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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Dan Moren

Automate this: Switch on

Regular readers will know that I’ve been slowly adding smart home stuff into my apartment, trying to figure out if we’ve hit a point where these devices are really practical, or whether they’re still just novelties.

As I discussed on Clockwise a couple weeks ago, one challenge I’ve encountered with my Philips Hue smart light bulbs is that, as cool as it is to be able to turn on lights with my phone or my voice via the Echo, sometimes nothing beats just having a plain old light switch. After all, we’ve all got decades of built-in muscle memory and even now, a month or so after installing smart bulbs, I still forget and reach for the light switch at least once a week.

Fortunately, our guest and good pal Merlin Mann had a suggestion: the Hue Tap Switch. At $50, it’s definitely a little pricier than your average light switch, but it’s got a couple things going for it that make it a solid addition to the smart home lineup.

philips-hue-switch-app

For one, it’s got four programmable buttons: one is the entire face of the device, while the other three are cut-outs within the face. Using the Hue app on your iOS device, you can assign those buttons to specific scenes across different rooms. I programmed the main button to turn all my Hue lights off, another to turn on my living room lights and turn off my bedroom lights, a third to do the reverse of that (turn on the bedroom lights and turn off the living room lights), and the last one for “nightlight” mode, which turns on all the lights at minimum dimness.

The other thing that’s great about the Hue Tap Switch is that it doesn’t require any batteries: all the power is generated by the kinetic energy of pressing the buttons. So you can leave it sitting around and don’t have to worry about it not working because you forgot to charge it or swap in the batteries.

The Tap Switch comes with an adhesive backing that you can attach to the wall, from which you can remove the switch by turning it and pulling it off. Given that I live in an apartment, I’ve opted to just not use the backing, which means I can carry the switch from room to room if I need. (If I had a more permanent residence, I would probably be inclined to get a couple more and mount them near existing light switches.)

My only significant complaint is that I wish the switch were a little easier to operate by feel. While the buttons themselves are marked with a number of dots (one through four), there’s no way to distinguish them by touch alone. It’d be great if a subsequent version just included, say, slightly raised versions of those dots.

Overall, the Tap Switch definitely makes using the Hue bulbs more friendly. Do they approach the user friendliness of your good old standard light switches? Not quite, but then again, those light switches were harder to operate remotely or automate and didn’t often include dimming. As always, it’s about the tradeoffs.

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[Dan Moren is a tech writer, novelist, podcaster, and the Official Dan of Six Colors. You can email him at dan@sixcolors.com or find him on Twitter at @dmoren.]