, you’ll be able to get Siri to open the front door, crank the heating up to 24 degrees and make the lights go green in one go.
In this review, we’ll just be looking at how HomeKit works with Philips Hue lights. We’ll provide a more comprehensive review of HomeKit in due course, once we’ve been able to review more HomeKit-certified gear.
Philips Hue Bridge 2.0 set-up: Plug and playtime
Setting up the Hue Bridge 2.0 is simple. Once it’s plugged in to the mains and your router, download and open the Hue app from iTunes App Store or Google Play.
Once the app’s open, you’ll be prompted to push the circular button on the top of the Bridge. This initiates the pairing process and lets your phone and the Bridge communicate over WiFi.
When that’s over, you’re free to start messing around with all the lights the Bridge is able to talk to.
The Hue app lets you rename the lights as they appear on your system. They show up in the app as ‘Hue color light X’ to begin with, but thankfully, you can rename them things like ‘Kitchen’, ‘Bedroom’ or ‘Living Room’ if you wish. Or whatever you want really.
As well as toggling individual lights, the Hue app also lets you action scenes – combinations of different colours that blend together to create specific effects, something Philips calls ‘light recipes’.
These include things like ‘Deep Sea’ and ‘Sunset’ which are mixtures of deep, relaxing blues and bright oranges, designed to mimic calming marine colours and evening shades respectively. You can mess around with these configurations by dragging dropper-shaped icons representing each bulb across a picture.
Click the thumbnals below for a better idea of how the Hue scenes look.
You can opt to pick from Philips’s own gallery of backgrounds or upload your own from the photo gallery. You can even take a picture from within the app itself, as we’ve done here, allowing us to recreate the mis-en-scene of our messy, unkempt office for those days when we’re working from home.
The Bridge uses the ZigBee Light Link protocol 1.0 which uses the 868MHz radio frequency. In practical terms, Philips says this means it’ll be able to control Hue bulbs up to 70 metres away.
You’ll be able to control up to 50 light bulbs from one Bridge, which we’re sure is more than enough for most households. Philips sent us three bulbs to play with in the review kit, which is how many you’ll get with the £150 Hue starter kit. Individual colour Hue bulbs cost an extra £50.
While this might seem pricey, remember that most folks don’t even need 50 regular light bulbs. If you’re the kind of person who really does need 50 smart bulbs, then you can probably afford that additional £2,350.
That’s the Hue experience in a nutshell – check out our Philips Hue tips ‘n tricks feature from last year for more ideas.
If you’ve got an iOS device and you’re keen to make use of those voice commands, you’ll now be ready to set up Siri voice commands. Here’s where things got a little tricky.
Apple HomeKit: Keychain of fools
As we mentioned earlier, the new Bridge is designed to sync with iDevices that’ve upgraded to iOS 9.0. This unlocks the ability to use voice assistant Siri to turn the lights on and off, dim them, make them change colour, etc.
Unfortunately, we ran into problems clearing an early hurdle of the set-up process, due to an issue with iCloud Keychain.
Before we could begin setting up Siri voice control on the Philips Hue app, we had to go through the labourious process of making sure that iCloud Keychain is turned on on every device with the same iCloud account. Even if it’s an iPad which, let’s be honest, isn’t terribly practical when it comes to Siri-ing things, you’ve still got to have that turned on.
There’s a good, sensible security reason for this – you can invite others you live with to take control of your HomeKit gear, provided they’ve got an iCloud account and an up to date device.
But as anyone who has needed to make use of iCloud Keychain in the past will know, getting this set up can be about as fun as shaving with broken glass and garotte wire. If those magical verification code-bearing text messages don’t appear (which they sometimes don’t, even with a full four bars of signal), then you’re in for a spell of tedious, HomeKit-less limbo.
We spent hours trying to get this working on an iPhone 5C we were using to test this out with no luck. In the end, we opted for the tried and tested IT Crowd solution – we backed up and factory reset the phone, in order to set everything up from scratch. Guess what happened when we hit ‘Keychain On’ in the Settings? We instantly got the code sent to our main phone number.
We should make it clear that this is an Apple problem, not a Philips problem. We appreciate the lengths required to safeguard stuff like passwords – something which people like Clare Foges, former speechwriter for David Cameron, probably don’t – but that doesn’t make it any less of a pain when you’ve got to wait for text messages and passcodes to not show up.
If you’re lucky enough not to run into any Keychain-related nonsense, here’s how the rest of it should work…
Philips Hue Bridge 2.0 voice controls: Let’s get Siri-ous
Every HomeKit-approved peripheral will have an eight digit code stamped somewhere about its person.
In the case of the Hue Bridge 2.0, it’s on the back, but another can also be found in the box, for future reference should you decide to mount your Bridge on a wall.
In the Hue app for iOS, you’ve got the option of entering this code manually, or using the camera to scan it. Once the app has received the code, it’ll take a few minutes before you’ll be able to start barking commands at your iPhone. Now for the fun part.
We’re very impressed with Siri’s vocabulary. On command, it would make all of the Hue lights shine simple colours like red, green and blue but it would also confidently handle less usual requests for chartreuse, ultramarine and auburn. Where it couldn’t make the lights glow vermilion, gold or magenta it’d give us the next best thing (‘cinnabar’, ‘school bus yellow’ and ‘fuschia’).
As well as being able to get our trio of Hue bulbs shine the same colour, you can also program Siri to remember certain light recipes. We had limited success here. Siri best responds when you say ‘Turn on the X scene’, and it helps if you speak with extra clarity. This reviewer’s rhotic brogue fell on deaf ears on more than one occasion.
You’re also able to control individual lights with voice commands. Before, we said that you can name the Hue bulbs things like ‘Living Room’ and so on. Ingeniously, Siri recognises such words and will come back at you with phrases like ‘OK, the Kitchen is turned off.’
Even better, Siri’s vocabulary has been expanded to cover some, shall we say, non-standard room types. Real-life Christian Greys and Wanda von Dunajews might like to know that Siri recognises the word ‘Dungeon’, amongst other things.
However your home is set up, once you’ve named your lights and saved your scenes, you’ll need to sync everything with Siri in order for it to understand that you’ve labelled X as Y.
This is easy to do; In the Siri voice control menu, under Settings, there’s two tabs for lights and scenes. The app will tell you what’s been synced to the cloud and what hasn’t.
Philips Hue Bridge 2.0 Prices: O.G. Bridge owners can get a discount
Philips is bunging the Hue Bridge 2.0 in as part of a starter kit including three Hue bulbs for £150, or on it’s own for £95.
If you’ve already got one of the old first gen Hue Bridges, then you can take advantage of an upgrade programme which sees Philips knocking 33 per cent off of the regular price. This promotion is only running until the end of 2015, so if you want to save some cash, open up your wallet now.
Philips Hue Bridge 2.0: Verdict
The second generation of Philip’s Hue Bridge is easy to set up and the Siri integration makes it a must-have for those with up to date iPhones.
As we’ve been unable to test this out with other HomeKit devices, it’s impossible for us to say how well this works in the grand scheme of (the Internet of) things. Similarly, we’re unable to report on how well this might work with other platforms like Samsung’s SmartThings and Google’s Brillo and Weave. In the meantime, there’s always IFTTT recipes to play with.
If you’ve got an Android device, there seems little point in upgrading or shelling out for the new model right now, unless Philips widens the scope for Hue to work with other IoT platforms in the future – by which point the Hue Bridge 2.0 will hopefully have dropped in price.