Launched way back in 2012, the Philips Hue smart lighting system has remained a perfect, if pricey, pick for smart homes across the globe. Over the past six years, the company has steadily tweaked a successful formula over three product generations, enhancing color accuracy and brightness, adding Apple HomeKit support, and extending the range of luminaires and bulbs.
The absence of outdoor-rated lights has, until now, been a surprising and frustrating omission for home owners seeking to add a splash of color to decks and gardens. But this summer, Philips Hue took a step outside with a new outdoor range that includes Calla Outdoor Pathway Lights, Inara and Lucca wall lamps, and Lily spotlights. We’ll be looking at the full range over the coming weeks, but today we’ll focus on the Philips Hue Calla Outdoor Pathway Light & Extension Kit.
Priced at $130, the Hue Calla base unit includes a single, bollard-style lamp, outdoor-rated power supply, and weatherproof cables. Like all Philips Hue lights, it connects via Zigbee to an indoor Philips Hue bridge, which enables smart phone control and other integrations. If you’re new to Hue, you’ll need to purchase the $60 bridge separately, or pick up a Hue starter kit which bundles the hub with two or more indoor bulbs.
Once you have the base unit installed, you can daisy-chain up to five additional lamps using the $90 Calla Extension Kit, which includes a light, extension cable and a T-shaped power connector. Both devices are UL-certified for wet conditions and are IP65 rated, meaning they’re dust-tight and can withstand jetting water. The integrated 8W LED bulb supports 16 million colors and is dimmable, with a maximum light output of 640 lumens. That’s far brighter than what most yards need for decorative accent lighting – even near pathways. But with a lifespan up to 25,000 hours, you can tweak settings at your leisure.
High-quality construction, not the most exciting design
At launch, Calla is only available in a black aluminum finish, and the compact, cylindrical mini-bollard is well-built, delivering the quality (if not the aesthetic excitement) you expect from Philips. Sadly, there are no current plans for alternative finishes, so business black is the order of the day. Unlike cheaper solutions you may find at your local big-box hardware retailer, the accompanying mounting spike is also metal, so it should remain durable through many seasons of use.
It’s easy to adjust lighting to create the perfect ambience for relaxing with drinks, reading on the deck, or a lively summer BBQ.
Speaking of durability, Philips tells us that Calla is specifically designed for outdoor use, so it’ll perform in wet locations and all outdoor conditions. Good news for those suffering hot or humid summers and plunging winter temperatures.
Easy installation but be sure to plan your lighting design
Installation of outdoor Hue lights is straightforward, but you’ll need to spend a little time planning your cabling and lighting positions to ensure power and network connectivity. Handily, Philips Hue bulbs also serve as Zigbee network repeaters, so if you have sufficient cabling, you can place lights up to 64 feet apart (however, note that Philips advises a maximum drop of 115 ft.). Depending on your lighting design, it may make sense to add an indoor lamp with a Hue bulb in a room near the garden to ensure a strong connection to your first outdoor light.
The base unit power supply is equipped with a heavyweight (18AWG), 11.5 ft. (3.5 m) cable, and you’ll find a 16 ft. (5 m) extension cable also included in-box. Another 16 ft. cable is included with each extension kit. Philips recommends burying the cable at least four inches below ground to prevent damage from aerators or other garden tools, but T-connectors should stay above ground.
Powering Calla is a little inconvenient, requiring some disassembly. Three silver screws must first be removed to lift off the base and retrieve the power connector. Thankfully, a small screwdriver is included, but don’t worry if you lose it: Each screw also has a standard screwdriver notch. The choice of silver screws on a matte-black body cheapens the overall look of the lamp, and the small, clear plastic washers that prevent water ingress through the screw holes are too easy to lose.
Calla is specifically designed for outdoor use, so it’ll perform in wet locations and all outdoor conditions.
With the base removed, you can thread through the power cable, press in a weatherproof plug to prevent water ingress, and fix the mounting spike in place. Alternatively, the base can be screwed to a flat surface, such as a deck, table, or plinth, but Philips doesn’t supply screws or anchors for this or for fixing the sizable transformer required to drive the LED bulb. While the transformer is bigger than we’d like, it’s all that’s required to power multiple lights connected to the base unit.
With the Hue Bridge installed and configured, we powered on the lights, which illuminated with a pale orange glow. Firing up the Philips Hue smartphone app available for iOS and Android, we were delighted to see both lights were detected in less than 30 seconds. Configuration of individual lights is mostly automatic, but it’s worth spending a couple of minutes creating a new “room” (we called ours “Garden”) in which you can group and manage outdoor luminaires together.
Bathe the yard in color
The Hue app has been a long-term work in progress for Philips, and has improved considerably since launch. You’ll find controlling your outdoor lights a cinch, whether you prefer to manually tweak colors and brightness, or you invest time creating lighting “scenes” from photos or carefully considered color settings. With color temperature ranging from 2,000K (a very soft white) up to 6,500K (daylight) we found it easy to adjust lighting through the evening to create the perfect ambience for relaxing with drinks, reading on the deck, or a lively summer BBQ.
Obviously, Calla makes the most impact as the sun sets. In daylight hours, colors are noticeable but washed out, but at twilight, you’ll start to see the benefit of those 640 lumens. Switch to the Energize scene and the lamp emits bright, crisp white light at the top of the temperature range that’s more than sufficient to illuminate pathways, decks, and flower beds.
Wiring the lamp is a little inconvenient, requiring some disassembly.
Colors are even and accurate with greens and yellows – which Hue bulbs have struggled with in the past – well represented. With multiple lamps, scenes come alive, bathing your garden in color.
The Hue smartphone app provides an extensive array of options to personalize your outdoor lighting. Custom routines allow you to trigger lighting changes at a specific time like sunset or sunrise, while a go to sleep option typically used for bedrooms allows you slowly dim the lights as the night draws in. With integrated support for the full array of smart assistants, voice control adds true convenience, while IFTTT support opens a tweaker’s paradise of third-party triggers and service integrations. You can even hook up your PC or Mac to the Hue system and sync your outdoor lighting with music. Take some time to experiment, and you’ll discover a weatherproof world of luminescent fun.
Both the Philips Hue Calla Lamp and Extension Kit are protected by a 2-year limited warranty.Our Take
Add up the cost of the Calla base unit, additional lamps, and the Hue bridge, and you’ll soon see that lighting up your garden with Philips Hue isn’t going to be cheap. But that’s been the Hue story since 2012. Until now, it’s been way too difficult to illuminate and personalize decks and gardens with high quality LED lighting. A brilliant combination of simplicity, style, quality and sophistication makes Philips Hue Calla an easy sell.
Is there a better alternative?
The selection of outdoor-rated, color LED lighting solutions is slim, but if you’re seeking something cheaper than Philips Hue, the Sylvania Smart + Outdoor range (previously known as Lightify) is worth exploring. In our experience, though, the system lacks the reliability, style and overall quality you’ll experience with Philips Hue. But with perseverance, you can achieve decent results.
How long will it last?
Philips has built an admirable range of smart lighting products over the last six years, and we have no doubt that they’ll continue to support the Hue brand for the long-term.
Should you buy it?
Yes. If you’re considering a new deck or you’re thinking of revamping your outside space with accent lighting, you’ll struggle to find a simpler or more sophisticated outdoor lighting system.