Like all LED models, the GE Colorite lights are safer, more durable, and longer lasting than traditional incandescent lights, and they barely draw any electricity at all. Among the LEDs we looked at, we found that the GE Colorite’s hues of warm white and especially multicolor closely matched those of traditional incandescents. They also have a tidy wire that doesn’t curl or twist, simplifying the task of draping them through a tree or storing them in the off-season. The bulbs should last for at least 10 holiday seasons, and you can replace individual bulbs if they go out (or you can just leave those; the rest of the strand will stay lit). Although you can use the Colorite sets outdoors, we think they’re best for indoor use, since the bulbs aren’t completely watertight. Overall, these lights offer better benefits and have fewer drawbacks than any other indoor lights we tested.
The GE lights have sold out quickly the past few years, so if that happens again, we recommend the Christmas Designers T5 Smooth LED Christmas Lights (available in warm white, multicolor, or solid color). In our tests the multicolor lights looked as good as those from GE, while the warm white lights had a cooler tone that was a little further from the coziness of an incandescent.
For outdoor use, we recommend the Christmas Lights Etc Kringle Traditions Wide-Angle 5mm Outdoor LED Christmas Tree Lights, available in white, multicolor, or single color in a variety of lengths and bulb spacings. These lights offer all the benefits of LEDs as well as a design that makes each bulb impervious to moisture for weeks in the snowy, sleety, rainy outdoors—we confirmed that by leaving a lit set submerged in a water-filled bucket all day. We liked the warmth of the color, the bright light output, and the manageable wires. Due to the unusual design of the wide-angle bulb, the brightness of each changes dramatically depending on where you’re standing, giving the lights texture and depth when they’re draped over a tree or twisting around a porch post. Because they’re likely to be exposed to harsh exterior conditions, these lights have a shorter lifespan than indoor LEDs, but you can still expect six or seven seasons out of them. The only major drawback is that they’re a bit too bright for indoor use. Pro lighting designers and other experts have consistently named this particular type of bulb as the ideal choice for outdoor holiday-lighting displays. If the Christmas Lights Etc lights aren’t available, Christmas Designers makes a similar string light that’s just as good but a little less bright.
Last, if you’re not ready to give up the unique warm twinkle of incandescents on an indoor tree, Christmas Lights Etc’s Clear Christmas Tree Mini Lights are our favorites. These mini-light sets emit the warmest overall light, and like our other picks, they have an easy-handling wire. They also cost less than an LED strand, but they’re not as durable, they’re less efficient, and they won’t last as long—you can expect 2,000 to 3,000 hours of use, versus an average life of 20,000 hours for our pick. That’s just the bulb life, too, not even taking into account how fragile and easily breakable an incandescent filament is.
Pro-Christmas C9 Light Line Kit
With larger bulbs and a wire that can be easily cut and adjusted as needed, the Pro-Christmas C9 Light Line kit is your best bet for outdoor lighting.
If you want a bigger bulb to brighten up your walkway, patio, or eaves, the Pro-Christmas C9 Light Line Kit is a reliable and highly customizable choice. These weather-resistant screw-in LEDs are available in every basic color plus warm and cool whites, and you can display those bulbs in any order or pattern that you want. You can also cut the socket string to the exact length you need, depending on the size of your space, and add a “vampire plug” on either end to keep the electricity flowing. Don’t worry — it’s nowhere near as daunting as it sounds. These C9 light lines make for an easy DIY project for any season, and the clips, plugs, bulbs, and strings are all available a la carte as well. They come with a 3-year seasonal warranty, too (assuming three months of use per year). We personally enjoyed the faceted Pro-Christmas bulbs, which produce a nice twinkling effect, but if you prefer smooth bulbs, the company makes those as well. For an incandescent bulb, we recommend the C9 bulbs from Opticore; that company makes LED bulbs that are comparable to the Pro-Christmas bulbs, too. You can even mix-and-match or try out different bulbs, as long as you have a C9 socket string to start.
Twinkly Generation II Smart RGB-W LED String Lights
With 16 million color choices and a library of customizable animations and effects, the Twinklys are incredibly versatile. But they are expensive, and the app could use some work.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $147.
If you really want your home to sparkle and shine for the winter holiday—and maybe for other occasions, too—get the 250-count Twinkly Generation II Smart RGB-W LED String Lights. These Wi-Fi–enabled Christmas lights offer 16 million color choices that can be employed in any number of moving, blinking, multicolored patterns. With the app’s built-in “mapping” feature, you can even single out individual lights to create custom effects that spiral around your Christmas tree, or your railing, or wherever else you choose to set them up. They are significantly more expensive than most other Christmas lights, but the endless possibilities and weather-resistant construction mean you can also keep them strung up all year round and customize the colors to go with every occasion. You can even sync the flashing lights to move in time with music. As impressive as the Twinkly app might be, it does glitch on occasion, and the user interface could use some improvements, particularly on the mapping feature and the music sync. Still, we expect this software to continue to improve; we even observed some noticeably helpful firmware updates in the course of our testing. And even with the app frustrations, the Twinklys offer enough options that you’ll get your money’s worth—or at least you’ll never get bored. (Also available in a 400-count set that will save you more money per bulb.)