Balsam Hill Nordmann Fir Twinkly Review
A high-end smart Christmas tree
A high-quality replica tree in its own right, the Balsam Hill Nordmann Fir looks like a real tree; only getting very close and peering at the trunk will prove otherwise. But it’s the built-in Twinkly lights that really set this tree apart from the competition. Prewired with excellent coverage, the lights can be controlled through an app, and each bulb is colour-changing, allowing for a wide range of effects you can’t get with regular Christmas tree lights. If you want the best in replica trees, this is it – as long as you think of this expensive tree as a long-term investment.
- Tree is very lifelike
- Clever light prewiring
- Smart Twinkly lights a step up from regular Christmas lights
- Can’t change scenes with voice commands
- UKRRP: £749
- Tree types and sizesAvailable in a wide range of heights and tree types, including the classic Nordmann Fir on review here.
- Smart assistantsSupports Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.
If your Christmas is anything like mine, it starts with the effort of lugging the tree (real or otherwise) into position. Then, there’s a good hour or so of wrestling with the lights, trying to untangle them from the previous year and string them up, so they look good. With the Balsam Hill Nordmann Fir Twinkly, life can be easier, as this realistic-looking replica comes prewired with Twinkly smart lights and can be set up in a matter of minutes.
It’s an exceptionally simple system to set up, and it looks great, but the high price may put off the more budget-conscious customers.
Design and Set-Up
- Wide range of styles available
- Prewired with smart lighting
- Quick to put up (and take down)
Balsam Hill makes many replica Christmas trees, from a Vermont White Spruce to the more traditional Nordmann Fir. They’re mostly available in a range of sizes, too. I reviewed the 7ft Nordmann Fir, although the way the trees connect together and how the lights work is the same across the range.
Core to the tree is the prewired lighting, which comes neatly clipped into place, with Balsam Hill doing a fantastic job of hiding the cabling. There’s a choice of lights, including traditional dumb lighting, but I’ve gone with the Twinkly smart lights.
Having prewired lights saves a lot of time, but if you tried to do this yourself on a regular replica tree, you’d run into an issue: with the lights in place, you can’t take the tree apart to store it. Balsam Hill’s solution is that the lights are wired separately on each of the three sections, with the connectors hidden in the trunk. Just drop one section into another, and the power connection is made.
Straight out of the box, I had my tree up and ready for action in under 15mins, including unpacking. It helps that the branches for each section are hinged, so they drop down naturally when the tree is placed upright. They will also fold up quickly for storage in the provided bag once Christmas is over.
I’ve had fake trees in the past, but normally, they’ve required each branch to be clipped into place individually, which takes longer to set up and remove.
As the Nordmann Fir I had on review had many branches, it was difficult to see through to the hinges. Even close up, it’s tricky to tell this tree apart from a real one. In fact, I had several people walk in and ask if that was a real tree. They were surprised to learn that it wasn’t. That high price is more justified when you look at it this way: sure, there are cheaper replica trees, but they look fake.
Each branch is strong, and they are plentiful and well-spaced, which makes decorating the tree very easy even when using heavier ornaments. And, of course, this tree won’t shed needles, either.
Features and performance
- App control
- Each light can be controlled individually
At the base of the tree, you’ll find the power cable and connector box. This box is much like the one for any set of string lights, with a button to cycle through some pre-set modes. In this way, the Balsam Hill Nordmann Fir Twinkly can be used like any other Christmas tree without you having to pull out your phone.
There’s one crucial difference, however. Traditional Christmas tree lights have pre-set colours for each bulb, but the Twinkly lights do not. Just like regular smart light bulbs, such as those for Philips Hue, each individual light here can change colour.
The pre-set options give a good range of effects, including the self-explanatory Rainbow and Fireworks, showing off the colour-changing ability in full.
It’s by hooking these lights up to Wi-Fi and the app that I could really unlock the power of the lights. The set-up process is fairly straightforward, but I did have to manually type in how many individual LEDs there were, as this information wasn’t detected automatically. Fortunately, Balsam Hill puts a label on the power cable with the required information (my tree had 480 bulbs, but the count differs by tree type and size).
Once in the app, there are some simple controls, and I could choose from a solid colour or a pre-set effect. There’s a huge range of effects, all of which are better than the fade or blink of regular Christmas tree lights.
As each light can change colour, Twinkly’s effects can make it look as if colour is flowing down from the top of the tree or spinning in a circle, or it can gently cycle through a palette of different shades. Each of these can be manually adjusted. I liked the option to change an effect’s speed, as this can turn a potentially distracting mode into something altogether gentler.
Having smart lights like this has other advantages. Foremost, the lights have a brightness control. If you’ve ever tried to watch TV next to a twinkling or flashing Christmas tree, the function to reduce its brightness is a revolution. There’s also a timer option, so your tree can turn on and off when you want it to, without you having to do anything.
Now, we get to the really clever bit. Using my phone’s camera, I could take pictures of the tree from different angles, letting Twinkly plot each bulb’s location in 3D. Each image you take updates the number of bulbs the app has found. In the end, the images are combined into a 3D model of the lights.
This model can be used for fine-tuning your effects, down to colouring lights by hand, and choosing which ones should sparkle. You can also set your own motion effects, picking the colour palette you want, the speed of the effect and even the angle the effect moves at.
I thought I spent quite a bit of time setting up light scenes for my Philips Hue lights, but with Twinkly, I found myself tweaking, adjusting and playing with scenes to get my Christmas tree just the way I wanted it.
Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant support is available. Both systems let me turn the lights on or off, set a solid colour and adjust brightness, but scenes are not supported, which is a little disappointing.
As with all LED light strings, the bulbs are non-replaceable, although they have a rated life span of 30,000hrs. Assuming you used the lights for 8hrs a day six weeks of the year, the lights would last around 89 years. I think it’s fair to say that the tree itself is likely to need replacing before that.
Should you buy it?
If you want a high-quality replica Christmas tree with smart lights built in, there’s nothing quite like it.
If you’ve got a tree that you’re happy with, the Twinkly lights can be bought separately.
There’s no denying that the Balsam Hill Nordmann Fir Twinkly is an expensive choice. Even taking away the Twinkly lights, the tree itself costs £419. That’s the top-end for a replica Christmas tree. Is it worth it? If you want a fake Christmas tree that looks like the real thing, then yes. The Nordmann Fir that I reviewed was a definite step up from the usual supermarket/DIY store Christmas trees.
Adding Twinkly lights costs £330 extra, which is a slight premium on buying the lights separately and stringing them yourself every year. In my opinion, that extra cash is worth it. When the lights are prewired, the bulbs come more evenly distributed than when adding them manually, and the cabling is much neater. Plus, the tree still comes apart with the lights in place.
Overall, if you want a fake Christmas tree and the best lights, this combination is unbeatable. If you’re used to buying real trees, then at today’s prices, you can recoup the cost within 10 years and save yourself a lot of hassle along the way.
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You can buy them without, with regular lights and with the smart Twinkly options reviewed here.
There are three sections of lights, connected to the three tree segments. The electrical connections are hidden inside the trunk.
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