MILWAUKEE -- These connected lights cost more but you will enjoy the seemingly endless variety of colors and effects. The mobile app could be better.
Holiday lights are going high tech. New lights in stores are Bluetooth controlled so you can change the color and effects right from your phone.
We tested a brand called Applights, made by Gemmy, and sold exclusively at Home Depot. You'll find similar lights at various retailers.
The basic premise is that these LED light strands contain a Bluetooth controller box at one end. This allows them to wirelessly connect to your phone. You download a special app to modify color and effects. They are also much more expensive compared to standard lights but they let you be more creative since you can choose different looks for them.
Setup is pretty similar to typical light strands except for a bulky Bluetooth controller box at one end. You will have to figure this into your hanging plans. For instance, I use those 3M Command Strips to hang my lights - I would likely need a few more to hold the extra weight of the box. If you're using clips this might not be an issue.
You can connect Applights strands to each other just like you would any other lights. When you're all setup, download the Applights app to your phone and it begins to recoginize your strands. (Make sure they're plugged in).
The app can control both the color of the lights and the effect. You can choose from pre-sets including Christmas Light Show, Thanksgiving, Valentine's Day or just about any color you can choose from. There are about 6 shades of white alone. Bascially, you can get really creative with the color of your lights and the effect they give off - whether it's steady, glimmer, sparkle, etc.
What I found to be somewhat tricky is that you can only control 10 items at a time from the app. Each strand, projector light or lit decoration is one item. For instance, let's say you want to turn everything on and off at once - you wouldn't necessarily be able to do that in one tap. You would have to select a group of 10 items (the app groups similar items) and then turn them off. You repeat this process for each group of items. Out test setup probably involved more items than the typical setup but I found myself wishing for a master button that turned off all connected decorations.
I also found that sometimes the app wouldn't recognize a decoration. Since this is wireless a variety of factors can affect the range of communication. I found it was best to be pretty close to the strands. Officially the box says about 50 feet and that seemed about the furthest you would want to be.
As for the actual look of the lights - they are pretty impressive. The colors are bright, the effects are expansive and kids will really enjoy coming home to different light shows throughout the holiday season. You can change the entire look of your decorations in just seconds, going from classic white to gaudy flashing colors instantly.
The biggest downside to these lights is probably the App. It isn't as polished as it could be - but the company can change that with a few software updates.
Applights are also more expensive than standard strands - about $60 each. That's quite an investment but these are much more versatile than regular lights that only have one color. You might find yourself using them for various holidays - orange for Halloween, red, white and blue for the 4th of July, Pink for Valentine's Day - you get the idea. You can potentially get much more use out of them, making them worth the high price tag.
Note: We also used another Gemmy product called Points of Light and I was super impressed with these. They are lights that project onto your home. You can choose a bunch of color and effect combinations and it looked fantastic on our test home. Highly recommended for a "finishing" effect or a total replacement for putting up a bunch of lights. $35 and exclusive to Walmart.