Sunday, November 18, 2018

IKEA TRADFRI review - a layman's smart home

I recently bought a few parts of the IKEA TRADFRI collection to get a taste of the future everyone's talking about: smart home. To get to know the system I bought the gateway, remote control, power plug and a light bulb.

Hardware

The components look very good if you like the usual minimalistic IKEA style (I do). They are mostly white and made of plastic that doesn't look too shiny but also doesn't look cheap. In fact, I wouldn't mind to have the gateway standing in the middle of my living room beneath the TV (on an IKEA shelf, obviously).

The IKEA website and also the local guidance at the store made it sound like you have to buy the (quite expensive) remote control in order to pair devices, which sounded ridiculous to me. I bought it anyway to make sure I can go through the whole setup. After setting it all up I understood that in fact I don't need THAT remote control, but I need SOME remote control from the TRADFRI collection. Since I bought the power plug in a bundle with a nice, small remote control I am able to return the expensive remote control now since there is no point in having it for me. After all the idea was to have a smart home, which means less physical controls and use apps instead!

Setup... not necessarily suited for your grandmother


Setup was mostly easy as the app explains what you need to do for each step. The manuals delivered with the product were surprisingly bad as there was 1. a lot of stuff that is not relevant (certifications, warranties, etc) and 2. the usual IKEA-style manuals don't fit such a product very well as pictures are not always enough to cover all the information that is necessary.

After ditching the manuals completely and relying on the instructions given by the app instead I was able to go through the setup. Overall it is more complicated than I'm used to from other IKEA products (which are non-tech products of course), but still better than the setup of other more geeky products. I could imagine a layman to set this up if he dedicates some time and effort into it.

However the thing that made the setup take much longer than expected for me is that there's a certain amount of randomness to the setup. I had to repeat some of the steps once or twice until it finally went through. For example, after setting up the second device I had to pair the first device again for some reason. I'm pretty sure that this was due to an error on my side, but there was no indication what went wrong. A person that is less technically versed might very well have given up halfway through...

Usage and features

After setting it all up the excitement went through the roof. The official app is a pleasure to use, very intuitive and responsive. I've seen much worse apps from big-name companies (look at the Playstation app for example...).

What you get by default is what you would expect: you see the state of each device (turned on / off, etc) and change those settings in a breeze. There's also presets to change the color of a light bulb to match your mood, i.e. "relax" to make it a very dim, warm light.

The real fun started for me when I discovered the Google Home integration. Again the setup for that was not flawless as I had to restart it a few times, but eventually it worked out fine. Afterwards all my devices showed up in the Google Home app, which offers similar features to the app offered by IKEA itself: turn on / off devices, see their current state, change brightness (but not the color!).

The thing that made me whee was when I tried to use this using the Google Assistant: "OK Google, turn on the living room lights." - "Ok, turned on the living room lights" - BOOM! But that's not all: with the IKEA app you are only able to control devices while you are connected to the same WiFi network. Guess what? With Google Home / Assistant you can do the same from anywhere in the world - no further setup required! Not sure if you turned off the lights before leaving home? No problem, you can check it from remote and turn it off if necessary.

The other thing I'm using is the power plug, which controls my towel heater in the bathroom. So lazy me being lazy, I can use an app while sitting on the couch to pre-heat the bathroom. Welcome to the future, you lazy idiot! :)

Conclusion

I'm really happy to own these products now and I'm considering where to apply them next. In my opinion it doesn't make sense to equip your main lightning with smart bulbs as they won't work if somebody turns them off using the physical switch anyway. So in the "worst" case you try to turn it on using the app but it doesn't work because someone used the physical switch to turn it off earlier. That completely defeats the purpose of the whole thing in my opinion. I could imagine to use a few more of the smart power plugs though as they are very versatile and can turn an old-fashioned device into a semi-smart one.