I’ve spent years trying to find a good connected option for my holiday lights. Yes, I’ve connected my outdoor lights and tree lights to smart plugs, but as anyone who has looked at a Hue or LIFX bulb knows, there are lot of cool things we could do with LED holiday lights. But for years no one was doing them.
Back in 2014 I purchased two sets of iTwinkle lights from a Home Depot. These lights connected to an app on my phone using Bluetooth, and the app allowed me to set different color options that ranged from turning the entire strand a specific color to a preset mixture of color combinations for various holidays. These lights were about $50 for a strand of 24 and I needed two strands to light up the walkway outside. They were fun, but the Bluetooth connection was wonky and the advertised music the lights worked with was played through your phone. So when the phone wasn’t in hearing range the lights were dancing to the beat of an unheard drummer.
Eventually, the bulbs around the LEDs broke and I tossed the lights, resolving never to buy Bluetooth outdoor lights again. This year my search for holiday lights led me to Twinkly, the maker of a Wi-Fi-connected LED bulb set that seemed to be everything I had ever wanted. Outdoor compliant? Yes (they’re IP44 rated)! Individually addressable lights? Yes. Good app interface? Yes.
The only downside was the price. I paid $180 on Amazon for a strand that has 225 lights, or roughly enough for a 6-7-foot tree. I later found the same item at Target for $126.99. These lights come in various formations including a short 56-bulb strand and a longer 400-bulb strand. I have the first generation of the lights, but the second generation has more features, including a mic so the lights can sync to music, a Bluetooth radio for easier setup and more colors. The lights also come in a Wall variation and in an Icicle variation. You can coordinate different strands together in the app, but you can’t plug one strand into another, so get the closest length that works for your needs.
The setup process was not seamless on my Android device, but it wasn’t too terrible. I tried and failed once to get the lights on my Wi-Fi network. The app said the lights didn’t pair, but my Eero did notify me that they joined my network. The second try after closing the app worked. The device sets up a software-based Wi-Fi network that you join with your phone. Once your credentials are entered it hops onto your network. It’s a setup that many people will be familiar with.
Once set up, you get to have fun. In the app, you can select a variety of color combinations or make your own. You also can have the effects loop or remain still. The looping effect has the lights chase each other in set patterns. There are about a dozen patterns to choose from in the app or you can check out options that other users have created and uploaded. Or you can make your own. You can do that by manually coloring in the lights with your finger on the phone screen, or by using your phone’s camera to map the lights on your tree or home to ensure the lights take on the right design.
Mapping works in 2D for flat installations such as a string of light around a window and for 3D applications such as chasing a pattern around a tree or pillar. I found the mapping to be really accurate, but the app cautions that you shouldn’t do it in a dark or too bright room. I mapped mine on a cloudy afternoon with the blinds closed.
For those who have multiple Twinkly strands you can link them up in three different ways. You can create a scene, which coordinates multiple strands, but doesn’t make them all behave the same way. For example, you might want the trees in your yard to follow a looping candy-cane pattern while your lights over the door are a still red and green. You can also group them using sync, which will make all the lights coordinate to create the same pattern. In this example, your candy cane trees will match your candy-cane door. Finally, you can choose join, which virtually links two strands together which you might use to cover a large tree or outline your house.
If you want to control your holiday decor with Alexa or Google, the Twinkly lights work with both. You can turn them on or off and enable scenes. All in all, the colors are bright, although the green is more swampy than Christmasy as a function of the way LEDs show the color. I loved the blues, pinks and reds, but found the orange to be so-so. Older versions don’t have a true white light, but newer strands do have that option. Twinkly also offers a tunable white strand that cycles between amber, warm white and cold white.
So, if the holiday spirit strikes you, and you have a bunch of cash burning a hole in your pocket, check out these lights.