Ikea Tradfri first impressions

Ikea Tradfri product image

Our family living room has four main lights. The switch for one of those lights is hard to reach, so instead of moving that lamp, we’ve been experimenting with various remote control options.

Previous attempts

KlikAanKlikUit

We got a starter pack with three remote controlled switches and a small remote. The main problem with this system was that it worked quite unreliably. Range was poor, even with a better (programmable) remote we got later. This resulted in lights being on when we didn’t want them to be. Not good.

But by then, we’d gotten used to controlling our lights through a remote control.

iDual “Jedi”

These are not the lights you’re looking for…

Next we tried “iDual”, a brand sold through DIY stores here in The Netherlands. The lights seemed well-built, but the remote started to slowly fail within the first year. These lights are controlled through infrared, so line of sight between remote and bulb is needed to switch them on or return to the dark side. And there’s no way to program them. Yoda would not approve.

TP-Link Kasa

More recently, we tried TP-Link’s new Kasa smart plugs. These are actually really nice, but there’s no remote control for this system, so you’ll always need your phone to turn lights on/off. And the app does not allow you to create multiple users. Not good either, yet.

Another thing to mention is that all Kasa products appear to communicate over wifi, so they likely use more power than products based on more frugal standards.

Ikea Tradfri to the rescue?

Ikea Tradfri starter kit

After looking at Philips Hue, and deciding that it was tremendous overkill for our needs, we looked at Tradfri. At roughly half the price of Hue, it offers very similar functionality. There’s a central hub, multiple remote controls, various light bulbs (from single color to full RGB), switches, and some other products. We got the hub, the hockey puck style remote, two RGB bulbs and a smart plug.

Installation

Installation was very straightforward, with the app guiding you through the required steps. After the hub is set up, you pair it with the remote. The remote is then used to pair with switches and lights. This is very convenient because the remote is (obviously) portable. You need to keep it within 10 cm of any new device while pairing, so that would not be fun with the hub.

Using Tradfri

So far I’ve only created a couple of “moods” in the app. The lights that are controlled by the on/off switch obviously won’t change color anyway. All of that worked well, and the app is well-designed. But what’s really nice is that the system has proven to be very reliable. It’s very responsive, and I’ve not had to push any button twice to get it to do what I wanted.

Hackability

Like Hue, Tradfri is based on the Zigbee protocol. I haven’t played with any of them yet, but there are a number of interesting projects on GitHub that let you control Tradfri from a Raspberry Pi, or through MQTT. You could potentially hook up your lights to WordPress using WP-MQTT :).

Preliminary verdict

I have precisely zero experience with Philip’s Hue system or any of its direct competitors, so this should in no way be seen as a comparison review between Tradfri and those systems. But compared to KlikAanKlikUit, iDual and Kasa, it’s a much better overall experience.

At its low price point, Tradfri is a viable option for simple setups (such as four living room lights). Use cases where Hue would be prohibitively expensive. And should you want, you can easily add more devices later.

Roy Tanck
I'm a freelance WordPress developer, designer, consultant, meetup organizer and speaker. In my spare time I love to go out and take pictures of things.

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