Smart holiday string lights can add some serious flair to your festivities. With millions of color options and some dazzling effects, they offer a lot more versatility than a set of standard LED string lights with a smart plug. But they also cost a lot more. If you need an argument to convince your other half (or yourself) that it’s worth spending a few hundred dollars on smart lights this year, here you go:
Every year, we buy a few new boxes of string lights because some of the ones from last year stopped working. So, if you add up all the money I’ll spend over the next two years on buying new lights each year, it easily covers the extra expense today.
Plus, these are way cooler, and we can use them for more holidays: spooky oranges for Halloween; festive fall colors for Thanksgiving; pinks for Valentine’s Day; red, white, and blue for the Fourth of July. If you think about it, we’re actually saving money.
There are lots of smart lighting products that can add extra holiday ambiance to your home, from curtain lights to light strips, accent lights, and even whole-home permanent lights. Here, I’ll focus on the simplest but arguably most essential one — string lights. They are the best option for decorating your Christmas tree (if you celebrate), and all of the models we tested work both indoors or outdoors, so you can decorate your porch, landscaping, and house with them, too.
The smart features that you’re paying (a lot) extra for include the ability to schedule the lights through an app and add them to smart home routines so you can say fun things like “Alexa, turn on Christmas!” They also offer many more colors than standard string lights, so you can use them year-round, and they let you set dynamic lighting scenes that can sizzle up the season. And let’s face it, for many suburban neighborhoods, spectacular holiday lighting has become another front in the battle to keep up with the Joneses.
How I tested
I tested each string light in my front garden, stringing them around bushes, tree trunks, porch columns, and rooflines. (I tested these in late October, so Christmas trees were in short supply.) Each light was installed for at least a month and exposed to a South Carolina fall’s not very severe elements. I tried out all the specific holiday effects, created my own, and tried to find the perfect glowy Christmas white and spooky Halloween orange. I connected them to compatible smart home platforms to set schedules, add them to automations and routines, and control them via voice and with smart buttons and motion sensors.
The best smart holiday string lights
These smart lights have beautiful colors, a nice selection of festive scenes, and an easy-to-use app. They are super reliable when paired with a Hue Bridge and also work over Bluetooth. They come in two lengths, work with all the major smart home platforms, and are Matter-compatible.
Connectivity: Zigbee (with Hue Bridge), BLE, Matter (with Hue Bridge) / Works with: Matter, Amazon Alexa, Apple Home (HomeKit), Google Home, Samsung SmartThings / Tunable white: Yes, 2,200 to 6,500 Kelvins / Outdoor rated: IP54 string and power adapter / Sizes: 65.6ft (250 LEDs) and 131.2ft (500 LEDs) / Cord color: Black / Music sync: Yes (through Spotify and other options)
Philips Hue’s Festavia lights are the best smart string lights for the holidays, thanks to rock-solid reliability, gorgeously rich colors, attractive preset effects, and wide smart home compatibility. They also work excellently within the Hue ecosystem, including many lighting options that can enhance your Christmas tree (Hue Play Bars, light strips, and accent lamps) or your outdoor lighting setup (spotlights, bollards, and outdoor light strips). Hue motion sensors and switches make it easy to turn the lights on or off automatically and cycle through the scenes without getting out an app or getting on your knees to find the controller.
The downside is the price. Starting at $220 for 66 feet or a whopping $360 for 132 feet — the latter of which you’ll need for a seven-foot Christmas tree if you like a lot of lights — it’s $80 more than the closest competition. Plus, you need a Hue Bridge for a lot of the features (including music sync), and that costs an extra $60.
The other negative is brightness; these are subtle lights and dimmer than any of the other lights I tested. However, the Festavia had the richest colors and the most sophisticated feel, with some really beautiful scenes and effects that felt magical rather than flashy.
Festavia is the only model I tested with an IP54 rating for both the lights and the power adapter — meaning it should hold up to the elements. However, Hue warns that outdoor use is not intended for longer than 90 days at a time.
Read my full review of the Festavia string lights (note this review is of the first-gen version that was indoors-only; I tested the second-gen version for this guide, which adds IP54 weatherproofing and more sizes but is otherwise identical).
The best cheap smart string lights
The least expensive smart string lights you can buy, Govee’s LEDs are individually addressable, allowing for flashier effects. The colors are bright and bold, but no white chip means the RGB-designated whites are limited. Govee’s lights have built-in music sync and can sync scenes across the company’s wide range of lights, indoors and out.
Connectivity: 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi, built-in Wi-Fi / Works with: Amazon Alexa, Google Home / Tunable white: No / Outdoor rated: String IP65, power adapter IP44 / Sizes: 33ft (100 LEDs) and 65.6 ft (200 LEDs) / Cord color: White / Music sync: Yes, built into the controller
The Govee Christmas String Lights are Festavia’s alter ego: bold, super bright, supremely flashy, with a white cord (Hue’s is black) and individually addressable LEDs (Hue has individually addressable segments). And they’re less than half the price, making it more affordable to set yourself up for the holidays.
Govee’s lights have countless preset lighting effects and can do wild things like send a shooting star around your tree or along your roofline. The 66-foot Govee model I tested also comes in just one cord, which makes for a simpler setup: just unroll and go. All the other string lights had two separate strings connected in the middle by a controller, making for a more complicated stringing exercise (see FAQs for more on this).
Govee’s string lights have music and scene sync technology built in, allowing you to share effects across other Govee lights and have them all jump to the beat. The company has a huge lineup of fun options to really jazz up your holiday. As well as a full line of regular smart lights, Govee has curtain lights, strip lights, and light panels as well as outdoor options and even permanent outdoor lights you can attach to your house. Some of these models also work with Matter, but not the Christmas String Lights. They also don’t have a dedicated white chip, so the whites are faked using RGB LEDs. The result is very bluey or orangey white, without much soft white in between.
While the string is rated at IP65, the power adapter is only IP44. The LEDs are also drop heads, not bullet heads, as all the other options are. This makes for a different look, especially on a tree. It’s a personal preference. While I like the effect for running along a roof line or down a pillar, it was less appealing on a tree, especially as the white cord stood out.
My other beef is with the Govee app. There are many options, but I felt like I needed a degree in graphic design to build my own colors and scenes, and most of the preset scenes are a bit garish. But you are paying a lot less for Govee’s lights than Hue’s.
The smart holiday string lights with the best effects
Twinkly has the best selection of holiday string lights in sizes ranging from 26 to 158 feet and with options that include just color, color and white, or just white. The lights are bright and colorful, and the effects you can find and create in the Twinkly app are very impressive. But the app is fiddly, and these Wi-Fi lights suffer from connectivity issues.
Connectivity: 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi, BLE / Works with: Apple Home (HomeKit), Amazon Alexa, Google Home / Tunable white: Yes / Outdoor rated: IP44 / Sizes: 26.2ft (100LEDs), 65.6ft (250 LEDs), 105ft (400 LEDs), and 157.5ft (600 LEDs) / Cord color: Black, green, or clear (variable based on length) / Music sync: Yes, with smartphone or additional hardware
If you want the best string lights for the most impressive effects that won’t make your house look like a set from Tron, Twinkly’s holiday string lights offer the best of both worlds. They combine Hue’s more sophisticated approach with Govee’s flash and whizzbang at a more affordable price point than Hue, starting at $140 for 250 color and white LEDs. But ongoing connectivity issues and a frustrating app keep me from making this my top pick.
However, if you can get around those (when it comes to connectivity issues, everyone’s mileage varies) and spend some time learning how to use the app, Twinkly has many excellent features.
Its biggest selling point is its effects. A unique mapping feature will adapt its animation effects to the layout of your lights. Each LED is individually addressable, allowing for much more “twinkly” effects than Hue (which has individually addressable segments). The mapping feature allows for more advanced animations than Hue; you can even “draw your own.” Strung on a tree, preloaded effects like “Bright Twinkle” are very impressive.
The cool white is very blue, and the warm white is a tad too yellow — it’s possible I was configuring it wrong, but the color picker is limited and fiddly to use. If you want purer whites, I would go for Twinkly’s dedicated white lights, which look like they have more temperature range. (I’ve reached out to Twinkly to confirm this).
The app is the biggest black mark here, being fiddly and frustrating to use. This is largely because the lights kept dropping offline, and reconnecting them was a laborious reset process. I tested two styles of lights, string and icicles. The string worked largely reliably, with a few dropoffs, but the icicles refused to connect to my Wi-Fi until I tried with an Android phone, and then once connected, it refused to stay connected.
You can control Twinkly lights with built-in Wi-Fi, which is a neat feature and gives you much more versatility in placement since you don’t need to be close to your Wi-Fi router. But if you do that, you can’t sync them with other Twinkly lights or control them remotely. This was also an issue when they dropped offline; it would break the scenes I had set up.
If you want to go all out with the most lit-up tree or house on the block, Twinkly has everything you could need.
Twinkly does have a music sync feature, but unlike Nanoleaf and Govee, it’s not built-in; you have to buy a $30 sound sensor or use your smartphone. There are also no physical remote controls for the lights other than on the controller itself, and this only turns them on or off; it doesn’t switch scenes. While Twinkly has a wide range of lights, here’s where its lack of a larger ecosystem lets it down. It does work with HomeKit, though, so you could set up a smart button or motion sensor to control the lights — this would be limited to on or off however, as Twinkly’s Scenes don’t cross over to other platforms as Nanoleaf and Hue’s do.
Twinkly’s biggest selling point is its sheer variety. If you want to go all out with the most lit-up tree or house on the block, it has everything: cluster, curtain, and icicle lights; light trees; pre-lit wreaths, garlands, and trees; and more traditional string lights and LED strips. There’s the option of cheaper, color-only, and white-only string lights, too.
Twinkly has a holiday bundle of string lights, Twinkly Plus, for $1,000, that comes with four 65-foot Plus strings, each with 250 RGB-W LEDs plus a four-port controller and an IP65 rating (standard Twinklys are IP44).
The best Matter-compatible smart string lights
These are Matter-compatible out of the box and have rich colors and a nice range of cool to warm lights. Each LED is individually addressable, allowing for some fun effects. Nanoleaf’s ecosystem is limited when it comes to outdoor lights, but there are lots of indoor options you can sync scenes across.
Connectivity: Matter (Wi-Fi), 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi, BLE / Works with: Matter (Apple Home, Amazon Alexa, Google Home, Samsung SmartThings, and more) / Tunable white: Yes, 2,700 to 6,500 Kelvins / Outdoor rated: IP44 / Sizes: 65.6ft (250 LEDs) / Cord color: Black / Music sync: Yes, built into the controller
Nanoleaf’s first holiday lights are easy to set up and offer rich colors, crisp whites, and individually addressable LEDs. They’re the first string lights to be compatible with Matter, so all you need to do to add them to your smart home platform of choice (Apple Home, Amazon Alexa, Google Home, Samsung SmartThings) is scan the Matter QR code into the app. (The other lights that work with Matter are the Hue Festavia, but you need a Hue Bridge for that.)
If you want to take advantage of Nanoleaf’s effects, you will need to use Nanoleaf’s app, where there are nine preset scenes, including my favorites: “Holiday Magic” and “Crackling Fireplace.” Of course, you can use any of the other hundreds of downloadable scenes or create your own. As with Govee, though, this isn’t a simple process — at least not if you want the result to look decent — so I recommend sticking with the supplied scenes.
Also, like Govee, Nanoleaf’s lights come with a microphone built into the controller, which can cycle through scenes for you, so you can have your tree lights sync to your Christmas playlist. Nanoleaf has a wide array of ambient lighting options you can pair with the string lights; Nanoleaf Lines on the wall behind the Christmas tree would look pretty cool.
Unlike Govee, Hue, and Twinkly, Nanoleaf doesn’t have any other outdoor lighting options, making these a good option for a Christmas tree, mantlepiece, or Festivus pole in the living room, but not for a big lighting display.
For remote controls, you can use smart buttons and motion sensors when paired to a smart home platform through Matter. Right now, Apple Home is the best option for this since it has the widest support for buttons in Matter.
It’s a bit disappointing that the lights use Matter over Wi-Fi while the rest of Nanoleaf’s Essentials line uses Matter-over-Thread. As a mesh protocol, Thread could help with range if you used these outdoors. During testing, they did drop offline a few times, and I had to unplug them and plug them back in to get them online again. Another minor irritant is that you can’t set schedules for the lights in Nanoleaf’s app. You have to connect them to a smart home platform through Matter for schedules. This means you have to have a Matter controller (such as an Echo smart speaker or Apple HomePod) if you want to set them to turn on and off automatically.
Photos and video by Jennifer Pattison Tuohy / The Verge