Smart plugs go into a wall outlet and devices are plugged into them, and you can then turn the plugged-in device on or off.
Philips Hue, on the other hand, is a brand of smart lighting products.
They seem like they are completely different, so why are so many people interested in whether a smart plug is compatible with Hue or not?
There’s a range of choice of Hue-compatible smart plugs out there, from the Innr Zigbee Plug to Hibro’s and Hue’s own brand one. They connect to standard (‘dumb’) plug-in lamps and allow you to import them into the Hue app for smart automation, with some caveats.
A brief recap on smart plugs and Philips Hue
Before I dive into this article and explain why it’s worth buying Hue compatible smart plugs, I wanted to briefly back-up recap what these two products do.
Instead of plugging an electrical device straight into your wall outlet, you can instead plug a smart plug into the outlet – and then plug your device into this. You can then download the smart plug’s app, and turn the device on/off wherever you are. This is useful for turning a slow cooker on in work, disabling the internet (by turning the router off) at meal times, and a whole lot more. You can also usually integrate the smart plug into Alexa or Google Assistant routines, allowing you to start automating your smart home.
Philips Hue is a range of smart lighting owned by Signify (previously owned by Philips Lighting). They sell dozens of different lights and bulbs, and some pump out just white light, whilst others can produce 16 million different colors. You can control your Hue lights in the Hue app, along with via Alexa and Google Assistant integration. You can also setup light routines (where groups of lights will change color/turn on/dim at the same time), along with adding third party features via the Hue Labs which can sync up with music, simulate Star Wars battles, and a whole lot more.
Why to buy Hue-compatible smart plugs
Since they’re fairly different products, the inevitable question is why would people want to buy smart plugs that can sync up with Hue’s system? Well, the answer is that Hue bulbs aren’t cheap, and sometimes you won’t want to change an existing dumb light (i.e. one that isn’t smart) to be a Hue light.
Heck, whilst Hue has a wide range of bulb types for sale, they might not even produce a bulb for some of your lights. This can especially be true of older table, side and floor lamps.
This could mean that most of your house has smart lighting, but a few plug-in lamps aren’t smart. This is inconvenient because you can’t then setup light routines which control an entire room or your whole house, because those darned dumb lamps will still be on (or off) irrespective of your smart light routines.
The solution is therefore to purchase a smart plug that ‘speaks the same language’ as your Hue Bridge. By this, I mean that most smart plugs work by ‘speaking’ over WiFi (i.e. they connect to your router wirelessly). Some smart plugs ‘speak’ Bluetooth instead.
But your Hue Bridge ‘speaks’ ZigBee, a less well-known smart home protocol, but one which is perfect for how Hue bulbs work. In other words, if you find a smart plug that also ‘speaks’ ZigBee, you can integrate this with your Hue Bridge and allow the plugged-in device (such as your floor lamp) to also be controlled via Hue. This means the lamp can be turned on/off as part of your whole-room or whole-house smart lighting routines.
Or to put it another way: you can turn your dumb lights into smart lights (kinda), but at a lower cost compared to buying all-Hue bulbs! Noice.
What you need for smart plugs to support Hue
I touch on this in the above section, but to the gist is that you need a Hue Bridge (not ‘Hue Bluetooth’ lights without a Bridge), and a smart plug which is ZigBee/Hue compatible.
Two years ago this situation would have been fairly easy: all Hue bulbs required the Hue bridge. But now Hue have released a range of Hue bulbs that support Bluetooth, meaning that you no longer need the Hue Bridge to get started with smart lighting (the bulbs can instead interact with your phone and hence Alexa/Google Assistant over Bluetooth).
However if you’re interested in making your dumb lights smart (via smart plugs), though, then you will need the Hue Bridge. You can get this by itself for around $50, but there’s various starter kits which come with the Hue Bridge and 1-4 bulbs that work out cheaper than buying the individual components – so it could be worth getting the Bridge via this route.
Next up, you need to make sure that the smart plug you buy supports Hue. This should be fairly clear: the product information will either say that it’s “Hue Compatible”, or it’ll say it supports “ZigBee”. Check the end of this article for a full list of these products. But in short, a ‘Hue Compatible’ or ‘ZigBee’ smart plug should mean that you can import the smart plug (with the plugged-in lamp) into your Hue app, and start automating your dumb lights.
Using dumb lights within smart light routines
Once you have purchased a Hue compatible smart plug, you can go to the Hue app and search for the new device via Settings -> Light Setup -> Add light:
The description does actually mention smart plugs too (albeit Hue’s own one, for obvious reasons), showing that this is a perfectly supported method.
Once it’s added, you can name your new light however you’d like. In the below case, I’m calling my discovered smart plug as “Office type room bulb”, and then I’ve assigned this to a room (Study):
Now I can go into Philips Hue and setup a routine, including this room/smart plug as though it’s any other room/smart bulb:
This is a really nice way of making your existing dumb lighting system smart, albeit there are some limitations as I’ll look at below.
Limitations of Hue-compliant smart plugs
In general, Hue/Zigbee-supporting smart plugs work quite well for general routines. However smart plugs don’t support dimming, even if the bulb plugged into the lamp does support dimming.
This is because smart plugs have one state: on, or off. They don’t support voltage fluctuations, which is how light dimming works.
What this means is that if you have a fancy dimmable lamp, when you plug this into a smart plug and import it into Hue, you won’t be able to dim the lamp with any automation (i.e. light routines) that you setup.
You can, of course, manually dim the lamp how you would like though – so this might be a suitable compromise.
Other hubs that support smart (Zigbee) plugs
If you look at the marketing of a Zigbee smart plug, they usually list other hubs that they work with: usually the SmartThings Hub and Amazon’s Echo Plus.
This is because both of these smart hubs also support ZigBee. Some people don’t realise this about the Echo Plus, thinking that it’s just a standard voice assistant – but it contains a ZigBee chip, meaning that you can connect your Hue bulbs and smart plugs to your Echo Plus (or SmartThings hub) instead.
This therefore means that you don’t actually need the Hue Bridge if you have Zigbee-compliant bulbs and a Zigbee-compliant smart plug. However if you do have Hue bulbs, you will lose some functionality by skipping the Hue Bridge and connecting them straight to an Echo Plus or SmartThings Hub.
Recommended smart plugs that support Philips Hue
Assuming you’re now sold on the idea of making your dumb lamps (and other plug-in lights) smart by using a Zigbee/Hue compliant smart plug, what options are available to you? Well a quick search on Amazon for “Zigbee smart plug” and “Hue smart plug” turned up the following results:
- The Innr Zigbee Smart Plug 2-pack for $34.99. This is one of the best sellers in this field, and it currently has 4.6/5 stars across 406 ratings.
- HIBRO’s Zigbee Smart Plug Outlet is $14.88 (hence under $30 for 2, cheaper than Innr) and whilst it’s rated slightly worse at 4.2/5, it still has pretty good reviews and works well with the Hue ecosystem overall.
- Philips Hue’s official smart plug isn’t cheap at $29.99, but it’s a solid product with 4.7/5. Even though it’s a Hue product, it still can’t make lamps dim – even if the lamp contains a Hue bulb. This is entirely expected, but it’s worth flagging up in-case you thought the price premium bought extra features.
- Finally, SYLVANIA’s SMART+ ZigBee plug is $18.93 and has a 4.3/5 rating.
To be honest, as long as a product hasn’t got terrible reviews, there’s no real difference between any of these. You just want a Zigbee-compatible smart plug, and it should import into the Hue app just fine. I don’t personally see any reason to pay a premium and get Hue’s official smart plug, for example.