Things they don’t tell you about IKEA Trådfri

The grass isn't greener in Sweden

I got a couple of IKEA Trådfri kits and the Gateway. I covered the “out of the box” functionality in this post. During my tests, I discovered a couple of things that are not well explained and that Ikea Gateway is almost redundant (at least for my use cases). Having Xiaomi MiHome Gateway and a couple of switches and sensors I can say automating IKEA Trådfri is like trying to teach meatballs to sing like ABBA.

IKEA Trådfri: somehow limited

Automating home on a budget means the corners will be cut. IKEA Trådfri may come with an attractive price point, but you have to understand the system’s limits to be truly happy with the purchase.

First of all, the IKEA Trådfri app works over the local network only. You won’t toggle devices from work unless you link your IKEA Trådfri Gateway to Alexa or Google Assistant and do it via their interfaces. It’s not a deal breaker, but a rather strange design choice.

While I’m on the subject of the app, it is very limited. The room manager is barebone and there is very little substance to the app and the options. Thankfully, the app’s room settings can be completely overridden by layouts from Alexa or Google Assistant.

The biggest issues are the controllers. Without hacking you can only assign one controller per room. Each controller paired with the IKEA Trådfri Gateway will create a new room. A smart lightbulb can be only linked to a single room/controller. You may be ok with that *(and I believe most people don’t need such granular controls) but after using MiHome system (which is cheaper, has a better range of products and is fully customizable) I found the IKEA offerings limiting.

You can link the IKEA Trådfri lights to NodeRED (if you have the Gateway) or even with MiHome hub, but none of the controllers will work with the 3rd party. You will be limited to controlling IKEA devices only. It’s a strange and a very disappointing choice. I was looking forward to playing about with the 5 button switch – after all, I was able to squeeze 3 actions into a single button from MiHome.

Should you care?

The short answer is: probably not. If all you need is a simple controller – to light interaction, even without Gateway the IKEA Trådfri can be a decent choice. Any attempts of integrating controllers in any meaningful way (at least for now) remain unsuccessful.

What if you want to go full automating hardcore? I will give you a quick rundown of what Xiaomi’s MiHome is capable of (if you terrified about data sharing – MiHome has LAN mode). My projects so far involve:

Thanks to an excellent NodeRED integration, MiHome is a go-to system for me right now.

Xiaomi vs IKEA

What’s the alternative you ask? For now, Xiaomi (with it’s LAN only mode and 3rd party support) is unmatched.  If you never used Xiaomi MiHome, I will break down the advantages in a table below.

IKEA Trådfri Xiaomi MiHome
Gateway
  • WiFi only
  • Alexa & Google Assistant
  • WiFi and Wan
  • Alexa & Google Assistant
  • Built-in speaker
  • Built-in LED light
  • Radio
  • Alarm

 

LightBulb
  • Zigbee
  • White/White Spectrum LED
  • Dimming
  • 3 presets
  • timers (only with gateway)
  • WiFi & Wan
  • White/RGB LED
  • Dimming
  • Timers
  • Full API
  • Scenes and Favourites
  • Alerts

 

Switches
  • Zigbee
  • Zigbee
  • Programmable
  • Multiple click modes

 

A starter MiHome set (Yeelight, Switch and Gateway) would cost you around $55 (even cheaper if you shop for promotions, while the same set from IKEA (switch kit + Gateway) will be just shy of $80.

If you are interested – here some of the more popular sensors and MiHome enabled gadgets. The entire system comes with over 100 compatible devices including IKEA lights!

Conclusion

There you have it!  I will keep exploring what else I could do with IKEA Trådfri devices. I’m happy the bulbs work with NodeRED and Xiaomi MiHome, but after playing with the gateway I feel like I wasted some money between that and the controllers. I may go all the way, do the teardowns  (there aren’t many online) and see if I can make it at least semi-useful. Will you be using IKEA, or you have your eye set on MiHome? Join Reddit post and let me know.

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