Smart lighting has now been around for a number of years – but it isn't just about the ability to sit on your sofa and turn your lights off using your phone or voice. It's also useful for security, scheduling lights or lamps to come on when you're on holiday or out for the evening in an attempt to deter unwanted visitors.
There are plenty of players in this field, and while none offer quite the same plethora of fittings and options as Philips Hue, Ikea's Tradfri range – 'Trådfri' being the Swedish word for wireless – makes smart lighting and smart plugs super accessible.
Can it take on Philips Hue? We've been living with the Ikea Tradfri bulbs and plugs in our home for several weeks to find out.
- E27: 1000 lumen, 980 lumen, 950 lumen
- GU10: 400 lumen (white spectrum and standard)
- E14: 400 lumen (candle and round bulbs available)
Like the company's furniture, there is nothing unnecessarily complicated about these smart home devices. There is nothing remarkable in design terms, but then that's the whole point. Smart lights and smart plugs are supposed to go unnoticed, commanding attention for their functionality rather than their design.
The smart bulbs look like standard bulbs, while the smart plugs are white, plastic and a little larger than a single plug socket – they aren't as fat as the TP-Link plugs but they do the same thing (we have both).
The bulbs come in a range of fittings, lumen output and colour options. There are GU10 (spotlights), E27 and E14 fitting options, all of which come in standard bulbs with smart functionality, or white spectrum bulbs with smart functionality. There are also light panels in various sizes.
Only the E27 fitting is available in a colour spectrum – so if it's a pink living room you're after, your options are more limited than if you occasionally want your kitchen to have a warmer glow.
We have a combination of all three fittings in our home: E14 bulbs in our living room, E27 in our bedroom, and a combination of standard GU10 and the white spectrum GU10 in our kitchen. We also have two Tradfri smart plugs in our bedroom and the system as a whole works fantastically with very little lag between the app and the devices.
- Zigbee protocol
- Trådfri Gateway required
- Steering Device required
The Ikea Tradfri system does not come flat-packed (thankfully), but it does come with very clear instructions. It's maybe a little fiddly, so nothing shy of what anyone who's bought an Ikea product would expect.
Both the Tradfri lights and the smart plugs use the Zigbee protocol, which means if you have a device such as the Amazon Echo Plus then you shouldn't require the Tradfri Gateway bridge to communicate between them. The Echo Plus has a Zigbee controller inside, negating the need for an additional bridge.
Tradfri smart lights can also be added to the Philips Hue bridge for those who may have started off their smart lighting with Hue and are now perhaps looking for a more affordable way to expand. We think that's a really clever idea.
For those just starting out and without an Echo Plus or similar device, however, you'll need a Tradfri Gateway to connect to your router to get your Tradfri smart lights and smart plugs working. You'll also need what Ikea calls a Steering Device (which is a Tradfri Remote Control, Tradfri Motion Sensor or a Tradfri Wireless Dimmer) as well as the Ikea Tradfri app (and, of course, a smart device for it to function).
Setup is super simple once you have everything in place: download the app, plug the Tradfri Gateway into your router, after which you'll need to connect the Steering Device (which acts as a bridge between the bulb and the Gateway). It's worth noting you'll need to be next to your router and the Gateway as you have to hold the Remote, Sensor or Dimmer within a couple of centimetres of the Gateway to establish a connection. After you've made the connection, it's then possible to start adding bulbs.
We have two Remote Controls in our setup: one for the bedroom looking after two E27 and two smart plugs; one for our kitchen and living room looking after 11 GU10 bulbs and two E14 bulbs. It is possible to add different 'rooms' to a Steering Device, but we found it easier to have a Remote Control upstairs and one downstairs.
Having to have the Remote Control or Motion Sensor is a little annoying as it's not only an extra device to buy – but an extra step in the setup. It's handy if you don't have your phone to hand though, or if you don't have a smart assistant setup.
Features and Trådfri app
- Scheduling through app
- Rise and Shine feature
- Simple app
The Ikea Tradfri app is pretty basic, but that's all part of the simplicity of design.
First things first, you have to be on the same Wi-Fi network as your Tradfri Gateway in order to control your Tradfri devices. This is a little inconvenient as it means you can't just switch your lights or plugs on at random when you're lying by the pool when on holiday away from home.
There is a scheduling feature within the Tradfri app though. Marked with a timer icon in the top left of the app, this offers three features (Rise and Shine, Away from Home, On or Off), along with the ability to add extra timers for each feature in case you want the bedroom lights to turn on a different time to the kitchen lights.
The Rise and Shine feature enables you to set your lights to slowly dim up, starting 30 minutes before you set them to be on. All the lights connected to your system will be listed and you can toggle which ones you want involved, along with which days.
Away from Home allows you to set your lights and plugs to turn on and off at specific times, mimicking someone being home. Select a time for them to turn on, a time for them to turn off, which days and which lights or plugs. You have to do this when you're at home on your Wi-Fi though, otherwise you won't be able to get into the app.
The On or Off feature is pretty much the same as Away From Home, allowing you setup exactly when you want your lights to turn on and off. Again, you can choose which days and which lights.
The main section of the Tradfri app shows your home split into Steering Device. We renamed our Remote Controls to rooms to make things easier to navigate and we did the same with our bulbs and plugs. Under each Steering Device, you can click on the drop-down menu to show you the devices connected to that control. You'll then be able to adjust the hue if you have the compatible white spectrum bulbs, the brightness on any of the Tradfri bulbs, and turn any Tradfri device on or off.
In the settings section of the app, top right of the home screen, you can manage your devices. This includes adding a new bulb, a new room, as well as integrations. Tradfri is compatible with Apple HomeKit, Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant so this is where you'll give permission so you can use voice to control your lights.
Ikea Trådfri and Google Home
- Voice control
- Control through Google Home app
We've been using the Ikea Tradfri system with Google Home and the experience is pretty much flawless. The two systems work seamlessly together, with the Google Home app offering control of the Tradfri lights and plugs without you needing to open the app.
The beauty of setting up integrations with Google Home, Amazon Alexa and Apple HomeKit is the voice control aspect. "Ok Google, turn off the kitchen lights" or "Hey Google, turn off the bedroom lights" are probably two of the most common phrases in our household now. It's particularly useful when you have your hands full.
The Google Home app also allows for control of the Tradfri lights and plugs when you are on a beach in Spain and you've forgotten to schedule your kitchen lights to turn on at 5pm in the Tradfri app. It's a workaround to the feature not being available through the Tradfri app. You can also schedule through the Google Home app too.
We had a couple of issues when our Wi-Fi router rebooted though. This seemed to cause the connection between Google Home and Ikea Tradfri to drop – meaning that while the Tradfri devices still appeared on the Google Home app and Google acknowledged they were there, nothing would happen if we tried to turn them off or on through the app or with our voice. The only way to fix it was to unlink our Ikea account from Google Home and then relink it. Overall though, the Tradfri devices and Google Home are great companions.
The Ikea Tradfri range is brilliant for the asking price. There are a good range of fittings and options when it comes to the bulbs, especially if you're not too bothered about a colour spectrum, while the smart plugs are simple but very effective.
If you're starting from scratch, the Tradfri Gateway and Remote Control or Motion Sensor will set you back £40 together, with the smart plugs starting at £9 and the bulbs starting at £7. That's amazing value compared to other systems on the market. And if you're already invested in Hue then there's no reason to not add these Ikea bulbs to that setup as you continue to expand.
Tradfri doesn't scrimp on features just because it's affordable either. The inclusion of Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri compatibility for voice control, as well as scheduling and app control, show this smart home system means business.
We'd love to see the colour spectrum offered on the other fittings though, and it would be great to see control away from home (even if there is a workaround through Google Home's app). That hiccup ignored, however, Tradfri has made smart lighting and smart plugs truly accessible to the everyday consumer.
Philips Hue is the go-to service for smart lighting. It offers a greater variety of products than other services, allowing a lot more flexibility in your home lighting setup. Like Ikea, it is compatible with Apple's HomeKit, Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa, but it also offers away from home control. However, Hue is significantly more expensive than Ikea's Tradfri range.
Hive Active Light
Hive Active Light is part of the Hive system – which includes smart plugs, smart heating and sensors. Like Philips Hue, it has a number of different bulb types, including B22, but like Ikea it only offers E27 in a colour spectrum. Hive is more expensive than Ikea too, costing around £99 for a starter pack, which includes two bulbs and a Hive hub. By comparison, Ikea's starter pack costs £65 for two bulbs, the Gateway and a Steering Device.
Osram is one of the biggest names in light bulbs and its Lightify range has plenty of bulb options, including B22 and Garden Spots. It works with Amazon Alexa, Samsung SmartThings, Wink, Google Assistant, Works with Nest and Apple HomeKit and it has away from home control too. Lightify isn't the most expensive smart lighting system out there, but it isn't as cheap as Ikea's.