I first began seriously considering purchasing a smart home device last Halloween and wrote about it here. At the end of my review of all the various Alexa capable devices, my conclusion was clear. Yes, I do want one of these. But, it didn’t happen then or anytime soon. One tiny thing stopped me from making the leap. Alexa and the Echos are not Apple products. Well, duh. But, my house is so ensconced in the Apple ecosystem that I was seriously concerned about this Amazon interloper’s ability to fit in. As I suspected, the Echo does not play nice with an Apple Music subscription. I am really happy with that service and consider it’s inclusion essential to whichever smart home option I choose.
But please, don’t let my fierce loyalty to the house that Steve Jobs built keep you from embracing Alexa and all her charms. I believe that both sets of products and their corresponding services are quite comparable. As a matter of fact, Amazon comes out ahead in several key areas. The biggest reason to go with an Amazon Echo or similar, is definitely the price. As of today, the Apple HomePod is selling for a robust $349. The Echo plus which is it’s equal in nearly every single way, can be had for roughly one third that price. Amazon also offers several alternatives in products to help extend it’s reach into every room of your house or apartment. Chief among them are the incredibly affordable Echo Dot, and the video enabled Echo Show (pictured). Right now if you want to extend Siri’s reach with Apple, you must buy multiple HomePods. This could get pretty expensive and of course, there are no options for video playback at this time. The method of summoning the power of each device could be a positive for either, depending upon your own perspective. I actually believe Siri wins this battle. You have to say “Hey Siri” in order to have her listen to your request. In contrast, you need only say “Alexa” to bring the Amazon devices to life. I think the added word helps keep unwanted actions from occurring by mistake. On the other hand, just saying the name does make it seem like you are dealing with a true “personal assistant”.
Enough about the smart home hub options. What I really want to talk about are the lights. When I first bought the HomePod, it was with the idea of using it strictly for music. I was pretty intimidated by all the lighting choices, plugs, and door lock options. I figured I would just live with the main device for awhile and not jump into anything right away. You know, maybe check out some reviews to see what works well and what is most compatible with my system. That didn’t last long. Less than one full day later, I changed my mind and decided to give the Philips Hue light bulbs a shot. There was just so much written about how great they work. So many features and so many things seemed possible, that trying out a couple bulbs sounded like a no-brainer.
To get my feet wet, I started out with this set of two regular lightbulbs with the included Philips bridge. Once you have a bridge, you can add up to 50 light bulbs to your system. All of these bulbs can be controlled via your chosen smart device, by Siri and Alexa, or simply by using the Philips Hue app. You have the ability to turn the bulbs on or off, individually or as a group. Additionally, you have the option to dim each of them without needing a dimmer switch installed. The particular bulbs I’ve mentioned above, have the added benefit of giving you fifty thousand shades of white and sixteen million colors to choose from!
More on the colors in a bit, but please note that there are three different types of Philips Hue lights (aside from the shapes and bulb sizes). They have white, white ambiance and white & color ambiance. I made the mistake of getting a pack of regular white for my dining room. I did not understand the distinction of white versus white ambiance at the time. These bulbs are fine if you merely want to turn them off and on and dim them using the app or smart device. However, you can not adjust the particular quality or shade of the white light. If you want to do that with Philips bulbs, the key word to look for when buying them is “ambiance”.
Okay, so why do we want to adjust the shade of white light? It all depends on what you are doing in the room at that particular time.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have your lighting conducive to different activities in the same space at different times without changing out the light bulbs every single time? If you want to have a softer light for reading or watching tv, you can do that. If you are done with that and now want to concentrate and see more detail in the room, make the light whiter or possibly closer to the blue spectrum. Not sure what type of lighting is right for what you want to do? Select the option for “recipes” and you’ll find automatic settings for: relax, read, concentrate, energize, bright, dimmed and nightlight. Each of these change the shade of white light and also the dimmer level as necessary. Another great feature is you can add your own favorite settings too.
How about those sixteen million colors though? It’s really impressive and lots of fun, but good luck distinguishing each specific color. 😂 The first thing I wanted to do using the color ambiance bulbs was set a really cool mood for watching movies. I’ve seen some pretty amazing home theater setups that have blue or red lighting projected out from behind the TV (you can do that too with Philips) and wanted to do something similar. I prefer blue for my background and even programmed a “scene” for the desired effect. I can now just say, “hey Siri, let’s watch a movie” and like magic my living room lights go blue and all others nearby are turned off.
You have several more options in the Philips Hue app under “Recipes” when you are using one of these white & color ambiance bulbs too. This is especially nice when you combine several bulbs in one room and select one of the available color themes.
For example, select “Arctic Aurora” and the room is bathed in pleasant hues of blue and green. Tropical twilight will give you orange and blue to simulate a beautiful Caribbean sunset. And, the more bulbs you have in the room, the cooler the effect will be. With these too, you have the option to create your own recipes based on whatever your current settings may be. In addition, you can select any photo you have on your phone or tablet and the app will come up with a matching color scheme. My favorite so far, is what it created based on a picture of an M&M cake I had in my camera roll. With this many colors, the options are limitless.
The real fun though, begins when you add some of the additional Hue lighting apps. With Hue Disco, the lights that you select will change colors, brightness and even flash to go along with whatever music you are listening to. My daughters absolutely love this one. I’m sure you’d love it too at your next house party.
My personal favorite is the thunderstorm app. With it, the lights flash and change so as to simulate an actual storm. The effects are astonishing when combined with the sound of rain and thunder emanating from you phone, tablet or connected speaker. On a related note, is the simulated fireworks display. The dynamic light show, paired with booming sound is quite realistic. So much so, that it made my youngest child cry the first time we tried it out using the HomePod for sound…oops.
On the opposite end of the spectrum from those, is the Hue Body & Soul app. It provides you with soothing music and calm, comfortable lighting to help you relax. It seriously helped me get through a very stressful time in my life. My go to selection is the “lonely desert” that adds a gently crackling fire to the reddish tones which surround you.
At my house, the lights we already had were so helpful and so much fun that we ended up adding recessed lighting to nearly every single room. All of these new fixtures have either the white ambiance flood light bulbs or the White and Color Ambiance floods installed. We have the outdoor flood lights on our deck and front porch set to automatically turn on and off based on sunrise and sunset. We have settings for turning certain lights on at different time while we are away. We use some of them for night lights and some of them for spotlights. When Christmas comes, we’ll change the lights in our “tree room” to alternating green and red to enhance the holiday spirit. Our humble little house has suddenly become one of the smartest around.
Now, who can tell me what to do with all these dumb bulbs?
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