The coolest smart lighting kit, ever: customizable, modular, expandable, and visible in the daytime. The music reactive Rhythm mode is incredible, and it doesn't need a smartphone to work. Compatible with all the major voice assistants.
Philips Hue, LiFX, and all those other smart lighting companies should just give up, right now. The Nanoleaf Lights Panels are the coolest smart lighting kit I’ve ever seen. It’s modular, customizable, expandable, and just looks stunning wherever it’s placed. The newest edition to the Nanoleaf family is the Rhythm module, which adds an instant music reactive party mode. With Alexa, Google Home and Apple HomeKit support, smart lighting has never looked this good.
Read on to find out what we thought of the Nanoleaf Light Panels and be sure to watch the demo below. At the end of this review, you can enter to win a Nanoleaf Light Panels starter kit for yourself!
What’s in the Nanoleaf Light Panels Box?
In the starter kit, you’ll find:
- 9 Nanoleaf Light Panels
- 9 panel connectors
- 3M Command strips to fix the panels on your wall (far more than you’ll need)
- Smart Controller and power adapter
- Rhythm module
9 panels are included in the Light Panels starter set, but expansion sets of 3 panels are available, including additional hanging strips and connectors as needed. You can chain together a maximum of 30 panels in total. For the purpose of this review, Nanoleaf kindly sent us an expansion set, so you’ll see 12 panels in most of the photos and review video.
Each panel consumes 0.5-2 watts of energy, and outputs around 100 lumens of light. For comparison, a single Hue bulb may output up to 300-800 lumens (exact figures are hard to come by, and it varies by color). However, since most of the light is concentrated onto the fascia of the Nanoleaf Light Panels, they’re perfectly visible even in daytime.
At night, they’ll light up the room and are more than adequate for an impromptu dance party, which does seem to happen a lot in our house since installing the Nanoleaf Light Panels.
Plan Your Design
You can download the Nanoleaf Smart Series app (iOS / Android) and plan your Nanoleaf design ahead of time. Simply enter the number of panels you’ll have, then hit the randomize button for a fresh idea. Panels can then be re-arranged by dragging them around. Just remember that each panel must connect to another on at least one side, and they need to all be on a flat surface (not wrap around the corners of your room). There are no other constraints. Your design can snake around the whole wall in an asymmetric and random pattern, or form a perfectly symmetrical hexagon: wherever your imagination takes you.
If you have a QR code (found either on the box, or you can print one out), you can hit the preview button and use a basic Augmented Reality mode to check how it would actually look on your wall.
The panels are separated by a thin sheet of paper to prevent damage in the box, so we lightly taped those to wall to check sizing once we’d settled on a design. You can also just lay the panels on any flat surface to test them out, before transferring your design to the wall.
To fix the Nanoleaf Light Panels on the wall, use the supplied generous stash of 3M Command strips. They provide a very strong adhesion but can be removed without damaging the paint. These are the only option for mounting the panels – there are no screw holes.
Each panel connects by slotting a small plastic tab between the panels. Only one side needs to be connected to any other (already connected) panel. There’s no need to overthink this or plan ahead of time though. Just ensure each panel connects to one other, and the system will figure itself out.
Once your design is done, plug in the controller to any convenient side – it doesn’t matter where. Do the same with the Rhythm module. Then either launch the Nanoleaf app, or if you prefer on iOS, use the Homekit app to add a new smart device (but you should download the Nanoleaf app anyway in order to design and download additional scenes).
Smart Assistant and App Features
Out of the box, the Nanoleaf Light Panels are compatible with Apple’s HomeKit, Amazon’s Alexa, and Google Home. That’s an impressive level of support where most manufacturers would skip one or the other. There’s no Cortana support, but then, I don’t see anyone being too upset about that.
Like most smart products, there’s a special app just for the Nanoleaf. As well as basic scene selection, you’ll gain access to community created scenes and the scene designer. There are thousands available to download. Just tap once on the scene to preview it on your Nanoleaf Light Panels, and if you like, tap the download button to save it. This also saves it to the Nanoleaf device itself – not just the smartphone app.
All standard stuff for a smart lighting product then. But there’s two reasons why the Nanoleaf lighting scenes are far more interesting than standard smart bulbs.
First, each panel is individually controlled, giving a much greater range of visual interest. Most smart bulbs will let you have a single color, or even a slow fade from one color to another. The Nanoleaf Light Panels offer a visual cornucopia of effects and color changes. Make every panel a unique color if you want!
Second, the Nanoleaf controller itself contains the computational power to drive the panels. There’s no hub needed, so latency is minimal. Panels can flash on and off without waiting for an update signal from the wireless controller hub, or your phone. This results in faster paced and more dynamic lighting effects, which just look stunning.
Rhythm Reactive Mode
The newest addition to the Nanoleaf range is the Rhythm module. It’s included in this new starter kit, or available separately for $50. The Rhythm module is a small plug-in controller that includes all the functionality needed to create music reactive light shows. There’s a built-in microphone and a physical button to initiate the mode.
Because the microphone and computation is all done on the device itself, there’s no latency to the signal. The panels react immediately to sounds. This is in contrast to any other smart lighting solution on the market, which use the microphone capabilities of your smartphone. In the case of Philips Hue, for instance, your phone must be running the audio analysis through a special app, which then send the signal over your Wi-Fi to your router, over the wired network to the Hue hub … then over another wireless Zigbee connection to a bulb, and possibly even a further hop to another bulb if they’re configured in a mesh pattern. All of this means music reactive modes are typically not that great. The colors may flash, but rarely in time to the actual rhythm.
Your phone doesn’t even need to be on for the stunning light displays of the Nanoleaf Light Panels to kick into action! The only time you need your phone is if you want to download additional Rhythm scenes from the community site.
As well as the community created scenes, you can of course create your own using the comprehensive scene designer.
Upon first opening the design tool, I was shocked to find the app knew precisely how many panels I had and how they were arranged. I had assumed they were relatively dumb components similar to LED pixel strip, simply passing along a signal to whatever their neighbour is. But no, the panels are seemingly self-aware and know exactly where they’re located relative to the whole design. It knew where the Rhythm module and smart controller were attached, too.
To design your own scenes, you have three options. The first is a simple static scene creator, where you can paint colours onto individual panels. From here, you can also design your basic color palette.
On the next tab is the dynamic scene generator. Choose between 6 basic pattern types, then modify parameters such as direction, brightness, and animation speed. The last tab is for Rhythm music-reactive scenes, and is much the same, but with an on-screen preview of the waveform currently being analysed. Your designs and changes are previewed immediately on the panels.
Should You Buy the Nanoleaf Light Panels?
If you watched the video review of the Nanoleaf in action, we probably don’t even need to answer this question: you’ve already bought a kit. I’m blown away by how fun and unique the Nanoleaf Light Panels are, as well as how cleverly it’s all been put together.
Not only is it smart assistant agnostic – supporting all three of the major platforms – it also has some physical buttons, so you aren’t forced to open an app just to turn the thing on or change the scene.
Lastly, the Rhythm music mode is the most dynamic and reactive I’ve ever seen in a smart lighting product, and doesn’t even require your phone to be on. All the analysis is done on device, enabling latency-free dynamic light shows.
The Nanoleaf Light Panels aren’t just a functional and cool bit of voice-controllable lighting: it’s a unique piece of art that will form an instant centerpiece of any room you place it in.
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