Ikea Smart Lighting vs Philips Hue: the weigh-in

The Swedes have mastered flatpack furniture and meatballs, but how smart are Ikea’s Hue-bothering lights?

03 April 2017
by Stuff Staff

Ikea’s whole thing is smart design at insanely affordable prices, right? So we certainly feel justified in being excited about its first foray into connected lights.

The addictive homestore announced plans to release an entire Smart Lighting system in April 2017, and it hits a lot of the same basics as its rivals: LED bulbs that connect effortlessly to a wireless bridge, a remote, and smartphone app access.

Naturally, it’s affordable enough to make it into dangerous impulse buy territory too. But is there a trade-off in terms of deeper functionality?

Before you grab some Trådfri bulbs while stocking up on pots, pans and cheap shelving, here’s our look at how the system compares to Philips Hue, the current and long-standing leader in this softly lit space.

VERSATILITY: WHITE OR… WHITE?

Let’s start with one of the main differences between the systems vying to be the lights of your life: versatility and colour options.

Philips Hue just keeps expanding and enhancing its smart lighting team, despite being largely unchallenged. You’ve got colour-changing bulbs, plain white bulbs, stick-anywhere lightstrips, unique Bloom and Iris bulbs, an array of table, ceiling, and wall lights, a motion sensor, and various switches. You can also pair up to 50 devices to a single bridge.

Ikea’s offering is noticeably simpler, which is understandable in these early days. The Trådfri starter kit (Trådfri being the name of the Ikea’s smart LED bulb and its companion app) comes with two E27 “white spectrum” screwbulbs, the wireless bridge (which you need in order to use the app), and a portable remote. You can also get a dimming kit with a bulb, a wireless motion sensor with bulb, and a dimmable warm light bulb with remote. GU10 and E14 bulbs are available, too.

Uniquely, Ikea’s Home Smart lighting comes in large light door and light panel offerings, with flat LED lights that can be affixed to various Ikea cabinets, or mounted on a wall or ceiling if you have rooms without much natural light.

The one thing missing from all of Ikea’s options so far? Colour. While the varying white bulbs make Trådfri an easy swap for the average buyer’s existing lamps and fixtures, the lack of colour-changing LED bulbs is the biggest omission from the line. It’s also one of the absolute coolest things about smart lighting, so that’s disappointing.

Winner: Philips Hue (unless you want smart, illuminating cabinet doors)

CONNECTIVITY: SOLO SPOTLIGHT

Both the Philips Hue and Ikea Smart Lighting systems have a wireless bridge, which connects to your router and the app on your iOS or Android smartphone.

The Hue system has a lot of compatible friends in the connected home ecosystem: you can voice control your lights via an Amazon Echo or Google Home, for example, and they also plug into Apple’s HomeKit platform. Pair Hue with some fellow HomeKit friends like Lutron’s connected blinds and a Netatmo thermostat, and you could create an evening scene that closes the blinds, turns on the lights and raises the temperature in the lounge – all with one button press.

If that’s not enough, IFTTT applets can be used to enable an amazing amount of extra features and interactivity, such as matching the coloured lights to your latest Instagram post, or setting off a light show when your favorite team begins a match.

As of now, Ikea’s smart bulbs don’t do any of that bonus stuff. You’ll have a smartphone app for local control, but Ikea has confirmed that there are no interactions with the Amazon Echo or Google Home, and it doesn’t plug into HomeKit (yet). Likewise, it’s unclear whether you’ll be able to connect to other companies’ devices or services over the Internet anytime soon.

It’s still a smart lighting system, but it’s not nearly as connected as Hue’s.

Winner: Philips Hue

APP: SMART ENOUGH

The updated Hue 2.0 smartphone app (which arrived in April 2016) made the system much more intuitive while adding a lot of new options. The main idea is grouping lights together by room and creating customisable scenes.

Within that, there’s some real depth to the tweakery on offer. You can even create scenes based on saved photos, and develop routines based on your daily usage. You can also change colours and use voice commands at will. It’s fully featured and easy to use.

We haven’t seen Ikea’s iPhone and Android app for Trådfri bulbs in action yet, though you can download it for iOS or Android in preparation for snapping up its £69 Gateway kit (which includes two bulbs, the hub and a remote control).

It promises much of the same core functionality, albeit not all from its launch in April 2017. From the start, you’ll be able to create groups of lights, control them individually, use pre-set lighting moods and design your own.

Then in autumn 2017, the app will be updated to include ‘Away from Home’ functionality that lets you set timers, check to see if you remembered to turn lights off, or remotely turn lights on scare guests.

Again, Ikea’s system doesn’t have colour bulbs so far, so that point is moot. But it seems like you’ll (eventually) get a fair amount of core control here even with just the varying white bulbs.

Winner: Philips Hue

EARLY VERDICT: LIMITED BY DESIGN

The goal of Ikea’s Smart Lighting collection seems to be making smart bulbs easy and approachable, with a limited range of options and few high-ticket-price items. Fair enough! If it helps smart lighting take off beyond super-nerds looking to recreate the northern lights in their lounge, that can only be a good thing.

Put it head-to-head with Philips Hue, though, and we’re not really seeing the advantages for tech-savvy buyers (that’s you). Hue offers a lot more options, most notably colour bulbs, and connects with the Amazon Echo and Google Home for voice controls, not to mention IFTTT applets for loads of handy benefits and silly gags alike.

Most crucially, the prices on the white bulbs and starter kits are neck and neck, assuming you don’t want a physical remote. Hopefully Ikea opens up its platform and patches those holes in the near future, but for now we’d resist that impulse buy when strolling through Ikea’s Marketplace and stick with Philips Hue.

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