5 things I wish I'd known before buying Philips Hue smart lighting

What Hue can and cannot do, and why buying your first Hue is like getting your first tattoo

Philips Hue filament light bulbs
(Image credit: Signify)

I've been using Philips Hue lighting for many years now, and it's one of my very favourite bits of tech: I rent my home so Hue enables me to redecorate with light instead of incurring the wrath of my landlord. And as our "Hue mistakes everyone makes" article points out, there's lots of stuff going on that you might not know about and lots of features you might really benefit from. 

If I were starting from scratch today, I'd still go with Hue. I think it's the best smart lighting (opens in new tab) ecosystem you can have. But there are five things I'd want to know before I bought a single Hue smart bulb.

1. You don't need to use the official app

The Hue app is very good – one of the best smart lighting apps I’ve ever used - but you’re not limited to it. There are some fun third party apps as well as some more geeky ones; I used the latter to get some early IKEA Tradfri bulbs to connect to my Hue Bridge. Speaking of which…

2. You don't need to buy the Hue Bridge

You can cut the cost of a Hue system by skipping buying a Bridge, which is the Hue lighting hub. The most recent Hue bulbs work over Bluetooth – there’s a label on the box so you can be sure when you’re buying – and don’t need to be connected to a dedicated Hue Bridge. However, there’s a big but: you need to use the Philips Hue Bluetooth app, not the normal Hue app, and you won’t be able to use some of the more advanced features that only the Bridge provides.

3. You can use other firms' smart bulbs

Hue uses the Zigbee Light Link protocol and that means you can connect non-Hue bulbs to a Hue system; I’ve got some IKEA bulbs in mine, because they’re so much cheaper than Hue’s white bulbs. However you can’t use most third party bulbs with the Hue entertainment features such as music syncing or TV sync via the Play box, and they can be a little fiddly to set up. 

4. You can't put Hue bulbs in everything

Hue has the biggest bulb selection of any smart lighting ecosystem, but there are still some omissions: if your home has halogen downlighters that predate the GU10 fittings, such as MR16 bulbs, there isn’t a direct Hue replacement. And for bathrooms, the only safe Hue lights are the ones with IP44 ratings.

5. Buying Hue is like getting a tattoo

Once you start, you won’t stop. I started with two Hue spotlights in my living room. Today I have three Hues in the hallway (it’s a long hallway), two Hues over my dining table, four Hues, a Hue Play Sync Box and a gradient lightstrip in the living room and a Hue in the bedroom. I had to stop myself from putting Hues in the kitchen, and if I weren’t renting I just know I’d have Hues outdoors too. Like tattoos, once you get Hue you don't see where the Hue lights are; you see where they aren't, and where you could put some more.

Writer, musician and broadcaster Carrie Marshall has been covering technology since 1998 and is particularly interested in how tech can help us live our best lives. Her CV is a who’s who of magazines, newspapers, websites and radio programmes ranging from T3, Techradar and MacFormat to the BBC, Sunday Post and People’s Friend. Carrie has written thirteen books, ghost-wrote two more and co-wrote another seven books and a Radio 2 documentary series. When she’s not scribbling, she’s the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR (havrmusic.com (opens in new tab)).