Philips Hue Festavia string lights review: Pricey but great for Hue users

Not you need smart, color-changing holiday lighting. A smart plug and a few packs of $20 string lights can be part of what the $160 Philips Hue Festavia string lights to do. But after spending a week with Hue’s new color-changing smart bulbs, I think you might want a set to decorate your Christmas tree (or other winter holiday centerpiece) this season.

Hue’s first attempt at smart holiday lighting is a success. The Festavia are full-featured smart bulbs, with 16 million colors and adjustable white light, for just $10 more than the closest competition: Twinkly’s $150 white and colored string lights.

How we rate and review products

Like the Twinkly strings, the Hue Festavia bulbs are expensive because each LED is individually addressable, allowing for some impressive lighting effects. The gradient feature and adjustable white light are things you won’t find on cheaper string lights and make the Festavia useful as accent lighting year round outside of the holiday season.

Of course, you’re also paying for the Hue ecosystem, which – while expensive – is one of my favorite smart lighting platforms, thanks to its ease of use, reliability and interoperability.

Along with standard smart lighting features – scheduling, voice control, dimming – Festavia string lights can display up to five different colors at once. Plus, with Hue’s preset light scenes, you can go from a cheerful green, red, and gold glow to a sophisticated, icy sparkling scene at the touch of a button or voice command.

Other effects include flickering like candlelight, sparkling like stars, and dynamically flowing through colors and tones. As someone who lives in a neighborhood where people spend hundreds of dollars on crazy garden inflatables, I know where I’d rather put my over the top decorating budget.

The Festavia String Lights can display up to five colors at once and change to one of 16 million choices.

Festavia’s string lights consist of 250 mini LED lights along a 20-foot black cable (no option for green, which is a shame). The string feels sturdy and durable and is super light, unlike my existing LED tree lights, which have thick cables that weigh down the branches. They are only suitable for indoor use and the LEDs are not replaceable, but they last longer than more traditional string lights.

If you really like your tree full of lights, you should double up

The Festavia is delivered rolled up on a sturdy cardboard reel, convenient for storage and easy to unroll. A 5-foot power cord gave me plenty of range from the wall outlet, and the entire string nearly covered the 6-foot tree I was testing it on. Each individual LED has a flattened top to give off a softer, less precise light than typical tree bulbs, and they’re spaced 3.15 inches apart. If you really like your tree full of lights, you should double up.

A hand in front of a Christmas tree, with a standard strand of string lights and a much thinner strand of Hue string lights.

My existing LED string lights next to the much more ornate Hue Festavia.

Unfortunately, it is not possible to connect two sets of Festavia lamps together. If you have a larger tree, the longer power cord should allow you to add the second string halfway up the tree and then control them simultaneously in the app, although I wasn’t able to test this.

The Hue app comes with six preset dynamic “winter holiday” lighting scenes, and when I set up a Christmas zone in the app, it suggested six additional “perfect for Christmas” scenes. You can also use any of Hue’s dozens of other scenes.

The dynamic scenes cycle through their colors and brightness to create a subtle lighting effect. To be terribly by default subtly, almost imperceptibly changing. You can speed up the changes and on the fastest level it’s much clearer without being ostentatious.

Winter Beauty was my favourite. It is a beautiful mix of gold and green, stylish yet festive. I also created my own scene by importing a photo of my godson standing on a green lawn with a colorful red, yellow, and blue umbrella. The app then created a bright red, yellow, blue and green scene, and it was nice to look at the tree and be reminded of it.

You can edit any scene and change it to one of three styles: Gradient/Linear lets you choose up to three colors, from top to bottom. Mirrored is like linear, but well, mirrored, and Scattered scatters up to five colors randomly along the string, like a traditional multicolored string of lights.

There are some preset effects, Candle, Sparkle and Fireplace, and you can sync the lights to music using the built-in Spotify integration or via SmartThings with Galaxy phones. But Hue doesn’t offer any of the more dramatic lightshow-style effects Twinkling offers.

The Festavia lights can work via Zigbee through the Hue Bridge or via Bluetooth to your phone (Twinkly is based on Wi-Fi). You don’t need to have a Hue Bridge, but adding the $60 bridge gives you remote access, automations, the ability to customize colors and scenes, and music synchronization. You’ll also need a bridge for Apple Home integration, and the bridge adds a more robust long-range Zigbee mesh connection, as opposed to Bluetooth’s short range.

Hue Festavia string lights specifications

  • 250 smart color LEDs
  • 65.63 foot cord
  • Power cable of 1.5 meters long
  • 2200 to 6500 Kelvin color temperature
  • IP20, indoor only
  • Two-year warranty
  • ZigBee, Bluetooth
  • Compatible with Hue Bridge
  • Works with Amazon Alexa, Google Home, Samsung SmartThings, Apple Home (with Bridge)

As with any Hue bulb, installation is simple. Just plug it in and the app will find it automatically. You can then add it to a digital “room” and also to a zone, if you want. Zones are ways to group lights differently than what room they are in. For example, they are useful for controlling only the lamps on the upper floor. I created a Christmas zone for all the Hue lights in my house that I wanted to be part of my Christmas decor.

Where Festavia outshines Twinkly, especially for year-round use, is Hue’s extensive lighting ecosystem. While Twinkly has many different types of decorative lightingit doesn’t have traditional lamps and fixtures, like Hue – for both indoors and outdoors.

Where Festavia surpasses Twinkly is in Hue’s extensive ecosystem

For example, in my dining room (where the tree is located) I have Hue bulbs in table lamps and in ceiling lights, as well as two Hue Play bars that I’ve placed under the tree. I can apply any scene to all of these lights at once and have the entire room change color to complement the Festavia lights in the tree.

This creates an impressive lighting design that extends beyond just the tree to feel more immersive. Of course, it requires a hefty investment in Hue bulbs, so Festavia is only worth considering if you’re already all-in with Hue.

I also set up a Hue Tap Dial Switch to cycle through several of my favorite scenes and placed the remote near the tree so anyone could easily play with the lighting effects. You do this with one Hue dimmer switch also. Finally, I combined all the lamps in the dining room with one Hue motion sensor to light up the whole room, along with the tree, when someone enters.

Photo of a two meter high Christmas tree in daylight.  Spots of light from string lights are visible in the branches.

One Festavia string of lights is just enough to decorate a tree 2 meters high.

If you want the fanciest holiday light show on the block, Twinkly is probably a better option. Twinkling string lights have more impressive lighting effects, while Hue’s are more subtle and sophisticated.

Twinkly also has cheaper options for string lights, including a color-only option with no tunable white $125 for 250 LEDs. And many more types of decorative lamps, from icicles until light curtains until strings with larger bulbs. Twinkly works both indoors and outdoors and has a larger length range (up to 600 LEDs). There is also a choice of a green wire and a black one.

Both Twinkly and Hue work with Apple Home, Amazon Alexa and Google Home, so you could get the Twinkly bulbs to “work” with your Hue bulbs – but the effects wouldn’t translate, just basic controls for on and off and dimming .

If you already have a Hue Bridge and are looking for a way to add your Christmas tree or other holiday centerpiece to your smart lighting setup, the Festavia bulbs are a great addition.

However, as of publication, the Festavia lamps are sold out. Signify, owner of Philips Hue, tells us they are working on more inventory. But if you want your tree to shine this one season, you can still grab some Twinkling lights for sale.

Photos and video by Jennifer Pattison Tuohy / The Verge

Smart Home Data Privacy: Philips Hue Festavia String Lights

Bringing connected devices into the home also raises concerns about how the data they collect is protected. The Verge asks each company whose smart home products we review about the security measures it has in place for your data.

To use the Festavia string lights, you’ll need to sign up for a Hue account, or you can choose a third-party login option. With both routes, Hue gets your email and account name, and if you sign up directly, they know your full name, password, country and language.

Hues privacy policy states that its products collect data about location, device information and information about your product usage. Location data remains in the device and in the Hue Bridge. All data collected by Signify is used for product improvement, development, personalization and marketing. Signify says it only shares data when required to do so by law or with user consent and protects user data with appropriate technical methods. It also claims to keep data only until its purpose is fulfilled or unless required by law to keep it longer.

Agree to continue: Philips Hue Festavia String Lights

Every smart device now requires you to agree to a set of terms and conditions before you can use it – contracts that no one really reads. It is impossible for us to read and analyze all these agreements. But we started counting exactly how many times you have to press “agree” to use devices when we review them, since these are agreements that most people don’t read and certainly can’t negotiate.

To use the Philips Hue Festavia string lights, you must have the standard Hue app installed on your phone (iOS or Android). The Hue app requires access to:

  • Local Network Devices (iOS)
  • Bluetooth (both Android and iOS)

It also includes agreeing to Philips Hue’s terms and conditions and privacy policy, both mandatory. A Philips Hue account is required for each outdoor remote control.

The total number is two mandatory permissions and two mandatory agreements.