IKEA Trådfri – Home automation level: MEATBALLS

IKEA Trådfri - Meatballs of automation

Encouraged by the news about IKEA Trådfri and Xiaomi cooperation I splashed out some money to get IKEA Trådfri lights and switches. The range isn’t amazing, but as with everything from IKEA – it will get the job done on the cheap until you can afford something decent. I was also pleasantly surprised that IKEA Trådfri kits came without tools or need for self-assembly.

IKEA Trådfri – overview

I’m in the UK. Politics aside, there are many things that are wrong with this side of Europe. My journey with IKEA Trådfri automation starts with bulb adapters, as Swedish designers decided that adopting the E27 screws to bayonet type socket has to be done by the consumer. Fair enough, we drive on the other than Europe side, we use different mains plugs, I may as well buy one more adapter. It’s the 21st century, the UK insists on separating itself from progress in any way possible. Living here is pleasant, as long as you don’t question things, or you are happy to accept the “because it’s better” final argument. But I digress…

The IKEA Trådfri can be operated in two modes: with IKEA Trådfri Gateway and without. It’s a nice touch. I have both, therefore, I will explain the differences.

Using IKEA Trådfri without the Gateway

You can notice in IKEA stores that lights are also sold as “kits”. These “controller + lightbulb” sets hint us a form of individual operation. Indeed, you can buy an IKEA Trådfri lightbulb and link it directly with a dimmer, switch or a motion sensor. The entire process has been made super simple, and you don’t even need an app to link a controller to a smart bulb.

You can pair a single controller with up to 10 devices, however, you won’t be able to have more than 1 controller per group in the “gateway-less mode”.
IKEA Trådfri dimming kit (£15)

I love the dimmer. It’s small, magnetic and can be operated on ANY surface. You can transform a £5 “car boot sale lamp” into a dimmable light source with a remote control! This is the cheapest, and the coolest kit you can buy from the IKEA Trådfri.

The dimmer is a flat cylinder without any moving parts. Equipped with an accelerometer of some sorts measures the twisting force in every orientation. Comes with a magnetic dock, and magnets inside too, so you don’t have to look for it each time you want to turn the lights on.

I have to say that if I keep the dimmer flat, it works more consistently, also the slower twisting motion results in smoother dimmer action. The dimmer goes from OFF to 100% Brightness in about 7-10 steps.

IKEA Trådfri remote control kit (£29)

For more demanding customers, IKEA Trådfri has the controller kit, which not only dims the lights but can also change the colour presets. The controller comes with a magnetic base and 5 buttons. It’s much bigger than the dimmer.

It’s comfortable in use, but I can’t justify the steep hike in price just to be able to change shades of white. If you are more into buttons, you may justify this more than I do!

IKEA Trådfri motion sensor kit (£25)

Last IKEA Trådfri kit is the motion sensor paired with the lightbulb. This is somehow interesting to see. The motion sensor can be wall mounted with 3M pads or screws, but it is detachable. It’s a great design choice if you want to change the battery (it takes 2 watch batteries unlike other controllers) or adjust the settings.

The motion sensor comes with configuration potentiometers. The timeout can be extended to 10min, and the sensitivity can be adjusted for night and day operation. I’m not sure how I’m going to use it, but mounting this near the front door would be an obvious choice.

Using IKEA Trådfri with the Gateway

Without the gateway, IKEA Trådfri devices can be paired up with up to 10 devices. If you want to create more elaborate setups and integrate the IKEA with Alexa and Google Assistant, you will need to get the IKEA Trådfri Hub (£25) and install the IKEA Trådfri app.

A couple readers got back to me pointing out you can actually link more than one controller  (multiple switches in a single room) but this was achieved with a 3rd party app, and looks like more of a hack than an intended feature. During my testes, pairing additional controllers would remove the device from the previous group.

The IKEA Trådfri gateway is connected via Ethernet only, and the pairing of the controllers has to be done next to the device (like 2cm/1inch close). It’s not ideal, but if you bring all the controllers you will get there soon enough. The initial set up gave me some troubles. If you have any issues, I included the troubleshooting below.

The gateway does nothing on its own. It’s just here to bridge the Zigbee enabled controllers and the Internet. If you look inside the enclosure, you will discover that the gateway could be much smaller. That’s not what the IKEA stands for. It’s all about managing small spaces!

The app is barebones and will create a room for each controller linked (more on that later). You will be able to link more than one bulb together. Thankfully, you don’t have to bring your lightbulbs close to the hub, and linking is done through the controllers. You still have to bring the controller within 2cm of the lightbulb which can be tricky if the ceiling is high. Also staring at the bulb for 10 seconds each time I want to pair a controller is not how I would imagine I’d spend my lunchtime.

Once everything has been linked, I got to play with Alexa, Google Assistant and the IKEA Trådfri app. It all works as expected.

IKEA Trådfri Gateway underdelivers

But there is one thing that is seriously wrong with IKEA Trådfri, and that’s a subject to an entire article. [link soon] In short, the granular control of lightbulbs is limited. It’s impossible to assign more than one controller to a room, lights don’t operate independently.

If you are ok with having a single controller (+ app and voice control) per room and group of lights, you will be fine. If you want to have more advanced controls over lights, schedules and zones – IKEA Trådfri has nothing to solve this.

If you struggle to get your device paired or get it online check the most common issues I run into.

IKEA Trådfri Troubleshooting instructions
IKEA Trådfri Troubleshooting Guide

  • reset bulb – turn the bulb ON, then flip the switch ON|OFF 6-7 times quickly (should take less than 7 sec) you will notice a quick flicker if the process has been successful. Wait 10 sec before you try to pair anything.
  • reset controller – press the link button 4 times quick (should take you about 2 seconds) the light will blink if successful. Wait 10 sec before pairing it
  •  linking – the bulb will pulse and dim during the linking process, keep the linking button pressed until the light stays on unchanged
  • app issues – close the app if you are not able to link the controller on your first on the second try (force close it) reset the controller and bulb and start again. You should get a notification on your phone as soon as the bulb starts pulsing and dimming.

Conclusion

IKEA Trådfri is not for everyone. The basic kits are pretty good, but the gateway is somehow disappointing. If you look at Xiaomi MiHome Gateway and what the entire system is capable of at the lower price it’s hard to vote in favour of the IKEA Trådfri. Sweden might be king of pop, meatballs and sauna, but they have a long way to go to win automation game! Got questions? Join Reddit discussion here.

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IKEA Trådfri

£15-£29
7.3

Range

7.0/10

Design

7.0/10

Features

8.0/10

Pros

  • Gatwayless operation
  • Pretty cool dimmer

Cons

  • Underutilised Gateway
  • No granular control
  • no multiple controllers per room
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