Best LED Strip Lights of 2021
The NEXLUX LED were the highest performing light strips we reviewed, running away with the top spot across nearly every metric. We like 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 confidence to their durability. That being said, it's probably still a good idea to keep them away from any water. 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. We recommend these lights for their 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, and standing alone, we think you'll be pleased with this model.
The Daybetter standard is an affordable and easy to use option. With a simple setup and minimal components, this is a good plug-and-play option. Amongst the products we tested, the Daybetter is one of the least expensive. For simple accent lighting around your home, it's hard to do better than this Daybetter.
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 product to be less bright than most of the competition. For casual accent lighting, however, you probably won't notice these drawbacks.
The Minger LED strip lights fall squarely into the middle of the pack. Offering decent performance at a reasonable price, it's hard to go wrong with these lights. 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 these products' low profile, quick installation, you don't want to spend time and clutter the look by adding a suitable extension cord.
These lights seem to come from the same manufacturer as the Govee lights. 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 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 Armacost Lighting offers up 16 feet of "warm white" light. This is the only single-color light kit we reviewed; this specialization, however, paid off. These lights are bright, radiant, and add a pleasant warmness to any room. While white is the only color setting, the brightness settings are highly variable, letting you dim them all the way down to 10% brightness. Easy to install and with no fussy technology to learn, you can have these lights up and running in just moments after unboxing them.
These lights aren't Bluetooth compatible; given the modern world we live in, this might be a detractor for some. We found that the small included remote was more than adequate to control these lights with the limited color spectrum. They are ideal for anyone looking for a simple way to add radiant white light to any of their living spaces.
The L8Star Smart LED offers the brightest bulbs of any of the lights we tested and was the most effective at syncing to 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 matched the beat of the music to the flashing of the lights (via a smartphone app). You can play music through the app or 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 function, 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 shorter than many installations require.
The Nexillumi Ultra Long provides more than enough length to light up even the largest spaces. Not only does this kit come with 65.6 feet 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, allowing you to 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 can sync 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 the power cable to manage could be cumbersome and make your space look and feel cluttered. This kit is ideal for those looking to light up a large open space.
The DayBetter's Wifi option is an entirely revamped version of their "standard" model. 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 rubberized light strips are surely more durable 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. A short power cord is quite limiting in terms of where you can install these lights. 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 a bit shorter than average, but it's enough for most installations. When comparing the 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 Wi-Fi LED Light Strip is a user-friendly kit that conveniently offers three different methods to control the device. It is fully Bluetooth compatible, letting you operate it from an app on your smart device. It also has a small remote that offers a good amount of control, and the power cord has a built-in controller that has minimal functionality but gets the job done. The lights can sync to music, offering simple but fun light shows.
The lights aren't terribly bright but make for great mood or backlighting. While the included 16.5 feet won't cover an entire room, it's enough length to have some fun with. These lights are ideal for those who want user-friendly lights with multiple options for control.
The Pangton Villa Flexible LED Strip offers consumers 32.8 feet of adjustable LED light strips, giving you ample length to customize the lighting in almost any room. This kit is simple; there is no app or built-in controller. The included remote is large but gives you a ton of control and makes adjusting your lighting quick and easy.
For being 32 feet long, the included four wall hanging clips seem minimal. We found the adhesive to stick fine, but users might need more than four clips for textured surfaces for adequate installation support. These aren't the brightest of all the lights we tested but are by no means dim. These lights are ideal for anyone looking for a longer strip light kit at an affordable price point.
Why You Should Trust Us
Longtime GearLab reviewer Jediah Porter led the charge on assessing strip lights in this review. Jed has been with us since 2013 and has tested hundreds of products. 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, a professional artist, and a 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 across many years and many different products. The specific testing regimen we employed for LED 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 testing, we found that controlling your lights with an app was easier and more functional than with any of the provided remotes. 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. While not a crucial component for most people, we enjoyed light strips with the ability to sync to music. For home security purposes, we also appreciated being able to turn our lights on and off remotely via WiFi.
Our favorite products, unsurprisingly, had the most streamlined controls. 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.
While app control is ideal, having the option to use your lights without WiFi or needing to download an app is a welcome feature. The Pangton Villa LED strip lights offer the most exceptional control of any non-app enabled light strip. There are ten levels of brightness, and the white mode is one of the brightest.
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 (though 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 ways. We performed 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 the same except that the coated versions feature a bead of clear, rubbery material covering the LEDs and associated wiring while reinforcing the backing tape. The uncoated types have the LEDs themselves out in the open. At first, we thought 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.
The uncoated L8Star Smart LED is the brightest we tested. The next brightest uncoated type is the Pangton Villa. The Armacost kit offered the brightest and truest white light when it came to purely white light.
Ease of Use/Installation
We learned a few things about what makes for a good product in installing and setting up these products. The rubber-coated products are easier to work with, and good "flat" double-sided tape is important. Foam-filled double-sided tape doesn't work as well. 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 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.
In researching and testing these products, we noticed significant similarities between brands. We tested a variety of products from different brands. Each product is comprised 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 uses one of two different sizes of remotes, both of which use similar design cues, fonts, and button layouts. Every remote could control 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 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 receives app or remote signal and manages 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. 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
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