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

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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 watts 12 watts
Brightness at 2,700 K (soft white setting) 983 lumens 966 lumens
Brightness at 2,200 K (warm white setting) N/A 867 lumens
Brightness at 4,000 K (daylight setting) N/A 1,047 lumens
Efficiency 78.6 lumens per watt 87.3 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.

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.