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Review: IKEA Trådfri – Affordable smart lighting

Review: IKEA Trådfri is a simple and cheap (actually cheaper) alternative to Philips Hue offered by Swedish company IKEA.
4.5/5 - (64 votes)

In this review we look at the Trådfri smart lighting from IKEA, which can be controlled by a remote control, motion sensor or the application for your smartphone.

IKEA is fully committed to the smart home. At the end of last year, the company introduced a range of  smart lamps for the home and IKEA also launched solar panels that can power your smart home. In October of last year, the range was further expanded with smart lamps that can display colors and support for various smart home platforms. In this review we take a look at the Trådfri smart lighting from IKEA.

What is IKEA Trådfri?

We are familiar with smart lighting, which can be operated with an app or accessory. Players such as Hue, TP-Link and Osram already have extensive ranges on the market. IKEA has also been a player in this market since last year. You can go to IKEA for a while now for the smart Trådfri lamps that can be controlled with an app. However, these lamps could only display white light. Since 1 October last year, the range has been expanded with new lamps that can also display colors, and you can also buy light panels for cabinets, for example. All lamps can be operated with a remote control, a motion sensor and the app. The Trådfri hub is required for operation via the app.

IKEA is not sitting still, however, as the company has made several announcements in recent months. The Trådfri lamps are compatible with the Hue lamps (Bridge) and you can now operate the lamps with the Google Assistant, Apple Homekit (Siri) and Amazon Alexa. In this review we look at the Trådfri hub (32.95 euros), the white LED lamp with motion sensor (27.95 euros) and the colored LED lamp with dimmer (34.95 euros).

With or without hub?

The sets that IKEA sells, for example the dimmer with lamp or the motion sensor with lamp, can be used as such. With the dimmer you can set the brightness and with the motion sensor you can indicate how long a lamp should be on when motion is detected. However, if you want to get more out of smart lighting, you need to purchase the hub.

With the connection hub you can control all your lighting with the supplied remote control or with the app. You connect the connection hub to your WiFi router and then download the app for iPhone or Android. Thanks to the hub and app, you get the option to create scenes, control the lights with your smartphone, set timers, dim them, etc.

Design

When we look at the design of the IKEA Trådfri lamps and accessories, we are quite positive. Yes, the products are all largely made of plastic, don’t feel really premium and may have a slightly cheaper-looking design than we are used to. But, we are not going to complain about that because in most cases you don’t even see the lamp.

The lamps themselves are therefore not very special, but feel sturdy. The motion sensor and remote control look a bit tighter, and we are particularly fond of the round remote control. This puck – the remote control or dimmer – has a rubber edge so that it can take a beating and, in addition, a magnet has been incorporated in the design so that you can easily stick it to a frame or the refrigerator. Of course you can also attach it to the wall with the supplied mounting piece and screws. This also applies to the motion sensor, which also comes with an adhesive strip.

Installation

If you buy the sets, for example a lamp with a motion sensor or a lamp with a dimmer (remote control), installation is child’s play. You place the lamp in the fitting and you can get started because the two products are already linked. You do not need the app for this, but then you do not have access to your own color settings, timers, etc. Purely with the accessories, the lamps are easy to operate, although with more limited options. If you want to hang an extra lamp on a sensor or remote control, a physical action is required. You turn the lamp into the fitting, switch on the lamp and press and hold the pairing button on the accessory (keep it at a distance of 5cm from the lamp) for a few seconds until the lamp responds. The new lamp will then also respond to the accessory.

With the above you have a good starting point and as a novice user you can get started quickly, but if you want even more options and flexibility, the hub is a requirement. This so-called gateway communicates with the lamps and an app on your smartphone. The installation of the hub is also simple on paper; plug the hub into the socket, connect a network cable, download the Trådfri app on your smartphone, scan the QR code on the back of the hub and you can get started. The already installed lamps should be recognized immediately, so you can start playing with the settings. If desired, you can also add the lamps manually.

However, our app crashed when searching for devices on the network and so we had to manually add the bulbs and accessories. That took quite some effort because it basically boiled down to the fact that everything had to be reset first and you have to physically pair each lamp and every device at a distance of a few centimeters. So first the remote control and motion sensor had to be reset, then they had to be linked to the gateway (you can only add lamps via an accessory, so not directly as a separate lamp) and then back to the lamps to which they belong. There were some bugs in this process too; sometimes an accessory had to be reset three times before it was recognized, and sometimes we didn’t get a message that a lamp had been added, leaving us desperate to search. The lamp appeared to be in the app for a long time. In short,

Another issue we encountered during installation is the distance from the hub to the first lamp you connect. We have the hub on the third floor and wanted to start with a lamp on the ground floor. That distance was slightly too great for the system, so that the lamp could not be found. When we started with a lamp on the first floor and then connected a lamp on the ground floor, the lamp was found. This is because the lamps themselves also serve as a ‘repeater’ of the signal and thus increase the range of the gateway.

Operation (app)

But, once everything is linked and organized, you can get started in the Trådfri app, for which you do not need to create an account. First of all, a bug again; after we had linked everything and wanted to open the app again, the message appeared that we could no longer use the ‘old gateway’ but that a new one had been found. Well, that seemed very strong to us and we didn’t feel like a new installation process. After forcibly closing the app a few times, the message disappeared and the linked system appeared.

The app is a very simple and neatly designed application, with on the home screen the rooms you created (during installation) and the associated lamps. You can completely adjust the lamps via the home screen. For example, there is a slider for the brightness and when you click on the filled circle you can immediately select or create an atmosphere (scene). If you click on the symbol of the lamp, you can also change the brightness there and switch the lamp on or off. What we do miss is an on and off button on the home screen.

At the top left of the app you will find a menu with which you can set timers, for example when you wake up or when you leave home. You can access the settings via a menu at the top right. Here you can organize the devices, change names (of lamps or rooms) and update the software. You can also enable voice control via Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa via this menu (currently only in English). Finally, you can integrate IKEA lamps into Apple’s HomeKit via this menu. This is easy by scanning the code on the gateway via the Home app. The lamps then appear in the Home app and can therefore be controlled via Siri and automation (Apple TV required).

The app therefore offers some extra options compared to the remote control, including specifically choosing colors, setting timers and creating your own moods for the lamps. You can also place lamps in groups yourself and organize everything neatly in your way. The white lamps can of course only display shades of white, the colored lamps can display colors. Unfortunately, you only get to see a relatively small range of colors to choose from, which is a shame. There is no color wheel with all the colors of the rainbow available.

Use

Once everything is installed, linked and organized, it must of course also be pleasant to use. In any case, the app is simple and user-friendly, apart from some bugs during installation. But, once everything is in place, the lamps can be perfectly operated via the remote control, sensor and app. Sometimes there is a small delay here and there, which is only annoying with the motion sensor. It is not clear exactly where this delay is, because the reaction time varies considerably.

In addition, as mentioned above, the number of colors you can choose from is not large and that the lamps can display many colors is evident when you link them to Hue (more about this below). Perhaps this can be improved via a software update for the app. It also lacks outdoor controls and geofencing. With the first option you can also control the lights when you are away from home and with the second option selected lights switch on or off automatically when you leave or come home. We would like to see both options again in the future because they actually have added value.

What we have to praise IKEA for is adding new possibilities and supporting Philips Hue. New capabilities include Apple’s HomeKit, Amazon Alexa and the Google Assistant. So you have plenty of extra ways to operate the lamps, even though Alexa and the Google Assistant are not really useful in the Netherlands because they do not speak Dutch. However, IKEA does think along and wants to offer you an optimal experience with multiple options. The fact that you can add the lights to your Hue bridge is also an important advance. After all, you can expand your Hue system cheaper or expand it with Hue after using the IKEA system.

If we look at the light quality, it is striking that the IKEA lamps are slightly less bright than the Philips Hue lamps. The difference with the colored lamp is more than 200 lumens and that is noticeable if you place them in the same room. If you use the white lamp, this difference is not present as it offers 1000 lumens of brightness. That said, the colors that are displayed are beautiful and intense.

The accessories, in our case the remote control and the motion sensor, do their job well. They work well, but it is a pity that you cannot set the remote control yourself. I would like to determine for myself which atmospheres are browsed with the remote control. Now IKEA determines that and that limits the possibilities to create your own atmosphere.

Incidentally, the operation by means of a sensor or remote control also immediately applies to the entire group, both when dimming and selecting the color or switching off. This also prevents you from playing with colors within a group when using the remote control. The motion sensor can also not be set via the app, but on the back of the sensor you have the option to set the operation with a certain amount of light (approximate) and the number of minutes that the lamps should be on (approximate).

Smarthome integration

We have already discussed part of the smarthome integration; the support of Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa and Apple’s HomeKit. Using these platforms is easy. For example, to integrate with HomeKit, all you have to do is scan the code on the gateway and you can get started. Incidentally, when you use HomeKit, this opens up additional options that IKEA itself does not offer, including operation outdoors (Apple TV required). IKEA has developed a skill for Alexa that you install via the Alexa app, after which you can place the lamps in rooms and operate them by voice commands.

However, it is also possible to add the IKEA Trådfri lamps to the Hue bridge, although we would not recommend that directly if it is not necessary. After all, you first have to update all lamps that you want to link to Hue to the latest firmware and then reset. Then you switch off the lamp, search for new lamps via the Hue app and switch on the lamp that you want to have added again during that process. Do turn off all your Hue lights. Once found, the Trådfri lamp is added to the Hue app, which means one system and multiple color and mood options for Hue users. However, the accessories from Trådfri cannot be connected to Hue and are therefore no longer usable in this case. Not everything always reacts quickly and smoothly when you start mixing Trådfri with Hue. Sometimes the Trådfri lamps stay on while you turn the lamps off. In addition, you cannot use the Trådfri lamps in HomeKit once they are connected to Hue, and finally you can only update the lamps if they are connected to the Trådfri hub, so you have to disconnect them from Hue again, connect them to the hub , reset and pair with Hue. It all works, but sometimes it is hit and wrong. If you want to read more about it, we refer you to this page .

IKEA Trådfri – Conclusion

All in all, we have to say that IKEA offers a simple and cheap (actually cheaper) alternative to Philips Hue. The Trådfri system still has some hooks and eyes, but we see those hooks and eyes especially during the installation. Once installed, everything works almost flawlessly and you can provide your home with smart lighting from that basis. Yes, there is certainly room for improvement, including adding more color options and customizing the remote. We would also like to see an update of the app with a simple on and off button on the home screen, plus options for geofencing and remote control. Trådfri is a great system to get acquainted with smart lighting and you can make it as smart as you want because the app is not even necessary. Looking at a starter set, the price difference with Hue may not be very big, but as soon as you expand with individual lamps, you will be a lot cheaper with the IKEA system. We would describe Hue as a mature system with many possibilities for those who want to make the permanent switch to smart lighting and get the most out of it. Trådfri is a relatively affordable entry-level system for getting to know smart lighting, and we hope that IKEA will continue so that in a while we can also call this system mature and ‘bug-free’. We would describe Hue as a mature system with many possibilities for those who want to make the permanent switch to smart lighting and get the most out of it. Trådfri is a relatively affordable entry-level system for getting to know smart lighting, and we hope that IKEA will continue so that in a while we can also call this system mature and ‘bug-free’. We would describe Hue as a mature system with many possibilities for those who want to make the permanent switch to smart lighting and get the most out of it. Trådfri is a relatively affordable entry-level system for getting to know smart lighting, and we hope that IKEA will continue so that in a while we can also call this system mature and ‘bug-free’.

Pros of IKEA Trådfri

  • Relatively affordable (especially if you are going to expand)
  • App is simple and user-friendly
  • Without an app it is plug and play

Negatives of IKEA Trådfri

  • Especially the installation with the hub is not flawless
  • Hue integration not recommended for beginners
  • No geofencing and outdoor use

 

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