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Wednesday, July 23, 2014, 08:42 pm PT (11:42 pm ET)

Review: Philips Hue Tap reimagines the light switch

Philips recently introduced its first physical control accessory for the Hue Wireless Lighting system in Hue Tap, a battery-less four-button switch that connects directly to a Hue bridge for control of bulbs, light strips and more.




Everything old is new again. With the Hue Tap, Philips breaks out Hue system lighting controls to the physical world, offering independent control over the Hue Wireless Lightbulb and accompanying Friends of Hue accessory lineup in a sort of reimagining of the light switch.

Design



For $60, Philips' Tap does not exude the same level of fit and finish quality seen with the company's equally-priced Hue Lightbulbs. Where the bulb is weighty thanks to an aluminum and glass construction, the Tap feels unsubstantial with an exterior made from plastic composite.




Luckily, the internal mechanism, which is compatible with the ZigBee Green Protocol and does not require a batteries, is easy to operate and feels like it can withstand years of operation. Not quite spongy, the buttons offer an appropriate level of feedback when depressed and quickly spring back into position when released.

Tap features four buttons, each labeled with a symbol denoting buttons one, two, three and four. The large central button, labeled with a single dot, also serves as the kinetic power generator and is "clicked" with every button press. In other words, the smaller buttons are cantilevered atop button one's actuator so that it is activated each time Tap is used.

In our tests, we did notice presses near the edge of button one, as well as hard presses on buttons two and four, would sometimes cause the actuator to wedge itself against the surrounding silver bezel. Internal spring strength or a tap on the unit's bezel would ultimately pop the main button back into a resting position, though for $60, the design could be better.

Setup



Like other Hue products, the Tap is a breeze to install and set up with Philips' ZigBee-compatible hub. Tap's mount can be stuck to a wall via two integrated sticky strips, while the button-carrying portion is removable for remote control operation.




Pairing with our control hub was also easy. Following the in-app instructions, we performed a "push and hold" gesture on button three until the device was recognized by the app, then assigned control schemes to each button. The Tap is not an on/off toggle, meaning at least one button must assigned to turn off lights.

By default, the large central button — button one — is assigned to power down a bulb, a set of bulbs and accessories, or an entire system. Users must go through the app to select which lights to power down. Since in-app scene editing allows users to turn on and tune specific bulbs and other accessories, the option is not duplicated in Tap's configuration menu.




Performance



For a kinetically-powered device, Tap can operate at surprisingly long distances. On the box, Philips rates connections up to 30 meters, or about 100 feet, and testing revealed equivalent performance even through walls.



In the Philips Hue app, users can preset button functions, or more accurately, the app configures the hub to recognize incoming Tap signals and output the appropriate controls to connected lights. The solution is seamless and allows operation even without a nearby iPhone.

Tap can choose from four scenes, one slaved to each button. In configuring our unit, we set up the three small buttons to our favorite scenes, two of which include multi-color light mixtures, while the main central button was left as an off switch.




Switching between scenes works as expected, though we noticed flipping between selections did not always produce the usual "fade in, fade out" effect seen with the app. The same can be said for switching lights off; the bulbs don't fade to black, but simply turn off.

The three small "on" buttons are concave, setting them apart from the substantially convex curvature of the central button for nighttime use.

One of the benefits of having dedicated hardware is app independence. For households with two or more people, there may be one or two who don't have an iPhone or dislike constantly opening the Hue app to turn lights on and off. With Tap, everyone can change up light scenes and, most importantly, turn off the system without a phone.

Conclusion



Tap breaks out control from the Hue iPhone app into the real world, but the hardware is somewhat limited. With one button slaved to power-off the system, that leaves only three scenes from which to choose. For many, the selection is more than enough, but may be inadequate for those who like to experiment with different lighting moods.




For users already invested in the Hue system, however, the Tap does come in handy. For users with two or three favorite scenes, the accessory is great.

Instead of pulling out an iPhone or relying on geo-fencing and timed automation to turn a set of lights on or off, users can simply press a button. Another plus is kinetic powering, meaning the Tap isn't a battery hog.

If you're looking to control on/off operation, Tap may be a bit pricey, though it does prevent Hue from resetting to a bulb's default warm setting every time the power is cycled.

Overall, Hue Tap is a decent addition to Philips' growing lineup, keeping quick controls at the ready, while leaving customization to the iPhone. With its limited functionality and high price tag, however, Tap is serving a niche audience.

Score: 3.5 out of 5





Pros



  • Fast button response time
  • Unassuming design
  • Kinetic power means no batteries to replace


Cons



  • Limited to three scenes and "lights off"
  • Button one sometimes sticks
  • Expensive


Pricing and Availability



Philips' Hue Tap is now available in U.S. Apple Stores for $59.95.