X

Ikea Tradfri Smart Lighting Kit review: Ikea's smart lights are basic, but worth a look

Skip this basic smart lighting starter kit -- but don't rule out the other Tradfri offerings.

Ryan_Crist2.jpg
Ry Crist
Ryan_Crist2.jpg

Ry Crist

Senior Editor / Reviews - Appliances

Originally hailing from Troy, Ohio, Ry Crist is a text-based adventure connoisseur, a lover of terrible movies and an enthusiastic yet mediocre cook. A CNET editor since 2013, Ry's beats include smart home tech, lighting, appliances, and home networking.

See full bio
5 min read

If you've trekked through an Ikea showroom recently, then you might have noticed the dedicated section for lamps and LED light bulbs. Now, you're likely to see smart lights on display, too.

ikea-tradfri-smart-leds-product-photos-12.jpg
6.7

Ikea Tradfri Smart Lighting Kit

The Good

Ikea's Tradfri smart bulbs are bright, efficient and very good at dimming. They don't cost very much either, especially if you skip the gateway hub and go with the budget-priced bundles that include a bulb and a remote accessory, instead.

The Bad

The gateway hub in the full-priced starter kit doesn't work with any third-party services or devices, so you can't add these bulbs to a larger smart-home platform or control them using a voice assistant like Siri or Alexa.

The Bottom Line

Ikea's $80 gateway kit is too basic to recommend, but there's some sneaky value in Tradfri's other, cheaper bundles.
ikea-tradfri-smart-leds-product-photos-12.jpg
Enlarge Image
ikea-tradfri-smart-leds-product-photos-12.jpg

Ikea's new "Tradfri" smart lighting lineup offers a variety of entry points.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Ikea calls this connected lighting lineup 'Tradfri' (Danish for 'wireless'), and it includes a number of entry points, including a $25 smart bulb and motion detector bundle and an $80 starter kit (£69 in the UK) that comes with two bulbs, a wireless remote, and the gateway hub that plugs into your router to let you control the lights using an app on your Android or iOS device.

Ikea's approach here keeps things simple -- too much so for me to recommend it. With relatively few features and zero third-party connections, it lags far behind the two-bulb Philips Hue White starter kit, which costs less. That said, keep Tradfri in mind if you just want a quick-and-easy dimming or motion detection solution, because there's value to be had if you're willing to skip the app-enabled smarts of Ikea's gateway hub.

Check out Ikea's Tradfri smart lights

See all photos

Smarts, Ikea-style

I drove two hours north to the nearest Ikea last month to pick up a new piece of furniture, and while I was there, I tossed one of those $80 starter kits into my cart. And, after a month spent testing everything out at both the CNET Smart Home and CNET Smart Apartment, I can report that it works as advertised, letting you control the bulbs from your phone or automate them to turn on and off at specific times with relative ease.

But that's really all that it does. There's no vacation mode that'll cycle the lights on and off to simulate occupancy while you're away, nor can you customize fade durations for those automated lighting changes. There's nothing by way of third-party compatibility, either -- no HomeKit, no Alexa, no IFTTT, no SmartThings, no nothin'.

ikea-tradfri-app-two-factor-authentication.jpg

The Tradfri app makes you scan a device-specific pairing code during setup -- a smart way to help keep things secure.

Screenshots by Ry Crist/CNET

Really the only features of note are that the bulbs have those three color-temperature settings, and that the hub wisely includes two-factor authentication during setup by way of a device-specific QR code that you'll need to scan with your phone's camera. That's the same tactic Apple HomeKit uses to keep gadgets secure, and it's a clever approach. Still, it's not much to get excited about.

Even worse -- at $80, the two-bulb Tradfri starter kit costs 10 bucks more than the two-bulb Philips Hue White starter kit that I awarded Editors' Choice last September. That kit offers wide, well-developed compatibility with just about every smart-home platform you could think to throw at it (including everything mentioned above), and you get the option of adding Hue's color-changing smart bulbs a la carte, too. The Tradfri kit might have been compelling a couple of years ago, but in 2017, it's much too basic and too far behind the curve for me to recommend.

That said, let's talk for a minute about two other Tradfri entry points: the $25 motion-detector bundle mentioned above and a $20 bundle that includes a bulb and a wireless knob that can dim it up and down. Neither one requires the gateway hub -- instead, you pair the motion sensor or dimmer knob directly with the bulbs they come with, or with any other Tradfri bulbs you decide to add later (both the dimmer and the motion detector can control up to 10 bulbs at once -- you pair by holding them close to the bulb and pressing a button for a few seconds).

I like both of these offerings quite a bit. The motion-detecting combo is one of the most affordable ways of getting your bedroom lamp to turn on when you enter the room that I've seen (a sort-of-similar and since-discontinued Belkin WeMo Switch-and-motion-detector combo that I also liked very much was selling for $80 just a few years ago).

You won't be able to do much more with it than that, but if a simple motion-activated light is all you're looking for, then by all means, tack it onto your next Ikea order. My only complaints? Though mountable with screws or sticky tape, the detector isn't designed to sit on a table or shelf unless you turn it sideways. Also: the little dials on the back that let you customize how long it stays lit without motion before turning off are awfully tiny. Yes, I'm nitpicking.

As for the wireless dimmer, it, too, does a simple job well, and might make a particularly good pick for a kids' room reading lamp. It's a unique, neat-looking design, available in white, black or yellow. The colored bit uses a magnet to sit in a little white cradle and detect when you're rotating it. It worked reasonably well in my tests, though it definitely wasn't nearly as precise as you'll get with more sophisticated dimming hardware. Then again, this is a $20 lighting bundle we're talking about, so there's room to forgive a cheap build so long as the thing works. And it does.

Ikea Tradfri LED smart bulbs

Ikea Tradfri Smart LED (standard)Ikea Tradfri Smart LED (tunable)
Power consumption 12.5 watts12 watts
Brightness at 2,700 K (soft white setting) 983 lumens966 lumens
Brightness at 2,200 K (warm white setting) N/A867 lumens
Brightness at 4,000 K (daylight setting) N/A1,047 lumens
Efficiency 78.6 lumens per watt87.3 lumens per watt
Yearly energy cost (assuming average of 3 hours of use per day) $1.50$1.44
Dimmable range 6.6 - 100% (using wireless dimming knob)5.7 - 100% (using app)
Price per bulb $12 $18

I'm also happy to report that these bulbs, like many Ikea bulbs I've tested previously, are very decent in their own right. Both the fixed, soft white Tradfri bulbs that come in the cheap kits and the white-light-adjustable bulbs that come in the $80 gateway kit put out well over 900 lumens at their default settings, which is noticeably brighter than a standard 60W incandescent, and unlike Philips Hue White Ambiance bulbs, the brightness doesn't dip noticeably at any of the alternative white light settings.

Both bulbs also dim well using their respective dimming mechanisms (the app and the wireless knob accessory). Each one dialed down well below 10 percent, and neither showed a visible flicker. The bulbs also stayed above 90 percent of their initial brightness throughout my entire 90-minute tests -- a very good result, and one that's indicative of a well-built bulb capable of handling heat build-up.

ikea-tradfri-smart-leds-product-photos-12.jpg
Enlarge Image
ikea-tradfri-smart-leds-product-photos-12.jpg
Tyler Lizenby/CNET

The verdict

Ikea's $80 Tradfri starter kit tries to sell itself as a worthwhile smart lighting platform -- but I just don't see it. For that money (less, actually), I'd much rather have the Philips Hue White starter kit, complete with a gateway device that actually works with other bulbs, gadgets, and services.

That said, don't discount the wireless dimming and motion detection bundles. They barely qualify as connected home devices at all, but at $20 and $25, respectively, they're a worthy quick fix for slightly smarter lighting in something like a bedroom lamp -- especially if you'd rather leave your router out of the equation altogether.

ikea-tradfri-smart-leds-product-photos-12.jpg
6.7

Ikea Tradfri Smart Lighting Kit

Score Breakdown

Features 6Usability 7Design 6Performance 8
laptop
Get the best price on everything
Shop your favorite products and we’ll find the best deal with a single click. Designed to make shopping easier.
Add CNET Shopping