Best LED Strip Lights of 2020
The NEXLUX LED Strip lights are the best we tested. We like them for their robust, rubber-encapsulated construction and the wifi-linked app. Nexlux doesn't claim that their lights are outside-ready, but the rubber coating over connections and LEDs certainly lends confidence to their durability. The app or remote can be used to change colors, fading rate, or blinking frequency 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 deficiency in terms of whiteness or brightness. Few, if any, real-world light strip installations will have different products immediately next to another, so you're unlikely to notice the differences between whiteness or brightness of these strip lights.
The Pangton Villa is simple and stripped down compared to the other offerings. Many of the strips we tested offer nearly infinite color combinations, but the 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 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 less than half the bulk of the smallest of the others. In highly visible installations, this difference is notable and worth considering.
The primary drawback to the Pangton Villa is that it doesn't offer any 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 be installing multiple light strips in a space, you need them to be app-controlled to retain actual control of the light configuration. Conflicting and overlapping remotes will adjust other strips but will not deliver predictable controls to strips they weren't sold with.
The DayBetter standard 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.
To enjoy the savings, you make some tradeoffs. The power cord is less than half the length of some other choices, limiting your installation options. The DayBetter's white mode also emits a bluer light 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, however, you probably won't notice these drawbacks.
The Minger LED strip lights that we tested work 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 spend time and clutter the look by adding a suitable extension cord.
The weirdest "drawback" to 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.
The L8Star Smart LED strip light is the absolute brightest we tested and features excellent syncing with music. 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 is small and limited in what it can do, especially compared to the controls from within the app. The instructions are poorly translated and do not enhance ease or inspire confidence. 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 didn't provide much help. At 55 inches, the provided cord is a little below average and a little shorter than many installations require.
The Nexillumi Ultra Long gives you more than enough length to light up even the largest of spaces. Not only does this kit come with 65.6ft of LED lights, but its power cord also has more than a nine-foot reach, which truly maximizes the length you can get out of this system. The light system is smartphone compatible, letting you control the settings from your phone, the provided remote, or the built-in controls on the power cord. The lights have eight different dim settings and are even able to synch their pulsing and fading to music.
Depending on your needs, the length of the power cord and lights could be too much. If you're looking to light up a small space, having more than nine feet of power cable to manage could be cumbersome and make your space look and feel cluttered.
DayBetter's Wifi light strip is almost entirely different from the co-branded "standard" model 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 you have cell data. 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, its included infrared remote has limited controls.
The LE RGB light strip is simple and powerful. In our comparative tests and with our light meter, this is among the brightest in the whole test. The 58 inch power cord is just a little below average, but enough for most installations. When 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 change the lights to 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 Govee's is simple and functional; we especially 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 Govee 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 supposed to make the lights blink and fade in sync precisely with music, 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 led 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 calculate 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. Jed was assisted by Buck Yedor, whose affinity for fun home decor and keen ability to explain electronics, even to his aging parents, will help break down the ins and outs of these LED light strips.
We purchased all the tested products and performed exhaustive and comparative examinations with all of them. We've done this for years and years with many different products. The specific testing regimen we employed for strip lights included household installations of each product, board-mounted, side-by-side comparisons of brightness (with a smartphone light meter app), 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. Many 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. In our opinion, 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 also light strips that can be linked to a music source, and if possible, we appreciate those that can be controlled through an app and wifi, while you're away from home.
Our favorite products, unsurprisingly, provide the greatest control. The top-scoring 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 it 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. Another top performer, the L8Star Smart LED, is largely similar to the NexLux. The L8Star has an app but it 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. The 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 it's probably not the most crucial thing. Most installation scenarios are for accenting and augmenting existing lighting. There are situations, however, where you might want maximum illumination from 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: coated and uncoated. 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 a way that makes more of it usable? Or maybe it is just a coincidence.
The uncoated L8Star Smart LED is the brightest we tested. The next brightest uncoated type is the Pangton Villa.
Ease of Use/Installation
In installing and setting up these products, we learned a few 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 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 NexLux were easier to use and work with than the uncoated versions. Uncoated versions have protrusions that can 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 a variety of products from different brands. Each product is made up of four primary components, including 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 displays 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 controlled 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 also used 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. Both wifi ready products use the exact same controller, while the Minger LED light strip comes with Govee branded instructions.
We list all these details 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 different production runs of the same make and model of product. We noticed small performance differences between what we tested, but no huge variations. None of these products are super expensive, and to keep costs low, we expect the market, supplies, and quality control may fluctuate significantly. It seems 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 most mediocre performance adds excitement and enhances your space. We hope that we have made it easier for you to choose from the myriad options.
— Buck Yedor & Jediah Porter