Philips Hue Tap Dial switch review: An easy way to control your smart lights

The $49.99 Philips Hue Tap Dial switch is a smart lighting controller for the Hue superuser. It’s the most powerful and innovative Hue accessory yet, with four buttons and a physical dial for dimming. Out of the box, the buttons and dial are bound to an area or room, which makes it feel overpowered. Hue smart dimmer. But why limit yourself to just one room when it can control your Hue lights throughout your home?

The Tap Dial is a battery-operated, wireless smart switch that can turn your Philips Hue lights on and off, dim and dim them, and set lighting scenes. With a magnetic base, it can be attached to its included wall plate like a regular wall switch or placed on any metal or flat surface to be used as a remote control.

It’s part of Hue’s smart lighting ecosystem, which works with Apple HomeKit, Amazon Alexa, Google Home and Samsung SmartThings. Signify (owners of Hue) also confirmed The edge that the switch will be upgraded to work with the new Matter smart home standard. This means that one day it might be able to control much more than Hue lights.

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The Tap Dial is heavy, weighing just over two and a half ounces (an ounce heavier than the Apple TV remote). But this weight is to his advantage; you can turn the dial while it sits on the table, and it won’t slip. The dial itself has a good solid feel when you turn it, with good haptic feedback. It’s kind of like the rotation of a Nest Learning Thermostat, and it’s only a little smaller than that. It also ran quickly and reliably, and the dimming action was smooth and responsive, with no noticeable lag.

Out of the box, it’s set to dim the lights, room, or zone you pair it with in the Hue app. Buttons one through three adjust light levels, and the fourth cycles through five Hue scenes. The dial gives more precise dimming and a long press of any button turns the lights off. (Tint scenes are different combinations of brightness, color temperature, or color, depending on the types of bulbs you have.)

But there’s no real reason to buy the Tap Dial if you only control one room or area. The Hue Dimmer Switch does that well at about half the price. The Tap Dial shines as a multi-zone controller for people with lots of Hue lights.

Turn the dial to the right to brighten your lights and to the left to dim them. The faster you turn it, the faster it lights up; the slower you turn it, the more precise control you have over the dimming level.

I installed the Tap Dial in my entryway, with each button programmed to control a different part of my house. Button one turned on all the Hue lights in the house, button two turned on the foyer and living room, button three turned on the top lights, and button four turned on the bottom lights. I also added colorful scenes for subsequent button presses (you can press each button up to 10 times to cycle through additional scenes), but I didn’t find myself using them often.

I set the dial to control all the lights at once. A limitation of using the Tap Dial this way is that the dial can only control either everything lights or a single room or area. I would like it to dim or brighten the lights of the button you just pressed. The slightly clunky workaround here is to use the second and third presses of each button to dim lights that aren’t controlled by the dial.

The default configuration in the Hue app (left); watch face settings (which include the option to dim the brightness to minimum and turn it off); and the ability to cycle through multiple scenes (up to 10) with subsequent presses.

The advantage is that I have a central lighting controller that gives me physical access to all the lights in my house without having to pull out a phone or use a voice command. This makes this gadget really useful. If my house was fully equipped with Hue lights, I would consider this an essential purchase. It doesn’t, however, and until it can effectively control all of the smart lights in my house, regardless of brand (which it may be able to do when Matter arrives), that in makes it more of a nice to have than a must have for me.

The other issue is that even with what I thought was an intuitive setup, it’s not easy to remember which button does what, and I wish I had the ability to label them with a little icon or emoji.

The Tap Dial is heavy in the hand and its powerful magnet easily snaps back into the wall plate.

If your whole house has Hue bulbs and fixtures, this is a handy physical controller to manage them all. If you have outdoor Hue lighting, it can be programmed to control them too. At $50 this is an expensive kit plus it uses Zigbee so you must have a Hue Bridge ($59.99), but there aren’t many good solutions for dimming smart bulbs.

Most smart dimmers only work with standard bulbs, not smart bulbs. Your other options for Hue bulbs, besides asking a voice assistant to dim the lights to 70% or jumping into a smartphone app, include pressing and holding a button on the Dimmer ($28) or by turning the rotary dial on the Aurora of Lutron ($40), a retrofit option for toggle switches. I’ve tried all of these, and the Tap Dial is definitely the most enjoyable to use.

The Tap Dial switch can be used with or without the wall bracket, which is larger than a standard wall plate.

All four buttons have raised dots so you know which one you’re pressing even in the dark.

The switch uses a single CR2032 battery which should last two years. (The first Tap switch was kinetically powered).

If you only have a few Hue bulbs, you’ll be better off with the cheaper Hue Smart Dimmer, which can do everything this device does, just with less individual room control and a clunkier interface for dimming.

The Smart Dimmer also has the option of time-based lighting – where the lights come on at a certain brightness depending on the time of day – a nice feature which, oddly enough, isn’t offered yet. on the Tap Dial. Kelly Hrank, PR manager at Signify, told me the feature is coming soon. The switch also isn’t integrated with the Hue app’s Hue Labs feature, which lets you set up stronger lighting scenes, and Hrank says there are no plans to do so.

Like the now-discontinued earlier Hue Tap, the Tap Dial can be used as a HomeKit scene controller, but for now you shouldn’t worry about it. The dial doesn’t work in HomeKit (which is a limitation of Apple, not Hue), and you can only use one press to trigger automations. That makes this $50 dial switch a less useful version of the Wemo Stage I just reviewed, which is designed specifically for HomeKit and was faster at performing HomeKit automations than the Tap Dial in testing.

The Tap Dial will soon receive more features. The “Configure in HomeKit” option has been available for Hue accessories for years, but the Hue app now contains an option to configure the Tap Dial in another app – the Tap Dial is the first Hue accessory to support it . The option does nothing yet, but Hrank said The edge that Amazon Alexa will be among the applications in which you can configure the Tap Dial.

This should means you’ll be able to use the Tap Dial to control any Alexa-enabled smart device (not just Hue, and not just lights), just like you use it in HomeKit. Plus, if the dial is exposed to Alexa, it would be a very useful light control for the vast Alexa ecosystem, especially if you could use the buttons to trigger routines. I will test this as soon as it is available and I will report back.

All of this openness is likely part of the preparation for Matter, a unique feature of which is multi-admin control — the ability to configure devices to be controlled by any Matter-enabled ecosystem. With Matter-support, the Tap Dial could be used to control all the lights in my house, no matter who made them – a much better proposition than being locked into Hue’s expensive ecosystem.

But don’t buy the Tap Dial now for what it might do later. If you have Hue lights throughout your home and want to be able to control them from one device (with a physical dimmer!), the Tap Dial comes in handy now. For someone else, just wait and see what comes next.

Photos by Jennifer Pattison Tuohy/The Verge

Lance B. Holton