The $49.99 Philips Hue Tap Dial Switch is a smart lighting controller for the Hue superuser. It is the most powerful and innovative Hue accessory to date, with four buttons and a physical button for dimming. Out of the box, the buttons and dial are tied to a zone or room, making it look like an overwhelming Hue Smart Dimmer Switch. But why limit yourself to one room when it can control your Hue lights throughout your home?
The Tap Dial is a wireless, battery-powered smart switch that lets you turn your Philips Hue lights on and off, light and dim them, and set light scenes. With a magnetic base, it can be attached to the included wall plate like a regular wall switch or placed on a metal or flat surface to be used as a remote control.
It is part of Hue’s smart lighting ecosystem, which works with Apple HomeKit, Amazon Alexa, Google Home and Samsung SmartThings. Signify (Hue owners) also confirmed that The edge that the Switch will be upgraded to work with the new smart home standard Matter. That means it might one day be able to control a lot more than just Hue lights.
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The Tap Dial is hefty, weighing just over two and a half ounces (an ounce heavier than the Apple TV remote). But that weight is in his favor; you can turn the dial while it’s on the table, and it won’t slide. The dial itself feels pretty solid when you turn it, with nice haptic feedback. It’s a lot like running a Nest Learning Thermostat, and it’s only slightly smaller than that. It also worked quickly and reliably, and the dimming action was smooth and responsive, with no noticeable lag.
Out of the box, it’s set up to dim the lights, room, or zone you pair it with in the Hue app. Knobs one through three adjust light levels and the fourth cycles through five Hue scenes. The dial allows for more accurate dimming and a long press of a button turns off the lights. (Hue scenes are different combinations of brightness, color temperature, or color depending on the type of lights you have.)
But there’s no real reason to buy the Tap Dial if you’re only going to control a single room or zone. That’s what the Hue Dimmer Switch does well for about half the price. The Tap Dial excels as a multi-zone controller for those with a lot of Hue lights.
I’ve set up the Tap Dial in my entryway, with each button programmed to control a different part of my home. Button one turned on all Hue lights in the house, button two in the hall and living room, button three the lighting upstairs and button four the lighting downstairs. I also added some colorful scenes for the subsequent button press (you can press each button up to 10 times to cycle through additional scenes), but found I didn’t use them often.
I set the dial to control all the lights at once. A limitation of using the Tap Dial in this way is that the dial can only be operated: all lighting or a single room or zone. I want it to dim or brighten the lights for the button you just pressed. The somewhat clunky solution here is to use the second and third presses of each button to dim the lights that are not controlled by the dial.
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 pick up a phone or use a voice command. That makes this gadget really useful. If my house were fully equipped with Hue lights, I would consider this an essential purchase. It’s not though, and until this can effectively control every smart light in my house, regardless of brand (which it can do when Matter gets here), it makes it more of a nice to have than a must-have for me.
The other problem is that even with what I thought was an intuitive setup, it’s not easy to remember which button does what, and I’d like to have the option to label them with a little icon or emoji.
If your entire house is equipped with Hue lights and fixtures, this is a handy physical controller to manage them all. If you have Hue outdoor lighting, it can be programmed to control it as well. At $50, it’s an expensive piece of kit, plus it uses Zigbee, so you should 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 lights, beyond asking a voice assistant to set the lights to 70 percent or popping into a smartphone app, include holding down a button on the Hue Dimmer Switch ($28) or turning the dial on the Lutron Aurora ($40), a toggle switch retrofit option. I’ve tried all of these and the Tap Dial is definitely the nicest to use.
If you only have a few Hue bulbs, you’ll be better off with the cheaper Hue Smart Dimmer, which does everything this unit does, just with less individual room control and a clunkier interface for dimming.
The Smart Dimmer also has the option of time-based lighting – which turns the lights on at a certain brightness based on the time of day – a great feature that is strangely not yet offered on the Tap Dial. Kelly Hrank, Head of PR at Signify, told me the feature is coming soon. The switch is also not integrated into the Hue Labs feature of the Hue app, which allows you to set more powerful lighting scenes, and Hrank says there are no plans to do so.
Like the previously discontinued Hue Tap, the Tap Dial can be used as a HomeKit scene controller, but you shouldn’t worry at this point. The dial doesn’t work in HomeKit (which is an Apple limitation, not Hue’s), and you can only press once to activate Automations. That makes this $50 dial switch a less useful version of the Wemo Stage I just reviewed, which was designed specifically for HomeKit and was faster at running HomeKit automations than the Tap Dial in testing.
The Tap Dial will be getting more features soon. The “Configure in HomeKit” option has been available for Hue accessories for years, but the Hue app now includes an option to configure the Tap Dial in another app – the Tap Dial is the first Hue accessory to support it. The option doesn’t do anything yet, but Hrank told The edge that Amazon Alexa is one of the apps in which you can set up the Tap Dial-up.
This one should means you can use the Tap Dial to control any Alexa-enabled smart device (not just Hue, not just lights), as is the case when you use it in HomeKit. And if the watch face is exposed to Alexa, this would be a very useful lighting 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 report back.
All of this openness is probably part of preparing for Matter, a unique feature of which is multi-admin control – the option to set up devices to be controlled by any Matter-compatible ecosystem. With Matter support, the Tap Dial can be used to control any light in my house, regardless of 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 all over your house and want to be able to control them from one device (with a physical dimmer!), the Tap Dial is now handy. For all, wait and see what is to come.
Photos by Jennifer Pattison Tuohy / The Verge