I test smart home products for a living — these are my favorite smart string lights for my Christmas tree

Philips Hue Festavia String Lights
(Image credit: Chris Wedel/Android Central)

When the holidays roll around and it's time to start decorating, string lights are the bane of many festive folks' existence. Mostly due to the seemingly endless tangles and tracking down dead bulbs. Thankfully, with LEDs, that last issue is fading away. Unfortunately, the tangling is something that just takes patience and proper storage. But switching to smart string lights that allow for more than just a glow and maybe some twinkling can make the process of untangling a bit more rewarding.

I've spent the last few weeks testing out smart holiday string lights from Nanoleaf, Govee, and Philips Hue to see which of the big brands in smart lighting offers the best version of an old seasonal favorite. None are heads above the other overall, but there are little things that each one does really well. While the best can be subjective, I'll put my smart lighting expertise to the test to give you my favorite and, hopefully, help you in your decision-making process.

Getting festive with your holiday lights

Govee Christmas String Lights

(Image credit: Chris Wedel/Android Central)

I wish that I could say that not only do smart string lights offer more ways to be creative in your festive decorations, but that the storage problem has also been solved — it hasn't. Philips Hue, Nanoleaf, and Govee all make some of the best smart lights on the market, but to my surprise, the first two have nearly identical-looking hardware. The wires are black, as is the housing for the LED, and the light part is the same as well. Govee, per the usual, did its own thing.

Usually, I'm all for setting whatever you do apart from others to stand out, and I'm also a fan of how Govee executes that idea. But for its Christmas String Lights, the white cord and fewer LEDs don't really do it for me. If you are putting these lights on a traditional Christmas tree, the white cord is going to be very visible. Oh, and the 33 feet length is a bit short when wrapping around a medium to large tree. 

Like typical smart lights, these smart string lights offer far more personality and creativity than you get from traditional string lights.

Aside from the white cord, Govee also went with more of an inline design for its LEDs. Instead of sticking off the cord, the lights are more part of the cord. I do like this design choice as it will make storing the string lights easier, and I like the look when on the tree. For a 33-foot string, you get 100 "lamp beads," all of which are addressable via the Govee app — just like the rest of Govee's excellent smart lights.

For comparison, Nanoleaf and Philips Hue have 250 LEDs per 65 feet of string lights. So not only are these longer than what Govee offers, but there are more lights. Govee does have a 66-foot option, but it only has 200 LEDs. All three of these smart string lights can also get installed outdoors, thanks to weather-resistant hardware.

When we look at the brightness of these lights, none are dim, but all are dimmable. The only brand here that provides a brightness rating for the lights is Nanoleaf, which states 250 lumens. Looking at the three when at maximum brightness and in the same cool white and also a royal blue, each looks very similar, although Govee does appear a bit dimmer purely because it has fewer lights.

Speaking of the colors available on these lights, you're getting over 16 million colors to pick from and a full range of tunable whites from warm to cool. None of the options here sport the new RGBICWW LEDs for the dedicated white diode, but the whites still look quite nice.

What really makes these string lights stand out is the customization options for each one. Let's start with the Philips Hue Festavia String Lights. Like with all Philip Hue lights, when connected to a Hue Bridge, these lights have excellent connectivity and respond very quickly to changes you make in the app or via your favorite voice assistant.

However, like other Philips Hue lights, the premade scenes and customization aren't as good as competitors like Nanoleaf and Govee. You can definitely make your own custom scenes in the Hue App and use what is made for you, but there are fewer premade options and choices available to animate your lights. Philips Hue also doesn't offer community-driven scenes in the app to add to your setup, but I do really like the scenes that offer twinkling lights, as I think those work very well.

Moving onto Nanoleaf, I have always been a fan of how well the brand handles the creativity of its users. There is a thriving community of users that make tons of custom scenes for all of Nanoleaf's excellent smart lights that are searchable and easy to apply to your lights. All of that is applicable to the new Matter Smart Holiday String Lights, with loads of DIY customization options available along with the community-made options.

While I do like that these lights are Matter compatible, if you aren't sure what that means, we have a nice breakdown of it here. However, I do wish these could connect directly to Wi-Fi. These lights fall more into the Essential line of devices from Nanoleaf that uses Thread and Matter, along with Bluetooth, to connect to the app and, in turn, to your other smart home ecosystems. This is all fine and well, but Nanoleaf restricts some of the scheduling and automation for these devices in the app. So, you'll need to rely on Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant to do that task.

(Image credit: Chris Wedel / Android Central)

Finally, it's Govee's turn. I have always thought that Govee does a fantastic job of designing impressive scenes for its lighting products. Almost every Govee smart light that I've tested had at least 50 different premade scenes that are categorized into different themes, like festival, life, emotion, nature, etc. Some will be reactive to music, as Nanoleaf also does, but all will have some kind of motion involved.

Seeing the lights move across whatever fixture you're using is kind of mesmerizing. Govee always has such vibrant colors, and seeing the LEDs give movement to your space is just fun. However, on my Christmas tree, many of the scenes that Govee provides are too much. There are just a lot of dancing lights, and it gets to be a bit annoying for me. Thankfully, you can make your own to get just the right look for your scene. 

The other area I'd like to see Govee improve in is the discovery of community-driven designs. You can share your creations with other Govee fans, but finding those designs isn't as easy as it is with Nanoleaf.

As for that motion, all three of these lights offer scenes with dancing lights to provide some more liveliness to your festive decor. Each has its strengths in the premade options, with my preferences leaning towards Nanoleaf when the lights are on my tree.

Govee Christmas String Lights

Govee Christmas String Lights. (Image credit: Chris Wedel/Android Central)

Philips Hue Festavia String Lights

Philips Hue Festavia String Lights. (Image credit: Chris Wedel/Android Central)

Which smart string lights will don my Christmas tree?

I have lights from all three of these brands in my smart home setup that I use every day, but for my Christmas tree, I'm going to stick with Nanoleaf. I like that the cord is dark and hides in the foliage of the tree better. I also prefer the scenes, both custom and premade. I do wish I could connect the lights directly to Wi-Fi so I could manage scheduling the lights in the Nanoleaf app, but it's not a huge use and I can still do the scheduling in Google Home. That said, they're not cheap, and you'll be paying $120 at full price for these lights.

The runner-up for me is the Philips Hue Festavia String Lights. I like the reliable connectivity, and though I wish there was better customization for the lights, the options that are there work for my preferred Christmas tree lighting aesthetic. The biggest downside for these lights is that you'll be paying the Philips Hue premium of $220.

Govee takes third in this round for the light colored cord, fewer LEDs, and overly active premade scenes. I do love the vivid colors, and even the active scenes, but those are better suited for other decor ideas other than my tree. However, where Govee typically wins is in the features/product-to-value game. You can add these to your holiday decor starting at $60 for the 33-foot strand and $90 for the 66-foot option.

There are plenty of pros and cons to each option here, but all will offer more creativity than traditional lights and you'll spend less time searching for bad bulbs here.

Chris Wedel
Smart Home Writer
Chris Wedel is a fan of all things tech and gadgets. Living in rural Kansas with his wife and two young boys makes finding ways to get and stay online tricky. By utilizing his years of experience with the tech and mobile communications industries — success is assured. When not conquering connectivity challenges and testing new gadgets, he enjoys cruising a gravel road in his UTV with some good tunes.