The standard Philips Hue app does all of the basics that you could want, from letting you control your smart lightbulbs' colour and dimming level to choosing from different scenes to match your mood. That's about it, though – there's nothing more fun than that in there.
It doesn't have to be this way though, because the Hue app is really only the start of how you can control your smart bulbs. Thanks to Philips' surprisingly open and mature API, third-party developers can write their own apps that directly control your lightbulbs.
With third-party apps, other people can create features that Philips either doesn't want to implement or doesn't have the time to. As Philips Hue is the most popular brand of smart lightbulb, the number of apps that can work with the system is huge and can be a little overwhelming. As you can imagine, for every good app out there, there's a handful of apps that are pure dross.
We've been through a tonne of apps to find out which ones are the best, looking for those that genuinely extend and improve the Hue experience, either by adding new features or providing better ways to control your lighting.
There are differing apps for iOS and Android, but we've noted down which of our choices are available for which smartphone platform so that you can easily pick the best for you. All apps have to be linked to the Philips Hue Bridge, by tapping the connect button when prompted on-screen. After that, all of your connected lightbulbs will automatically be discovered.
In many ways, OnSwitch is the app that Hue should have built. Compatible with Hue and Lifx smart bulbs, OnSwitch gives you all of the basic control you'd expect, but distinguishes itself with its array of dynamic scenes. Whether you want to recreate the effect of clouds passing over, a fireworks show or the warm glow of a fireside, OnSwitch has everything you need. A large selection of scenes are free, but some are in-app purchases.
Yonomi lets you automate your home with powerful routines, supporting devices from most major manufacturers including Philips Hue. For example, you can have your Nest thermostat switch to Eco mode, your Hue lights turn off, and your Sonos player stop when you leave home.
Yonomi has basic control over Hue lights only, but as a powerful way to control your home automatically, it's an excellent addition to any smart home. Even better, its controls operate faster than similar rules using IFTTT.
Check out our comprehensive guide to Yonomi.
QuickHue is an Android-only app, which makes turning your lights on and off faster and simpler. The app adds an icon (known as a Tile) to the Quick Settings menu of Android (the pull-down menu), which you can tap to toggle the linked Hue lights on and off.
With the free version, you can add a single Tile; the Pro version ($1.99) lets you add up to six Tiles so that you can control multiple lights separately. QuickHue makes it much easier and faster to control your lights from your smartphone quickly.
By default, the Hue app only gives you rather boring static light settings. Thorlight improves on that with dynamic lighting effects that can shift and move through the colour spectrum.
You can use the app to link lights that are physically near to each other, so that Thorlight's animations can spread and move more naturally through a room, giving a more involving and deeper effect.
There's an impressive range of free animations and scenes bundled with the app, but there are also other options that you can unlock with in-app purchases.
If you're having a house party, or just want to liven your music up, HueDisco is the app for you. It uses your phone's speaker to listen to background music and then makes your Hue lights pop and flash in time to the beat, giving you an instant disco.
You get full control over how fast the lights change (we found slower works best even for a party), the colours used and the maximum brightness. And, you can choose which bulbs you want to be part of the disco, leaving some lights on for mood lighting.
Philips' Ambilight TV technology adds another dimension to TV watching. Using an array of LEDs, the lights match the dominant colour of the on-screen action, dragging you into the picture and adding extra depth. Wouldn't it be great if your entire room could give you that Ambilight-style experience?
Well, while Philips works on Hue Entertainment, Hue TV aims to do just that. Using your phone or tablet's camera trained on the screen, Hue TV changes your Hue bulbs' colour to match the on-screen action. Using the app means you can't use your tablet or phone for anything else at the same time, but it's worth it for the extra experience that Hue TV brings. Also works with Lifx bulbs.
$2.99 | Download iOS app