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Philips Hue Outdoor Sensor review: Trigger Hue lights and HomeKit gadgets with this $50 sensor

The Good Hue's Outdoor Sensor works with Apple HomeKit, and it's actually three sensors in one -- motion, temperature and ambient light. The app's sensitivity controls are the best I've seen for a device like this, with accurate real-time feedback that makes it easy to calibrate.

The Bad The Hue app doesn't currently do anything with those temperature readings, and it forces you to go into the settings to see any information about the sensor at all. Also, our lights didn't always jump to the correct scene when motion was detected.

The Bottom Line This accessory is a decent and reasonably priced add-on for existing Philips Hue households -- especially if you're interested in Hue's new lineup of outdoor lights.

8.1 Overall
  • Features 8.5
  • Usability 8
  • Design 8
  • Performance 7.5

An outdoor motion sensor from Philips Hue seemed all but inevitable last year after the smart lighting mainstay introduced a new lineup of lights for the exterior of your house -- none of which feature built-in motion sensors of their own. Then, at CES in January, there it was -- a weatherized, battery-powered outdoor sensor from Philips Hue, and one that doesn't just track motion, but also temperature and ambient light.

Available now, the Philips Hue Outdoor Sensor costs $50. Like everything else in the Hue catalog, it uses a wireless Zigbee radio signal to connect to the Hue Bridge, which you'll need to keep plugged into your router. Mount the sensor outside your home and its all-seeing eye can trigger your lights whenever something passes by. It worked well when I tested it out, and adds enough to the existing Hue experience to make it a worthy pickup for folks who've already bought into the ecosystem -- especially if you're interested in what Hue is up to with outdoor lighting (and if you aren't, remember that there's an indoor Philips Hue motion sensor that costs a little less).

Hue's sensitive side

You can trigger up to three groups of lights at once with Hue's Outdoor Sensor, complete with separate settings for how the lights should behave during daytime and nighttime hours.

Screenshots by Ry Crist/CNET

Motion-activated lights are nothing new, mind you -- and if that's all you want for your porch, you'll find plenty of non-smart options at your local hardware store that cost a lot less. Upcoming outdoor smart lights from Ring look like they'll be better bargain picks, too, with a variety of low-cost lights that feature built-in motion sensors of their own.

What Hue adds to the equation is the ability to trigger up to 3 groups of lights at once, complete with in-app controls for how the lights should behave. Doing so is easy enough -- just tell the app what scene you'd like your lights to jump to whenever motion is detected, what scene they should return to once motion is stopped, and how long after motion stops before that happens.

There may still be some quirks with those scene controls, though -- during one batch of tests at the CNET Smart Home, I set the front yard lights to turn on to an icy blue, "arctic aurora" scene whenever motion was detected. Instead, they turned on to the default soft white, even after multiple attempts. I tried switching the automation to a different scene -- the hot white "Energize" setting -- but still, the lights would turn on to a yellowy soft white.

Interestingly, during those Energize tests, the lights would initially turn on at the correct bluish-white setting -- but only for a split second before switching to soft white. You can see what I mean in that Twitter video I embedded above of an otherwise successful test.

Aside from that, the sensor worked really well in my tests. Setup was easy (just press a button on the back of the device, then add it in the Hue app), and mounting only involved drilling a single screw into place. I didn't notice any odd false positives, and most importantly, it always turned the lights on when it was supposed to.

Also nice: I could notice the difference as I adjusted the motion sensitivity up and down, but even at the lowest setting, it would still catch me creeping past. That's a good thing -- you want to be able to dial it down to minimize false positives without compromising its ability to spot people.

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