Ikea brings voice-activated smart shades to the rest of us
The window on my home’s front door has no curtain or blind, which is something I’ve long wanted to fix since it looks straight out onto the street. There are plenty of basic options that will get the job done, but I’ve been holding out for something a little fancier — and preferably something that I can automate, or control with my voice. I mean, come on. Who doesn’t want to live like a Bond villain?
- Incredible value compared to competitors like Lutron, Somfy and Tilt.
- Easy-to-use app covers all of the bases for smart control, grouping and scheduling.
- Simple, easy to use voice controls vie Siri, Alexa or the Google Assistant.
- Removable, rechargeable lithium-ion battery.
- Magnetic wireless remote comes included.
- Totally non-customizable design, available only in gray.
- Slightly ugly metal housing.
- Gateway device for app and voice controls sold separately.
- Mounting screws not included.
- No way to manually raise or lower the shades when the battery is dead.
Enter the budget-friendly home furnishings of Ikea. After initially getting its feet wet with the Tradfri smart lighting system, the Swedish retailer announced in 2018 that it was working on app- and voice-enabled roller blinds to go with it. Initially pitched for release in April of 2019, the blinds hit a number of delays during development before quietly starting to hit stores toward the end of the year under the Fyrtur name.
That was welcome news for me, because Ikea’s smart shades support voice controls via Siri, Alexa or the Google Assistant and start at just $129. Most everything else in the smart shade category costs quite a bit more than that.
How much more? Well, motorized roller shades of all sizes cost a flat $399 apiece from Tilt, and you have to pay extra for the hub that smartens them up and syncs them with your voice assistant of choice (“Free shipping on orders over $2,000,” the website reads). A single motorized smart blackout shade from Lutron’s Serena collection similar to the ones we tested at the CNET Smart Home a few years back added up to about $660 when I customized it to fit my door’s window on the Serena website and added in a Lutron Bridge for app and voice control — and you’ll play in the same high-priced ballpark if you’re shopping for Lutron’s new smart wood blinds, too. What about a smart shade from Somfy? You’ll have to connect with a third-party dealer and pay who knows what.
All of that gives Ikea’s Fyrtur shades the look of a game-changer for the category. And the value is indeed pretty strong here, especially for folks like me who have long felt priced out of the category altogether. It isn’t the prettiest-looking piece of window dressing — and you can’t customize the design at all, which is a drag — but if you just want the Bond villain satisfaction of telling your voice assistant of choice to lower the shades without needing to spend one meeeeellion dollars on them, then these are the roller blinds you’ve been waiting for.
The Fyrtur is now
Available now, Ikea’s Fyrtur smart shades come in eight different sizes. Each one is 76 inches long when the shade is fully extended, but the width varies from 23 inches ($129) up to 48 inches ($179). There’s very little markup from size to size, and just $50 separating the smallest Fyrtur from the largest, so good on Ikea for not bilking people here. For my front door’s window, I went with the 27-inch version, which costs $139.
No matter what size you need, your shade will come with heather gray blackout fabric and a metal, industrial-looking overhang. I wouldn’t call it ugly, but it definitely isn’t eye-catching. You can’t customize the way they look at all, either — no special-cut sizes, no fancy colors or materials, no nothin’. That’s the key trade-off here — competitors like Lutron and Somfy will let you customize your shades in all sorts of ways, but they cost substantially more than what Ikea’s asking.
Ikea Fyrtur Smart Shade sizes
Each Fyrtur shade comes with a rechargeable lithium-ion battery to power it, a wireless remote to control it at a touch, and mounting brackets that you’ll need to screw it into place. They don’t come with screws, though. Since your mounting needs will vary, Ikea makes you pick out your own screws, which feels like a bit of a cop-out since it could have included two or three sets of the most commonly used varieties, along with instructions on what to get if you need something else.
Still, after a quick trip to the hardware store to grab a fresh pack of self-drilling no. 8 lath screws, I was all set to drill the thing into place at the top of my door. Doing so was relatively painless — just measure to determine where the brackets should go, mark the spots with a pencil, and screw them in. Once you’ve done that, the entire Fyrtur blind clips into place beneath them. It’s somewhat heavy, but the brackets do a good job at keeping everything secure
Trip to the hardware store aside, I was able to install one myself in about 20 minutes (and I was tweeting each step of the way, too — here’s the link to that thread in case you want to see the play-by-play).
Once the blind is installed, you’ll use the included Micro-USB cable to give the battery a quick charge, and then pop it into place in the housing. At that point, you’ll be able to push a pair of inconspicuous buttons on the overhang to move the blind up and down. Plug in an odd-looking, two-piece signal repeater that comes with each blind, and you’ll be able to pair the wireless remote with your blinds, too. Just unscrew the back, insert the coin battery, and then hold a pairing button down while holding it up close to the blind. It’s magnetic, too, which is a nice touch if you just want to keep the thing on the fridge.
For app and voice controls, you’ll need Ikea’s Tradfri Gateway plugged into your router. It sells separately for a reasonable $35, and works just like a Philips Hue Bridge, translating the Zigbee signals sent by your Tradfri lights and Fyrtur blinds into something your home network can understand. The Tradfri app also includes controls for Ikea’s line of smart speakers, though I didn’t have one on hand to test out how well those integrate into the system.
With the Gateway up and running and everything properly paired up, you’ll be able to raise and lower the blinds from your Android or iOS device. You can also program your blinds to open and close on an automated schedule. And, importantly, the app tells you how to specify a maximum extension length for each blind, which keeps it from spooling out onto your floor when you tell it to lower to 100%.
In my case, I only needed a little more than half of the full 76 inches of fabric in order to cover the window on my door — so, I extended the blind to that point and then held down some buttons for a few seconds in order to lock that length in. Once I did, the blind wouldn’t go any lower than that when I tried to close it. Perfect.
The app also offers instructions on how to pair with Siri, Alexa or the Google Assistant. I mainly use Alexa in my home, so I started there, and had the connection up and running in about a minute. Everything worked great. When I told Alexa to lower the shade, the shade would drop down to my preset maximum length. When I told Alexa to raise the shade, it neatly wound itself back up. When I told Alexa to set the shade to 50%, the shade raised to cover the top half of the window. Those same basic controls worked well with Siri and the Google Assistant, too.
You can also control those blinds using the automated controls offered by each of those three voice platforms. For instance, I have an Alexa routine that turns off lights and sets the thermostat whenever I go to bed. Now, that routine makes sure the shade is closed, too.
Controls like those are more or less the same on each platform, with some slight differences (one nice extra on the Apple HomeKit front: the Home app will tell you what percentage the blind’s battery is at). Between that, the voice controls, and the app scheduling, Ikea’s shades offer everything I want as far as smarts are concerned.
Still, these blinds don’t get everything right. Though the heather gray looks fine to me, the most obvious issue is the lack of any color choices for the fabric, and there aren’t any Ikea alternatives for folks looking for smart slatted-style blinds, or cellular blinds, either.
Another issue: While you get those two little buttons on the blind housing as a form of physical control, you can’t manually roll the blinds by hand when they aren’t powered. The rechargeable battery packs are a pretty nice touch here, and more convenient than the D-cell batteries needed to power Lutron’s luxurious Serena shades, but that still seems like an oversight to me.
I’m keeping it
As a badly needed value pick in an intriguing smart home category, Ikea’s Fyrtur smart shades check all of the boxes. The design is admittedly basic, especially the clunky-looking metal housing, but that doesn’t bother me too much at this price. More important is that the Fyrtur shade was easy to install, easy to program and connect with whatever voice assistant you like, and easy to use. It brings some new utility to my smart home that I couldn’t previously afford. I’ll take it.
I mean that literally, by the way. I paid for this thing and I like it enough to keep it right where it is at my front door. Along with making my living room feel a bit more private and high tech, it’ll give me a good, first-hand sense of how long the battery lasts on a charge (hopefully at least a few months with light usage). I’ll report back once I have that info, but for now, I’m more than comfortable recommending Ikea’s Fyrtur blinds to just about anyone interested in adding smart shades to their smart home setup without breaking the bank.