Ikea Tradfri vs Philips Hue vs Lifx: smart light brands, head to head

Ikea's bargain smart light brand goes up against the big hitters in illumination: find out how these smart lighting systems compare

Ikea Tradfri vs Philips Hue vs Lifx

When it comes to smart home tech, smart lights are undoubtedly some of the most obvious and useful items you can pick up. Have your lights switch on as you're heading up the driveway. Flick them on with a tap of a button on your smartphone, or a word to your smart assistant. Change colours, enjoy wacky effects, run security routines – if you're new to this sort of things, it's like you're living in the future.

But the question is, which set of smart lights should you go for? The Ikea Tradfri, Philips Hue, and Lifx ranges represent some of the best products on the market, so we've put them up against each other to compare them – and to see which ones are right for you.

Ikea Tradfri vs Philips Hue vs Lifx: range

Ikea Tradfri bulbs

Ikea Tradfri bulbs

The Ikea Tradfri range of bulbs and lights has expanded a long way from its original limited white-only selection; coloured bulbs have reached the line, as well as Edison-style vintage bulbs, GU10 fittings, and a driver line which allows you to get deep with feature lighting control, too. Other items from the Ikea range also work with Tradfri controls, like the Floalt LED light panel. Unsurprisingly, this is the homeliest selection of the bunch.

The Lifx range is more about spectacle, with its Tile and Beam feature lights and light strips joined by indoor and outdoor bulbs, including the Plus range which incorporate IR LEDs which stay on even when the bulb itself is set to off.  You can pick up white bulbs or full colour ones across the whole range too.

Finally Philips Hue has the biggest range, just about, when you consider all the different types of bulb on offer – as well as bulbs, Philips Hue has a bunch of standalone lamps, a hugely expanded range of outdoor lights, strip lighting and other options to pick from. Both Edison and Bayonet fittings are available across the range, and if you need a particular type of light or light bulb, chances are there's a Philips Hue product to fit.

Ikea Tradfri vs Philips Hue vs Lifx: setup

Philips Hue bulbs

Philips Hue bulbs

Tradfri bulbs from Ikea are reasonably easy to set up: some models even come with a remote control or dimmer switch if you don't want to use the (rather basic) smartphone apps. In most cases, to use most of the bulbs and most of their features, you do need to install a gateway hub that's plugged into your router first though, through which your smart light communications go. The bulbs do work with Amazon Alexa devices, the Google Assistant app, and with Apple's HomeKit platform as well, giving you a few other options for controlling them besides the Ikea remote or app. They also (whisper it) can be finagled to work with the Hue Bridge, if you're just looking to add a few bulbs to an existing setup.

As for Lifx bulbs, they're perhaps the easiest to set up out of the three product lines here. You don't need an extra hub plugged into your router, so you can just get started with a single bulb if you want to – the mobile apps that accompany the lights are simple and intuitive to use and packed with features. Like the Tradfri lights, Lifx bulbs and fittings work with Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Apple HomeKit, so you can easily integrate them into the rest of your smart home setup.

And then there's Philips Hue – these bulbs are a breeze to set up and configure, and while they work best with a hub connected to your router, recent bulbs also incorporate Bluetooth for a little extra flexibility in a pinch. There's compatibility with Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Apple HomeKit here if you should need it. None of these systems are a pain to set up, but Lifx just edges it for speed and simplicity.

Ikea Tradfri vs Philips Hue vs Lifx: features

Lifx bulbs

Lifx bulbs

In terms of features, a lot of cool stuff is the same across the board: with all of these products, you can control your lights with your phone, integrate them with other smart home systems, set them to run on a timer, change them while you're away from home and more. We've already mentioned the Apple HomeKit, Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant integration all these bulbs have.

There are a few differences though. Lifx bulbs, unlike the Philips Hue or Ikea Tradfri ones, don't come with an official motion sensor you can use (you have to connect one through a third-party system like HomeKit). However, Lifx bulbs do have a range of effects, like candlelight and strobe lighting, that you can't get through the standard apps for Philips Hue and Ikea Tradfri lights.

Philips Hue has the most features on offer, perhaps because it's been around the longest: there's a syncing app available that matches your lights to movies and video games, for example, along with specific hardware that can make this experience even better. It supports several apps produced by third-party developers too. Ikea's Tradfri has the fewest raw features; it's more a range for the budget-conscious user with more basic needs.

Ikea Tradfri vs Philips Hue vs Lifx: verdict

We like the Ikea Tradfri, the Philips Hue, and the Lifx ranges very much: smart lighting really should be this easy. There are specific reasons why you might want to pick one range over another, though – the Ikea Tradfri lights are basic but they're also cheap. They cover most of the tricks that smart lights are known for, whether that's remote dimming or timed activation, and the number of options available means they're fairly easy to integrate with your home.

At the top of the pile in many categories is the Philips Hue line. You get the widest choice of bulbs and light fixtures, the best and most advanced app, and the greatest choice of third-party apps and integrations. If you want to get really serious about your smart lighting setup then Philips Hue is probably the way to go – though these are also the most expensive products, especially when you consider that they're pretty limited if you don't also invest in a Hue Bridge.

Philips Hue isn't necessarily the best choice for everyone though. Lifx lights work individually by default, connecting directly to Wi-fi without the need for a hub or any of the Bluetooth workarounds that Hue bulbs demand. They're capable of some rather cool tricks of their own as well – getting the colour of the bulbs to change automatically as the day progresses, for instance. There are also some cool night vision bulbs that the other two ranges can't offer as well.