Philips Friends of Hue LightStrips review: Putting an accent light on smart LEDs

Connected, color-changing LED light bulbs aren't enough? How about a 6-foot-long strip of LEDs with the same features?

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Rich Brown
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Rich Brown

Executive Editor / Reviews - Home and Wellness

Rich moved his family from Brooklyn to Louisville, Kentucky, in 2013 to start CNET's Appliances and Smart Home review team, which includes the CNET Smart Home, the CNET Smart Apartment, and the Appliances Review lab. Before moving to Louisville, Rich ran CNET's desktop computer review section for 10 years. He has worked as a tech journalist since 1994, covering everything from 3D-printed guns to Z-Wave smart locks.

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Have you ever felt like your Flag Day lights were missing something? Perhaps your kickoff-timed lighting display still needs that fourth color from your team's second alternate European road trip jersey?

You can program the LightStrips (pin 4) to display one of 16.5 million colors.
7.0

Philips Friends of Hue LightStrips

The Good

<b>Philips Friends of Hue LightStrips</b> give creative lighting and home automation enthusiasts a programmable, flexible decorative lighting accessory.

The Bad

These tiny LEDs aren't as programmable out of the- box as they could be, which hurts given their high price tag.

The Bottom Line

Intended for owners of Philips Hue LED bulbs, these LightStrips, as frivolous as they are, succeed by opening up another connected lighting option.

Rather than expanding into the galaxy of home automation component devices, Philips is taking a focused approach with its Friends of Hue product line. Hue, of course, is Philips' connected LED light bulb line that debuted last year. The Friends of Hue, at the moment comprising two accessory products, so far stay rooted in the world of LED illumination.

Among Hue's new Friends are the Bloom LED spotlight, and these $89 LightStrips, an adhesive-backed strip of tiny, programmable, LED accent lights. Intended as a companion light to go with the Philips Hue Connected Bulb Starter Pack, the LightStrips require that kit, specifically the puck-shaped networking hub that comes with it, if you want to control and customize them through your mobile device and over the Web.

Thus not only do you need to be a Hue owner to use these lights to full effect, as a niche product within a niche product category LightStrips are really aimed at Hue owners who are also particularly committed to either decorative lighting or home automation. I can recommend them if you have either or both of those enthusiasms. Few others will find this product useful.

Interactivity is by far the main selling point of Philips' LightStrips. If all you want is unobtrusive under-cabinet lighting, you can find a strip of dumb LEDs that's twice as long as the 2-meter LightStrip kit for $69 at Home Depot.

The good news is that the LightStrips' interactivity works pretty well. Philips' Hue app, available for both iOS and Android, lets you tweak the LightStrips almost as much as you can customize Philips' core Connected Bulbs. You can dim the LightStrips, change their color, and set them to go off at certain times, or in response to certain triggers (such as your proximity to home, or an IFTTT recipe.). You can also create new LightStrips-dedicated lighting schemes (aka "Scenes") or integrate them into existing schemes that use other Hue light sources.

One thing you can't do is set the LightStrips to the standard white-yellow-blue shades we're used to from traditional home and utility lighting. The larger Hue bulbs do an outstanding job replicating those tones, but LightStrips are limited to only 16.5 million colors on the RGB scale.

I'd also like to see Philips push harder on LightStrips' programmability. IFTTT support and an open SDK allow for creative users to make their own triggers, and even their own mobile apps, but especially in the strip layout, a built-in chase function or other sequencing effects seem like a natural fit, and a missed opportunity.

You can program the LightStrips (pin 4) to display one of 16.5 million colors.
You can program the LightStrips (pin 4) to display one of 16.5 million colors. Screenshot by Rich Brown

Another minor LightStrips limitation is that you'll only find three tiny LEDs per cluster. Hue bulbs have 11 LEDs working in concert. That difference in LED count is likely a big reason why LightStrips have a more limited lighting palette, and also why they don't quite have the same luminosity rating as the Hue bulbs. You'll get 600 lumens from a Hue bulb at its maximum brightness, which is enough to light a small room. LightStrips will only output 120 lumens, making them more suited to lighting up a small area.

Beyond its lighting characteristics, Philips' LightStrips are a fairly self-explanatory product. The six-foot, 3M adhesive-backed strip comes with 12-feet of power cable. That gives you decent flexibility between the power outlet and the eventual installation point, but it also means you wind up with a lot of cord to hide. If you don't need all six feet of the LightStrip itself, you can physically trim it at fixed, four-inch intervals (with three LED clusters per four inches), although anything you cut off also separates from the power supply and control circuitry, and is thus unusable.

Conclusion
Given the growing flood of generalist home automation products, Philips is smart to extend its Hue line along the specific category of home lighting. If the standard Hue bulbs or other connected LEDs haven't already drawn you to the category, I don't suspect LightStrips will sway you either, but existing converts will certainly appreciate them.

If you already count yourself among the Hue faithful, Philips Hue LightStrips will give you yet another tool in your home lighting toolbox. They're an even larger novelty than the core Hue bulbs, with all the highs and lows that entails, and at $90, those lows won't sit so well. Given the likely enthusiast-level buyers, Philips could also have sweetened the deal by adding more advanced programming behaviors. Maybe it's secure in the knowledge that for adhesive-backed strips of color-changing, programmable LED lighting, these LightStrips are at present the only product of its kind. At least they work as advertised.

You can program the LightStrips (pin 4) to display one of 16.5 million colors.
7.0

Philips Friends of Hue LightStrips

Score Breakdown

Features 7Usability 7Design 7Performance 7