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Philips Hue Tap review: A finger-powered addition to the Philips Hue family

Battery, schmattery -- the Philips Hue Tap draws power from your fingertips. And now, it works with HomeKit, too.

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Ry Crist
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Ry Crist

Senior Editor / Reviews - Appliances

Originally hailing from Troy, Ohio, Ry Crist is a text-based adventure connoisseur, a lover of terrible movies and an enthusiastic yet mediocre cook. A CNET editor since 2013, Ry's beats include smart home tech, lighting, appliances, and home networking.

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Editors' note, Aug. 8, 2018: In late 2017, Philips added HomeKit support for the Tap, which lets you use it to trigger any other device or scene that works with Apple's smart home platform. The price is also now $50. The overall score has risen from 8.2 to 8.5 as a result, and you can read more about how the Tap has only gotten better with age here. The original review from 2014 continues below in its entirety.

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8.5

Philips Hue Tap

The Good

The easy-to-use Philips Hue Tap brings practical convenience to existing smart lighting setups. Its wireless, kinetic-powered design needs no battery or electricity, which is beyond cool.

The Bad

The buttons require a little too much oomph in order to trigger your lights. Also, the lack of IFTTT integration seems like a huge missed opportunity.

The Bottom Line

We wish it cost a little less, but if you've already got Philips Hue LEDs or HomeKit gadgets in your home, then adding the Tap to your setup makes a lot of sense.

Color-changing smart bulbs are bundles of fun, but it isn't always practical to fish your phone out of your pocket in order to control them. Therein lies the appeal of the newest Philips Hue accessory, the Hue Tap. Stick it up on the wall next to the light switch, carry it around in your pocket or leave it sitting out with its remote-control brethren on the coffee table -- wherever it is, you'll be able to toggle your smart lights at the push of one its four buttons, no phone necessary. It also draws kinetic energy each time you use it, so there aren't any batteries or wires to worry about.

That sort of practicality makes abundant sense in complement to the clear novelty of a Philips Hue setup, and the Tap's kinetic-powered design adds in a unique cool factor of its own. At $60 in the US and £50 in the UK, the Tap is pricier than I'd like, but I still think it makes plenty of sense for anyone who's already using Hue LEDs in the home.

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Colin West McDonald/CNET

Design and features

Designwise, the Hue Tap fits in well with the established white-and-gray Philips aesthetic. The round, minimalist build lends a little futurism to the Tap's look, which might help it blend in especially well in homes featuring modern decor. It would probably stick out amid more classic furnishings, though.

The plastic-bodied Tap is also surprisingly light, weighing less than 2.5 ounces (70 grams). That might sound flimsy for such a relatively expensive controller, but it's largely a product of that kinetic powering mechanism. Lose the batteries, and you lose most of the bulk, too.

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Colin West McDonald/CNET

The Hue Tap comes with a backing that you can mount on the wall using screws or sticky tape. The Tap itself snaps into place, then twists back off whenever you want. That's a cool design touch, as it gives the Tap a permanent resting place, but still lets you grab it and go.

The Tap has three small buttons on its face, which is a large, fourth button in its own right. Because of the kinetic-powered design, you need to press the small buttons hard enough to depress the large button, too. This requires more than a mere tap, and takes a little getting used to.

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Adding and customizing a Hue Tap is easy to do.

Screenshots by Ry Crist/CNET

Within the Hue app, available for Android and iOS devices, you'll be able to add as many Taps as you like, then customize what each button on each one does. A button can turn a single bulb on, or it can control multiple bulbs at once. If you're using multiple Taps, you can set each one to control different sets of lights, which is a nice feature if you've got an elaborate, multiroom smart-lighting setup.

One key feature is absent, though, and that's integration with IFTTT, the popular automation service that lets you connect things like Web services, social networks and smart-home gadgetry using "If This, Then That"-style recipes. Philips Hue LEDs were among the first connected devices to offer IFTTT integration, letting users connect their LEDs with other home automation systems, or automate their home lighting based on triggers like weather alerts or how close they were to home.

Connect with these 35 IFTTT-friendly smart devices (pictures)

See all photos

The Hue Tap offers no such integration, which is both a surprise and a shame. The ability to use one of those four buttons as a dedicated "IFTTT button" capable of triggering whatever recipe you want would have been especially welcome, and would have potentially made the Tap exponentially more useful.

The Belkin WeMo Light Switch already figured this out, and offers its users the option to trigger IFTTT recipes with a single long press. That's a nice feature for automation enthusiasts looking to shut off their lights, power off their electronics and lock their doors all at once with a touch of a single button before bed.

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Colin West McDonald/CNET

Performance and usability

All things considered, the Philips Hue Tap is a very simple device. You press a button, the lights change. In my tests, it was easy to add a Tap to an existing Philips Hue setup, the button presses always did what I expected them to do and the range seemed perfectly decent, too.

This sort of simplicity works in the Tap's favor, as its ease of use ends up applying to your entire lighting setup. For instance, let's say you had a customized lighting scene for your weekly movie night. Before, you'd need to fiddle with your phone in order to trigger it, but with the Tap, it's just one button press away.

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Those buttons aren't as tappable as you might think.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

Still, the name "Tap" might be a bit misleading, as those small buttons require you to press them down a good ways before they'll activate. With a light tap, they'll offer a misleading click, but nothing will happen. You'll need to mash further and depress the large button that sits underneath before your lights will change.

This definitely takes some getting used to, but it isn't a horrible inconvenience by any stretch. What's more, since it's the trade-off for that cool, kinetic-powered design, I think Philips more or less gets a pass here. Between battery and button woes, the latter seem less annoying to me.

Meet the finger-powered Philips Hue Tap (pictures)

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Another tiny qualm is that the buttons only go one way. If I use button three to turn my Hue lights on, pressing it again won't turn them back off. Similarly, if a button turns my lights blue, pressing it again won't turn them back to whatever they were before. That sort of customizability would have been interesting, and might make a good optional feature in a future Tap firmware update.

Still, it's easy enough just to assign one button as the off button, and by default, Philips does exactly that with the large, full-face button. Of course, you can customize all of the buttons to do whatever you like, but as a go-to off button, it does the job well.

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Colin West McDonald/CNET

Conclusion

The Philips Hue ecosystem has long been in need of physical controls, and the Hue Tap plays the part quite well. If you've already bought Hue LEDs and you've been waiting for something like this that's capable of controlling them, then picking a Tap up for your home is pretty much a no-brainer.

For those of us that haven't yet pulled the trigger on a Philips Hue Starter Kit , I think the Tap might make the system seem more accessible. Philips will likely need to lower the price before it sees much movement, however, or perhaps offer a kit that has the Tap bundled in. As tempting a novelty as color-changing smart lighting can be, many consumers are simply unwilling to spend $200 on a system like Hue. Adding a $60 [now $50] accessory into the mix won't change that, even an accessory that works as well as the Tap does.

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8.5

Philips Hue Tap

Score Breakdown

Features 8Usability 9Design 8Performance 9