I do my best to keep up with the latest technology (when I can afford it), and one of the more recent bits of tech that I’ve been wanting to invest in is smart lights. Oh, how I long to be able to just walk into my apartment and have all the necessary lights turn on automatically, controlling the rest with my voice, maybe even changing hues depending on the time of day or my mood.
The nagging voice in the back of my head yells during these moments, “You don’t need them, that’s too much money for voice-controlled lights.” So, despite how my I really want them, I’ve had to do the adult thing and save my money.
…but they’re just so damn cool.
One set of lights that had long caught my eye comes from the company Nanoleaf. A set of lights that are more form over function, allowing you to create bright color-shifting displays on your wall from modular pieces. The company has been around for a few years, with their now-signature triangular light panels released in 2016. A year later, the company introduced the “Rhythm” module and kit, allowing the light panels to react to ambient or line-in sound. Their most recent offering is the “Canvas,” a set of square-shaped panels that integrate the Rhythm’s functionality, as well as introducing touch sensitivity.
We’ve recently had the chance to try out both the Rhythm and Canvas kits, creating some fascinating displays with them…although they weren’t without their hangups. I set up the Rhythm kit in my own place, while your friendly neighborhood Fusionx jumped in with the Canvas kit.
Opening up the Rhythm kit, the first thought that came to mind was “these panels are much larger than I was expecting. We received a nine-panel kit, which was enough to create a pretty significant statement piece on my wall.
The panels were packed with wax-like paper separating them of the same size, making them the perfect stencils for figuring out a design on my wall. This isn’t a product you just want to slap up quickly – you definitely want to take the time to create your design and mount them properly. After deciding on a suitably non-symmetrical pattern that reflected my personality, I set to work.
Aside from the panels and the power module, the kit included a number of connector chips and a ton of command strips. The chips are used to connect the panels, and they slip into the panels easily…and somewhat loosely. I mounted the panels one at a time, being careful to slip the chips into each connection before touching the command strips to my wall. The design and mounting process went smoothly and took me about half an hour.
Activating the Rhythm kit is where I ran into some struggles. The kit is mostly run through Nanoleaf’s mobile app, which I had to use to connect the Rhythm kit to my network. I ran the setup multiple times and kept hitting one of two walls: either the setup would complete but the app wouldn’t connect to the kit, or the setup would stall when connecting to the network.
Digging around online revealed the solution: the Rhythm kit only works on a 2.4GHz Wi-Fi band. I had my router broadcasting both a 2.4GHz and 5GHz band with the same name; most devices I own would connect automatically to whichever band worked for them. Not so for the Nanoleaf. I had to go into my router setting and give my 2.4GHz band a distinct name, and connect the Rhythm kit while connected to that. Luckily, once it was set up, I was able to switch my phone back to the 5GHz band and still connect to them.
Setting a Canvas
The setup of the Canvas set is all but identical to that of the Rhythm kit. The base kit for the Canvas comes with nine panels that hook into each other with connectors and then attach to the wall via command strips. With the side of a panel measuring six inches, a lone panel seems fairly small, however once you begin to plan out how you want to lay the panels out, it becomes a much bigger and custom shape.
The hardest part for me was deciding what kind of a layout I wanted to put onto my wall, however once I figured that out, setting the panels up was almost completely hassle free. The connectors are just a little lose between the panels that at one point during mounting, the connector slipped out and onto the floor. It wasn’t a huge issue of course, but it lead to a brief moment of frustration. The larger problem, which I ran into a few times, were the command strips lining up with each other, pushing together and making it harder to smoothly push the Canvas panels together. After my first few panels were on the wall, I made sure to change where I was putting the strips on each panel in order to avoid having that issue again.
While I can’t specifically speak to having any issues with removal (because I haven’t taken them down) one big worry that I do have is the potential marks the Canvas panels could leave on my wall once I decide to remove them. The command strips are a great solution for easy mounting, however, the included instructions recommended using three strips per each panel, which means that depending on how your mounted design is, you may have these command strips covered up by an adjacent panel, which means you may not have access to all three strips at the same time.
Connecting the Canvas panels to the Nanoleaf app, just as with the other light panel set, took a few attempts before it finally connected and worked. After it was finally set up, I got the lights connected to both my Amazon Echo as well as my Elgato Stream Deck with relative ease. One page on my Stream Deck is now essentially a 15-button light switch.
Start the Rhythm
With the Rhythm kit up and running, I set off letting my creativity run wild. The Nanoleaf app is fairly easy to use, but offers some decently powerful options if you want to dig into them. There are three main categories of light designs you can create: Basic, Color, and Rhythm.
The Basic is just that – standard white lights. I didn’t bother much with this, because why would I? All the fun comes from messing with colors, right? I dug into the Color section, which allows you to create your own “canvases” of colors to cycle on your kit. There are a number of pre-made canvases, but I mostly ignored those and set off on creating my own colors.
Choosing to create a canvas opens a color wheel, allowing you to pick out colors and shades and add them to the canvas. You can also switch over to Advanced mode and input specific RGB codes if you wish.
After creating your canvas you then get a couple options to apply it to your display. If you’re looking to create a static scene, you can choose “Paint” to apply canvas colors to each panel. If you want something more dynamic, the are a number of options to make your kit cycle or flow through your canvas with different speeds and directions.
Creating scenes wound up being relatively easy and self-explanatory, and I spent my first couple hours with the kit creating around five scenes, mostly dynamic. I did run across some occasional issues where the app would disconnect from my lights for a few moments while putting a scene together, but it was more of a light frustration than an out-and-out annoyance.
In actual use, the biggest surprise to me was just how bright these lights get. I mean, I live in a relatively small city apartment, but at full brightness, these lights easily lit up my whole living room. As I was using them more as a statement piece than functional room lights, I’ve opted to keep them set to around 40% brightness – enough to stand out but not be super distracting as they animate behind my computer monitor.
To be fair, there is one real function I’ve found for these lights mounted where they are: front facing lights for streaming. I created a scene with a basic tinted white light to output around 60% brightness, and the result has been a perfect frontal light for my webcam when streaming. My face no longer looks red and splotchy from just having my monitor lights shining on it!
The rhythm kit also interfaces with multiple home smart speakers, and I was able to connect them to my Google Home relatively easy through the Home app. Doing so requires activating cloud syncing for your scenes through the Nanoleaf app, but once set up, I was able to command the light to change scenes, as well as turn on and off, easily via voice. There is a few minutes of delay between creating a scene and having it available through voice functionality.
Lastly, I need to speak to the Rhythm module, the special inclusion for this kit. Plugging in the Rhythm module allows the lights to react to both ambient noise and line-in music. While you can create your own color pallets for Rhythm scenes, I did not find a way to actually command the lights nor each panel how to specifically react to sound; I was limited to eight different general pre-programmed motions.
Regardless, the Rhythm effects are incredibly impressive, especially when playing more dynamic music. They are much more accurate with line-in, though, as the ambient mode picks up any sounds around and translates it into a light show (I’m listening to music as I type this, and my kit is picking up my keystrokes as well as the music). I tried to use line-in mode through my PC to output the music from a rhythm game to it, but I was unable to find a way to make Windows 10 successfully output sound to both my headset and my Nanoleaf kit.
Putting Paint to Paper
After getting my Canvas panels mounted on the wall just above my computer monitors, I turned them on with my Amazon Echo and was absolutely blinded by the 100% brightness. In fact, when I’m at my desk, I find any setting over 35% to be almost too bright.
However, as was the case with the other set of light panels, the Canvas can also be used as a very convenient source of lighting for those needing some good front facing lighting while streaming.
It took a few minutes to learn the Nanoleaf app and how to exactly setup and save scenes, but once I figured it out, I was quick to make a handful of different options
The biggest disappointment I had with the Canvas was with its rhythm feature. Unlike the module that comes with the older set of Nanoleaf light panels, the Canvas doesn’t give you any line-in options for audio, meaning that the only audio it can react to is the audio that it picks up in the room. While this may not be an issue for many users, I often find myself at my desk with headphones, which the Canvas panels can’t react to.
The other big difference between the older light panels and the new Canvas panels is that Canvas has touch sensors in each panel. Using the app, you can set up short cuts, like swiping up, down etc across panels in order to change things like brightness and scenes.
Additionally, you can also play some simple light games on the Canvas panels such as Simon or Whac-A-Mole. While the swiping gestures to adjust settings is a nice touch (pun intended), I do find these game options a bit impractical, especially considering where I decided to mount my lights. However, I could definitely see a series of Canvas panels on a wall with more space around it being a gathering point for, say, kids at a party.
Overall, as a fancy glowing art piece, the offering of Nanoleaf are incredibly impressive and eye-grabbing. The kits snap together easily and mount quickly, so they’re not much of a project to get going. The issue with Wi-Fi band when setting up the Rhythm was frustrating, but easy to solve.
As with most smart light products, though, the prices for these kits can be heart-stopping. At the time of writing, the nine-panel Rhythm kit runs for $199.99, while the same size Canvas kit is a bit steeper at $229.99. The pricing is similar to many premium smart bulb kits on the market, but there’s one stark difference: smart bulb kits are created as functional lights, while Nanoleaf’s products are more for decoration.
Don’t get me wrong, these lights are stunning, and they add a ton of life to the sterile walls of my apartment. However, I just find it incredibly difficult to drop $200 or more for something that just “looks nice.” That having been said, if you’ve been looking for some front facing lighting for a stream setup and don’t want to drop $199 for something like the Elgato Key Light, this might be something that you could consider that offers some color and a bit of design flare.
If you have extra cash just burning a hole in your pocket, Nanoleaf’s products are an excellent addition to your home, apartment, or wherever. If you’re more interested in function over form when introducing smart lights to your home, though, I’d recommend looking at a more standard bulb system.
~ Final Score: 8/10 ~
Nanoleaf Rhythm and Canvas kits provided by Nanoleaf for review. Images taken by reviewers. Header and final image courtesy of Nanoleaf.