Smart Christmas tree lights generally do little more than let you turn them on and off with voice commands, but Twinkly’s string lights take the smarts to a new level. Packed with a few dozen effects plus the ability to create your own, Twinkly’s light strings can deliver some truly impressive light shows with the help of an app that maps the position of each individual LED. Besides the Twinkly mobile app, you can also control the Twinkly lights with Alexa and Google Assistant, albeit in a disappointingly limited fashion.
Twinkly’s LED Christmas lights have actually been around for a few years, but my interest was piqued when I finally saw them in action at last year’s CES, where Ledworks, owner of the Twinkly lighting brand, was showing off its new Twinkly Music dongle. I tested both the Twinkly 250-LED string light and the new music accessory for this review.
This review is part of TechHive’s coverage of the best smart bulbs, where you’ll find reviews of the competition’s offerings, plus a buyer’s guide to the features you should consider when shopping for this type of product.
Specifications and design
Twinkly offers its string lights in sizes ranging from 100 LEDs all the way up to 600 LEDs. The brand also offers “Gold Edition” dimmable white LED string lights, icicle and “cluster” style string lights, curtain LED lights, and even pre-lit artificial Christmas trees. Twinkly’s LED string lights are many things, but cheap isn’t one of them; the 250-LED string I tested, for example, costs $120 at Best Buy, while the 600-LED versionfetches a cool $200.
The Twinkly string has a traditional design of braided dark-green wire, with the RGB LEDs (which can display up to 16 million colors) interspersed a little more than three inches apart. The LEDs themselves feel relatively sturdy, and they’re designed with a diffused flat lens for “uniform diffusion” of the emitted colors. An in-line controller near the end of the string allows you to cycle through light modes by repeatedly pressing a button, and the string terminates in a chunky 24V power adapter.
The Twinkly lights are IP44-certified, which means they’re protected against solid objects larger than 1mm and water splashed from all directions; in other words, they should be fine outdoors, even in rain and snow. You can read more about IP codes in this story.
I didn’t have much trouble getting the Twinkly string lights connected to my Wi-Fi network. The first step is to create a Twinkly account; if you wish, you can sign in with Facebook or Apple (not Google, unfortunately), or you can create an account using your email address. Next, you press the button on the Twinkly controller until its embedded status LED turns greenish blue, and then the Twinkly app will search for your lights. Once it’s found them (the process worked for me on the first time), the app lets you choose a nearby Wi-Fi network before prompting you for your password.
After you’ve draped the Twinkly lights around your tree, the outside of your home (you can group up to 10 strings, or up to 4,000 LEDs), or anywhere else you see fit, it’s time to scan the lights with the Twinkly app. If you have the lights hung on a perfectly flat surface, you can choose the 2D scanning option, during which you simply point your camera’s phone at the lights and allow the app to scan all the LEDs.
If the lights are draped over a tree, a bookcase, or (in my case) along the bottom of the top bunk of your daughter’s bunk bed, you can opt for 3D scanning, which involves letting the app scan the LEDs from multiple angles. The process only takes about 10 seconds (or 10 seconds per scan, if you choose the 3D scanning option), and the app managed to map the LEDs with an impressive degree of accuracy.
Features and functionality
Now comes the fun part. Using the app, you can pick one of about a dozen preset animations, from “snow” and “snake” to “diagonal” and “vintage,” or you can download free animations from the Twinkly Effects Store. The animations run the gamut, from random patterns of multicolored twinkling lights and falling snow to dancing hearts or even an animated bat signal.
All those colorful, coordinated stripes of color marching across your tree can be a tad garish, but they’re undeniably impressive and eye-popping. And while some of the more elaborate animations (such as the bat signal) fell apart on a single Twinkly string, they’d probably look much better on multi-string installations.
Besides the preset animations, you can also create your own Twinkly effects by tapping and swiping on a diagram of your lights in the Twinkly app. You can paint the lights with wide, thin, or sparkling brushstrokes, and you can choose from six basic colors or create your own color palette. Even better, you can create both static and animated effects.
Not only can you apply individual effects to the Twinkly lights, you can also create playlists that cycle through up to 10 effects at intervals ranging from one second to 10 minutes. You can only save one playlist at a time, however, and if you want to go back to a single effect, you’ll erase the playlist you’d created.
If you want to sync your Twinkly lights with some tunes, you can do so with the aforementioned Twinkly Music, a $30 USB dongle with a built-in microphone.
Twinkly Music connects to your lights via Bluetooth and makes the lights pulse along with any sound that its microphone picks up. If you take the time to connect Twinkly Music to your Wi-Fi network, you can also control the pattern of the lights by choosing one of eight “drivers,” including “Beat Hue,” “Red Line,” “Psychedelica,” “Sparkle,” and “VU Meter”. The Twinkly Music dongle did a nice job of syncing my Spotify playlist with the lights, and the various music drivers were nifty, particularly the Beat Hue and VU Meter drivers.
The Twinkly app offers a basic timer that will turn your Twinkly lights on and off at specified times, but it can’t change the effect or brightness or your lights, nor can you set any weekly or monthly schedules. Also missing is a sunrise/sunset option.
Smart home integrations
Twinkly lights support both Alexa and Google Assistant, and you can use voice commands to turn your Twinkly string on or off, adjust the brightness, or change primary colors. You can also add the Twinkly lights to Alexa and Google Assistant routines, which means you can create more elaborate schedules that include sunset/sunrise triggers.
Unfortunately, neither Alexa nor Google Assistant can control Twinkly’s animated effects, so if you do use one of the assistants for scheduling your Twinkly lights, you’ll be limited to a relatively basic color palette. Now, if Alexa and Google Assistant could treat Twinkly’s animations as lighting scenes that you could incorporate into routines, we’d really have something.
Twinkly’s sturdy and colorful LED string lights make for an impressive and eye-popping holiday decoration, with animations that are sure to wow the neighbors. But the lights aren’t cheap, smart home integration is only so-so, and we wish that the timer function was more fully baked.