GeekDad Review: Nanoleaf Light Panels

Canadian smart lighting startup Nanoleaf started hitting my radar a few years ago, when they released some truly unique-looking LED light bulbs (GeekDad’s Stephen R Clark reviewed one of these—the Nanoleaf Bloom—back in 2015). The company really hit the big time with the release of the Nanoleaf Light Panels, which is the product I’m reviewing.

Nanoleaf light panels review
Nanoleaf light panels on my office wall (Photo by Brad Moon)

Nanoleaf Light Panels: A Completely Different Smart Lighting System

There are a lot of good smart lighting systems out there. I have a collection of some of them including probably the best known—Philips’ Hue. These are all basically traditional lighting systems with smart features and extra capabilities. You can remotely control them, program them, and they can display millions of colors with their energy efficient LEDs. But most are bulbs that fit in standard light sockets, with a few standalone lighting units and some LED ropes thrown in the mix.

Nanoleaf Light Panels are very different.

Each is a flat, triangular panel of translucent white plastic. Panels are about 9-inches on a side and roughly 1/4-inch thick. On each side is a socket, and the panels click together using “linkers.” The basic setup is a flat surface, but the company sells optional flexible linkers that let you wrap around corners. And each panel comes complete with 3M Command Strip adhesive tips for securely attaching to a wall—although you can also set it up on a horizontal surface.

Nanoleaf light panels review
The Nanoleaf light panels connect together using linkers. At top, the Command module provides power and connectivity, while the Rhythm module plugged into bottom responds to sound. (Photo by Brad Moon)

They do everything you’d expect from a smart lighting system. They can be programmed with scenes, controlled remotely, and they’re compatible with HomeKit, IFTTT, Siri, Google Assistant, and Amazon Alexa. There is also a physical on/off button and a physical button to cycle through scenes for the old school fans. But rather than controlling a collection of bulbs throughout the home, the Nanoleaf Light Panel system has you control what’s effectively an LED canvas laid out in a customized pattern.

Setup Is Half the Fun

My setup began with the Rhythm Edition Smarter Kit, which contains nine Nanoleaf panels, the Controller and power supply, a Rhythm Upgrade Module, linkers, Command strips, and stencils of the panels.

And it’s a lot more fun than screwing in a lightbulb…

The Nanoleaf app includes a design feature that lets you plug in the number of panels, then move them around to create patterns. There are also full-sized paper stencils for each panel included in the box so you can tape them to a wall to see how they’ll physically fit. Once you have a pattern you’re happy with, you click the panels together using the linkers and stick them in place. (I’ve had mine up since last fall and none have shown any sign of coming lose.) With the 3M Command Tape, they are removable, but it takes a bit of effort. So better to use the stencils to get the positioning right before committing to the adhesive.

Nanoleaf light panels review
Laying out the panels with stencils. (Photo by Brad Moon)

From there, the Controller connects to any open side with a linker, and power is connected to it. That module powers and controls the entire system, up to 30 panels. If you have a Rhythm Upgrade module, it is also connected to a free panel side—this adds audio sensors so the lights can be synchronized with your music (audible music, not via the song choices in an app, so make sure you have a music source nearby).

Connect to your Wi-Fi and you’re away to the races. The app includes a selection of solid and transitioning color patterns, as well as Rhythm options if you have the Rhythm module. You can create your own designs, or browse the community to download designs that have been published by other Nanoleaf owners.

Nanoleaf light panels review
The Nanoleaf app for iOS and Android is control central, but there are also physical buttons. (Screen capture by Brad Moon)

You can add panels as you wish, up to the 30 per Controller limit. And the system is smart enough to recognize when new panels are added (or the configuration is changed), automatically optimizing scenes and patterns to reflect the new design.

Recommendation

Nanoleaf light panels review
Nanoleaf light panels in action. I have room for 6 more panels on this configuration, which expanded from an initial 12 panels. (Photo by Brad Moon)

The Nanoleaf Light Panels aren’t the smart lighting system for everyone. They’re decor as much as lighting, and if you’re looking for a colorful and connected bulb to screw into an existing light fixture, these aren’t it. They require some free space and a willingness to cover an area with a bunch of white panels. They’re also a little on the pricey side compared to many smart lighting systems, which have come down steadily in price. The Rhythm Edition Smarter Kit retails for $229.99 and three-panel add-on kits are $59.99.

However, they are a lot of fun. And once you start building a system, it can be tough resisting the urge to keep expanding it. I was sent an initial review kit of 12 panels by Nanoleaf last year. I got so hooked on it, that the original installation has now doubled—three at a time—to 24 panels. I’ll probably max it out at 30 at some point. I’m particularly fond of the Rhythm control module that works in tandem with the lights when I’m listening to music, turning one wall of my office into a music visualizer. My wife is worried that neighbors will think I have a rave going on in here when they see the lights flashing from the window…

If you want a smart lighting system that’s more than just a bunch of smart light bulbs, give the Nanoleaf Light Panels a look. The company sells starter kits, expansion kits, and accessories through its website, and you can also find popular options like the Rhythm Edition Smarter Kit on Amazon.

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