The Best LED Strip Lights of 2020
NEXLUX LED Strip lights are the best we tested. We liked them for their robust, rubber-encapsulated construction and the wifi-linked app. Nexlux doesn't claim their lights are outside-ready, but the rubber coating over connections and LEDs certainly lends durability and confidence. The app or remote can be used to change colors, fading rate, and blinking frequency. The app can be used to change the lighting, over the internet, from anywhere on earth.
Other lights we tested are brighter and whiter than the NEXLUX. Choose this award winner for its colorful accent lighting, not for neutral illumination. That being said, unless you line them up right next to a better competitor (which we did), you likely won't notice much of a deficit of whiteness or brightness. Few, if any, installation cases with strip lights will have the products immediately next to another. You are unlikely to contrive a scenario in which you can see the differences between whiteness or brightness of strip lights.
Pangton Villa's LED Light Strip is simple and stripped down as compared to the other offerings. All those that we tested offer nearly infinite color combinations. Hardest to deliver, apparently, is a truly white light. Of all we tested, the PV has the whitest white mode. Furthermore, the power supply is much simplified and slimmed-down, as compared to the competition. Every product has a power cord, and the light strip itself. All the others join the power cord to the light strip with a separate, bulky controller and associated connecters. The PV controller is permanently affixed to the light strip and is smaller than half the bulk of the smallest of the others. In visible installations, this difference is notable and important.
The primary drawback to the Pangton Villa, as compared to the other high scoring competition, is that it has no option of app control. All the adjustments are made through a stand-alone, compact remote control. This infrared remote control uses fairly standard signaling that can interfere with other products. In our testing, we noticed significant interference between the different light strip remotes. Essentially, if you will install multiple light strips in a space, you need them to be app-controlled to actually control the light configuration. Conflicting and overlapping remotes will adjust others but not deliver predictable controls to strips they weren't sold with.
The DayBetter standard LED Tape Strip is simple and very widely available. It is easy to install and configure, as are most of the other products. In the select list of products we tested, the DayBetter is the absolute least expensive. For simple accent lighting around your home, you cannot do better than this DayBetter. You almost can't afford to not pick up one or two of these to spruce up your home.
For the value, you make some tradeoffs. The power cord is less than half the length of some other choices, limiting your installation options. The light produced in DayBetter's white mode is bluer than most. In comparative and objective tests, we found this DayBetter product to be less bright than most of the competitors. For casual accent lighting, you won't notice these drawbacks much, if at all.
The L8Star Smart LED light strip is the absolute brightest we tested and has excellent music syncing character. We tested the brightness of four of each strip's individual LEDs with a digital light meter. All were tested at the same time, on a light-colored background and in a dimly lit room. The L8Star illuminated to 660 Lux and matches the beat of music to the flashing of the lights (via a smartphone app). You can play music through the app, or you can use your smartphone's microphone to pick up the beat, and the app will get the lights flashing and pulsing with the rhythm.
The standalone remote of the L8Star is small and limited in what it can do, especially as compared to the controls from within the app. The instructions that come with the lights are poorly translated and do not inspire confidence or ease. We were able to make everything work, mainly thanks to the intuitive app. It isn't complicated to set up and mount strip lights, but the directions with the L8Star didn't really help at all. The cord that comes with the L8Star, at 55 inches, is a little below average, and a little less than many installations require.
DayBetter's Wifi light strip is almost entirely different from the co-branded Best Buy winner above. The wifi version, as the name suggests, can be controlled through a phone app. With an internet connection at home and a smartphone, the lights can be controlled from anywhere your phone has a data signal. The strip itself is a rubberized, sturdy version that is sure to hold up better for you than the non-reinforced alternatives. In our head to head testing, we found the DayBetter Wifi to be brighter and whiter than most.
Our primary complaint with this model is in the length of its cord; the power cord is only 44 inches. For many installations, this is at least a little short. If you choose to operate these DayBetter lights without the app, the infrared remote they include has limited controls.
The LE RGB light strip is simple and powerful. In our comparative tests and with our light meter, this one is among the brightest in the whole test. The 58-inch power cord was just a little below average, but enough for most installations. In comparing the whiteness of the strips' white modes, the LE is right in the middle.
Our chief complaint with the LE RGB is that its remote is either improperly programmed or mislabeled. The blue and green-tinted buttons on the remote make the lights the opposite color. Push the green button, and you get blue lights and vice versa. Other iterations of this same make and model may not have this issue. It could be entirely confined to the product we tested.
The Minger LED strip lights that we tested worked just fine, but we found little notable in their performance. They are brighter than average, but the white mode is less white than most. The power cord is longer than average. This might not seem like a big deal, but when you want to take advantage of the low profile, quick installation of these products, you don't want to clutter the look with or spend time acquiring a suitable extension cord.
The weirdest "drawback" of the Minger lights we tested is in their branding. The box they came in says "Minger" on the outside. Inside, though, all the instructional materials say "Govee". The Minger light components we have do not say Govee or Minger on them at all. Very few of the strip light components (each consists of strip, power cord, control box, app, remote), from any brand, have brands written on them. Interestingly, the Govee lights we review just below are some of the only ones that feature the brand on the components.
Govee's LED Strip Lights are simple and functional; we like the tiny remote and the very long power cord. Ninety inches of power cord is enough to arrange installation in almost any configuration in a typical house. The small remote takes up very little space. The Gove light strip is the only one we tested that doesn't have an app but still has a sound- (and vibration/motion/concussion-) sensitive mode.
The tiny remote is more readily lost than bigger versions (we know it's in the house somewhere right now, but we're not sure exactly where). Bigger versions offer more options and control over colors and blinking modes. The "sound-sensitive" mode is intended to make the lights blink and fade in sync with preciselymusic, and app-enabled lights use the microphone on your smartphone to sense the music. We aren't exactly sure, but the on-device sensor of the Govee seems to pick up mechanical vibrations more than music. It responds to footsteps and the loudest noises but doesn't seem sensitive to nuanced musical notes. The result is music sync that always seems a little "off".
Why You Should Trust Us
Long time GearLab reviewer Jediah Porter lead the charge on assessing strip lights for 2020. Jed has been with us since 2013, and thanks to his attention to detail, he was recently able to readily report that he has tested over 344 products for us. You'll appreciate his attention to detail as it pertains to comparing and examining strip lights. He consulted with a team that included fellow home-office workers and a professional artist and passionate interior decorator.
We purchased all the tested products and performed exhaustive and comparative examinations of all of them. We've done this for years and years with many different products. The specific testing regimen we employed with strip lights included household installations of each product, board-mounted, side-by-side comparisons of brightness (with a smartphone light meter app), and whiteness (assessed subjectively, by comparison), and a suite of dimensional measurements.
Analysis and Test Results
We evaluated strip lights in three different categories. The sum of a product's performance in these scoring metrics is its overall quality.
Control is multi-faceted. You want the accent lighting provided by LED strip lights to come in different colors with adjustable brightness and flash/change rates. You want to be able to control these various modes in a clear and straightforward fashion. App control is way better than a standalone remote control. A broad range of brightness settings is very nice, and sometimes you don't want your accent light to have any color. Colorful LED strips can be set to "white" mode, but not all white modes are created equal. Whiter white modes are better. We like light strips that can be linked to a music source. We also like light strips that can be controlled, through the app and wifi, while you are away from home.
Our top award winners, unsurprisingly, have the greatest control. The Editors' Choice NexLux LED light has a slick app that works over wifi from anywhere in the world. The music sync works well; the white mode isn't the best, but comes close. The dimmest setting is barely brighter than a candle while the brightest is above average; there is a ton of brightness range in the NexLux. The Top Pick L8Star Smart LED is largely similar to the NexLux. The L8Star has an app but isn't wifi linked, which compromises some usability but assuages the paranoia of some potential users.
Not everyone wants their lights talking to the internet. Best Buy Pangton Villa LED lights offer the most exceptional control of any non-app enabled light strip. There are ten levels of brightness, and the white mode is whiter than any others.
How bright your strip lights get can be important, but isn't the most crucial thing. Most installation scenarios are for accenting and augmenting existing lighting. However, there are situations in which you might want to maximize the illumination of your strip lights. We found noticeable, but not significant, variation in the brightness of tested strip lights. The brightest will do some tasks that only the absolute dimmest couldn't pull off. We tested brightness in two fashions. We did a light meter test (using a smartphone light meter app) confirmed by subjective, side-by-side comparison. Only in two instances, when lights were very, very close on the light meter, did our "blind" subjective tester have trouble ranking them in a way that matched the results from the light meter.
The strips themselves came in two different main forms. There are coated, and uncoated types; these look exactly the same except that the coated versions feature a bead of clear, rubbery material covering the LEDs and associated wiring while also reinforcing the backing tape. The uncoated types have the LEDs themselves out in the open. At first, we thought for sure that uncoated LEDs would be brighter, without the interference of a covering. Our testing found the exact opposite. The two coated products (Nexlux and DayBetter Wifi) are in the top three brightest in our test. Perhaps something about the rubbery coating diffuses the light in such a way that more of it is usable? Or maybe it is just a coincidence.
The Top Pick L8Star Smart LED is the brightest we tested. It is the uncoated type. The next brightest uncoated type is the Best Buy Pangton Villa.
Ease of Use/Installation
In installing and setting up these products, we learned some small things about what makes for a good product. The rubber-coated products are easier to work with, and good "flat" double-sided tape is important. Foam-filled double-sided tape is not as good. A longer power cord is better. Poor, or poorly translated instructions complicate matters, especially if there is an app to set up.
The Top Pick L8Star performed very, very well, but was a pain to use and set up. The instructions were hard to decode, and the foam-filled tape was both less sticky than others and left behind residue on furniture, cabinets, and trim. The rubberized DayBetter Wifi and Editors' Choice NexLux were easier to use and work with than the uncoated versions. Uncoated versions have protrusions that catch on things as you install, and feel far more vulnerable and fragile as you install and use them.
Branding and Such
In researching and testing these products, we noticed significant similarities between brands. We tested eight products from seven different brands. Each product is made up of four primary components, and has the strip itself, a controller, a power cord, and a remote. Some have an app, as well.
In the whole set, only one of the remotes has a brand stamped on it. The remainder of the fleet each use one of two different sizes of remotes, both of which use similar design cues, fonts, and button layouts. Every remote controls at least some aspect of another light strip; for example, the off button of one remote might change the color of a different brand's strip. The two strips from the same brand use different remotes.
The light strips themselves look identical almost all the way across the test selection. Even the rubber-coated strips look exactly the same as the uncoated strips, aside from the clear rubber coating itself. Brands embossed on power cords are largely unique from one product to another and very seldom match the brand of the light strip itself. The wire "dongle" controller serves to receive app or remote signal and manage the light colors, blinking, and brightness. Of the eight products, there are six different controllers. Both wifi ready products use the exact same controller, while the Minger LED light strip comes with Govee branded instructions.
We list all this to point out that there appears to be crossover among the brands. We also observed different equipment on different models from the same brand. We cannot be sure, but given the cross-pollination, we have to assume that some of these components could change within production or shipping runs of the same make and model of product. We found small performance differences between what we tested, but no huge variations. None of these products are super expensive; to keep costs low, we expect the market, supplies, and quality control to fluctuate rapidly. It is quite likely that two or more brands are using the same components.
LED strip lights are a fun, simple way to spruce up any home or workspace. Purchase is inexpensive, installation is a breeze, and even the simplest performance is exciting and enhances your space. We hope that we have made it easier for you to choose from the myriad options.
— Jediah Porter