Technology

#Are Smart Christmas Lights Worth It?

“Are Smart Christmas Lights Worth It?”

A Christmas tree and curtains decorated with Twinkly smart Christmas lights.
Twinkly

Smart Christmas lights are more expensive than both traditional and LED Christmas lights but offer a significant number of features that make them a compelling holiday splurge.

They’re so new and niche you may not have even heard of them yet, but smart Christmas lights are a very cool and very expensive holiday splurge. Are they worth it?

What Are Smart Christmas Lights?

Smart Christmas lights, like plain old smart lights in general, come in two flavors. First, there are light strands that can be controlled by an app and are limited to just basic color changes, not unlike the bargain smart bulbs on the market. The slightly fancier versions might include a few color change modes or scenes as a trick up their sleeve, but that’s about it.

Then there are more advanced options a wee bit more worthy of the “smart” title. These options aren’t just smart in that an app on your phone can turn them on and off remotely or change them from white, to red, to green. They’re so much more advanced and can do gradients, shifting patterns, and even put on a full-out light show with dancing candy canes and more.

And hey, while you’re thinking about smart Christmas lights, don’t forget that regular smart lights are the easiest holiday decorations around.

I still decorate for the holidays and string my tree with lights, but I lean heavily on my all-year-round lights, like my Govee floodlights, to add some holiday cheer. Govee’s new permanent outdoor holiday lighting was so popular it sold out immediately.

What Smart Christmas Light Options Are There?

Once you get past the “these aren’t Christmas lights, these are just RGB light strips labeled as Christmas lights” segment of the “smart Christmas light” market, there are currently only two major players out there in the A-list top-tier category.

Twinkly: It’ll Blow Your Mind

The first is Twinkly. In fact, we’d go so far as to argue that Twinkly is the defacto face of the consumer smart Christmas lighting market. Since 2017, the company has delivered the most sophisticated off-the-shelf smart Christmas light decorations around.

What makes them stand out from every other competitor is not just the addressable nature of their light strands, but the ease with which you can use the app to do so. You can string the lights, take a picture of them with the app, and then use a simple tap-to-paint type interface to create complex patterns and animations—all because the system knows exactly where each light is laid out.

For most Christmas trees, you’ll need one Twinkly Strings kit (600 bulbs across 157.5 feet). That’ll set you back $250-300, depending on whether you catch the kit on sale. There is also a 400-light, 105-foot strand for $140 that’s functionally identical save for length.

Need a tree and a smart light kit all in one swoop? Twinkly even offers a pre-lit tree so you can enjoy out-of-the-box smart lighting.

Philips Hue: Old Pros, New Lights

A Christmas tree lit up with strands of Philips Signify holiday lights.
Philips/Signify

In the smart lighting market, Philips is an old pro with a plethora of great products in the Hue lineup. We recommend them all the time here at How-To Geek for everything from general smart lighting to setting up a sunrise alarm clock.

As of November 2022, Philips is in the smart Christmas lighting game with the release of their Festavia string lights. As of this article in December 2022, they are completely sold out due to a huge response from Hue fans, so you’ll likely have to wait until next Christmas to deck your tree out with Philips Hue products.

The Festivia lights don’t offer individual addressability like Twinkly lights, but they offer the ease of use and elegant scenes you’d expect from the Hue platform. You can create gradients, simple patterns, and—most valuable to serious Hue enthusiasts—sync them into the rest of your lights. If you already have Hue bulbs, light strips, or accent lights, they will mesh seamlessly with your Christmas tree lights.

The Festiva strands feature 250 lights across 65 feet. Philips claims one strand is sufficient for trees up to 7 feet but we’re not so confident in that as we like a Christmas tree lit up like the Vegas strip.  Oddly, the strands aren’t extensible, and Philips’ suggested solution to that problem is to carefully layer two strands over each other in the same spiral pattern and then sync them in the app. For a company known for their very polished smart lighting solutions that feels just a wee bit kludgy, if you ask us.

At $160 a strand, however, it’s designed to appeal to Hue fans deep in the Hue ecosystem and not priced competitively enough to go toe-to-toe with the slightly cheaper offerings from Twinkly. Still, the Hue platform is quite mature, and if you’re living that Hue life, it’s tough to beat a Christmas light product that seamlessly integrates with it.

Everyone Else: It’s Hit or Miss

Once you get beyond Twinkly and Philips Hue, there aren’t any major brands in the smart Christmas light space. Companies Kasa and Govee have great smart LED lights in general and light strips you can use for holiday decorating, but they don’t have dedicated Christmas light strings for indoor or outdoor trees.

Hopefully, one day they will because we really like both companies. But for now, once you get beyond Twinkly as the flashiest showstopper option and the Festiva strands as the Hue-integrated option, you’re into the wilds of small brands and white box products.

If you’d like to spend less than those two premium options demand but still have voice control through Alexa or Google Assistant, smart home integration, color changing, schedules, and more, there are a few options worth investigating. However, we’d encourage you to go into the experiment with modest expectations because the hardware and software have the potential to be a bit flaky by comparison.

Brizled Smart Christmas Lights

With 600 leds and 196 feet of length, this smart home compatible Christmas light strand offers more than enough lights to wrap the majority of trees.

Brizled sells a wide variety of inexpensive LED holiday lights on Amazon. In 2022 they introduced a new smart Christmas light option with all the basic bells and whistles you’d expect, like smart home integration and scenes.

The strand has 600 LEDs, is 196 feet long, and is not extensible (if you want more lights you’ll need to use the Hue Festiva trick and layer them over one another to create a candy-cane effect).

People love the price point—$85 for such a long strand is a pretty good value—but do note that the Brizled lights struggle with pulling off warm white. Reviewers note that the LEDs can do pure white, and yellow, but nothing that looks exactly like a warm traditional lights.

PabiPabi Smart Light Strand

These fairy light style LEDs support Alexa and Google assistant. They also offer a clever tree-shape light planning function that helps you visualize your tree while selecting the colors and patterns.

If you’re looking for an even more economical option, this strand from PabiPabi features smart home integration combined with an on-strand control system. You can use the app or you can use the button on the control box to switch the light modes.

The app also has a clever design with a tree-shaped outline that looks sort of like the Twinkly interface (minus the advanced real-time scanning and programming). As long as you string your lights from the tail end of the strand, top to bottom, the mocked-up tree will let you see how the patterns will look. It’s not advanced programmability, but it is a nice touch.

Beyond those two options, however, we’d encourage you to read the product listings and reviews carefully. You’ll get many search results for “smart” Christmas lights that aren’t actually smart or simply have a remote control and no smart home integration to speak of.

So, Are They Worth It?

That’s the question we posed in the headline, and it’s a tough question to answer for you. A sports car is worth it if you want to spend your free time zooming along winding canyon roads, but that doesn’t negate the expense.

Halloween, for example, is a Very Big Deal in my house, and I just bought multiple fog machines on Black Friday. Spending money on fog machines is worth it because I want the most atmospheric yard possible on Halloween night.

In that regard, smart Christmas lights may be more than worth it to you if you treat the Christmas season as The Big Show and want to not only have something to tinker with but something that will wow your friends and family.

Sure, a $250 strand of light-show-grade smart Christmas lights is a lot more than $30 worth of plain old warm white LEDs, but if you want an experience that is more Viva Las Vegas and less Christmas in Connecticut, that might just be the price of admission.

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